Condoms are the most effective way to protect your sexual health.

What are condoms?

Condoms are the most effective way to safeguard your sexual health as they provide a barrier that stops sperm, viruses and bacteria getting from one person to another.

Condoms are the best protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) when having vaginal, anal or oral sex.

There are two types of condoms.

  • The external or ‘male’ condom is worn over the erect penis or sex toy.
  • The internal (aka ‘female’ condom, or Femidom) is a pouch with two rings that is inserted into the vagina before sex.

When used correctly and consistently male condoms are 98% effective and femidoms are 95% effective at protecting against STIs and pregnancy. It’s important to learn how to use condoms correctly and to use them consistently.

Types of Condoms

Condoms come in different sizes and it’s good to know what size fits you best. If the condom is too small it can feel uncomfortable and tight, and at worse, split. If it’s too big they can come off during sex and increase the risk of an unplanned pregnancy or passing on an STI.

If you’re unsure what size condom you can get a selection free from the C-Card scheme and try them, it’s as easy as that!

If you have a latex allergy, latex-free condoms are available.

Condoms don’t need to get in the way or disrupt sex if you know how to use them. The best way to feel confident in using them is to practise.

How to use a condom

Once you know what size suits you, check a few things to ensure the condom is safe to use.

  • Check its in date – condoms have a long expiry date on them but they do go out of date. If it’s out of date then throw it away and use another condom.
  • Check the condom has either the British Kitemark and/or European CE safety mark. The Kitemark does not cover non-latex condoms.
  • Check the packet is not damaged or pierced. Squeeze the packet and you’ll be able to tell if there’s still air in it and it’s not been pierced.

To open:

  • Feel for the perforated edge on the packet.
  • Push the condom to one side.
  • Tear the packet open and ensure the condom isn’t caught and torn (be careful of nails/jewellery and don’t use teeth or scissors).
  • Make sure the condom is the right way round. If you’re unsure you can pinch the tip and check that you can roll the condom down.

Putting the condom on:

  • The penis needs to be fully erect. Pinch the teat at the top of the condom to push any air out.
  • There should be no air in the teat to give space for semen. If there’s no room the condom can split.
  • While pinching the teat, place the condom on the tip of the penis, continue pinching the teat whilst you unroll the condom over the head of the penis and all the way down the length.
  • If it doesn’t unroll, it’s probably the wrong way round so throw it away and start again with a new condom.
  • Don’t turn it over and use it as it could have pre-cum on it where it has touched the penis – when a penis gets erect it releases semen to act as a natural lubricant. Pre cum can contain millions of sperm, and potentially a STI, and this will be on the outside of your condom.

During use:

  • Always hold the base of the condom when changing positions.
  • Use a new condom between oral, vaginal or anal sex.

How to dispose of a used condom:

  • After ejaculation (cumming), hold the condom on at the base when withdrawing the penis, and then take the condom off.
  • Check to see if the condom has spilt. A good way to do this is to run your fingers down the length of the condom to see if there are any tears. If it has split, tell your sexual partner and discuss emergency contraception (if a female partner) and getting a sexual health check-up.
  • After taking off the condom tie a knot at the open end to prevent semen coming out.
  • Wrap it in tissue and put it in the bin. Never put it down the toilet – it will either float or block the toilet!

Top tips for using condoms

  • Don’t use a condom that’s been in a pocket for a long time or has been through the washing machine – heat and water cause damage. Store them somewhere cool and dry.
  • Only use a condom once and then put it in the bin – they’re not reusable.
  • Don’t ever use two condoms at the same time as the friction can weaken them and cause them to split.