What is a male condom?

A male condom is a narrow tube, made from very thin, natural latex rubber which is soft and stretchy. It is closed at one end, and fits over an erect penis. Most male condoms have a ‘teat’ at the closed end to hold the man’s semen once he has ejaculated (or come).

What is a female condom?

A female condom is a tube made of very thin polyurethane plastic. It is closed at one end, and designed to form a loose lining to a woman’s vagina with two flexible rings, one at each end, to keep it in place.

How do condoms work?

They work by preventing the man’s sperm from meeting and fertilising the woman’s egg.

How effective are male condoms?

Tests show that for every 100 couples who use the male condom very carefully and consistently, two women will get pregnant in a year. But with less careful and consistent use, up to 15 could get pregnant.

It is important to use a quality condom – carefully – every time you have sex, whatever your contraceptive method. Look for the CE Mark or Kitemark which indicates that the condoms have met with European Standards for condoms.

How effective are female condoms?

There have been no large-scale studies showing how effective the female condom is. But research to date suggests that it should be as effective as the male condom. Currently there is no quality standard for the female condom.

Male and female condoms should always be used carefully, to make sure that no sperm comes into contact with the woman’s genital area.

Where do you get condoms?

You can buy male and female condoms from family planning clinics, sexual health clinics and some GUM clinics. You can buy them from a pharmacy or by mail order as well as from vending machines, supermarkets, garages and other shops. Female condoms are not as widely available.

What are the advantages of condoms over other types of contraception?

  • Male condoms are easily accessible.
  • Helps prevent the spread of STIs and HIV/AIDS.
  • There are very few side-effects.
  • Its contraceptive effects are totally reversible.
  • You only need to use them when having sex.
  • A female condom can be put in any time before sex.
  • Male condoms come in a variety of types, shapes and sizes to suit everyone.

What are the disadvantages of condoms over other types of contraception?

  • Putting them on can interrupt sex.
  • They are expensive.
  • A male condom can sometimes slip off or split.
  • Some people are sensitive to latex, though this is rare.
  • When using a male condom, the man has to pull out with the condom still on as soon as he has ejaculated. He must be careful not to spill any semen.
  • Male condoms are not generally suitable for men who do not always keep their erection during intercourse.
  • Female condom may be noisy and may slip into the vagina during sex.

Who are condoms suitable for?

Male and female condoms are suitable for most couples. Many couples choose condoms because they offer effective contraception and the best protection against sexually transmitted infections, when used carefully and consistently. For this reason, many couples choose to use a condom in addition to some other form of contraception, such as the pill. Research to date suggests that the female condom should provide similar protection.

Many choose condoms because, unlike most other kinds of contraception, you do not need medical advice before starting to use them.

Female condoms are not suitable for women who have an infection in their vagina or cervix, or for those who do not feel comfortable touching their genital area.

How do you use a condom?

Instructions are also given on the pack or in a leaflet inside. The man can put the condom on himself, or his partner can do it. Similarly the woman can insert the female condom or her partner can help.

Use a new condom each time you have sex.

Check the ‘use by’ date on the packet.

Be careful how you take the condom out of the packet – sharp fingernails and jewellery can tear the condom.

Male condom:

  • Find the teat or closed end and squeeze it to get rid of air. This will
    also help you roll the condom on the right way round.
  • Put the condom on when the penis is fully erect and before it
    touches the vagina or genital area.
  • Still holding the end, roll the condom all the way down the penis. If
    it won’t go to the base then it’s probably on inside out. If so, start
    again with a new condom as sperm could now be on the first one.
  • As soon as the man has ejaculated, and before the penis goes soft,
    hold the condom firmly in place while pulling out. Do this slowly
    and carefully so you do not spill any semen.

Female condom:

  • You can put the condom in any time before sex but always before
    the penis touches the vagina or genital area. You can put the
    condom in when you are lying down, squatting or with one leg on a chair. Find the position that suits you best.
  • Hold the closed end of the condom and squeeze the inner ring
    between your thumb and middle finger. Keeping your index finger
    on the inner ring helps you to insert the condom into the vagina.
  • With your other hand, separate the folds of skin (labia) around
    your vagina.
  • Then put the squeezed ring into the vagina and push it up as far as
    you can.
  • Now put your index or middle finger, or both, inside the open end
    of the condom, until you can feel the inner ring.
  • Then push the inner ring as far back into the vagina as it will go. It
    will then be lying just above your pubic bone. (You can feel your
    pubic bone by inserting your index or middle finger into your
    vagina and curving it forward slightly).
  • Make sure that the outer ring lies close against the area outside
    your vagina (vulva).
  • It is a good idea for the woman or man to guide the man’s penis
    into the condom to make sure it does not enter the vagina outside
    the condom. Holding the outer ring in place, outside the vagina,
    also helps to stop the entire condom being accidentally pushed
    right into the vagina. As the female condom is loose-fitting, it will
    move during sex. But you will still be protected as long as the penis
    stays inside the condom.
  • To remove the condom, simply twist the outer ring to keep the
    semen inside. Then pull the condom out gently.

After removal:

  • Make sure the man’s penis does not touch the genital area again, and if you have sex again, use a new condom.
  • Dispose of your condoms carefully. Never flush them down the toilet as they cannot be broken down in the sewage system. Wrap them in a tissue and put them in a bin.

What if the condom comes off or splits?

Emergency contraception which may prevent pregnancy is available from your GP or family planning clinic. However emergency contraception should taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. So call to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

Remember if you have had unprotected sex it is possible that you have contracted a Sexually Transmitted Infection so you may need to consider having a test to screen for STIs.

What are lubricants?

Both male and female condoms are lubricated to make them easier to use.

Some people also like to use additional lubrication. If you are using a male condom, remember that you should never use oil-based products – such as body oils, creams, lotions or petroleum jelly – as a lubricant as these can damage the latex and make the condom more likely to split. Some ointments can also damage latex. If you are using medication in the genital area – for example pessaries or suppositories – ask your doctor or pharmacist if it will affect the male condom.

Any lubricant can be used with male or female polyurethane condoms.