What are they?
There are two types of condoms: male and female. Male condoms are made from very thin latex (rubber), polyisoprene or polyurethane. When used correctly during vaginal sex, they help to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). When used correctly during anal and oral sex, they help to protect against STIs.
Condoms are the only contraception that protect against pregnancy and STIs.
How do they work?
The male condom is worn on the penis to stop sperm from entering the man's partner's vagina, mouth or anus. The condom has to be put on when the penis is erect, and before the penis comes into contact with the vagina, mouth or anus. To use a male condom, do the following:
- Take the condom out of the packet, taking care not to tear it.
- Place the condom over the tip of the penis.
- If there's a teat on the end of the condom, use your thumb and forefinger to squeeze the air out of it.
- Gently roll the condom down to the base of the penis.
- If the condom won't roll down, you're probably holding it the wrong way round. If this happens, throw the condom away because it may have sperm on it. Try again with a new one.
- After sex, withdraw the penis while it's still erect. Hold the condom on to the base of the penis while the penis is being withdrawn.
- Remove the condom from the penis, and be careful not to spill any semen. Throw the condom away in a bin, not down the toilet.
How effective are condoms?
If used correctly and consistently, male condoms are 98% effective. This means that two out of 100 women using male condoms as contraception will become pregnant in one year.
Always buy condoms that have the CE mark on the packet. This means that they've been tested to the high European safety standards. Condoms that don't have the CE mark won't meet these standards, so don't use them.
By preventing the exchange of bodily fluids, condoms help to protect against many STIs, including HIV. They come in many different sizes, shapes, colours, textures and flavours, so there will be one that suits you.
Whatever your age, even if you're under 16, you can get free condoms from community contraceptive clinics, sexual health and genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics, some young people's services, and some GP surgeries. You can also buy condoms in pharmacies and supermarkets.
What else should I know?
Many people find putting on a condom an enjoyable part of sex, and it doesn't feel like an interruption.
If they're not used properly, male condoms can slip off or split. If this happens, practise putting them on so that you get used to using them properly. Or try using different kinds. There are lots of different sizes and shapes to choose from, so you'll be able to find one that suits you best.
If you're sensitive to latex, use polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms instead.
Although condoms (when used correctly) offer reliable protection against pregnancy, you need to use another method of contraception as well. This is to protect you against an unintended pregnancy if the condom fails.
If the condom splits or comes off, you can use emergency contraception to help to prevent pregnancy. This is for emergencies only, and shouldn't be used as a regular form of contraception. If you have been at risk of pregnancy, you have also been at risk of STIs so have a check up at a GP surgery, contraceptive clinic, sexual health clinic, genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or young person's clinic.