Male condoms are a popular type of contraceptive, and they can be highly effective at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) when they are used correctly.
Here, we give you the lowdown on male condoms, covering topics including how they work, how to use them properly and what to do if they split.
What is a condom - and how does this contraception work?
Condoms are a barrier method of contraception. This means they are designed to prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from reaching an egg, and to prevent bodily fluids from being exchanged between sexual partners. They are made from very thin material, such as latex, polyisoprene and polyurethane.
When used correctly, male condoms protect against both pregnancy and STIs.
How to use male condoms
Before using a condom, always check the packaging for signs of damage and to make sure it is still in date. The packet should also have the UKCA mark or European CE mark on. This shows the product meets rigorous safety standards. Take care when opening the packet, and don’t use sharp instruments or your teeth to do this.
Condoms should be put on after the penis becomes erect and before it touches a partner’s genitals. Putting this type of contraception on can be incorporated as a fun part of sex; it doesn’t have to be an interruption. When putting the condom on, pinch the tip before unrolling it to squeeze out any air.
If you want to use lubrication, make sure you choose a water or silicon-based variety, and use it on the outside of the condom only.
After ejaculation, withdraw the penis before it becomes soft, carefully gripping the base of the condom as you do. You can then take the condom off and dispose of it in a bin. Don’t flush it down the toilet.
If you have sex again, make sure you use a new condom.
What to do if a condom splits
If a condom has split during sex, you might need to visit your doctor or a pharmacist for advice and to discuss possible treatments. If there is a risk of pregnancy, you may decide to use emergency contraception, such as the intrauterine device (IUD) or morning after pill. You can use some types of emergency contraception up to 5 days after unprotected sex.
You may also be at risk of contracting an STI if a condom splits, so you might want to consider screening for infections. Again, you can speak to a doctor or pharmacist about this, or visit a sexual health or contraception clinic.
Who can use male condoms?
Most men can use male condoms, however, they aren’t the most suitable type of contraception for everyone. For example:
- They are not always a good option for men who struggle to maintain an erection. This is because there is an increased risk of semen leaking or the condom slipping off.
- Some people have a latex allergy, meaning latex condoms will cause an allergic response. However, in these cases, different types of condoms - such as polyisoprene or polyurethane condoms - may be a suitable alternative. They are less likely to trigger an allergic response.
How effective are condoms?
When they are used correctly, male condoms are 98% effective. This means that only 2 people in 100 will become pregnant within 1 year while using this type of contraceptive, provided they use them as intended. They also provide protection against STIs.
What makes male condoms less effective?
It’s important to note that certain factors can negatively impact condom effectiveness. For example, there is a risk of STIs or pregnancy if:
- The condom is damaged by something sharp
- The condom comes off or splits during sex
- A latex or polyisoprene condom comes into contact with an oil-based lubricant such as petroleum jelly or baby oil
- A latex or polyisoprene condom comes into contact with a medicine used to treat conditions such as thrush (including pessaries, creams or suppositories)
- The condom has been exposed to extremes of heat during storage, or has been exposed to friction (for example, if it is kept in a wallet)
To make sure condoms work as effectively as possible, always follow the usage and storage guidelines. This includes keeping them in a cool, dry place such as a cupboard or drawer.
Advantages of using condoms
There are many advantages associated with using this type of contraceptive. For example:
- When used properly, condoms offer a reliable way of preventing STIs and unwanted pregnancy.
- You only use them when you’re actually having sex; other than making sure you have a pack with you when you have sex, there is no need to prepare in advance.
- Medical side effects associated with using condoms are rare.
- They are easy to get hold of, and you can choose from a variety of different types, including different sizes, thicknesses and flavours.
Disadvantages of using condoms
Possible downsides of using this form of contraception include:
- Some people find that putting condoms on interrupts the flow of sex.
- Condoms can split, tear or come off if not used correctly.
- Some people are allergic to the materials used in condoms.
Where to get condoms
You can buy condoms in pharmacies and from a variety of retailers, including supermarkets, some petrol stations, online retailers and more. They are available in vending machines in some public toilets too.
It is also possible to get them free of charge in places including sexual health or contraception clinics and certain doctors’ surgeries.