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Condoms are made of very thin latex (rubber) and are designed to cover the penis in order to stop fluids being transferred between partners.

Quick guide


No hormones


No effect on mood


Protects against STIs


Only people involved in the sexual activity will see it


Periods will stay the same

Lasts for

Single use


Skin will stay the same

Preventing pregnancy

More than 98% effective if used without mistakes

Starting on this method

Can get them for free from sexual health services and some GPs or buy them from pharmacies, shops, vending machines or online.

Use a new one each time you have sex

You can get latex-free condoms if you are allergic to latex and biodegradable condoms if single-use plastics are a concern.

How condoms work

Condoms protect against unwanted pregnancy by stopping the sperm contained in semen coming into contact with the vagina (which could lead to an egg being fertilised).

An external condom covers the penis and acts as a barrier between it and the mouth, vagina, penis or anus. This prevents sexual fluids being transferred between partners, which provides protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

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Pros & Cons


  • The only method that protects against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Only need to be used when you have sex
  • No serious side effects
  • Available in different shapes, sizes, textures, colours and flavours which can make sex more fun
  • Easily available
  • Can be used in addition to other methods (e.g. the pill, implant, injection) for extra protection
  • Can be used on sex toys as well


  • Sometimes they can split or slip off – if this happens or you are worried you may need emergency contraception
  • Some people are allergic to the latex used in condoms. This is rare but latex free polyurethane condoms are also available
  • Some people find talking about condoms awkward
  • Single use

Where to get condoms

You can get free condoms from Brook services, young people’s services, contraception clinics, GUM clinics and some GP surgeries.

You may also be able to get free condoms from a local C-Card provider. The C-Card scheme allows you to pick up free condoms from local outlets like pharmacies, youth services and shops.

You can also buy condoms from pharmacies, supermarkets, vending machines in public toilets and online.

Under 16?
There is no age restriction on buying or accessing free condoms. You can still access condoms the same ways as anyone else.

Embarrassed about buying condoms?

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.

If it’s easier, go to a clinic with a friend or a partner. Bringing up the subject of condoms when you’re about to have sex can be tricky. Get some tips for talking about it in advance with our page on talking about condoms.

When to start using condoms

You can start using condoms whenever and you only need to use them when you are having sex.

After pregnancy

You can get pregnant from as little as three weeks after giving birth and from two weeks after an abortion of miscarriage
You can use condoms whenever you are ready to have sex.

How to use condoms

When used correctly condoms are 98% effective at protecting against pregnancy.

  1. Before opening, feel for the rib of the condom inside the packaging and push it to the side so that when you tear it open you don’t tear the condom as well
  2. Unroll the condom a bit to check it is the right way round (it will only unroll if it’s the right way). Do this BEFORE it touches the penis
  3. Pinch the tip of the condom between your thumb and forefinger to get rid of any air
  4. Put it on the penis as soon as it is erect (hard) or on the sex toy before it goes near anyone’s mouth, vagina or anus
  5. Use your other hand to roll the condom down the penis or sex toy all the way to the base
  6. 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
  7. Check the condom is in place during sex
  8. After ejaculation, hold the condom on at the base until the penis is withdrawn and then take it off, wrap it in tissue and throw it in the bin (not down the toilet)

If you’re doing all this but the condom 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 at your local sexual health service. They won’t judge you – they’re there to help and you have a right to enjoy sex safely.

Factors impacting their effectiveness


  • Check the expiry date – out of date? Don’t use it. It could split
  • Check for the European CE mark or the UKCA mark on the packet. If it’s not there, don’t use them – you can’t rely on them
  • Always use a brand new condom – they can only be used once (including if you are moving from anal sex to vaginal sex as this can cause an infection)
  • You can use lube with condoms but just make sure it is water based (eg KY jelly) or look for condoms that are lubricated
  • Take care that you don’t rip them with sharp nails or jewellery


  • Don’t use a condom if there are any rips, holes or damage to the pack
  • Don’t use two condoms together as this increases the chances of them splitting or tearing
  • Don’t use oil-based products (eg Vaseline, hand cream or oil-based lube) with latex condoms as it can make them less effective
  • Don’t use condoms if the wrappers look damaged
  • Don’t use the condom if you’ve already tried putting it on the wrong way. It’s easily done but you should throw it away as it may have touched some pre-cum, or semen which could mean there is a risk of pregnancy and STIs

What to do if the condom breaks

Accidents happen and if the condom has broken, split, slipped off or you’re worried it was used incorrectly, don’t panic.

You can use our Find a service tool to find your local sexual health service where you can have a quick, simple and painless test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and emergency contraception if there is a risk of unwanted pregnancy. You may also be able to order a free STI kit to complete at home.


Can you use condoms and internal condoms at the same time?

No – it is not recommended to use two condoms at the same time as it is more likely that one or both of them split or break. If you’re worried about pregnancy you can use condoms as well as other types of contraception that are not barrier methods.

I find condoms uncomfortable, how can I make using them easier?

Condoms are the only form of contraception that also protect against STIs. If you find them uncomfortable, it might be that you could find condoms that are better suited to you and your partner.

Unsure which contraception method is best for you?
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