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).
The female condom is made of polyurethane, and is worn inside the vagina to stop sperm getting to the womb. It needs to be put in the vagina before there is any contact between the vagina and penis. To use a female condom:
- Take the female condom out of the packet, taking care not to tear the condom.
- Squeeze the smaller ring at the closed end of the condom and insert it into the vagina.
- Make sure the large ring at the open end of the female condom is covering the area around the vaginal opening.
- Make sure the penis enters into the female condom, not between the female condom and the side of the vagina.
- Remove the female condom immediately after sex by gently pulling it out. You can twist the large ring in order to prevent semen leaking out. Throw the condom away in a bin (not down the toilet).
- Male and female condoms should be stored away from excessive heat or cold, and away from sharp or rough surfaces that could tear or wear them away.
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.
- Female condoms can get pushed too far into the vagina, but don't worry - it's easy to remove them yourself.
- 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.