The condom is a barrier method of birth control. The male and the female condom both block sperm from getting to a woman's cervix. Also importantly, condoms may help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, when used right.
Male condom basics
The male condom is a very thin sheath made of latex (rubber), polyurethane (plastic) or animal tissue. Latex ones work best in preventing STDs. Condoms made from animal tissue do not protect from STDs, but do help prevent pregnancy.
Condoms come in different sizes and colors. Some are lubricated. If you choose to use a lubricant, only use water-based lubricants (such as K-Y jelly). Ones made with oil (such as petroleum jelly or baby oil, for example) can weaken the condom, and make it break or leak. This can result in pregnancy.
How to use a male condom
The condom is placed on the man's erect penis right before sex. Unroll it so it fits snugly - but not too tightly - over the entire penis. Be careful when putting it on. The smallest tear will make let sperm spill into the vagina, which would make the condom ineffective. If the condom does not have a built-in reservoir, leave about a half inch of space between the tip of the condom and the end of the penis. This is where the semen goes after ejaculation.
The condom should stay on the penis the whole time during sex. After sex, hold onto the rim of the condom when withdrawing so semen does not leak out. Use a new condom each time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Female condom basics
The female condom is a loose-fitting plastic pouch that fits into the vagina. A plastic ring is on each end of the condom. The inner ring on the closed end is inserted into the vagina. The ring on the open end stays outside the vagina during sex. Use a new one each time you have sex.
How to use a female condom
To insert, squeeze the inner ring and push it into your vagina as far as possible until it is just behind the pubic bone. About one inch of the condom and the outer ring should stay outside the vagina during sex.
After sex, carefully take out the condom while lying down. The female condom can be used with both water- and oil-based lubricants without fear of failure.
Male/Female condom effectiveness
- Male condoms work 85 percent of the time if used correctly.
- Female condoms work 79 percent of the time if used correctly.
Spermicide can help
Condoms can break easily. Using a spermicide along with a condom can increase effectiveness.
Spermicide is a chemical that kills sperm or makes them inactive so they can't reach the cervix. Spermicide is put into the vagina or placed on the outside tip of the condom before sex. Spermicide is sold over-the-counter.
Some spermicides, though, can irritate the vagina and raise the risk of STDs.
Male OR female
Do not "double-up" on condoms. The male and female condom should not be used together. Using more than one condom increases the chance of both tearing. Only use one at a time.
But condoms can be used along with other birth control methods, like the diaphragm or spermicide, to increase their success rate and help protect against STDs.
Are condoms for me?
People choose to use condoms for many different reasons. Other benefits in addition to pregnancy and STD prevention include:
- Convenience. Male and female condoms are both sold without a prescription. They can be found over-the-counter in grocery stores and pharmacies.
- Cost. Male condoms are about $1 each, and some health clinics give them out free of charge. Female condoms are about $4 each.
- No side effects. If you are allergic to latex, use a condom made of plastic or animal tissue.
Some people may not choose condoms because they:
- Reduce the sensation of sex. If a couple does not like how the male condom feels, the female condom may be a better option.
- Sex must be interrupted to put one on. The female condom can be inserted hours before sex, though.
- Some are noisy (female condom). Using extra lubricant may help. Also, a newer type of condom made of a rubber-like material is less likely to make noise.
- Expire. Never use condoms past the expiration date on the package. Store condoms in a cool, dark and dry place. Light can make them less effective. Don't keep them in your wallet or purse.
Created on 01/05/2010
Updated on 01/05/2010
- Mishell Jr DR. Family planning: contraception, sterilization and pregnancy termination. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, eds. Katz: Comprehensive Gynecology, 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2007.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Barrier methods of contraception.
- University of Georgia Health Center. Condoms.