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Condom Use, Types & Sizes

Why do I need to use a condom?

Condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are the only form of protection that can help stop the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV, and prevent pregnancy.

So when and how do you use a condom?

You need to use a new condom every time you have sexual intercourse; from the moment the penis first comes into contact with the vagina or anus, until there is no contact. Never use the same condom twice.

How to put on a condomOnly put on a condom once there is a partial or full erection.

  • Open the condom packet at one corner being careful not to tear the condom with your fingernails, your teeth, or through being too rough. Make sure the packet and condom appear to be in good condition, and check that the expiry date has not passed.
  • Place the rolled condom over the tip of the hard penis, whilst pinching the tip of the condom enough to leave a half inch space for semen to collect. Never unroll the condom before putting it onto the penis. If the penis is not circumcised, pull back the foreskin before rolling on the condom.
  • Roll the condom all the way down to the base of the penis, and smooth out any air bubbles. (Air bubbles can cause a condom to break.)

If you want to use some extra lubrication, put it on the outside of the condom. Always use a water-based lubricant (such as KY Jelly or Liquid Silk) with latex condoms, as an oil-based lubricant will cause the latex to break.

The man wearing the condom doesn't always have to be the one putting it on - it can be quite a nice thing for his partner to do.

If you decide to have anal intercourse after vaginal intercourse, or vaginal intercourse after anal intercourse, you should consider changing the condom.

When you have ejaculated or finished having sex, withdraw the penis before it softens. Make sure you hold the condom against the base of the penis while you withdraw, so that the semen doesn't spill.

What condoms should you use for anal intercourse?

With anal intercourse more strain is placed on the condom. You can use stronger condoms (which are thicker) but standard condoms are just as effective as long as they are used correctly with plenty of lubricant. Condoms with a lubricant containing nonoxynol-9 should NOT be used for anal sex as nonoxynol-9 damages the lining of the rectum increasing the risk of HIV and STD transmission.

What's the difference between male and female condoms

A female condom (left) and a male condom (right)

There are two main types of condom. What is generally called a condom is the 'male' condom, a sheath or covering which fits over a man's penis, and which is closed at one end. There is also now a female condom, or vaginal sheath, which is used by a woman and fits inside the vagina. There is only one female condom approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - the FC2 female condom, although a number of others are sold across the world. This page discusses the male condom, but you can find out more about female condoms and how to use them in our female condoms page.

Condoms are usually made of latex or polyurethane. If possible you should use a latex condom, as they are slightly more reliable and in most countries they are most readily available. Latex condoms can only be used with water based lubricants, not oil based lubricants such as Vaseline or cold cream as they break down the latex.

Polyurethane condoms are made from a type of plastic. They are suitable for the small number of people who are allergic to latex. Polyurethane condoms are thinner than latex condoms, and so can increase sensitivity. However, they are more expensive than latex condoms and slightly less flexible so more lubrication may be needed. Both oil and water based lubricants can be used with them.

It's not clear whether latex or polyurethane condoms are stronger. However, with both types the likelihood of breakages is very small if used correctly.

Where can I get condoms?

Family planning and sexual health clinics provide condoms free of charge. Condoms are available to buy from supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol/gas stations. Vending machines selling condoms are found in toilets at many locations. You can also order them online from different manufacturers and distributors.

There are no age limits for buying condoms. Buying a condom no matter how old you are shows that you are taking responsibility for your actions.

How can I check a condom is safe to use?

In the UK, condoms that have been properly tested and approved carry the British Standard Kite Mark or the EEC Standard Mark (CE). In the USA, condoms should be FDA approved, and elsewhere in the world, they should be ISO approved. Some countries have their own approval marks. To find out more see our page about condom effectiveness.

Condoms have an expiration (Exp) or manufacture (MFG) date on the box or individual packet - you should not use the condom if this date has passed. It's important to check this when you use a condom. You should also make sure the packet and the condom appear to be in good condition.

Condoms can deteriorate if not stored properly as they are affected by both heat and light. So it's best not to use a condom that has been stored in your back pocket, your wallet, or the glove compartment of your car. If a condom feels sticky or very dry you shouldn't use it as the packaging has probably been damaged.

Condoms, lubrication and spermicides

The lubrication on condoms varies. Some condoms are not lubricated at all, some are lubricated with a silicone substance, and some condoms have a water-based lubricant. The lubrication on condoms aims to make the condom easier to put on and more comfortable to use, it can also help prevent condom breakage. Lube is also available separately.

Some condoms and lubricants contain spermicide. Spermicides are chemical products that inactivate or kill sperm to prevent pregnancy. Condoms containing the spermicide nonoxynol-9 were previously thought to help prevent the transmission of HIV and other STDs. However, nonoxynol-9 sometimes causes adverse effects, which can facilitate the transmission of HIV. Therefore you should only use condoms and lubricants containing nonoxynol-9 if you are HIV negative and know your partner is too. However, using a condom (even if it contains nonoxynol-9) is much safer than having unprotected sex.

What about the condom size?

Condoms are made in different lengths and widths. Different manufacturers produce varying sizes.

There is no standard length for condoms, they are increasingly made in a range of sizes.

The width of a condom also varies. Some condoms have a slightly smaller width to give a 'closer' fit, whereas others will be slightly larger.

Whilst condoms are produced in a range of sizes, both length and width, some may not be available in certain countries. However, condoms made from natural rubber will always stretch if necessary to fit the length of the man's erect penis. The brand names will be different in each country, so you will need to do your own investigation of different names. 

What shapes are there and which should I choose? What about flavoured condoms?

Condoms come in a variety of shapes and sizesCondoms come in a variety of shapes. Most have a reservoir tip although some have a plain tip. Condoms may be regular shaped (with straight sides), form fit (indented below the head of the penis), or they may be flared (wider over the head of the penis). Ribbed condoms are textured with ribs or bumps, which can increase sensation for both partners.

It's up to you which shape you choose. All of the differences in shape are designed to suit different personal preferences and enhance pleasure. It is important to communicate with your partner to be sure that you are using condoms that satisfy both of you.

Condoms also come in a variety of colours. Some are flavoured to make oral sex more enjoyable. They are also safe to use for penetrative sex as long as they have been tested and approved.

What do you do if the condom won't unroll?

The condom should unroll smoothly and easily from the rim on the outside. If you have to struggle or if it takes more than a few seconds, it probably means you are trying to put the condom on upside down. To take off the condom, don't try to roll it back up. Hold it near the rim and slide it off. Then start again with a new condom, as using the same one turned over could cause pregnancy, or transmit STDs.

What do you do if the condom slips up or breaks?

Whilst you are having sex, check the condom from time to time to make sure it hasn't split or slipped up. If it slips up, roll it back down immediately. If it comes off you will have to withdraw and put on a new one.

If a condom breaks during sexual intercourse, pull out quickly and replace the condom. If the condom has broken and you feel that semen has come out of the condom during sex, you should consider emergency contraception such as the morning after pill and ensure that you get checked for STDs at a clinic.

How do you dispose of a used condom?

All used condoms should be wrapped in tissue or toilet paper and thrown in the bin. Condoms should not be flushed down the toilet as they may cause blockages in the sewage system.

Latex condoms are made mainly from latex with added stabilizers, preservatives and vulcanizing (hardening) agents. Latex is a natural substance made from rubber trees, but because of the added ingredients most latex condoms are not biodegradable. Polyurethane condoms are made from plastic and are not biodegradable. Biodegradable latex condoms are available from some manufacturers.

Is using a condom effective?

If used properly, a condom is very effective at reducing the risk of HIV infection during sexual intercourse. Using a condom also provides protection against other sexually transmitted diseases, and protection against pregnancy. In the laboratory, latex condoms are very effective at blocking transmission of HIV because the pores in latex condoms are too small to allow the virus to pass through. However, outside of the laboratory condoms are less effective because people do not always use condoms properly. To find out more about the effectiveness of condoms, visit our other condoms page.

What are the other reasons to use a condom?

As well as preventing pregnancy and helping to stop the transmission of STDs, condoms also:

  • Have none of the medical side-effects that some other birth control methods may have.
  • Are available in various shapes, colours, flavours, textures and sizes. These can all increase the fun of having sex with condoms.
  • Are widely available in pharmacies, supermarkets and convenience stores. You don't need to visit a doctor or have a prescription.
  • Make sex less messy.
  • Are user friendly. With a little practice, they can also add confidence to the enjoyment of sex.

How can I persuade my partner that we should use a condom?

It can be difficult to talk about using condoms. But you shouldn't let embarrassment become a health risk. The person you are thinking about having sex with may not agree at first when you say that you want to use a condom when you have sex. These are some excuses and some answers that you could try...

EXCUSE ANSWER
Don't you trust me? Trust isn't the point, people can have infections without realising it
It does not feel as good with a condom I'll feel more relaxed, If I am more relaxed, I can make it feel better for you.
I don't stay hard when I put on a condom I'll help you put it on, that will help you keep it hard.
I am afraid to ask him to use a condom. He'll think I don't trust him. If you can't ask him, you probably don't trust him.
I can't feel a thing when I wear a condom Maybe that way you'll last even longer and that will make up for it
I don't have a condom with me I do
It's up to him... it's his decision It's your health. It should be your decision too!
I'm on the pill, you don't need a condom I'd like to use it anyway. It will help to protect us from infections we may not realise we have.
It just isn't as sensitive and I can't feel a thing Maybe that way you will last even longer and that will make up for it
Putting it on interrupts everything Not if I help put it on
I guess you don't really love me I do, but I am not risking my future to prove it
I will pull out in time Women can get pregnant and get STDs from pre-ejaculate
But I love you Then you'll help us to protect ourselves.
Just this once Once is all it takes

Confidence tips

Here are also some tips that can help you to feel more confident and relaxed about using condoms.

  • Keep condoms handy at all times. If things start getting steamy - you'll be ready. It's not a good idea to find yourself having to rush out at the crucial moment to buy condoms - at the height of the passion you may not want to.
  • When you buy condoms, don't get embarrassed. If anything, be proud. It shows that you are responsible and confident and when the time comes it will all be worthwhile. It can be more fun to go shopping for condoms with your partner or friend. Nowadays, it is also easy to buy condoms discreetly on the internet.
  • Talk with your partner about using a condom before having sex. It removes anxiety and embarrassment. Knowing where you both stand before the passion starts will make you a lot more confident that you both agree and are happy about using a condom.
  • If you are new to condoms, the best way to learn how to use them is to practice putting them on by yourself or your partner. It does not take long to become a master.
  • If you feel that condoms interrupt your passion then try introducing condoms into your lovemaking. It can be really sexy if your partner helps you put it on or you do it together.

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