Condoms: External (Male) Condoms

Young women's version of this guide

Hand holding a condom isolated on white background

The external (male) condom is a sheath (covering) worn over the penis during sexual activity. It prevents pregnancy by acting as a barrier, preventing semen from entering the vagina so the sperm cannot reach the “egg”. Condoms also decrease the chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) by acting as a barrier, preventing infections (bacteria and viruses) from passing from one partner to another.

Are there different kinds of condoms?

Yes; condoms come in different sizes, styles, and shapes. 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.

How can I talk with my partner about condoms?

Although it might be difficult or awkward 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). Chances are, your partner(s) has/have some of the same questions about condoms that are going through your head, so talking about them will make you both feel more comfortable.

Where can I get condoms?

Condoms can be bought at drug stores, many supermarkets, or online. They’re very cheap (about $.50 – $2.50 each – and cheaper when you buy a lot at a time). You may also be able to get them for free at a school health center, doctor’s office, or a family planning clinic (such as Planned Parenthood).

In the United States you can also use this link to find a condom:

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.

Lambskin condoms are effective against pregnancy, but not effective in the prevention of STIs.

It’s up whether or not to use lubricated condoms.

How effective is the external (male) condom against pregnancy?

If used perfectly the external (male) condom is 98% effective in preventing pregnancy. This means that if 100 people with uteri have vagina-penile sex while using an external condom, 2 will become pregnant in a year.

If the external condom isn’t used perfectly, it’s only 82% effective. This means that in real life, if 100 people with uteri have vagina-penile sex while using an external condom, 18 will become pregnant in a year.

Tip: If you are having vaginal sex (vagina-penile contact) it’s always a good idea to have a prescription for Emergency Contraception (Plan B) or know where to buy it (over-the-counter) from a pharmacy. This way if the condom breaks or you forget to use a condom, you have a Plan B to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.

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. Lambskin condoms don’t 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 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 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.

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.

How long are condoms good for?

Always check the date on the box.

  • If there is a manufacture date (MGF) you can use these condoms for up to 4 years after that date.
  • If there is an expiration date (EXP), you should use this condom before that date.

If you’re not sure how old it is, or the wrapper looks damaged you should throw it out.

How do I use a condom?

Opening the wrapper: Be careful when opening a condom package so that you don’t tear or nick the latex with your teeth, nails, or rings. Never use anything sharp to open the wrapper.

Once the condom is out of the wrapper: Gently press out air at the tip of the condom. Make sure to leave space at the tip (about one-half inch) to collect the semen, so it won’t leak out the side of the condom.

Using lube: You can use a water-based lubricant (such as glycerin or lubricating jelly) during intercourse to prevent condoms from breaking. If you put a drop of water-based lubricant 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.

Putting the condom on: Talk with your partner(s) about who should put the condom on. You or your partner(s) can put it on an erect penis. To put the condom on an erect penis:
How to Put on a Condom

  • hold the tip of the condom between your thumb and forefinger against the head of the penis
  • if the penis is uncircumcised, you may want to pull back the foreskin before putting on the condom
  • unroll the condom over the entire length of the erect penis

Taking the condom off: After a person has ejaculated, they should pull out while the penis is still hard, since the condom can easily slip off when the penis is not erect. They should hold the condom at the base of their penis while withdrawing so semen doesn’t spill out. Then they should gently roll the condom toward the tip of their penis to take it off.

TIP: Never use two condoms together – doing this causes friction, which increases the chances that the condom will 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. Use a new condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

What if the condom breaks or tears?

First of all, don’t panic – but do withdraw the penis immediately. If there is concern for pregnancy, consider Emergency Contraception to prevent pregnancy. It is used by people with uteri to prevent pregnancy. If you can’t get in touch with a health care provider, you can text “HELPLINE” to 313131 or check online. If you think you might have been exposed to an STI, speak with your health care provider and get tested.

Other things to remember:

  • If the condom breaks but you want to continue having sexual intercourse, make sure that you use a new condom.
  • It’s a good idea to know how to get Emergency Contraception (Plan B) before you need it.
  • 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.

When condoms break, it’s usually because:

  • Space for semen wasn’t left at the tip of the condom.
  • The condoms are out-of-date.
  • 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.

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 external (male) or internal (female) condom. Make sure the condom doesn’t have spermicide on it.

Do I need to use other forms of contraception with the external (male) condom?

If you are having vaginal sex it’s a good idea to use two different types of contraception to increase protection against unplanned pregnancy. For example, you can use birth control pills and condoms.

Condoms are the most effective form of protection against sexually transmitted infections. If used correctly 100% of the time, condoms may reduce risk of pregnancy with vaginal sex by 98%. Condoms are beneficial for all genders, so it is important to discuss condom use with your partner.