Using a Condom

A condom is a barrier method of birth control that helps prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from traveling into the uterus and fallopian tubes. Condoms also provide protection against infection from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Both male and female condoms are available.

Male condoms may be used for vaginal, anal, or oral sex. A male condom is a thin sheath made of latex, plastic, or animal membrane that fits over the erect penis just prior to intercourse.

A female condom (FC) is a plastic pouch with two flexible rings at either end that fits inside the vagina and slightly covers the outer labia (the lips on the outside of the vagina).

How to use a condom

Male condoms

Start with a new condom for each act of sexual intercourse. Open the condom wrapper carefully, so as not to poke a hole in the condom. A condom should be put on as soon as the penis is hard (erect) and before any sexual contact occurs.

  • Hold the tip of the condom and squeeze out the air to leave room for the semen after ejaculation. (If the penis is not circumcised, pull down the foreskin before putting on the condom.)
  • Holding onto the tip of the condom, unroll it over the penis all the way down to the base.
  • If using a condom as birth control, use a brand that includes spermicide or insert spermicide separately into the vagina before sexual intercourse.
  • If additional lubrication is desired, use a personal lubricant such as Astroglide or K-Y Jelly. Never use petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline), or other oil-based mediums (such as lotion or baby oil). Oil increases the chance the condom will break.
  • After ejaculation, the male partner should hold onto the condom at the base of the penis and withdraw while still erect.

Female condoms

Start with a new condom for every act of sexual intercourse. The female condom can be inserted up to eight hours before having sex.

  • Before inserting the female condom, the woman should find a comfortable position, whether sitting on the edge of a chair, standing with one foot on a chair, or lying down.
  • To insert the condom, put one finger into the condom. With the other hand, squeeze together the closed end of the condom, and insert that end into the vagina.
  • Use the finger inside the condom to push the closed end as far as it will go.
  • When inserted correctly, the open end of the condom will hang an inch outside of the vagina.
  • After ejaculation, remove the condom right away by closing off the outside ring (to hold the semen inside) and pull out the condom.

Safety and effectiveness of condom contraceptives

When properly used, male condoms are about 85 percent effective as a form of birth control, and female condoms are about 75 percent effective. Male condoms and female condoms should not be used at the same time because they are more likely to fail due to increased friction.

Male condoms are currently the most effective method available for preventing infection from STDs.

It is important to check the expiration date of the condoms before use. Do not use a condom that has expired or shows signs of damage or deterioration. Condoms should be stored at room temperature, so keeping the condom in a pocket or glove compartment is not recommended.

Benefits of condoms

Condoms are inexpensive, disposable, and available without a prescription. Some family planning clinics offer male and female condoms for free.

Condoms are safe to use, even for people with medical conditions or women who are breastfeeding. Condoms are only used during sexual intercourse, and do not cause side effects associated with other forms of birth control like the pill, patch, or shot.


Latex condoms may cause allergic reactions in some people. However, alternative condoms, such as those made from polyurethane (plastic) or animal membrane, are not as effective at preventing pregnancy or STD transmission as latex condoms.

A condom may break or slip off during intercourse, allowing the sperm to travel into the uterus and fallopian tubes, which can result in pregnancy. If a male or female condom breaks during sex, emergency contraception such as the morning after pill should be considered to prevent pregnancy.