Worried? Had unprotected sex? We're here to help.
Condoms at a Glance
- Worn on the penis
- Made of latex or plastic
- Prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection
- Can be used with another form of birth control for extra protection
- Can be used for vaginal, anal, or oral sex
- Safe, effective, and easy to get
- Cost about $1 each, but are sometimes available for free
Are Condoms Right for Me?
There are two main kinds of condoms — latex condoms and female condoms. Here are some of the most common questions we hear people ask about latex condoms.
What Are Condoms?
Condoms are worn on the penis during intercourse. They are made of thin latex or plastic that has been molded into the shape of a penis. Sometimes they are called rubbers, safes, or jimmies. They prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
Condoms are available in different styles and colors, and are available dry, lubricated, and with spermicide.
How Do Condoms Work?
By covering the penis and keeping semen out of the vagina, anus, or mouth, condoms also reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections.
How Effective Are Condoms?
Effectiveness is an important and common concern when choosing a birth control method.
Like all birth control methods, condoms are more effective when you use them correctly.
- Each year, 2 out of 100 women whose partners use condoms will become pregnant if they always use condoms correctly.
- Each year, 18 out of 100 women whose partners use condoms will become pregnant if they don't always use condoms correctly.
You can make condoms more effective if you
- use spermicide with them
- pull out before ejaculation.
The most commonly used spermicide in the U.S. is called nonoxynol-9. Nonoxynol-9 has certain risks. If it is used many times a day, if it is used by people at risk for HIV, or if it is used for anal sex, it may irritate tissue and increase the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Effectiveness is also a concern when it comes to safer sex. Condoms also protect both you and your partner from sexually transmitted infections. Condoms that are made of latex offer very good protection against HIV. Latex condoms also reduce the risk of other sexually transmitted infections, including
- hepatitis B
- pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Condoms can also prevent urinary tract infections in men who wear them.
Condoms and Oral Sex
Sexually transmitted infections can be passed from one person to another during oral sex. The risk of passing infections is lower during oral sex than during vaginal or anal intercourse. People who want to further reduce their risk can use condoms during oral sex.
How Safe Are Condoms?
Almost everyone can use a condom safely. Some people are allergic to latex. If you are allergic to latex, you can try using a condom that is made from plastic.
What Are the Benefits of Condoms?
Using condoms is safe, simple, and convenient. Women and men like condoms because they
- let men help prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections
- are inexpensive and easy to get
- are lightweight and disposable
- do not require a prescription
- can help relieve premature ejaculation
- may help a man stay erect longer
- can be put on as part of sex play
- can be used with all other birth control methods except the female condom to provide very effective pregnancy prevention and to reduce risk of sexually transmitted diseases
Many women and men say they have better sex when they use condoms. They are able to focus on their sexual pleasure without worrying about unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection. Some couples put the condom on as part of their foreplay.
Special Advantage for Teens and Pregnant Women
The way a woman's internal sex organs are shaped makes them 10 to 20 times more likely than men to get sexually transmitted infections. And the cervix in pregnant women, young girls, and teen women is especially vulnerable to infection.
No matter how old you are, it is very important to use condoms with your other method of birth control — whenever you are at risk for getting a sexually transmitted infection.
What Are the Disadvantages of Condoms?
Most women and men can use condoms with no problem. Condoms have no side effects except for people who are allergic to latex. Up to 6 out of 100 people have such allergies. If you are allergic to latex, you can use condoms or female condoms made of plastic instead.
Some men and women feel that the condom dulls sensation. Others become frustrated and lose some of their sexual excitement when they stop to put on a condom. Some men are self-conscious about using condoms. Others feel pressured to ejaculate. And some men feel pressured about having to maintain an erection to keep the condom on. (If this is a concern, maintaining an erection is not necessary when using the female condom.)
Many men overcome these pressures and learn to enjoy using condoms by using them during sex play before intercourse. It may also help to try different styles and sizes to find the condom that is most comfortable for you and your partner.
How Do I Use Condoms?
With a little practice, condoms are very easy to use.
Be sure to handle condoms properly. Keep in mind that certain types of lubricants can damage a latex condom. Use only water-based lubricants, such as K-Y jelly or AstroGlide, with latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants like petroleum jelly, cold cream, butter, or mineral and vegetable oils damage latex and will make the condom ineffective at preventing pregnancy and infection.
Putting on a Condom
Each package of condoms includes detailed instructions. Be sure to read and understand the instructions and check the expiration date before you use a condom.
- Put the condom on before the penis touches the vulva. Men leak fluids from their penises before and after ejaculation. This fluid can carry enough germs to pass sexually transmitted infections and possibly cause pregnancy.
- Use a condom only once. Use a fresh one for each erection ("hard-on"). Have a good supply on hand.
- Condoms usually come rolled into a ring shape. They are individually sealed in aluminum foil or plastic. Be careful — don't tear the condom while unwrapping it. If it is torn, brittle, stiff, or sticky, throw it away and use another.
- Put a drop or two of lubricant inside the condom.
- Pull back the foreskin, unless circumcised, before rolling on the condom.
- Place the rolled condom over the tip of the hard penis.
- Leave a half-inch space at the tip to collect semen.
- Pinch the air out of the tip with one hand while placing it on the penis.
- Unroll the condom over the penis with the other hand.
- Roll it all the way down to the base of the penis.
- Smooth out any air bubbles. (Friction against air bubbles can cause condom breaks.)
- Lubricate the outside of the condom.
You can also learn how to put on a condom by watching this brief film.
Taking Off a Condom
- Pull out before the penis softens.
- Don't spill the semen — hold the condom against the base of the penis while you pull out.
- Throw the condom away.
Practice Makes Perfect
It is best if both you and your partner know how to put on and use a condom. It will make using a condom easier and more pleasurable and will make the condom more effective. To learn without feeling pressured or embarrassed, practice putting on and taking off a condom on a penis or a penis-shaped object like a ketchup bottle, banana, cucumber, or squash.
If the Condom Breaks …
Sometimes condoms break. If a condom breaks, it is less effective.
If the condom breaks during intercourse, pull out quickly and replace it. Men should be able to tell if a condom breaks during intercourse. To learn what it feels like, men can break condoms on purpose while masturbating.
How Do I Take Care of Condoms?
It is important to handle and store condoms properly. Long exposure to air, heat, and light makes them more likely to break.
- Store them in a cool, dry place.
- Don’t store them in a back pocket, wallet, or glove compartment for long periods of time.
- Keep them in their individual foil or plastic pouch.
When you are ready to use the condom, don’t use it if the pouch is punctured or torn. Do not use your teeth or sharp objects, like scissors, to open the pouch.
Use only water-based lubricants, such as K-Y jelly or Astroglide, with latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants like petroleum jelly, cold cream, butter, or mineral and vegetable oils damage latex.
Safe with all condoms
How Can I Talk About Using Condoms?
It’s important to talk with your partner about using condoms. Talking about condoms with your partner for the first time may make you nervous. It can help to practice what you are going to say beforehand.
Then, choose the right time to talk — don't wait until the heat of passion takes over. It may overwhelm your good intentions.
Don't be shy — be direct. Be honest about your feelings and needs. It can help create a relaxed mood to make sex more enjoyable.
Talking is easier if you are in a respectful relationship that makes you feel happy and good about yourself and your partner.
If you haven’t had a talk about condoms before starting sex play, here are some simple and common things to say when you talk about using a condom with your partner:
If Your Partner Says: I don’t like using condoms.
You Can Say: Why not?
If Your Partner Says: It doesn’t feel as good with a condom.
You Can Say: I’ll feel more relaxed. If I’m more relaxed, it will be better for both of us.
If Your Partner Says: Condoms are gross.
You Can Say: Being pregnant when I don’t want to be is worse. So is getting an STD.
If Your Partner Says: Don’t you trust me?
You Can Say: Trust isn’t the point. People can carry sexually transmitted infections without knowing it.
If Your Partner Says: I’ll pull out in time.
You Can Say: I want to feel relaxed and enjoy this, and pulling out is just too risky. There’s a chance I could get pregnant from your pre-cum, or we might get too excited to stop. And pulling out doesn’t help much with sexually transmitted infections.
If Your Partner Says: Condoms aren’t romantic.
You Can Say: Being together like this and protecting each other’s health sounds really romantic to me.
If Your Partner Says: It just isn’t as sensitive.
You Can Say: With a condom you might last even longer, and that’ll make up for it. Or let’s try a female condom.
If Your Partner Says: Putting it on interrupts everything.
You Can Say: Not if I help put it on.
If Your Partner Says: I’ll try, but it might not work.
You Can Say: Practice makes perfect.
If Your Partner Says: But I love you.
You Can Say: Then you’ll help me protect myself.
If Your Partner Says: I guess you don’t really love me.
You Can Say: I’m not going to “prove my love” by risking my health. Do you really love me? Do you want me to feel safe?
If Your Partner Says: I’m not using a condom, no matter what.
You Can Say: I’m not having sex without a condom, no matter what. Let’s not have sex.
If Your Partner Says: Just this once without it. Just the first time.
You Can Say: It only takes once to get pregnant. It only takes once to get a sexually transmitted infection. It only takes once to get HIV.
Don't be afraid of being rejected. Besides, a partner who doesn't care about protecting your health and well-being is not worth having sex with.
How Do I Get Condoms? How Much Do Condoms Cost?
Condoms are available in drugstores, Planned Parenthood health centers, other community health centers, some supermarkets, and from vending machines. Individually, condoms usually cost a dollar or more. Packs of three can cost from about $2 to $6. In packages of 12, condoms can cost less than a dollar each. Some family planning centers give them away or charge very little. The cost in clinics or when authorized by a private doctor is covered by Medicaid in some states.
Be sure to examine the condoms that you are buying. All condoms are tested for defects. But, like rubber bands, condoms deteriorate with age. If properly stored, they should stay effective until the expiration date printed on the wrapper of each condom.
Beware of "Novelty" Condoms
Some condoms are not supposed to be used for pregnancy protection. These are called "novelty" condoms. Read labels on "novelty" condoms to be sure they protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Don't Let Embarrassment Become a Health Risk
Don't be embarrassed by the thought of going into a store and asking for condoms. Be proud. Buying condoms says that you are responsible and that you accept your sexuality as a normal part of living. Nearly as many women as men buy and carry condoms. And many people use them — every time they have sexual intercourse.
Find Dr. Cullins' Answers to Common Sexual Health Questions
Q&A with Dr. Cullins