Condoms are a barrier method of contraception. Essentially, they are a stretchy bag that is made from very thin materials such as latex. Condoms protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and also prevent pregnancy.
There are two types of condoms: male condoms, worn on the penis; and female condoms, which are worn inside the vagina.
How effective are they?
When used correctly every time you have sex, male condoms are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy. They are usually made of very thin latex (rubber) and are designed to prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from meeting an egg. Non-latex condoms are available if you are allergic to latex.
Condoms also protect against STIs if used correctly during vaginal, anal and oral sex. It is really important that a condom is in place before any contact of the penis in these types of sex.
If you think sperm has entered the vagina, you may need emergency contraception . You can use emergency contraception up to five days after unprotected sex (when sperm entered the vagina). You should also consider having an STI test . If you are worried, give us a call or come and see us and we will give you confidential, non-judgmental advice.
How to use a condom
- Check the condom isn’t out-of-date (the date is marked on the outside of the packet)
- Take the condom out of the packet, being careful not to tear it with jewellery or fingernails Do not open the packet with your teeth!
- There is a small, sticky out bit on the end of the condom – this is called a teat or a reservoir – squeeze the air out of it with a thumb and forefinger and place the condom over the tip of the erect penis
- Gently roll the condom down to the base of the penis
- If the condom won’t roll down, you may be holding it the wrong way round. If this happens, it may have sperm on it, so throw it away and try again with a new one
- After sex, withdraw the penis while it’s still erect – hold the condom on at the base of the penis while you do this, to prevent it coming off and semen leaking out
- Remove the condom from the penis, wrap it in toilet paper and put it in a bin, not down the toilet! You shouldn’t flush a condom. You can tie up the end at this point to stop semen leaking out
- Use a new condom every time you have sex!
Who can use condoms?
Most people can use condoms. Occasionally some men and women might be allergic to latex condoms. If this is a problem, polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms are also available.
Some men may find that they have trouble maintaining an erection when wearing a condom or that the condom slips off when they are having sex. Getting the right condom for you can make a massive difference so it’s worth trying out a range of condoms or coming into a Devon Sexual Health clinic for some advice. We’ll even give you some free condoms to try out.
There has been lots of innovation in the development of condoms over the past few years and they are now available in a huge variety of sizes, shapes, colours and flavours. Just make sure that it has a BSI kite mark and the European CE mark on the packet. This means they have been tested to the required safety standards.
Most condoms come ready lubricated to make them easier to use, but you may also like to use additional lubricant (lube). This is particularly advised for anal sex to reduce the chance of the condom splitting. It is really important that you use the right kind of lubricant or it can damage the condom and reduce its effectiveness.
Ideally, use a water based lubricant that is specifically designed for the job. Don’t use anything oil based – such as massage lotion, body oil or Vaseline – because they can damage the condom and make it more likely to split. You can get water based lubricant from supermarkets, pharmacies, online or from our sexual health clinics.
It’s important to get the right sized condom for you or there is a danger that it might split or slip off during sex. If this happens you may need to get tested for pregnancy or STIs. Condoms are available in a variety of sizes from extra large – such as the Durex Comfort XL, or extra thin such as the Durex Invisible Extra Thin Extra Sensitive Condoms.
If you have never worn a condom before, we would recommend that you take some home and practice. This way you can be sure you have the right size and that you know how to put it on properly. Just remember that the penis needs to be erect first so perhaps try this the next time you masturbate.
Textures & Shapes
Condoms are also available ribbed (this is a series of lines around the condom) or nobbly (a series of bumps or dots on the condom), both of which are designed for extra stimulation.
Every human body is different and people like different things so have some fun and take time to find the one that feels good for you and your partner.
Flavoured condoms can be used for all types of sex but are mainly used for oral. You can take your pick from a wide variety of flavours, from mint to banana, strawberry, orange or apple. Alternatively you could use a flavoured lubricant, just make sure it’s water based.
Everyone’s different so please come in and have a chat.
Where can I get condoms?
You can buy condoms from pharmacies, supermarkets and online. You can also get them from GP surgeries and free of charge from our Devon Sexual Health clinics. You can find your nearest, pharmacy, GP surgery or Devon Sexual Health clinic here. You can also buy condoms at cost here, which usually works out much cheaper than buying them over the counter.
If you are under 25, you can register for a c-card. This is quick and easy to do and means that you will receive condoms and lubricant free of charge.
If you are a man who has sex with other men, you can sign up to the Condoms Direct service from The Eddystone Trust to receive free condoms and lube in the post four times a year. Please click here to register. Free Condoms Cornwall, Plymouth, Devon, Torbay, & Gloucestershire – The Eddystone Trust
What happens when you visit a Devon Sexual Health Clinic?
You can drop in when the clinics are having walk-in sessions or to avoid waiting you can book an appointment to see a contraceptive nurse or doctor. They will ask you some questions about your health, lifestyle and sexual history. They may suggest testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if you have had unprotected sex or are unsure about your partner’s sexual history. This is entirely up to you. We think it’s better to be safe than sorry, but it’s always your choice.
Pros & Cons
- Condoms help to protect you against STIs
- Condoms have no side effects or health impacts
- Condoms are widely available
- Condoms come in a variety of sizes, colours, flavours, textures and shapes. It can be fun to experiment.
- Some people think that condoms reduce sensation.
- The man has to withdraw as soon as he has come (ejaculated) to prevent sperm leaking out of the condom.