Published Wed, 2010-06-23 13:41; updated 2 years ago.

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There are two types of condoms: male condoms, which are worn on the penis, and female condoms, which are worn inside the vagina. This page is about male condoms, where you can get them and how they work.

A woman can get pregnant if a man’s sperm reaches one of her eggs (ova). Contraception tries to stop this happening by keeping the egg and sperm apart or by stopping egg production. One method of contraception is the condom.

What is a condom?

Male condoms are made from very thin latex (rubber), polyisoprene or polyurethane. When they're used correctly during vaginal sex they help to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). When used correctly during anal and oral sex, they help to protect against STIs.

Condoms are the only contraception that protect against pregnancy and STIs.

How do they work?

The male condom is worn on the penis to stop sperm from entering the man's partner's vagina, mouth or anus. The condom has to be put on when the penis is erect and before the penis comes into contact with the vagina, mouth or anus.

To use a male condom:

  • take the condom out of the packet, taking care not to tear it
  • place the condom over the tip of the penis
  • if there's a teat on the end of the condom, use your thumb and forefinger to squeeze the air out of it
  • gently roll the condom down to the base of the penis
  • if the condom won't roll down, you're probably holding it the wrong way round: if this happens, throw the condom away because it may have sperm on it, and try again with a new one
  • after sex, withdraw the penis while it's still erect: hold the condom on to the base of the penis while you do this
  • remove the condom from the penis, being careful not to spill any semen
  • throw the condom away in a bin, not down the toilet

Store male condoms in places that aren't too hot or cold, and away from sharp or rough surfaces that could tear them or wear them away.

How effective are condoms?

If used correctly every time you have sex, male condoms are 98% effective. This means that two out of 100 women using male condoms as contraception will become pregnant in one year.

Always buy condoms that have the CE mark on the packet. This means that they've been tested to European safety standards. Condoms that don't have the CE mark won't meet these standards, so don't use them.
Added benefits to using condoms?

By preventing the exchange of bodily fluids, condoms help to protect against many STIs, including HIV. They come in many different sizes, shapes, colours, textures and flavours, so there will be one that suits you.

Whatever your age, even if you're under 16, you can get free condoms from community contraceptive clinics, sexual health and genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics, some young people's services, and some GP surgeries. You can also buy condoms in pharmacies and supermarkets.

What else should I know?

Many people feel that putting on a condom can be an enjoyable part of sex, and doesn't feel like an interruption.

If male condoms aren't used properly, they can slip off or split. If this happens, practise putting them on so that you get used to using them properly. Or try using different kinds. There are different sizes and shapes to choose from, so you'll be able to find one that suits you best.  

If you're sensitive to latex, use polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms instead.

Although male condoms (when used correctly) offer reliable protection against pregnancy and STIs, using an additional method of contraception will give you or your partner additional protection against pregnancy. Find out more in the guide to 15 methods of contraception.

If a condom splits or comes off

If the condom splits or comes off, you can use emergency contraception to help prevent pregnancy. This is for emergencies only and shouldn't be used as a regular form of contraception. If you have been at risk of pregnancy, you have also been at risk of STIs. So have a check-up at a GP surgery, contraceptive clinic, sexual health clinic, genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or young person's clinic.

Find sexual health services near you.

Further information

What infections can I catch through oral sex?

Can I get pregnant just after my period has finished?

Does anal sex have any health risks?

Symptoms that need checking

Find out about female condoms


Information supplied August 2012

NHS Choices