Condoms (male and female)
easy to use yourself
available in different shapes, sizes and flavours
suitable for unplanned sex - no preparation is needed
easy to carry around in your wallet or pocket
no side effects
condoms help to protect against STIs and pregnancy
if you're sensitive to the latex used in male condoms you can use female condoms, or use use polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms instead
does not require procedure / examination
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.
*for typical use (effectiveness for perfect use 99%)
How condoms work
How to use it - 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.
How to use it - 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.
Why it works
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.
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.
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.
Medical content reviewed by:
Dr Gillian Holdsworth, Fettle's Managing Director, Medical Doctor and public health expert.
How do I put on a male condom?
Take the condom out of the packet, taking care not to tear it with jewellery or fingernails – do not open the packet with your teeth.
- place the condom over the tip of the erect penis, checking the roll of condom is on the outside
- use your thumb and forefinger to squeeze the air out of the tip of the condom
- gently roll the condom down to the base of the penis
- if the condom won't roll down, you're probably holding it the wrong way round – if this happens, throw the condom away because it may have sperm on it, and try again with a new one
- after sex, withdraw the penis while it's still erect – hold the condom onto the base of the penis while you do this
- remove the condom from the penis, being careful not to spill any semen
- throw the condom away in a bin, not down the toilet
- make sure the man's penis does not touch his partner's genital area again
- if you have sex again, use a new condom.
How do I use a female condom?
Take the female condom out of the packet, taking care not to tear the condom – do not open the packet with your teeth.
Squeeze the smaller ring at the closed end of the condom and insert it into the vagina. (Female condoms can be inserted up to eight hours before sex).
Make sure that the large ring at the open end of the female condom covers the area around the vaginal opening.
Make sure the penis enters into the female condom, not between the 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 to prevent semen leaking out.
Throw the condom away in a bin, not down the toilet.
Do I need to use lubricant?
Male condoms come ready lubricated to make them easier to use, but you may also like to use additional lubricant, or ‘lube’. This is particularly advised for anal sex, to reduce the chance of the condom splitting.
Any kind of lubricant can be used with condoms that are not made of latex. However, if you are using latex condoms, do not use oil-based lubricants, such as: body oil or lotion, petroleum jelly or creams (such as Vaseline). This is because they can damage the latex and make the condom more likely to split. Lubricants are cheap and available in most pharmacies, at sexual health clinics and online.
Any kind of lubricant can be used with female polyurethane condoms.
Will I be asked for ID when buying condoms?
No. There are no restrictions on buying condoms, or on getting free and confidential advice about using condoms or other contraception.
What should I do if the condom splits, falls off or comes out?
'If the condom splits, comes off, or comes out, you can use emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy.
You should also take an STI test as you may have been exposed to an infection when the condom split.
If you are a man who has sex with men and think you are at risk of HIV because a condom has split or come off, preventative medication (PEP) is available. This will reduce your chance of becoming infected with HIV, but must be started within three days of exposure. To find your nearest PEP service, visit sxt.org.uk.
I am already using another form of contraception. When do I need to use condoms as well?
You may choose to use condoms as well as another form of contraception if:
- you have not used your regular form of contraception correctly (e.g. missed pills) and you need a backup method until the effectiveness is re-established
- you may feel that your regular form of contraception is not sufficiently effective and would like additional protection
- you may use a highly effective method of contraception to prevent pregnancy (such as the implant) and use condoms in addition to prevent STIs.
Are there any health risks associated with using condoms?
For most people, there are no serious risks associated with using condoms, although some people are allergic to latex condoms. You can get condoms that are latex free.
Should I use a condom for oral sex?
Can I use condoms if I have my period?
Yes. Menstrual blood is a natural fluid and will not have any impact on the condom’s effectiveness.
If you are using condoms to prevent pregnancy you should use them during sex on every day of your cycle, including during your period, when there is still a small risk of pregnancy.
If using condoms to prevent STIs then you should use them during sex on every day of your cycle, including during your period.
Can I use the condoms if I’m pregnant?
Yes. If you think you are at risk of STIs, you should use a condom during sex when pregnant to protect yourself and your baby from contracting an infection.
Should I use condoms if I’ve just had a baby?
When you feel ready to have sex again, it is safe for you to use a condom. You may need to use one even if you are returning to another method of contraception, as it can take time for other methods to start working.