- A condom is a sheath that goes over your penis or inside your vagina during sex.
- Condoms are the only type of contraception that can reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections.
- They can be used for vaginal, anal or oral sex and with sex toys.
- Condoms work well when they are used correctly, but they won’t work if they break, slip or are used incorrectly.
- You need to use a new condom each time you have sex.
What are condoms?
Condoms are a form of contraception available for both males and females.
A condom is a very fine sheath made of rubber or plastic. It’s designed to prevent your and your partner’s body fluids from mixing during sexual activity.
Condoms can be used for vaginal, anal or oral sex. As well as reducing your risk of pregnancy, they can also reduce your risk of getting or spreading sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Types of condoms
There are 2 types of condoms:
- Male (external) condoms — these are rolled onto an erect (stiff) penis or a sex toy.
- Female (internal) condoms — these are inserted into the vagina or anus.
You can use either a male or a female condom during sex, but not both. If you use them together, they could slip out of place.
How do condoms work?
Condoms act as a physical barrier. They prevent semen and other body fluids from passing between people during sex. This prevents the spread of STIs that may be found in body fluids. They also prevent pregnancy by stopping semen from getting to the uterus.
How well do condoms prevent pregnancy?
Condoms work well if they are used correctly. If used incorrectly, or if the condom breaks, an unintended pregnancy could still occur.
When used correctly, there will be about a 2 in 100 chance of an unplanned pregnancy using male condoms and about a 5 in 100 chance of an unplanned pregnancy using female condoms. However, in reality, there are up to 18 in 100 unintended pregnancies using male condoms and about 21 in 100 using female condoms — generally because the condoms are not used properly.
You might use other forms of contraception, such as the contraceptive pill, vaginal ring, injection, implant or IUD, to prevent pregnancy more effectively. However, condoms are still the only available contraceptive method that also reduces your chance of catching an STI.
How should condoms be used?
Use a new condom each time you have sex.
If you are using a male condom, remove it from the packet carefully and hold it at the top as you roll it down onto an erect penis. After sex, hold the condom at the base and carefully remove it while the penis is still erect. Dispose of it in the bin.
Use some water-based lubricant to reduce the chance of the condom tearing.
Watch this animation to find out how to use a male condom.
If you are using a female condom, remove it from the packet carefully, hold it by the ring at the closed end and insert it into the vagina as far as it can go. The open ring of the condom remains outside. After sex, twist the outside ring to close it, remove the condom very carefully and throw it away in the bin.
Female condoms have lubricant in them, but you can add any type of lubricant if you need more.
Watch this video to find out how to use a female condom.
What problems can occur with condoms?
Condoms can break or come off during sex. If you're not using another type of contraception, emergency contraception is available. This works best when taken as soon as possible. There are some emergency contraception options you can use within 3 or 5 days of unprotected sex, but sooner is better. If you notice a condom break or come off, make sure to tell your partner.
If a condom breaks or comes off, you may also be at risk of catching an STI. Talk to your doctor about getting tested and ask if you need treatment.
Condoms are perishable, so they need to be kept in a cool place and used before the expiry date. If you’re using a latex condom, it's important not to use oil-based lubricants (such as petroleum jelly or massage oil), as these can cause them to break.
Condoms may irritate your genital area. There are generally no other side effects. If you have an allergy to latex, make sure you use non-latex condoms.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of condoms?
The main advantages are that condoms are:
- safe and simple to use
- small and easy to carry
- cheap and easily available — you don't need a prescription
- able to protect against STIs and also unwanted pregnancy
The main disadvantages are that condoms:
- can only be used once
- don’t prevent pregnancy as effectively as other types of contraception
If you’re choosing between male and female condoms, remember the following points:
- Male condoms are cheaper, easier to find and easier to use — female condoms can be tricky to insert and remove.
- Female condoms allow for more flexible timing — you can insert them any time before you have sex, while you can only use male condoms once the penis is erect.
Do condoms protect against all STIs?
Find out more about testing for STIs.
Family Planning Australia offers fact sheets on various topics, as well as a Talkline — 1800 658 886, for advice on STI testing and emergency contraception.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: March 2023