Condom (Sheath)

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The male condom is an effective method of contraception if used correctly. It also helps to protect against sexually transmitted infections.

Male condom

A condom covers the erect penis during sex and stops sperm from entering the woman's vagina. Most male condoms are made from thin rubber (latex). About 2 in 100 people are allergic to latex. The newer plastic (polyurethane) condom is an alternative. Polyurethane condoms are also odour-free, thinner and more sensitive than latex condoms. However, they are more expensive.

About 2 women in 100 will become pregnant each year if condoms are used perfectly for contraception. Nearer to 15 women in 100 will become pregnant with normal (not perfect) usage. When no contraception is used, more than 80 out of 100 sexually active women become pregnant within one year.

If condoms are used less carefully then they become less effective. Correct use means:

  • Using a condom every time you have sex.
  • Putting it on the penis before it touches the vaginal area.
  • The penis should also not touch the woman's vaginal area after the condom is taken off.

Condoms are easy to buy and use and are free from medical risks. Other than people with latex allergy, condoms are safe for anybody to use. People with latex allergy can use other types of condoms.

Condoms can be very reliable if used carefully. They help to protect from sexually transmitted infections. They may help to prevent cancer of the neck of the womb (cervix).

Some people feel sex has to be interrupted to put a condom on. Some men feel that their penis is less sensitive with a condom on. The condom may sometimes split. If it splits, there is a risk of pregnancy.

Condoms are less effective than other methods of contraception such as contraceptive pills or coils. See separate leaflet called Contraception Guide for information about all the options.

Condoms are widely available. They are free from family planning clinics. Some genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics also supply them free, as do some GP surgeries. They can be bought from pharmacies, supermarkets or online. They are also often available from vending machines in public toilets.

Read the instructions on the packet carefully. The following is a general guide:

  • Make sure the condom you use is of good quality (look for the British Standards Institute (BSI) kitemark and 'use by' date).
  • Put the condom on the penis before any contact with the vagina.
  • Use each condom only once.
  • Pinch the teat end to get rid of air.
  • Then roll the condom on to the erect penis.
  • You should not use oil-based products - such as Vaseline®, body oils, or lotions - with latex condoms. They can damage latex and cause the condom to split. If you want to use a lubricant with a latex condom then use K-Y Jelly® or a spermicidal jelly. Any lubricant is fine with polyurethane condoms.
  • After sex, withdraw the penis before it becomes too soft. Hold the condom on whilst doing so.
  • Take care not to spill any semen when taking off the condom.
  • If the condom splits or slips off, seek advice about emergency contraception within 72 hours.

These include the following:

  • The penis may leak sperm before the man 'comes' (ejaculates). If there is any contact with the vaginal area before the condom is put on, the woman may become pregnant.
  • The condom may also leak sperm when the penis is withdrawn.
  • If you have had sex already there may be sperm still on the penis. If there is any contact with the vagina before a new condom is put on, the woman may become pregnant.
  • Damage to the condom may cause the condom to split - for example, when handled by women with sharp fingernails.

Note: if any of the above happen then you should obtain emergency contraception within 72 hours. It is more effective the sooner it is taken after sexual intercourse.

See separate leaflet called Emergency Contraception for more details.

Further help & information

Original Author:
Dr Tim Kenny
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Prof Cathy Jackson
Document ID:
4223 (v41)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
The Information Standard - certified member
Now read about Female Barrier Methods of Contraception

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