Condoms are what is known as barrier method contraception.
Using condoms is by far the best way to both prevent pregnancy and avoid STIs or HIV during sexual contact. They are 98% effective when used correctly. It is important to read instructions on the pack and learn how to use them properly, as they can fail or split if put on wrongly.
The condom acts as a barrier and catches semen, so it does not allow sperm to reach an egg and fertilise it.
When using condoms, it is important that they are put on before any sexual contact with the woman's vagina, as some semen can leak from the penis before ejaculation. This varies from man to man, but if this does happen or semen leaks into the vagina due to a split or incorrectly worn condom then the woman should seek advice on emergency contraception, such as the morning-after pill. This can be obtained from a pharmacy, GP or sexual health clinic. Both partners may also want to consider having an STI and HIV test
As well as being a reliable form of contraception when used correctly, condoms are the best way to protect both partners from STIs and HIV. They are easy to buy from a chemist or supermarket and are usually available free of charge at sexual health clinics. You can carry them with you in a bag or wallet and they do not need advance preparation. They also come in different sizes, flavours and textures, which can add to the sexual experience.
Although some people may be allergic to the latex, plastic or spermicides used in condoms, there are no medical side-effects from their use. Those who have an allergy will find that they are readily available in other materials or without spermicides.
Condoms are very flexible, but they can tear, split or come off if not put on properly. So you should learn to do this. Some people say that they interrupt the flow of sex or lessen sensation, but this may be down to the type of condom used or when you put it on. Try out different brands and make putting on a part of the sexual activity if you can.
Nearly all men can use condoms. Although men who have erection problems may have difficulty in using condoms properly, as they can slip off if the penis is not fully erect. This also means that semen may leak from the condom during sexual activity.
All condoms should carry an expiry date on the box and on the wrapper that contains the condom itself. You should always check this, as expired condoms may not work effectively. Always use known brands that carry a CE mark and British Kitemark. You should always make sure you are wearing the right size. The standard size should fit nearly all men, but small and large condoms are available.
Use a fresh condom every time you have sex and make sure it is put on before any sexual contact. Roll the condom onto the erect penis and keep it on until ejaculation. If having vaginal sex, you should withdraw before the penis goes soft or the condom could slip off. Do not use petroleum or oil-based lubricants such as vaseline or baby oil, as these can damage condoms. Safer water-based lubricant is available from all chemists.
1. Steiner MJ, Cates W Jr, Warner L. The real problem with male condoms is nonuse. Sexually Transmitted Diseases: September 1999, Volume 26, Issue 8, 459-462.
Last updated October 3, 2018