Condoms

Young women's version of this guide
Hand holding a condom isolated on white background

The male condom is a sheath (or covering) worn over the erect penis during sexual activity. Condoms can be a great tool for guys to take control of their sexual health. They can act as a barrier, reducing the risk of an unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Are there different kinds of condoms?

Yes; condoms come in different sizes, styles, and shapes, and have different features (such as flavors). Condoms can be made out of latex, polyurethane, or lambskin (also called natural). Condoms may be lubricated or unlubricated. Some condoms used to contain spermicides (chemicals to kill sperm), but most don’t. It’s best to use condoms without spermicide.

Where can I get condoms?

Condoms can be bought at drug stores, many supermarkets, or online. In the United States they usually cost $0.50 to $2.50 each, though can be cheaper if you buy a few at a time.. You may also be able to get them for free at a school health center, your health care provider’s office, or a family planning clinic (such as Planned Parenthood).

Does it matter which type of condom I use?

Yes. The best type of condom to use is one made out of latex. It provides the best protection against both pregnancy and STIs. However, if either you or your partner is allergic to latex, polyurethane condoms are still a good option. They provide just about the same protection against pregnancy and also give some protection against STIs, although they break and slip more often than latex condoms. Lambskin condoms are effective against pregnancy, but are not effective in the prevention of STIs. It’s up to you to choose whether to use lubricated or unlubricated condoms.

How effective is the male condom against pregnancy?

If a male condom is used correctly, every time you have vaginal sex (vagina-penis sex) it is 98% effective in preventing a pregnancy. This means that if 100 sexual couples have vaginal sex and use the male condom perfectly, all the time, 2 couples will become pregnant in a year.

Condoms act as a barrier preventing semen from entering the vagina and preventing sperm from reaching or fertilizing an egg.   The male condom is most effective against pregnancy when it’s used all the time and always used correctly. If it’s not used perfectly, it’s about 85% effective. This means that in real life, if 100 sexual couples have vaginal sex and uses use the male condom, but they don’t use it perfectly every time, about 15 couples will become pregnant in a year.

When used all of the time and when used correctly, condoms are good at preventing pregnancy. Most condom failures happen because of improper use.

Out of 100 couples using male condoms
Typical use: 18 women become pregnant in a year

(how it’s typically used in real life)

18 Pregnant Women
Perfect use: 2 women become pregnant in a year

(if used perfectly every time–see below for details)

2 Pregnant Women

If you decide to have vaginal sex, the best way to prevent pregnancy is to use two different types of contraception. For instance, you can use a male condom and birth control pills. For more information on other types of contraception check out:

 

How effective is the condom against STIs?

The answer to this question partly depends on which type of condom used and if the condom is used and removed correctly. Latex condoms provide excellent protection against most STIs. Polyurethane condoms also provide some protection against STIs, although more research studies are needed to know how protective they really are. Remember, lambskin condoms do not protect against STIs; the pores are too large to protect against the small particles that cause some STIs.

The answer to this question also depends on which type of STI. Latex condoms protect against only certain types of STIs. STIs can be spread by sexual activity in a few different ways. They’re effective in lowering the risk of STIs that travel in bodily fluids (blood or semen), such as the HIV/AIDS virushepatitischlamydia, and gonorrhea.

Condoms are much less effective against STIs that are caused by organisms that live in sores on the genitals, such as syphilis. STIs such as herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV – also known as genital warts) that occur on the genital skin can also get passed from one partner to another even if a condom is used.

Most importantly, the effectiveness of a condom against STIs depends on whether the condom is stored correctly and whether it’s used correctly all of the time.

If you make the decision to have sex, condoms are your best protection against an STI. You can also decrease your chance of getting an STI by having sex with only one person who doesn’t have an STI and who isn’t having sex with anyone else. Making sure you and your sexual partner(s) get tested regularly for STI’s is another tool you have to lower your risk of an STI.

How do I use a condom?

Use a new condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Opening the wrapper: First check the expiration date. Make sure the wrapper is in good condition. If the wrapper looks damaged, then use a different condom. Be careful when opening a condom package so that you don’t tear or nick the latex with your teeth or nails. Don’t unroll the condom before putting it on your penis, because it can weaken the latex and make the condom difficult to use.

Putting the condom on: You can put a condom on, or your partner can put it on you. If you’re putting the condom on, hold the tip of the condom between your thumb and forefinger against the head of your penis. Put the condom on when your penis is erect. Make sure to leave space at the tip (about one-half inch) to collect semen (this helps prevent the condom from breaking). Then gently unroll the condom over the entire length of your erect penis. If your penis is uncircumcised, pull back the foreskin before putting on the condom.

 

How to Put on a Condom

Taking the condom off: After you’ve ejaculated, you should pull out while your penis is still hard, since the condom can easily slip off when the erection is lost. You should hold the condom at the base of your penis while withdrawing so semen doesn’t spill out. Then you should gently roll the condom toward the tip of your penis to take it off.

Also, never use two condoms at the same time. This can increase friction, which means it’s more likely for the condom to break.

What should you do with a used condom?

You should throw it out in the trash. Don’t flush it down the toilet, since it can clog plumbing.

Condoms can’t be reused, so only use one condom each time you have sexual intercourse.

Can I use lube with condoms?

You can use a water-based lubricant (such as glycerin or lubricating jelly) with latex condoms. If you put a drop of lubricant (such as KY-Jelly) inside the tip of the condom, you can increase both sensation and safety.

Never use an oil-based lubricant, since it will weaken the latex and make it break. Examples of oil-based lubricants include Crisco, lotion, Vaseline, or baby oil.

Medications used to treat yeast infections can also weaken condoms.

How can I talk with my partner about condoms?

Although it might be difficult at first, talking with your partner about condoms will greatly increase the chance that you’ll use a condom correctly each and every time you have sex (vaginal, anal, or oral).

Also you can take this time to talk to your partner about what types of sex you’d like to have, to talk about sexual consent, talk about contraception (if applicable), and to talk about whether they’ve been tested for STI’s.

Chances are, your partner has some of the same questions that are going through your head, so talking about them will make you both feel more comfortable. Don’t let embarrassment put you in a risky situation—your health is more important. Also, sexual partners who talk about sex tend to have more enjoyable sex.

If you’re not comfortable talking about condoms with your partner, that’s okay and you may not be ready to have sex.

Where should I keep unused condoms?

Keep unused condoms in a dry, dark place at room temperature. Extreme heat or cold can weaken the material. Sunlight or humidity can also break down latex, causing condoms to break or tear more easily. Condoms shouldn’t be carried in a wallet or stored in a car glove compartment because the material will weaken and is more likely to break or tear, which means they are less likely to work correctly.

How long are condoms good for?

Always check the date on the wrapper. Some condoms are marked by the manufacture date (MFG = manufacture date). You can use these condoms for up to four years after the date of manufacture. Other condoms are marked EXP, which means expiration date. You shouldn’t use condoms any time after the expiration date. If you’re not sure how old the condom is, throw it away and use a new one. Never use condoms that are brittle, sticky, damaged, or an unusual color. Using out-of-date condoms is another reason for condom failure.

What if the condom breaks or tears?

First of all, don’t panic – but do withdraw your penis immediately.

If you are having vaginal sex and your partner isn’t using another method of birth control such as the birth control pill, they should strongly consider taking Emergency Contraception to prevent pregnancy. If they can’t get in touch with their health care provider, they can call the Emergency Contraception Hotline (1-888-NOT-2-LATE) or check online.

If you think you might have been exposed to an STI, speak with your health care provider.

Other things to remember:

  • If the condom breaks but you want to continue having sexual intercourse, make sure that you use a new condom
  • Try to figure out why the condom broke so that it won’t happen again

How often do condoms break?

Condoms hardly ever break if they’re stored and used correctly. Proper use depends on the skill and experience of the person using them.

When condoms break, it’s usually because:

  • Space for semen wasn’t left at the tip of the condom
  • The condoms are expired
  • The condoms have been exposed to heat or sunlight
  • The condoms have been torn by teeth or fingernails

Also, using oil-based (rather than water-based) lubricants weakens latex, causing condoms to break. If you store and use condoms properly, it’s very unlikely that your condom will break.

What if the condom comes off during vaginal sex and my partner can’t remove it from their vagina?

Your partner will likely be able to retrieve it by reaching into their vagina with a finger. If they can’t, they should contact their health care provider for an appointment.

Can people be allergic to condoms?

Some people may have an allergic reaction to condoms, which can be due to spermicide or latex. If you think it might be due to the latex, you should try a polyurethane condom. Make sure the condom doesn’t have spermicide on it.