What is a male condom?
Condoms can protect you against
sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and they can be used to prevent pregnancy. A male condom is placed over a man's
erect penis before sex. Condoms are also called "rubbers," "sheaths,"
Condoms are made of latex (rubber), polyurethane, or
sheep intestine. While latex and polyurethane condoms help prevent the spread
sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as
HIV, sheep intestine condoms do not.
The male condom is a
barrier method of
birth control. Condoms are currently the only male method of birth control besides
vasectomy. To more effectively prevent pregnancy, use
a condom with a more effective birth control method such as hormonal
contraception, an intrauterine device (IUD), a diaphragm with spermicide, or
another female barrier method.
How do you get male condoms?
Condoms don't require a
prescription or a visit to a health professional. Condoms are sold in
drugstores, family planning clinics, and many other places, including vending
machines in some restrooms. There are many different kinds of condoms. Some
condoms are lubricated, some are ribbed, and some have a "reservoir tip" for
holding the semen. You can also buy condoms of different sizes.
How well do male condoms work to prevent pregnancy?
condom has a user failure rate (typical use) of
18%. This means that, among all couples that use condoms, 18 out of 100 become
pregnant in 1 year. Among couples who use condoms perfectly for 1 year, only 2
out of 100 will become pregnant.1
The most common reason for failure, besides not using a condom
every time, is that the condom breaks or partially or completely slips off the
penis. Slippage occurs more often than breakage, usually when a condom is too
emergency contraception as a backup if a condom breaks
or slips off.
Make sure to check the condom's expiration date, and do
not use it if past that date.
How well do they work to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
Male condoms reduce the risk of spreading sexually
transmitted infections, including the human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Condoms are often used to reduce the risk of STIs
even when the couple is using another method of birth control (such as
pills). For the best protection, use the condom during vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
"Natural" or sheep intestine condoms are as effective as
latex or polyurethane condoms for preventing pregnancy, but they
are not effective against STIs because the small
openings in the animal tissue allow organisms to pass through.
How do you use a male condom?
Condoms are most effective if you
follow these steps:
- Use a new condom each time you have sexual
- When opening the condom wrapper, be careful not to
poke a hole in the condom with your fingernails, teeth, or other sharp
- Put the condom on as soon as your penis is hard (erect)
and before any sexual contact with your partner.
- Before putting it
on, hold the tip of the condom and squeeze out the air to leave room for the
semen after ejaculation.
- If you aren't circumcised, pull down the
loose skin from the head of the penis (foreskin) before putting on the
- While continuing to hold on to the tip of the condom, unroll
it all the way down to the base of your penis.
- If you are also using the condom as birth
control, make sure your partner uses a
spermicide according to the manufacturer's
instructions. (Although the use of a spermicide increases the effectiveness of
a condom as birth control, the use of a spermicide may increase the risk for
- If you want to use a lubricant, never use
petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline), grease, hand lotion, baby oil, or anything
with oil in it (read the label). Oil (or petroleum) can weaken the condom,
increasing the chance that it may break. Instead, use a personal lubricant such
as Astroglide or K-Y Jelly.
- After ejaculation, hold on to the condom
at the base of your penis and withdraw from your partner while your penis is
still erect. This will keep semen from spilling out of the
- Wash your hands after handling a used condom.
What do you need to know about buying and storing male condoms?
- Buy condoms that meet safety standards.
- Condoms are made of latex (rubber), polyurethane, or sheep
intestine. While latex and polyurethane condoms help prevent the spread of
STIs such as HIV, sheep intestine condoms don't.
- Keep the condom wrapped in its original package until you are
ready to use it. Store it in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Check the
expiration date on the package before using.
- Don't keep rubber
(latex) condoms in a glove compartment or other hot places for a long time.
Heat weakens latex and increases the chance that the condom will
- Don't use condoms in damaged packages or condoms that show
obvious signs of deterioration, such as brittleness, stickiness, or
discoloration, regardless of their expiration date.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of male condoms?
- They are the most effective protection
available against STIs.
- They do not affect future fertility for
either a woman or a man.
- They are used only at the time of
- They are safe to use while a woman is
- They are less expensive than hormonal methods of
- They are
widely available without a prescription.
- They may help prevent a man from having an orgasm too quickly
- Some people are embarrassed to use condoms or
feel they may interrupt foreplay or intercourse.
- Both partners must be
comfortable with using a condom and be prepared to use one every time they have
- Condoms may decrease sexual sensation.
- Some people are allergic to latex (rubber). These couples
should use condoms made of polyurethane (plastic).
- Condoms may break or leak.
- Failure rates for
barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control. Using an additional method of birth control is a good backup
measure in case a condom breaks. If a condom does break and you are using no
other birth control method, you can use
emergency contraception to help prevent pregnancy.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Trussell J, Guthrie KA (2011). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 20th ed., pp. 45–74. Atlanta: Ardent Media.
Other Works Consulted
Cwiak C, Berga S (2009). Contraception. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 16, chap. 4. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
Zieman M, et al. (2007). Condoms for men. In
Managing Contraception for Your Pocket. 2007–2009 ed.,
pp. 56–62. Tiger, GA: Bridging the Gap Foundation.
Zieman M, et al. (2007). Female-controlled barrier
methods. In Managing Contraception for Your Pocket,
2007–2009 ed., pp. 63–67. Tiger, GA: Bridging the Gap Foundation.