Male condoms (external condom)

What is a condom

There are two types of condom, male condoms (external) and female condoms (internal). A male condom is a barrier method of contraception that is worn over the penis during sex. They’re usually made of latex, polyurethane or polyisoprene. When used correctly it’s effective in preventing pregnancy while also protecting you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

How to put on and use a condom

  1. Put a condom on before any genital/anal contact with your partner
  2. Check the date of expiry on the condom packet. If it’s out of date, get a new one.
  3. Open the foil packaging carefully. Squeeze the tip of the condom with your thumb and forefinger. Place it over the tip of the erect penis. Make sure the condom is not inside out when you start to roll it down the penis. Continue to squeeze the tip of the condom until you roll it down the full length of the penis. This prevents any air from getting in the condom.
  4. If the condom won’t roll down it’s probably on the wrong way round. Get a new condom.
  5. Keep the condom on during sex, if it comes off, stop and put a new condom on.
  6. After ejaculation, hold the condom in place and withdraw the penis from your partner’s body before the penis goes soft. Once it’s completely out of contact with your partner’s body, remove it, tie it and throw it in the bin.
  7. Use a new condom if you want to have penetrative sex again.

How effective are they?

With perfect use they are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy however with typical use this falls to 82% 1. Typical use means when they are put on or taken off in the wrong way, break or otherwise used incorrectly. This means 18 in 100 people who’ve used condoms with typical use will become pregnant in a year.

Protection from STIs

Condoms are the only way to prevent getting and passing on sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Used correctly, they’re effective at preventing most STIs.

You can also cut a condom into a square to use as a barrier during oral sex, placing it between the mouth and the genitals.

What to do if a condom breaks

Condoms can break for a number of reasons: sharp nails and jewellery can tear the condom; using teeth to rip the packet open or use of the wrong lubricant can damage the condom; using an incorrectly sized condom.

If the condom breaks stop immediately and remove it. If you want to continue having sex, put a new condom on.

Even if the condom wearer hasn’t ejaculated, there could be a risk of pregnancy from transfer of bodily fluids.

If there’s a chance you or your partner could become pregnant, get emergency contraception. The sooner you can do this after the condom breaks the better.

If you think you might be at risk of getting HIV, you can go to your local sexual health clinic for PEP – post exposure prophylaxis. It’s a medication that can reduce the chances of HIV infection by around 80%. You will need to get this within 72 hours of having sex without a condom/the condom breaking.

You may also want to consider getting an STI test. You can do this from the comfort of your home with SHL.UK, simply Register or Login to order a test kit.

Different types of condom

There are lots of different types of condoms to meet different needs. Whatever type you choose, always check it carries the BSI kitemark and CE mark on the packaging.


Regular sized condoms fit most penises, but some people prefer to use larger or smaller condoms for a better feel or fit for them. Made to measure condoms are available for people who struggle to find a good fit for them.


There are condoms that feel different for increased sensation – some come with ribs, dots or studs. You can also get condoms with special lubricant that can create warmth or a tingling feeling during sex. There is also a type of condom that is coated with a numbing agent inside which can help delay ejaculation.


Extra strength condoms are thicker and often contain more lubricant but there is no difference in breakage rates compared to regular condoms

Latex free

Some people are sensitive to latex. There are condoms available in other materials such as polyurethane or polyisoprene which are as effective as latex condoms. Condoms are also available in lambskin however, these may be more effective for preventing pregnancy than preventing transmission of STIs.

Other types of condom

Some people like to use different coloured and flavoured condoms for fun. If you or your partner find the smell of latex off-putting there are scent-free/milder scent condoms. Many condoms contain an animal milk protein called casein – there are vegan alternatives, look for the Vegan Society mark if you’re not sure.

Where can I get free condoms?

You can get free condoms from NHS sexual health clinics, contraception clinics, some GP surgeries and some young people’s services.

Some areas have something called a CCard scheme for young people that offer condoms for free. You can find local CCard websites online to see whether you can access free condoms.

Sexual Health London can also send you free condoms when you order the emergency contraceptive pill online. Register or Login to find out more and order.

You can also buy condoms from pharmacies, supermarkets, garages and public toilet vending machines as well as online.

Other contraception options

You might prefer to use a form of contraception that you don’t have to remember to use every time you have sex. Long-acting reversible contraception options are fitted or administered once and then will be effective for between 3 months and 10 years. Take a look at the intrauterine device, intrauterine system, the contraceptive implant and the contraceptive injection.

Hormonal contraceptives need to be taken or replaced more frequently. These include combined contraceptive pills, progestogen only pills, the contraceptive patch and the vaginal ring contraceptive.

Only condoms can prevent you from getting sexually transmitted infections.

Reviewed by our clinical team: December 2020 (next review date: April 2022)

1. Source: Sexwise Condoms (external) - Contraception - Sexwise