What are they?
There are two types – male and female – made from either very thin latex (rubber) or polyurethane. Used correctly, they help protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
How do they work?
The male condom is worn on the penis to stop sperm from entering the partner's body. It needs to be put on when the penis is erect, and before the penis comes into contact with the body. To use a male condom:
- Take the condom out of the packet, taking care not to tear the condom.
- Place the condom over the tip of the penis.
- If there is 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 are probably holding it the wrong way around. If this happens, throw the condom away as it may have sperm on it and try again with a new one.
- After sex, withdraw the penis while it is still erect. Hold the condom at the base of the penis while the penis is withdrawn.
- Remove the condom from the penis, being 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 a year.
- Female condoms are 95% effective if used correctly; this means that five out of 100 women using them will become pregnant in a year.
- Always buy condoms that have the CE mark on the packet. This means that they have been tested to the high safety standards that are required in Europe. Condoms that don't have the CE mark won't meet these standards, so don't use them.
Condoms help protect against many sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. There are many different sizes, shapes, colours, textures and flavours of condoms.
You can get them free from community contraceptive clinics, sexual health and genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics, some young people's services and some GP surgeries. You can buy them in pharmacies and supermarkets.
Anything else to know about?
Putting one on can interrupt sex, but many people include putting on a condom as an enjoyable part of sex.
- If not used properly, male condoms can slip off or split; if this happens to you, try using a different kind - there are lots of different sizes and shapes to choose from so you can find one that suits you best.
- The female condom cannot get pushed too far into the vagina - the outer ring prevents them being pushed into the body.
- Some people are sensitive to latex, but if this is a problem you can use polyurethane condoms.
- Although condoms if used correctly offer reliable protection against pregnancy, you need to use another method of contraception as well. This is so you are protected against unwanted pregnancy or STIs just in case the condom splits of comes off.
- If the condom splits or comes off, you can use emergency contraception to help prevent pregnancy, but remember this really is for emergencies only and should not be used as a regular form of contraception.