Condoms are a barrier method of contraception. They stop sperm from reaching an egg by creating a physical barrier between the two, preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Condoms are the only form of contraception to offer protection against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They help protect against STIs if used correctly during vaginal, anal and oral sex.

The penis should not make contact with the vagina before a condom has been put on. This is because semen can come out of the penis before a man has fully ejaculated (come). If this happens, or if semen leaks into the vagina while using a male or female condom, seek advice about emergency contraception from your GP or a sexual health clinic. Also, consider having an STI test.

It is best to use another method of contraception as well as a condom. This will protect against unintended pregnancy if the condom splits or comes off.

Using male condoms

The male condom fits over a man’s erect penis and should be put on before the penis comes into contact with his partner’s vagina, anus or mouth. To use a male condom:

  • Take the condom out of the packet, being careful not to tear the condom with jewellery or fingernails. Do not open the packet with your teeth.
  • Hold the teat at the end of the condom between your finger and thumb, making sure it goes on the right way round and that there is no air trapped inside.
  • Still holding the teat, place the condom over the tip of the erect penis.
  • Gently unroll the condom down to the base of the penis.
  • If the condom will not unroll, you are probably holding it the wrong way round. If this happens, throw the condom away, as it may have sperm on it, and start with a new condom.
  • After sex, withdraw the penis while it is still erect. As you do this, hold the condom at the base of the penis to make sure it does not come off.
  • Remove the condom from the penis, being careful not to spill any semen. Wrap it in tissue and put it in a bin. Do not flush it down the toilet.
  • Make sure the man’s penis does not touch his partner’s genital area again. If you have sex again, use a new condom.

Putting on a condom doesn’t need to interrupt sex, and many people see it as an enjoyable part of foreplay.

Using female condoms

The female condom is made of polyurethane and is worn inside the vagina to stop sperm getting to the womb. It needs to be put in the vagina before there is any contact between the vagina and penis. It can be put in up to eight hours before sex.

  • Take the female condom out of the packet, being careful not to tear the condom with jewellery or fingernails. Do not open the packet with your teeth.
  • Squeeze the smaller ring at the closed end of the condom with your finger and thumb.
  • Using the finger and thumb, push the condom as far up the vagina as possible. Make sure the large ring at the open end of the female condom covers the area around the vaginal opening.
  • The outer ring of the condom should be outside the vagina at all times during sex. If the outer ring gets pushed inside the vagina, stop and put it back in the right place.
  • Make sure the penis enters the female condom, and not between the condom and the side of the vagina.
  • After sex, slightly twist and pull the end of the condom to remove it, taking care not to spill any sperm onto the vagina. Wrap the condom in tissue and put it in a bin. Do not flush it down the toilet.

If you have sex more than once, use a new condom. Never reuse condoms and never use two condoms together. Always check the expiry date on the packet.