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Male and female condoms

Male and female condoms are barrier methods of contraception. They stop sperm meeting an egg. A male condom fits over a man's erect penis and is made of very thin latex (rubber) or polyurethane (plastic). A female condom is made of very thin polyurethane. It is put into the vagina and lines it. Femidom is the only female condom available in the UK.

How effective are condoms?

How effective any contraceptive is depends on how old you are, how often you have sex and whether you follow the instructions.

If 100 sexually active women don't use any contraception, 80 to 90 will become pregnant in a year.

Male condom - If used according to instructions it is 98% effective. This means that 2 women in 100 will get pregnant in a year.

If it is not used according to instructions, more women will become pregnant.

Condoms which carry the BSI Kitemark (BS EN 600) and the European CE mark have had thorough quality checks.

Female condom - If used according to instructions it is 95% effective. This means that 5 women in 100 will get pregnant in a year.

If it is not used according to instructions, more women will become pregnant.

Female condoms carry the CE mark.  

Can anything make condoms less effective?

Sperm can get into the vagina during sex, even if you use a condom. This may happen if:

the penis touches the area around the vagina before a condom is put on the condom splits the male condom slips off you use oil-based products with latex condoms the female condom gets pushed too far into the vagina the man's penis enters the vagina outside the female condom by mistake the condom gets damaged, for example by sharp finger nails or jewellery.

Where can I get condoms?

You can get male condoms free from a family planning clinic, many sexual health clinics and some GPs. Female condoms are free from some family planning clinics. You can buy male and female condoms from a pharmacy or through mail order as well as from vending machines, supermarkets, garages and other shops.

What are the advantages of condoms?

  • You only need to use them when you have sex
  • They may give some protection to both partners from some sexually transmitted infections, including HIV
  • There are no side-effects from using condoms
  • Male condoms come in different shapes, types and sizes to suit everybody
  • Male condoms are easily available
  • A female condom can be put in any time before sex

What are the disadvantages of condoms?

  • Putting them on can interrupt sex
  • A male condom can sometimes slip off or split
  • Some people are allergic to latex, though this is rare
  • When using a male condom, the man has to pull out with the condom still on as soon as he has ejaculated. He must be careful not to spill any semen
  • When using a female condom, you need to make sure the man's penis enters the condom and not between the vagina and the condom. Also, the open end must stay outside the vagina during sex
  • Female condoms are not widely available free of charge and are expensive to buy.

Can anyone use condoms?

Male and female condoms are suitable for most people.

Some men and women are sensitive to the latex or spermicides used in male condoms. If this is a problem you can get special condoms which are less likely to cause an allergic reaction or you can use polyurethane condoms. You can also get condoms without spermicide.

Men who do not always keep their erection during sex may find it difficult to use a male condom.

Female condoms may not be suitable for women who do not feel comfortable touching their genital area. 

The male condom or the female condom?

It's up to you and your partner to choose the condom which suits you best. Why not try each of them before making up your mind? You may decide sometimes to use a male condom and other times a female condom.

Why do some condoms have spermicide?

Both male and female condoms are lubricated to make them easier to use. Some male condoms are lubricated with a spermicide - a chemical that kills sperm. Male and female polyurethane condoms do not contain spermicide.

Some people choose to use extra spermicide for additional reassurance. If a spermicide causes discomfort or irritation, stop using it and ask a doctor, nurse or pharmacist for advice.   

Can I use lubricants with condoms?

Yes. Any lubricants can be used with male or female polyurethane condoms. Some people use spermicide - which does not weaken latex or polyurethane - as an extra lubricant. If you are using a male latex condom, remember that you should never use oil-based products - such as body oils, creams, lotions or petroleum jelly - as a lubricant. This is because they can damage the latex and make the condom more likely to split. Some ointments can also damage latex. If you are using medication in the genital area - for example, creams, pessaries or suppositories - ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if it will affect latex condoms.

How do I use a male condom?

You will find instructions on the condom packet or in a leaflet inside the pack. You can also ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

Use a new condom each time you have sex. Check the 'use by' date on the packet and look for the BSI Kitemark (BS EN 600) and the European CE mark. Be careful how you take the condom out of the packet - sharp fingernails and rings can tear the condom. Once you have taken out the condom, follow these steps:

  • Find the teat or closed end and squeeze it to get rid of air. This will also help you roll the condom on the right way round
  • Put the condom on when the penis is fully erect and before it touches the vagina or genital area
  • Still holding the end, roll the condom all the way down the penis. If it won't go to the base then it's probably on inside out. If so, start again with a new condom as sperm could now be on the first one
  • As soon as the man has 'come', and before the penis goes soft, hold the condom firmly in place while pulling out. Do this slowly and carefully so you do not spill any semen
  • Take off the condom, wrap it and put it in a bin. Do not put it down the toilet.

If you have sex again, use a new condom.   

How do I use a female condom?

The packet contains a leaflet giving instructions. Use a new condom every time you have sex. Check the 'use by' date on the packet.

You can put the condom in any time before sex, but always before the penis touches the vagina or genital area. You can put the condom in when you are lying down, squatting or with one leg on a chair. Find the position that suits you best.

Be careful how you take the condom out of the packet - sharp fingernails and rings can tear the condom. Then follow these steps:

  • Hold the closed end of the condom and squeeze the inner ring between your thumb and middle finger. Keeping your index finger on the inner ring helps to keep the condom steady
  • Wiith your other hand, separate the folds of skin (labia) around your vagina
  • Then put the squeezed ring into the vagina and push it up as far as you can
  • Now put your index or middle finger, or both, inside the open end of the condom, until you can feel the inner ring
  • Then push the inner ring as far back into the vagina as it will go. It will then be lying just above your pubic bone. (You can feel your pubic bone by inserting your index or middle finger into your vagina and curving it forward slightly)
  • Make sure that the outer ring lies close against the area outside your vagina (vulva)
  • It is a good idea for the woman or man to guide the man's penis into the condom to make sure it does not enter the vagina outside the condom. As the female condom is loose-fitting, it will move during sex. But you will still be protected as long as the penis stays inside the condom

To remove the condom, simply twist the outer ring to keep the semen inside. Then pull the condom out gently. Wrap the condom and put in a bin. Do not put it down the toilet.

Where should I keep condoms?

Always keep your condoms where they cannot be damaged by strong heat, sharp objects, light or damp.  

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