Using Condoms for Safer Sex

What is safer sex?

“Safer Sex” is a way to have sex that decreases the risk of infection or pregnancy. The only way to be 100 percent protected from STIs (sexually transmitted infections), STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and pregnancy is to be abstinent.  Abstinence means not having sex at all (this includes vaginal, anal and oral sex).

Learn more about safer sex and abstinence

What is a condom?

A male condom is a latex or plastic barrier that fits over a man’s penis. A female condom is a plastic barrier that fits inside a woman’s vagina.

How do they work?

Condoms stop sperm (semen or cum) from entering into another person’s body.  Condoms also create a barrier around the penis/vagina which can reduce or prevent the spread of infection.

Are condoms effective?

Condoms are very good at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections when they are used correctly and every single time a person has sex.  However, condoms are not effective at preventing pregnancy or infection when they are not used consistently or correctly (for example, only using condoms before ejaculation, only using condoms with certain partners, only using condoms sometimes).

How to use a male condom correctly

  1. Buy LATEX (or POLYURETHANE if latex allergic) condoms and keep them with you.
  2. Check the expiration date. Expired condoms are more likely to break during sex.
  3. Carefully open the condom package so as not to tear the condom inside.
  4. Put the condom on the penis AFTER the penis is erect (hard), but BEFORE any contact with your partner.
    1. Pinch the tip of the condom with one hand and unroll it down onto the penis with the other hand. Make sure the condom is rolled down to the base of the penis so it will stay in position during sex.
    2. Consider using a water-based lubricant (like KY Jelly or Astroglide) for vaginal or anal sex.  Do not use oil-based lubricants (like Vaseline, baby oil or lotion) which can weaken the condom and make it more likely to break.
  5. Right after ejaculation, hold the base of the condom in place (so it doesn’t slip off) and pull the penis out of the partner.
  6. Unroll the condom and put it into the trash.

Other tips for use:

  • Only use one condom at a time. Using two condoms is not safer and actually makes it more likely that the condom will break.
  • Use a new condom every time for oral, anal or vaginal sex. Re-using a condom is not safe.
  • If using a condom makes sex feel “dry” make sure to use a water-based lubricant. When there is too much friction, the condom is more likely to break.

What if a condom breaks or falls off?

If the condom fails, there are two things to think about:

  1. Pregnancy: Women can get pregnant no matter where they are in their menstrual cycle (even if they are on their period), so if the condom breaks or falls off, emergency contraception (EC) is recommended. The “Plan B One-step” morning after pill can be purchased by any aged man or woman – no ID required. EC works best when used right away but it can be used up to five days after unprotected sex. Consider buying a morning after pill ahead of time if you are relying on condoms for birth control.
  2. Infection: Talk to your health provider about what testing is indicated. If possible, both you and your partner should be tested for STIs or STDs.

How do I talk to my partner about using condoms?

Being able to communicate with your partner is an important part of having sex. Although it may seem embarrassing, it is even more embarrassing to deal with a sexually transmitted infection/disease or an unexpected pregnancy.

Here are a few facts that may help you talk to your partner about using condoms during sex:

  • Sexually transmitted infections/diseases usually do not have symptoms (like a discharge, rash or ulcer).  It is not possible to “tell” if your partner has an STI or STD.
  • Sexually transmitted infections/diseases can happen to anyone, even someone who has only had one partner.
  • Infections can spread through oral sex and anal sex, as well as vaginal sex.
  • “Pulling out” before ejaculation (also called “withdrawal”) does not protect against STIs/STDs; it also does not work very well at preventing pregnancy.

Here are some ideas on how to respond to your partner when you talk about condoms.

If your partner says…

You could respond…

It doesn’t feel good with a condom… We can try using lubrication (KY, Astroglide), and condoms in different sizes and textures. I can also help you put the condom on before we have sex.
If you love me (or trust me), you won’t make me use a condom… Because I love you (and trust you), I want to make sure we are both protected.  I also know that you love me enough to make sure I don’t get pregnant right now.
We’ve never used them before, why now?  Are you cheating on me? Of course not. I just don’t want to have another pregnancy scare. Using condoms makes sex safer for both of us and we can enjoy it more. Let’s just give them a try.
You’re already on birth control, so why do we need to? My birth control prevents pregnancy but not sexually transmitted infections. Using a condom will make me feel more comfortable and we can enjoy it more.