About Condoms (male & female)

Condoms are the only contraceptive method that protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The male condom is a sheath or covering that is worn over the penis during sex. They are designed to stop a man's semen from coming into contact with his sexual partner. They can be used by men having sex with women or men to prevent pregnancy and protect against STIs.

To prevent pregnancy the condom must stop any sperm from reaching the vagina. Small amounts of sperm are released from the penis before ejaculation, so for condoms to be effective they must be used during any contact between the penis and vagina.

Putting on the condom late or removing the condom during sex will result in much higher risk of pregnancy.
Female condoms (often called ‘Femidom’) are made from very thin soft plastic called polyurethane, and are worn inside the vagina to prevent semen getting to the womb.

When used correctly, female condoms protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Each condom can only be used once, so protection only lasts as long as the condom is intact and worn correctly.

Condoms are often used by people who are not in long term relationships, or who prefer not to use a long term or hormonal method of contraception. Condoms are easy to carry around and can be thrown in a bin after use. Condoms are easy to put on with a bit of practice.

How to use condoms

Male condom

To put it on, first check the roll is on the outside.
Squeeze the teat of the condom and roll it down the penis with your other hand.

Female condom

Take the female condom out of the packet, taking care not to tear it.
Squeeze the smaller ring at the closed end and insert it into the top of the vagina, up to 8 hours before sex. Make sure that the large ring at the open end of the female condom covers the area around the vaginal opening.

When you are having sex, make sure that the penis enters into the condom. Remove the condom immediately after sex by gently pulling it out, twisting the large ring to prevent semen leaking out.

Condoms are a barrier method of contraception. They stop sperm from reaching an egg by creating a physical barrier between them. Condoms also prevent the transmission of STIs by providing a barrier. Condoms can be used for vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Things to consider

Condoms are a good method of contraception if you remember to keep them with you when you think you are going to have sex. You should also be confident about putting them on or asking your partner to put one on.

Condoms become less effective at preventing pregnancy if:

  • the penis touches the area around the vagina before a condom is put on

  • the condom splits, comes off (male condom), or comes out (female condom)

  • the condom gets damaged by sharp fingernails or jewellery

  • the female condom gets pushed too far into the vagina

  • the penis enters the vagina outside the female condom by mistake

  • you use oil-based lubricants (such as lotion, baby oil or petroleum jelly) with latex condoms – this damages the condom

  • you are using medication for conditions like thrush, such as creams, pessaries or suppositories – this can damage latex condoms.

What if the condom splits or comes out?

If this happens, you can use emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. This is for emergencies only and shouldn’t be used as a regular form of contraception. You should also take an STI test as you may have been exposed to an infection when the condom split.

You need to take the emergency contraceptive pill within 120 hours (five days) of having unprotected sex.

The non-hormonal coil (IUD) can be used as emergency contraception up to 120 hours (five days) after sex.

If you believe you may have been at risk of HIV you should access preventative medication (PEP) within 72 hours (three days). This will reduce your chance of becoming infected with HIV, but must be started within three days of exposure.

Suitability, Side effects & risks

Condoms are not suitable for people:

  • with latex allergy, though non-latex condoms are available

  • who have difficulty keeping an erection may not be able to use male condoms.

Side effects & risks

  • latex allergies are rare, but possible

  • condoms can come off so remove them as soon as you have finished having sex and the penis is still erect.

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