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Types of condom

There's a lot of choice when buying condoms. Here's what you need to know before choosing one.

What material are condoms made of?

Male condoms are usually made from latex (a type of rubber) but condoms made from polyisoprene and polyurethane are also available – these can be used by people who are allergic to latex.

Female condoms (Femidoms) are also made from a non-latex material called nitrile.

How can I tell if a condom is of reliable quality?

Male condoms come in different thicknesses, shapes and sizes, with or without a teat at the end to catch the sperm.

A condom should carry one or both of the symbols below, a sign that it has passed certain tests and is of a decent quality:

 Condom kitemark

What sizes do condoms come in?

Penises come in different sizes so one size of condom will not fit all men.

A condom that is too small can be uncomfortable and more likely to burst; too big and it’s more likely to come off during sex.

Sizes are stated on the packet:

  • smaller condoms are marketed as ‘snug’, 'trim' or ‘close fit'
  • larger ones are often described as ‘XL’.

The biggest selection of condom sizes can be found online.

Do I need a thicker condom for extra safety? 

Some people prefer to use thicker condoms for extra protection, especially for anal sex, but there seems to be no difference in breakage rates between thicker and thinner condoms.

What lubricant should I use?

Never use a male condom with oil-based lubricant, as it makes them split.

Use silicone-based or water-based lube instead.

What is spermicide?

Some condoms come covered with a spermicide, a chemical that kills sperm (the packaging will say if a spermicide has been used).

Avoid condoms with nonoxynol-9, which is a spermicide that often irritates the skin.

As spermicides in general might irritate the skin and increase the chance of infections, condoms without them are recommended if you have a choice.

Can I use novelty condoms? 

Condoms can come in different flavours (good idea if you want to use them for oral sex) or with ribbed or shaped surfaces to increase sensation; even ‘glow in the dark’ condoms are available.

Check the packaging of any novelty condom in case it’s not recommended for sexual use – only use condoms with either the European or British Kitemarks.

How long can I keep a condom?

Condoms should last about five years if stored correctly (a ‘use by’ date is on each wrapper).

Keep them away from damp and heat (eg, radiators, lamps, direct sunlight).

It’s not a good idea to carry a condom around in trouser pockets for a long time as it can get damaged by body heat and being crushed.

Problems with condom use ››


The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 8/6/2016 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 8/6/2019

Content Author: Richard Scholey

Current Owner: Health Promotion

More information:

What are female condoms? NAM aidsmap

Contraception guide – Condoms, NHS Choices, January 2015

One size fits all - what size condom should I buy? Durex

Condoms, Roger Pebody, NAM aidsmap, September 2015

Condom tips, NHS Choices, February 2016

Condoms: know the facts, NHS Choices, October 2014

Facts about gay sex, Ian Howley, GMFA, July 2014

Expert answers on – can a condom wrapper break while it’s in your wallet? Stephen Dowshen MD, Kids health, August 2013

A BASHH guide to condoms, British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH), 2012

Condom excuses NHS, 2011

Providing and promoting the female condom NAM

Condoms. NAM, 2011

Sex NAM, 2011

Nonoxynol 9 NAM

FAQs Durex

Condoms AVERT


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