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Condoms

Condoms are made of very thin latex (rubber) and are designed to cover the penis in order to stop the sperm in semen coming into contact with the vagina.

Condoms also stop sexual fluids being transferred between partners which provides protection against STIs.

Condoms are one of the only methods of contraception that protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

Find out more information about internal or ‘female’ condoms which fit inside the vagina.

Some key facts are:

  • When condoms are used correctly they are 98% effective at protecting against pregnancy 
  • Condoms are the only method of contraception that protects against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as pregnancy
  • You can get free condoms from Brook services, contraception clinics, young people’s services, GUM clinics and some GP surgeries
  • Some condoms are lubricated to make them easier to use
  • Oil-based products can make latex condoms less effective. Water based lubricant can be used with all condoms
  • Always check that the condoms have the European CE mark or BSI (British Standards) kite mark on the packet, and always check the expiry date
  • You can use condoms in addition to other methods of contraception
  • After sex, you should check if the condom breaks, has a hole in it or slips off. If it does, you can find out more about emergency contraception, and also getting an STI test
  • There are also internal (female) condoms which are put into the vagina to line it

How do condoms work?

A condom covers the penis or sex toy and acts as a barrier between it and the mouth, vagina, penis or anus.

Condoms protect against pregnancy by stopping the sperm contained in semen coming into contact with a vagina. As condoms stop sexual fluids being transferred between partners they are also the only method of contraception that protects against most STIs. 

When condoms are used correctly they are 98% effective at protecting against pregnancy. This means that two women out of every 100 who use condoms as contraception will become pregnant within a year. They are the only method of contraception that protects against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Some people like to use condoms with another method of contraception (e.g. the pill, implant, injection), so they can enjoy sex without having to worry about pregnancy and STIs.

How do I get condoms?

You can get condoms FREE from:

Or buy your condoms, even if you're under 16, from:

  • Pharmacies
  • Petrol stations
  • Machines in public toilets, bars and clubs
  • Most supermarkets
  • Mail order or online 

If you feel embarrassed to get condoms – don’t be. There is no need to feel embarrassed about asking for condoms, as it's nothing to be ashamed of. Deciding to use condoms shows that you have respect for your body and are responsible enough to look after your sexual health.

If you go to a service to get condoms, you will usually have a private consultation where they will ask you a few questions and they may show you how to use condoms by giving a demonstration on a plastic penis.

You and a friend or partner can also go to a clinic together and keep each other company. This might make it a bit easier for you.

How do you use condoms?

If you follow the instructions on the pack it will make it much less likely that you will have any problems. We also have a video below that you can watch:

  • Check the expiry date and make sure there are no rips or holes in the pack
  • Check that the condoms have the BSI kite mark or CE mark on the pack
  • Before opening, feel for the rib of the condom inside the packaging. Push this to the side so that when you tear it open you don’t tear the condom as well
  • Unroll the condom a bit to check it is the right way round. Check which way to roll it down BEFORE it touches the penis
  • Pinch the tip of the condom between your thumb and forefinger to get rid of any air
  • Make sure the condom is put on the penis as soon as it is erect (hard), before it goes near anyone's mouth, vagina or anus, to help protect against unplanned pregnancy and STIs
  • Use your other hand to roll the condom down the penis all the way to the base
  • If you are having anal sex, you should use additional water-based lubricant which you can apply directly to the anus or on the outside of the condom
  • Check the condom is in place during sex
  • After ejaculation, hold the condom on at the base until the penis is withdrawn from your partner’s mouth, vagina or anus, and then take it off, wrap it in tissue and throw it in the bin (not down the toilet)
  • Always use a brand new condom if you have any sexual contact again – they can only be used once

Never use two condoms together as this increases the chances of them splitting or tearing. 

Some condoms have spermicide on them and these are being phased out because research has shown that a spermicide called nonoxynol 9 doesn’t protect against some STIs (and may even increase the risk). Avoid using spermicide lubricated condoms if you can, or using spermicide as an additional lubricant.

Look after your condoms
Keeping condoms in your pocket or at the bottom of your bag for a long time might damage them. If the wrappers look damaged throw them away and get new ones. Always check the expiry date: out of date condoms are less effective.

Read our in-depth guide to using condoms.

What if I have problems putting condoms on?

If you're doing all this correctly, and the condom still won't go all the way down your penis, you may need to use a different sized condom. You can have a chat about condoms with a member of the team at your local Brook service, young person's service, contraception and sexual health clinics, or at your GP surgery.

The condom is inside out
It’s easily done! If you or your partner put the condom on the wrong way, you should throw it away and use a fresh one. This is because the inside of it may have touched some pre-come, or semen which could mean there is a risk of pregnancy.

Brands, sizes and types of condoms

There are lots of different brands and types of condoms, but they should all have one thing in common: a BSI kite mark or CE mark - these stamps show that the condom has been tested to high safety standards.

When a condom is past its expiry date, it is more likely to split during sex, because the latex is starting to perish.

Brands: There are lots of different brands of condoms such as Durex, Mates, Trojan and Pasante. Different people prefer different brands.

Size and shape: Condoms come in all different shapes and sizes; so finding a condom that fits and is comfortable is really important. One size definitely does not fit all, and trying out different types is the only way to find the one that's right.

Colour and flavour: Condoms come in every colour imaginable. This is mostly to make them more fun to use and it doesn't affect the way that they work. Condoms can also be flavoured so that they smell and taste of something (like strawberry or chocolate), to make oral sex safer and more fun.

Texture: Some condoms are textured or ribbed on the outside for increased stimulation of the vagina or anus. Condoms are usually made of latex and this can be thinner or thicker. Thinner latex condoms provide more sensation for the male, while thicker "extra strong" condoms can be safer because they're less likely to break.

Specialist condoms: Some condoms contain an anaesthetic gel in the tip; this can help make sex last longer by slightly numbing the head of the penis. 

Latex free: Most people are able to use latex condoms with no problems, however occasionally people can have an allergy to latex. All the major brands now make non-latex condoms so; if you have a latex allergy you can ask for these at your local service or buy them from a high street chemist, like Boots or Superdrug and from some larger supermarkets. 

Make sure it's got a BSI kite mark or CE mark on the wrapper. That means they've been tested to a really high standard. 

What if the condom breaks?

If the condom breaks or you are worried that you may need emergency contraception, speak to your doctor or nurse. You may also need to be tested for STIs.

Advantages of condoms

  • They're really easy to use and you only need to use them when you have sex
  • They protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as pregnancy
  • They are available for FREE from Brook services (for under 25s), some youth clinics, contraception and sexual health clinics and some GPs. You can also buy them at any time of day from supermarkets, vending machines in public toilets, petrol stations etc, even if you're under 16
  • They come in different shapes, sizes, textures, colours and flavours which can make sex more fun
  • Condoms are the only type of contraception that a man can use to control his own fertility 

Disadvantages of condoms

  • Some people are allergic to the latex used in condoms. This is rare but if you or your partner is allergic, it's possible to use latex free polyurethane condoms. All types of condoms are available free from Brook services (for under 25s), some youth clinics, contraception and sexual health clinics and some GPs
  • Sometimes they can split or slip off – if this happens or you are worried you may need emergency contraception

What can make condoms less effective?

  • If the penis touches the area around the vagina before a condom is put on, because pre-come (fluid which leaks of out the penis before ejaculation) may contain sperm
  • If it is ripped by sharp nails or rings
  • Oil-based products, such as hand creams or Vaseline, can damage latex condoms so it's important to avoid these and use a water-based lubricant (such as KY jelly)
  • If it slips off
  • If it splits
  • If it isn't put on properly
  • Some medicines, creams and pessaries can damage latex condoms – check with your doctor or nurse
  • Like penises, condoms come in all different shapes and sizes; so finding a condom that fits and is comfortable is really important. One size definitely does not fit all, and trying out different types is the only way to find the one that's right

If any of these happen or you are worried you can find out more about emergency contraception. You may also need to be tested for STIs.

Using condoms after having a baby

You can use condoms immediately after having a baby.

Using condoms after an abortion or miscarriage

You can use condoms immediately after having a miscarriage or abortion.

Talking about condoms

Bringing up the subject of condoms in the heat of the moment can be tricky. Get some tips for talking about it in advance with our page on talking about condoms.