Getting ready, Choosing the right condom
A number of different types of condom are now available. What is generally called a condom is the 'male' condom, a sheath or covering which fits over a man's penis, and which is closed at one end.
There is also now a female condom, or vaginal sheath, which is used by a woman and which fits inside her vagina. The rest of this page is about the male condom.
What are condoms made of?
Condoms are usually made of latex or polyurethane. If possible you should use a latex condom, as they are slightly more reliable, and in most countries they are most readily available.
Latex condoms can only be used with water based lubricants, not oil based lubricants such as Vaseline or cold cream as they break down the latex. A small number of people have an allergic reaction to latex and can use polyurethane condoms instead.
Polyurethane condoms are made out a type of plastic. They are thinner than latex condoms, and so they increase sensitivity and are more agreeable in feel and appearance to some users. They are more expensive than latex condoms and slightly less flexible so more lubrication may be needed. However both oil and water based lubricants can be used with them.
It's not clear whether latex or polyurethane condoms are stronger – there are studies suggesting that either is less likely to break. With both types however, the likelihood of breakages is very small if used correctly.
The lubrication on condoms also varies. Some condoms are not lubricated at all, some are lubricated with a silicone substance, and some condoms have a water-based lubricant. The lubrication on condoms aims to make the condom easier to put on and more comfortable to use. It can also help prevent condom breakage.
Spermicides and Nonoxynol 9
Condoms and lubricants sometimes contain a spermicide called Nonoxynol 9. Nonoxynol 9 was thought in the past to help to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of HIV and other STDs, but it is now know to be ineffective.
Some people have an allergic reaction to Nonoxynol 9 that can result in little sores, which can actually make the transmission of HIV more likely. Because of this, you should only use condoms and lubricants containing Nonoxynol 9 if you are HIV negative and know that your partner is too. However, using a condom (even if it contains Nonoxynol 9) is much safer than having unprotected sex.
What shapes are there and which should I choose? What about flavoured condoms?
Condoms come in a variety of shapes. Most have a reservoir tip although some do have a plain tip. Condoms may be regular shaped (with straight sides), form fit (indented below the head of the penis), or they may be flared (wider over the head of the penis).
Ribbed condoms are textured with ribs or bumps, which can increase sensation for both partners. Condoms also come in a variety of colours.
It's up to you which shape you choose. All of the differences in shape are designed to suit different personal preferences and enhance pleasure. It is important to communicate with your partner to be sure that you are using condoms that satisfy both of you.
Some condoms are flavoured to make oral sex more enjoyable. They are also safe to use for penetrative sex as long as they have been tested and approved.
What about the condom size?
Condoms are made in different lengths and widths, and different manufacturers produce varying sizes.
There is no standard length for condoms, though those made from natural rubber will in addition always stretch if necessary to fit the length of the man's erect penis.
The width of a condom can also vary. Some condoms have a slightly smaller width to give a "closer" fit, whereas others will be slightly larger. Condom makers have realised that different lengths and widths are needed and are increasingly broadening their range of sizes.
The brand names will be different in each country, so you will need to do your own investigation of different names. There is no particular best brand of condom.
So when do you use a condom?
You need to use a new condom every time you have sexual intercourse. Never use the same condom twice. Put the condom on after the penis is erect and before any contact is made between the penis and any part of the partner's body. If you go from anal intercourse to vaginal intercourse, you should consider changing the condom.
Where can I get condoms?
There are no age limitations on buying condoms. Buying a condom no matter how old you are shows that you are taking responsibility for your actions. Family planning and sexual health clinics provide condoms free of charge. Condoms are available to buy from supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol/gas stations. Vending machines selling condoms are found in toilets at many locations. You can also order then online from different manufacturers and distributors.
How can I check a condom is safe to use?
Condoms that have been properly tested and approved carry the British Standard Kite Mark or the EEC Standard Mark (CE). In the USA, condoms should be FDA approved, and elsewhere in the world, they should be ISO approved. To find out more about condom testing see our Condoms history, effectiveness and testing page.
Condoms have an expiration (Exp) or manufacture (MFG) date on the box or individual package that tells you when it is safe to use the condom until. It's important to check this when you use a condom. You should also make sure the package and the condom appear to be in good condition.
Condoms can deteriorate if not stored properly as they are affected by both heat and light. So it's best not to use a condom that has been stored in your back pocket, your wallet, or the glove compartment of your car. If a condom feels sticky or very dry you shouldn't use it as the packaging has probably been damaged.
How do you use a condom?
Open the condom package at one corner being careful not to tear the condom with your fingernails, your teeth, or through being too rough. Make sure the package and condom appear to be in good condition, and check that if there is an expiry date that the date has not passed.
Place the rolled condom over the tip of the hard penis, and if the condom does not have a reservoir top, pinch the tip of the condom enough to leave a half inch space for semen to collect. If the man is not circumcised, then pull back the foreskin before rolling on the condom.
Pinch the air out of the condom tip with one hand and unroll the condom over the penis with the other hand. Roll the condom all the way down to the base of the penis, and smooth out any air bubbles. (Air bubbles can cause a condom to break).
If you want to use some extra lubrication, put it on the outside of the condom. But always use a water-based lubricant (such as KY Jelly or Liquid Silk) with latex condoms, as an oil-based lubricant will cause the latex to break.
The man wearing the condom doesn't always have to be the one putting it on - it can be quite a nice thing for his partner to do.
What do you do if the condom won't unroll?
The condom should unroll smoothly and easily from the rim on the outside. If you have to struggle or if it takes more than a few seconds, it probably means that you are trying to put the condom on upside down. To take off the condom, don't try to roll it back up. Hold it near the rim and slide it off. Then start again with a new condom.
When do you take off the condom?
Pull out before the penis softens, and hold the condom against the base of the penis while you pull out, so that the semen doesn't spill. Condom should be disposed properly for example wrapping it in a tissue and throwing it away. It's not good to flush condoms down the toilet - they're bad for the environment.
What do you do if a condom breaks?
If a condom breaks during sexual intercourse, then pull out quickly and replace the condom. Whilst you are having sex, check the condom from time to time, to make sure it hasn't split or slipped off. If the condom has broken and you feel that semen has come out of the condom during sex, you should consider getting emergency contraception such as the morning after pill.
What condoms should you use for anal intercourse?
With anal intercourse more strain is placed on the condom. You can use stronger condoms (which are thicker) but standard condoms are just as effective as long as they are used correctly with plenty of lubricant. Condoms with a lubricant containing Nonoxynol 9 should NOT be used for anal sex as Nonoxynol 9 damages the lining of the rectum increasing the risk of HIV and other STD transmission.
Is using a condom effective?
If used properly, a condom is very effective at reducing the risk of being infected with HIV during sexual intercourse. Using a condom also provides protection against other sexually transmitted diseases, and protection against pregnancy. In the laboratory, latex condoms are very effective at blocking transmission of HIV because the pores in latex condoms are too small to allow the virus to pass through. However, outside of the laboratory condoms are less effective because people do not always use condoms properly. To find out more about the effectiveness of condoms, go to our Condom history, effectiveness and testing page.
How do you dispose of a used condom?
All condoms should be disposed of by wrapping in tissue or toilet paper and throwing them in the bin. Condoms should not be flushed down the toilet as they may cause blockages in the sewage system and pollution.
Latex condoms are made mainly from latex with added stabilizers, preservatives and vulcanizing (hardening) agents. Latex is a natural substance made form rubber trees, but because of the added ingredients most latex condoms are not biodegradable. Polyurethane condoms are made from plastic and are not biodegradable. Biodegradable latex condoms are available from some manufacturers.
How can I persuade my partner that we should use a condom?
It can be difficult to talk about using condoms. But you shouldn't let embarrassment become a health risk. The person you are thinking about having sex with may not agree at first when you say that you want to use a condom when you have sex. These are some comments that might be made and some answers that you could try...
Don't you trust me? Trust isn't the point, people can have infections without realising it
It does not feel as good with a condom I'll feel more relaxed, If I am more relaxed, I can make it feel better for you.
I don't stay hard when I put on a condom I'll help you put it on, that will help you keep it hard.
I don't have a condom with me. I do.
I am afraid to ask him to use a condom. He'll think I don't trust him. If you can't ask him, you probably don't trust him.
I can't feel a thing when I wear a condom Maybe that way you'll last even longer and that will make up for it
I don't stay hard when I put on a condom I'll help you put it on, that will help you keep it
I don't have a condom with me I do
It's up to him...it's his decision It's your health. It should be your decision too!
I'm on the pill, you don't need a condom I'd like to use it anyway. It will help to protect us from infections we may not realise we have.
It just isn't as sensitive and I can't feel a thing Maybe that way you will last even longer and that will make up for it
Putting it on interrupts everything Not if I help put it on
I guess you don't really love me I do, but I am not risking my future to prove it
I will pull out in time Women can get pregnant and STDs from pre-ejaculate
But I love you Then you'll help us to protect ourselves.
Just this once Once is all it takes
There are many reasons to use condoms when having sex. You could go through these reasons with your partner and see what she/he thinks.
Reasons to use condoms
1. Condoms are the only contraceptive that also helps prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including HIV when used properly and consistently.
2. Condoms are one of the most reliable methods of birth control when use properly and consistently.
3. Condoms have none of the medical side-effects of some other birth control methods may have.
4. Condoms are available in various shapes, colours, flavours, textures and sizes - to increase the fun of making love with condoms.
5. Condoms are widely available in pharmacies, supermarkets and convenience stores. You don't need a prescription or have to visit a doctor.
6. Condoms make sex less messy.
7. Condoms are user friendly. With a little practice, they can also add confidence to the enjoyment of sex.
8. Condoms are only needed when you are having sex unlike some other contraceptives which require you to take or have them all of the time.
Here are also some tips that can help you to feel more confident and relaxed about using condoms.
* Keep condoms handy at all times. If things start getting steamy - you'll be ready. It's not a good idea to find yourself having to rush out at the crucial moment to buy condoms - at the height of the passion you may not want to.
* When you buy condoms, don't get embarrassed. If anything, be proud. It shows that you are responsible and confident and when the time comes it will all be worthwhile. It can be more fun to go shopping for condoms with your partner or friend. Nowadays, it is also easy to buy condoms discreetly on the internet.
* Talk with your partner about using a condom before having sex. It removes anxiety and embarrassment. Knowing where you both stand before the passion stands will make you lot more confident that you both agree and are happy about using a condom.
* If you are new to condoms, the best way to learn how to use them is to practice putting them on by yourself or your partner. It does not take long to become a master.
* If you feel that condoms interrupt you passion then try introducing condoms into your lovemaking. It can be really sexy if your partner helps you put it on or you do it together.