Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Mar 11, 2019.
A male condom is a thin sheath placed over the erect penis. When left in place during sexual intercourse, oral sex or anal sex, male condoms are an effective way to protect yourself and your partner from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Male condoms are also an effective way to prevent pregnancy.
Condoms, also called rubbers, are usually made of latex, but some are made from polyurethane or lambskin. Latex and polyurethane condoms provide the most protection against STIs.
Male condoms are simple to use, inexpensive and widely available. They are available with or without a lubricant and come in a variety of lengths, shapes, widths, thicknesses and colors. Some condoms are textured to increase sensation.
Why it's done
If you use them correctly every time you have sex, male condoms are very effective at preventing pregnancy and the transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. Condoms also reduce the risk of infection from other STIs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Condoms don't have the side effects found in some forms of female contraception, such as birth control pills or shots, or potential complications of an intrauterine device (IUD). They're available without a prescription, so it's easy to have one on hand when you need it.
Male condoms are generally safe and effective. However, there are a few things you should consider:
- Condoms can trigger a latex allergy. Reactions to latex can include rash, hives, runny nose, and in severe cases tightening of the airways and loss of blood pressure. If you or your partner is allergic to latex, a polyurethane or lambskin condom may be an alternative.
- Condoms aren't foolproof. There's still a risk of getting an STI or becoming pregnant when using a condom, especially if it breaks or comes off during sex.
How you prepare
Male condoms are available without a prescription. They're sold in many stores and from vending machines in some restrooms. Condoms might be less expensive or might be free at family planning clinics. School nurses and university health centers often have condoms available for free.
Finding a type of condom that works well for you can take a little trial and error. Fit is important. If it's too tight, a condom is more likely to break. If it's too loose, it might slip off. Some men find that condoms decrease sensation or are uncomfortable to wear. You might prefer a certain type of condom because it's more comfortable for you or provides greater sensation during sex.
Some condoms are lubricated with nonoxynol-9, a substance that kills sperm (spermicide) and is meant to help prevent pregnancy. However, condoms without spermicide are a better option for several reasons:
- Spermicidal condoms don't appear to be any more effective than other lubricated condoms at preventing pregnancy.
- Nonoxynol-9 might irritate or damage skin cells in the vagina or rectum. This could potentially increase the risk of getting an STI.
- Spermicide doesn't help protect you or your partner against HIV/AIDS or other STIs.
- Spermicidal condoms cost more than other types of condoms and have a shorter shelf life.
Condom safety tips
Male condoms don't last forever, and they have to be used properly to protect against pregnancy and STIs. Follow these tips for safe and effective condom use:
- Store condoms in a cool, dry place. Exposure to air, heat and light increases the chance that a condom will break. Don't keep condoms in a billfold or back pocket for more than a month. Don't store condoms in your glove compartment for an extended period of time. Friction and heat can cause condoms to break down and become less reliable.
- Check the expiration date. Don't use a condom past its expiration date.
- Check condoms for damage. Look for brittleness, small tears or pinprick holes before using one.
- Be sure to use only water-based lubricants. Examples include Astroglide and K-Y jelly. If you use latex condoms, don't use oil-based lubricants such as petroleum jelly, baby oil, mineral oil, olive oil and other cooking oils, whipped cream, cold cream, sunscreens, moisturizers, or lotions. They can weaken a latex condom and might cause it to break.
- Never reuse a condom. This increases the risk of pregnancy and passing on STIs.
- Use only a latex or polyurethane condom to prevent STIs. Lambskin condoms don't protect against STIs as well as latex or polyurethane condoms do. Read the label on the package to see what the condom is made of and whether it's labeled for STI prevention.
- Use a condom during any sexual activity. This will help protect you from STIs whether you have vaginal, oral or anal sexual contact.
What you can expect
It's important to use male condoms carefully, correctly and consistently. Here's how to correctly use a condom:
- Put on a condom before any sexual contact. Keep in mind, STIs can be passed on and pregnancy can occur before male sexual climax (ejaculation).
- Open the package carefully. Don't use your teeth or fingernails.
- Apply lubricant outside of the condom. This might not be needed if you use a condom that's pre-lubricated.
- Pull your foreskin back. This is only necessary if you're not circumcised.
- Place the tip of the rolled-up condom over your penis. The penis should be erect before you put on the condom. The rolled rim should be on the outside. If you start to put on the condom and realize that the rolled side is on the inside, throw it away and use another condom.
- Gently press the tip of the condom to remove air. This isn't necessary if the condom has a reservoir tip.
- Roll the condom down. Make sure it covers the entire penis, and remove any air bubbles.
- After sex, grasp the base of the condom before you remove it. This will prevent the condom from coming off before you pull away from your partner.
- Dispose of the condom in the trash. Don't flush condoms down the toilet.
Male condoms are an effective form of birth control. However, about 1 out of 50 couples who use condoms correctly will get pregnant in a year. Chances of pregnancy increase if you don't always wear a condom during intercourse, or you use condoms incorrectly.
Condoms are effective at preventing the transmission of most STIs, although there's still some risk. When used correctly, a condom creates a barrier that limits your exposure — and your partner's exposure — to semen or other body fluids that can carry STIs.