They can be ribbed, flavoured, super safe or ultra fine for heightened sensation - they also protect against pregnancy and most STIs. Here's the lowdown on condoms.


Pick a colour, any colour. Now pick a size...

What is a condom?

The most common type is a latex sheath that fits onto the penis when erect, and which catches semen on ejaculation. This prevents sperm from getting into the vagina and also stops body fluids from mixing during any kind of intimate sexual activity. When used correctly, the (male) latex condom is 98% effective against pregnancy and STIs. Condoms can also be used to practice safe oral and anal sex, to prevent the transfer of sexually transmitted infections.

What does a condom do?

Condoms are most effective when coated in a spermicide. They are often also lubricated (to make sex more comfortable) but spermicide/lubricant free condoms are readily available, as are flavoured, coloured or textured varieties.

Condoms made from polyurethane offer the same level of protection, and provide an effective alternative for latex-allergy sufferers. The female condom is also made from polyurethane. It’s a larger version of the male condom and can be fitted inside the vagina before sex. If used correctly, the female condom is 95% effective against STIs and pregnancy.

Where can I get some condoms?

Condom availability is widespread. They can be bought in supermarkets, chemists, pubs, bars, public toilets and petrol stations. They are also available free from family planning clinics and some young people’s centres. In every case, make sure there is a BSI kitemark or a CE mark on the packaging – this means they have been tested to a high safety standard.

How do you use a condom?

  • A condom should always be unrolled onto an erect penis before sex, and preferably before any kind of sexual activity. This is because during arousal the penis may release a clear liquid (called precum) which can contain semen.
  • Always pinch the teat at the top of the condom before rolling it over the penis. This will help to be sure that you’re putting it on right (teat facing upwards) and expel any trapped air. This also reduces the risk of the condom splitting during sex.
  • After sex, hold the base of the condom when withdrawing the penis to prevent it from slipping off. Dispose of it responsibly and if you’re up for any more action be sure to roll on another one fresh from its foil packet.

Benefits of condoms:

  • The only contraceptive that can also prevent sexually transmitted diseases, including the HIV virus
  • A chance for men to take responsibility for contraception
  • Widely available and free from some places

Drawbacks of condoms:

  • Condoms may slip or split, especially if handled roughly or torn by sharp fingernails or jewellery.
  • Latex condoms are weakened by oil-based lubricants. Contact with body lotion, sun tan lotion, baby oil or Vaseline can quickly destroy the material.
  • You have to interrupt sex to put a male condom on (but it’s a small price to pay for protection from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV).

Myths about condoms:

Condoms are painful: Not if you put it on correctly and find one that fits. It isn’t a case of ‘one size fits all’. You may need to experiment with various brands before you find one that feels comfortable.

Wearing two is better than one: Wrong. The friction between two layers of laytex can actually cause holes, leaving you both open to STIs and pregnancy.

Sex without a condom is healthier: ‘Fraid not. Having unprotected sex not only puts your partner at risk of unwanted pregnancy but also exposes you to STIs – there’s nothing healthy about that.

Safe oral sex

Remember, it’s not just penetrative sex that transfers STIs. You can catch chlamydia, herpes, syphilis, and gonorrhoea from having unprotected oral sex. The HPV virus, which can cause warts and (though rarely) cancer, can also be caught from having oral sex. Make sure you’re protected and practice safe oral sex by using a condom or dental dam.

Next Steps

  • Are you Getting Some? Get Tested! Search for a sexual health clinic near you
  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook's services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Photo of condoms by Shutterstock