Condoms are a simple form of contraception that's available both for men and women. They protect against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
What are condoms?
A condom is a very fine sheath made of rubber or plastic that's designed to stop body fluids from mixing during sexual activity.
Types of condom
There are two types of condom.
- Male condoms are rolled onto an erect (stiff) penis.
- Female condoms are inserted into the vagina (or anus).
You can use either a male or a female condom during sex, but not both. Friction can cause either or both to break or slip.
How do condoms work?
Condoms act as a physical barrier, preventing body fluids from passing between people during sex.
How well do condoms work?
Condoms work well if they are applied and used correctly. If used incorrectly, or if the condom breaks, it's possible this could lead to an unintended pregnancy.
Condoms can be combined with other forms of contraception, such as contraceptive pills, vaginal rings, contraceptive injections, implants and IUDs, to provide more effective contraception and prevent STIs at the same time.
Male condoms are 98% effective with perfect use. Almost 18% of women will still get pregnant using condoms, generally because the condoms are not used properly. The male condom needs to be removed from the packet carefully, held at the top properly as it's rolled down onto the erect penis, and held at the base as it's carefully removed and disposed of after sex.
Female condoms are 95% effective with perfect use. About 20% of women will still get pregnant using a female condom, usually because the condom is not used properly. The female condom also needs to be held correctly, inserted and pushed up into the vagina, while the outer ring of the condom remains outside. After sex, the female condom also needs to be removed very carefully and disposed of.
Family Planning NSW has a full range of fact sheets on contraception, including information on the male and female condoms and how to use them.
What could go wrong with condoms?
If the condom breaks or comes off during sex and you're worried about pregnancy, emergency contraception is available. This should be taken as soon as possible (within 5 days, but sooner is better).
It's very important that both partners know if the condom has broken or come off — it's always possible that one partner won't have noticed and the woman needs to know in case emergency contraception needs to be arranged.
Condoms are perishable so they need to be kept in a cool place and used before the expiry date. It's important not to use oil-based lubricants — such as petroleum jelly or massage oil — with latex condoms since this can cause them to break.
There are generally no side effects, unless you have an allergy to latex (rubber) male condoms. Female condoms are made of polyurethane.
Advantages and disadvantages of condoms
- safe to use
- small and easy to carry
- easy to buy (you don't need a prescription)
- able to protect against STIs as well as unwanted pregnancy
- can only be used once
- they are perishable; they need to be kept in a cool place and used by the expiry date
- male condoms can only be used with water-based lubricants
- female condoms can be tricky to insert and remove
Condoms and STIs
Condoms are the only form of contraception that offers some protection from STIs.
Find out more about sexual health here.
Family Planning NSW has a full range of fact sheets on contraception, including male and female condoms and how to use them.
Last reviewed: October 2018