About male condoms

Male condoms are a form of barrier contraception. This means that they protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). When used correctly and consistently, condoms are a reliable method of preventing pregnancy – thought to be around 98% effective when used perfectly. However the typical use failure rate is 18%, making them only 82% effective. We therefore encourage their use to protect against STIs but not as the only method of contraception.

Male condoms are made from very thin latex (rubber) or non-latex. Latex condoms are less likely to break than non-latex condoms, but can be damaged by using oil-based lubricants like Vaseline, oils or creams, so be sure to use a water-based lubricant. Non-latex condoms are helpful if you have a latex allergy.

A condom can only be used once – this includes if you put it on the wrong way by mistake to start with. Use another condom – don’t just flip it over. Using two condoms increases the chances of them splitting or tearing so only use one at a time.

How it works

Male condoms act as a barrier. They are designed to help stop the bodily fluids from meeting, such as semen (sperm/cum) and vaginal fluid. This means that they protect you against both pregnancy and a range of STIs.  However, they are dependent on the male partner and many women prefer to take more control of their own fertility and use an additional more reliable method of contraception.

How to use it

Most people can safely use male condoms. However, condoms may not be the most suitable method of contraception for everyone:

  • Some people are sensitive to latex. If this is a problem, non-latex condoms made of polyurethane, or polyisoprene, have a lower risk of causing an allergic reaction.
  • Men who have difficulty keeping an erection may not be able to use male condoms. The penis must be erect to prevent semen (sperm/cum) leaking from the condom or the condom slipping off.

Who can use it

Most people can safely use male condoms. However, condoms may not be the best method of contraception as they have a high failure rate:

  • Some people are sensitive to latex. If this is a problem, non-latex condoms made of polyurethane, or polyisoprene, have a lower risk of causing an allergic reaction
  • Men who have difficulty keeping an erection may not be able to use male condoms. The penis must be erect to prevent semen (sperm/cum) leaking from the condom or the condom slipping off

Advantages

There are many advantages to using male condoms:

  • They help to protect both partners against STIs and and can prevent unwanted pregnancies if used very carefully. However, they do have a high failure rate as a method of contraception
  • You don’t need any advance preparation other than to make sure you have condoms ready when you need them
  • In most cases, there are no medical side effects from using condoms
  • Male condoms are easy to get hold of – both free and paid for
  • They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavours

Disadvantages

It’s also worth bearing in mind that:

  • Some people find that using condoms interrupts sex. To get around this, try to make condom part of foreplay and explore the variety of different shapes, sizes and flavours
  • Condoms are very strong, but may split or tear if not used properly
  • Some people may be allergic to latex, plastic or spermicides. If you or your partner has an allergy, you can get condoms that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction

Where to get it

Everyone can get condoms for free, even if they are under the age of 16. Many local authorities run free condom schemes. To find out your nearest free condom location click here. Free condoms are also available from:

  • Sexual health services like those run by Virgin Care
  • Contraception clinics
  • GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinics
  • Some GP surgeries
  • Some young people’s services

You can buy male and female condoms from:

  • Pharmacies
  • Supermarkets
  • Websites
  • Mail-order catalogues
  • Vending machines in some public toilets
  • Some petrol stations

If you buy condoms online, make sure you buy them from a legitimate retailer. Always choose condoms that carry the European CE mark or British BSI Kitemark as a sign of quality.

Need contraception?

Useful links

  • The Family Planning Association’s has an excellent Guide to Male & Female Condoms
  • NHS Choices has lots of information about contraception with specific pages on male condoms
  • Brook has more information and advice on contraception written for people under 25, including condoms with a condom demonstration video
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