First the Facts

  • Condoms are the only contraceptive method that can protect against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), if used correctly.
  • There are two types of condoms: external (male) and internal (female).
  • Most people can use condoms safely.

How Do Condoms Work?

  • Condoms are a barrier method of contraception. They work by stopping sperm coming into contact with an egg.
  • If used correctly, condoms provide both partners with protection against most STIs. They reduce the risk of catching infections such as genital herpes, warts, and syphilis; however, they do not provide complete protection as these infections can also be spread by skin-to-skin contact.
  • Condoms do not contain hormones and will not affect your menstrual cycle or sperm production.

How Do I Use Condoms?

  • Always use a new condom every time you have sex, or if changing between types of sex (oral/vaginal/anal) or sexual partners during sexual intercourse. You should never re-use condoms.
  • To protect against STIs, condoms should be used for all types of sex (oral/vaginal/anal).
  • Before using condoms check the packaging for signs of damage, the use-by date and the CE or BSI kite symbol which indicates the condom is safe to use.
  • Pushing the condom away, tear the packet open, being careful not to damage the condom with fingernails or jewellery. Do not use your teeth to open the packet.
  • If you want to use additional lubrication, this should be silicone- or water-based lubricant (not oil-based, which can damage the condom). It is important to be aware of other things that can damage condoms, e.g. sun cream, vaginal oestrogen cream, and any other oil-based liquids.
  • Condoms can be used with other forms of contraception (e.g. pill, implant, etc.) but only one condom should be used at a time and male and female condoms should not be used at the same time. This is because the friction of one condom on top of another can lead to tears in the condom.

External (Male) Condom

  • External condoms can be used for oral, vaginal and anal sex and on sex toys.
  • The condom must be applied to an erect penis or sex toy BEFORE it comes into contact with another person’s genital area. This is because semen can be released before ejaculation occurs and transmission of STIs is not dependent on ejaculation.
  • If you have a foreskin, you may find it easier and more comfortable to pull the foreskin back before you start.
  • Ensure the condom is the right way up, with the teat at the top and the rim in a position where you will be able to roll it down.
  • Pinch the teat with your finger and thumb to keep the air out, place the condom on the tip of the penis and roll the condom all the way down so that it covers the length of the penis.
  • If the condom is inside-out, it will not roll down. If this is the case, you should discard the condom and begin again, with a new condom.
  • If you are having anal sex, you should apply additional silicone- or water-based lubricant around the anus.
  • After ejaculation you should withdraw the penis before it becomes soft. To do this, firmly hold the condom in place at the base of the penis and slowly withdraw, being careful not to spill any semen.
  • Take the condom off, tie the end and place it in a bin.
  • Make sure the penis does not touch the genital area again, and if you want to have sex again, apply a new condom.
Male condoms (Foto:


Internal (Female) Condom

  • Internal condoms can be used in the vagina or the anus. They are different to external condoms.
  • They must be applied before a penis comes into contact with the genital area.
Vaginal Use
  • You can insert the condom in whichever position is most comfortable for you. They can be inserted up to 8 hours before sex.
  • Hold the closed end of the condom, squeezing the inner (narrower) ring between your thumb and finger. With your other hand, separate the folds of skin around your vagina. Insert the ring and push it up as far as it will go. Make sure the outer (wider) ring stays close to the sides outside your vagina.
  • When inserting a penis, guide it into the condom to ensure that it is inside the condom. You may need to hold the outer ring in place to make sure you do not accidentally push the condom inside the vagina.
  • The condom is likely to move during sex, but this is okay as long as the penis stays inside it at all times and the outer ring is outside the vagina.
  • After the penis has left the vagina, twist the outer ring closed and gently pull the condom out and put it straight into a bin.
  • Make sure the penis does not touch the genital area again, and if you want to have sex again, apply a new condom.
Anal Use
  • First identify the inner ring of the condom.
  • Place the condom on the penis (with the inner ring at the tip of the penis), ensuring it covers the whole penis. Additional lube should be applied to the anus. Insert the penis into the anus and make sure the outer ring stays close to the sides outside the anus.
  • The condom is likely to move during sex, but this is okay as long as the penis stays inside it at all times.
  • After the penis has left the anus, twist the outer ring closed and gently pull the condom out and put it straight into a bin.
  • Make sure the penis does not touch the genital area again, and if you want to have sex again, use a new condom.
Female condom (Foto:


What If I Don’t Use Condoms Correctly?

  • Condoms are only effective if handled and used correctly.
  • Condoms will not be effective if:
    • Used with an oil-based product such as body oils, Vaseline, or some types of lubricant, which can damage the condom.
    • If the penis touches the genital area before the condom is applied or after it is removed.
    • If the condom splits, is damaged or is out of date.
    • If the condom slips off or is removed too soon.
    • Any semen leaks out of the condom.
    • If the packet does not have the CE or BSI kite symbol.
    • You do not use the condom correctly.
  • If you think you have used a condom incorrectly or if any of the above are relevant, you should speak to a doctor or pharmacist straight away as you may require emergency contraception or STI screening

Are There Any Side Effects?

There are no medical side effects associated with condoms; however, if someone has a latex allergy, then they should choose a latex-free condom.

Special Considerations

  • Standard size external (male) condoms will fit most people, but larger and smaller condoms are available. You should make sure that you are using a condom that is not too tight or too loose.
  • Flavoured condoms can be used for oral sex as long as they have the kite or CE mark, but they should not be used for vaginal sex as they can increase the risk of some infections.
  • Some novelty condoms may not prevent STIs and pregnancy.
  • If you are using other medications such as creams or pessaries in the genital region, you should check with a doctor or pharmacist if condoms can be safely used.
  • Make sure condoms are stored in a place where they will not be damaged by friction or sharp objects.

Where Can I Get Condoms?

  • You can get condoms free from:
    • A sexual health service, genitourinary medicine or contraception clinic
    • Young person’s clinic
    • Some GP surgeries or pharmacies
  • You can buy condoms from shops including supermarkets and pharmacies or online
  • Internal (female) condoms are not as widely available as external (male) condoms

You can find out where to get free condoms by clicking here.

Are Condoms Right for Me?

  • Condoms are suitable for most people. They can be used immediately after having a baby, miscarriage, or abortion.
  • If you have a latex allergy, you should use polyurethane condoms instead. Vegan condoms are also available.

There are advantages and disadvantages of using condoms for contraception:

When used correctly, they are effective at preventing pregnancy and are the only method of contraception that prevents the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)Some people feel that applying a condom can interrupt sex
You only need to use them on every occasion when you are having sexThey are user-dependent, and if not used properly, they are not effective
They are safe to use and are not associated with side effectsThey are not as effective at preventing pregnancy as some other types of contraception
They are widely available


Written by: Dr Alice Llambias-Maw, Dr Nikki Kersey and Dr Paula Briggs
Last updated: January 2021

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