Condoms (also known as rubbers, johnnies, or french letters) are thin latex or polyurethane barriers that are designed to fit over an erect penis.
How does it work?
Condoms work by providing a barrier that prevents semen and sperm from the man wearing the condom from getting inside the woman or man that he is having sex with, preventing pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
When the man wearing a condom ejaculates, his semen is held inside the condom in a reservoir (space) at the top, rather than spilling out.
Using a condom also protects the wearer from most STIs their partners may have, because it stops STIs, including HIV, from coming into contact with his penis. The only exception would be STIs that pass from skin-to-skin contact, such as genital warts.
Condoms can be used for both penetrative vaginal and anal sex, as well as for oral sex.
How effective is the condom?
When used correctly (which means if it doesn’t slip off or break), a condom is 98% effective in preventing pregnancy.
When choosing condoms make sure that the one that you are going to use has a BSI kitemark or CE mark, as this shows that it is a high quality condom which has been properly tested and approved.
Also make sure that you check the use by date, and don’t use the condom if it has expired or if the package is damaged or torn.
Advantages of using condoms:
- condoms are easily available
- they are the only form of contraception which protects against both pregnancy and the transmission of most STIs, including HIV
- you can use them spontaneously
- you only need them when you are going to have sex
- they are freely available in lots of places, eg sexual health clinics, school drop-ins, GPs and health visitors.
Disadvantages of using condoms:
Some people don’t like to use condoms because they find them tricky to put on, and putting a condom on incorrectly makes it more likely to slip off or break. But remember – practice makes perfect, and the more you do it the better you will get. You can even use condoms when masturbating to practice.
Others complain that condoms interrupt sex, when all they want to do is get on with it. But putting a condom on doesn’t have to slow things down, and some men find that getting their partner to put it on, or help put it on, keeps things exciting.
Things to bear in mind:
Always use water-based lubricants with condoms. Never use oil-based lubricants, such as hand cream, baby oil or Vaseline. This is because they can weaken the condom and cause them to tear or break more easily.
Also be aware of any sharp nails or jewellery when putting a condom on, as this can also cause tears or holes.
Latex condoms are not suitable for people who are allergic to latex, but latex free condoms are available.
Where can I get it from and how much does it cost?
You can get them free from your GP surgery, GUM clinics, young person’s and sexual health clinics, as well as many young people’s services.
You can also buy them, and they come in a huge range of shapes, sizes, colours and flavours. Some have extra features (such as ribbing) which some people find makes sex more enjoyable. Packs of condoms usually cost from around £3 for a pack of three.
Read more about condoms, including tips for their use, condom options, and illustrated instructions on how to use them.