What you need to know about condoms
There are two main types of condoms. External condoms that are worn over the penis (male condoms) and internal condoms (female condoms) that go inside the vagina.
Also known as
The external condom is also known as…
The internal condom is also known as...
Likelihood of getting pregnant over one year
External condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy if they’re used correctly every time. But no one's perfect, and in real life people won't always put them on correctly or at the right time. So the way most people use them, they're 82% effective. Typically, 12 in 100 people using external condoms will get pregnant in one year.
Internal condoms are 95% effective with perfect use and 79% effective with typical use. This means 21 of 100 people using them will get pregnant in 1 year.
Condoms are a good option if you...
want a high level of protection from STIs during vaginal and anal sex
can’t or don’t want to use hormonal methods of contraception because of the health risks or side effects
want a method you only have to think about when you’re having sex
experience premature ejaculation (external condoms can improve this)
feel comfortable using them
They’re not recommended if you...
prefer not to think about contraception when you’re having sex
are allergic to what they’re made from – some people are allergic to latex, for example, although you can get non-latex condoms
Using condoms to prevent pregnancy
To prevent pregnancy, you need to use condoms every time you have sex. It’s important to put the condom on before there’s any genital contact because sperm can start to come out of the penis even before ejaculation.
With the internal condom, if the penis enters the vagina to the side of the condom then sperm might enter the vagina and there’s a risk of pregnancy.
How to avoid condoms breaking
Even extra-thin condoms are very strong. They all go through a range of tests for strength when they’re made, as this video inside a condom factory shows.
If condoms do break, it may be because they haven’t been stored or used correctly. To avoid a break:
always read and follow the instructions on the packet
open them carefully so they don’t tear
never store them near any form of heat, even under a bedside lamp
do not use them after their expiry date
do not use condoms with lubricants that contain oil or fat such as baby oil or vaseline as this reduces the strength of the condom (choose a water-based lubricant if you’re using one with condoms)
Condoms are very effective at preventing STIs
According to the World Health Organization, external (male) condoms are the most effective means of preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
External condoms can also be useful to prevent infection if you use them to cover sex toys.
Internal (female) condoms are also thought to reduce the risk of STIs, although there’s currently less research to back this up.
Condoms are safe to use
Condoms are one of the safest methods of contraception:
there are no health risks unless you are allergic to the ingredients
you can use them even if you’re on medication
they’re hormone-free so they don’t affect your hormonal cycle
Real contraception experiences
Condoms and latex allergies
People with a latex allergy should use condoms made of polyurethane, polyisoprene, silicone, polyethylene or nitrile.
Internal (female) condoms are not as popular
This is probably because they’ve not been as strongly promoted. Many people think they’re an important, and under-used, method of contraception.
Real contraception experiences
Other people’s experiences
In a large study in Australia, 556 women were given female condoms. These were the results:
51% reported some difficulty inserting them, but only 46% had seen a demonstration
around 50% rated the sensation and comfort of the female condom as the same or better than the male condom
66% said it gave the same or better lubrication
51% said they would consider using the female condom again for STI prevention, 40% said they would use it for contraception
43% would recommend them to others
Everything you wanted to know about sexual health and wellbeing - your questions answered by our expert team.