When you use a condom correctly, it’s a very effective form of birth control—and protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Studies have found that about one in 50 women using condoms perfectly over an entire year of sex will experience a pregnancy (1). Consistent and correct use of latex condoms or internal condoms is associated with a significant reduction in the combined incidence of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis in women considered to be at high-risk for contracting STIs (2, 3, 4).
When to use a condom
It is recommended to protect yourself and your partner by using condoms during penis-vagina sex, oral sex, or anal sex. Even if you’re having sex that doesn’t involve a penis, covering the toys with condoms is a good way to prevent the development of bacterial vaginosis (BV) or transmission of STIs.
Sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, syphilis, herpes, gonorrhoea, HPV, trichomoniasis, and chlamydia, can all still be passed on during oral sex (5).
Using a condom for period sex is encouraged to prevent pregnancy and protect against STI transmission. This is important because rates of STI transmission and acquisition are higher at certain times of the menstrual cycle—including during menstruation.
Different types of condoms
There are two main types of condoms: external (male) condoms, and internal (female) condoms. The most popular and accessible type of condom is the male (external) condom, which is placed on an erect penis just before sex. Although not as well known, female condoms also exist. They are placed inside the vagina, and are different from the dental dam (a barrier placed over the vulva for oral sex).
Female condoms are effective at preventing unintended pregnancy, but male condoms are more effective. When used correctly, 5 out of every 100 women using female condoms will get pregnant in one year (1). This is comparable to the male condom, which has a protection rate of around 2 pregnancies per 100 women over the time span of one year when used correctly (1).
If a condom is uncomfortable, there are different sizes and types of condoms that can offer a better fit. Using the correct size is important, as condoms that are too small or tight may be more likely to break, and condoms that are too big may be more likely to slip off.
Here’s how to use both condom types.
How to use a male condom
1. Check the expiration date printed on the wrapper or box and make sure the condom is not past its expiry date.
2. Open the package carefully—avoid using your teeth or scissors. Take a look at the condom to check that it’s not brittle, dried out or damaged.
3. Locate the direction of the reservoir tip (it looks like a little dome). This will help make sure that you roll on the condom in the correct direction. The rim of the condom should form a circle around the dome of the penis or object. If the rim is on the inside of the dome, then the condom will be inside out and will not roll down properly. If you place the condom on the wrong way, don’t turn it around and then reuse it—start over with a new one.
4. Put the condom on before any contact with a partner’s mouth or genital area (vulva, vagina, anus, buttocks, and upper thighs). Sperm may be present in pre-ejaculatory fluid (“pre-cum”).
5. Lubricant (lube) can make sex feel better, and it helps stop condoms from breaking. The best lubricant to use with a male condom is water-based or silicone-based lube. Oil-based lubes (or any other oil products like petroleum jelly or mineral oil) should not be used with latex condoms, as they may cause condom breakage (6). You can put a few drops of lubricant inside the tip of the condom before you roll it on. You can also add more lube to the outside of the condom after it's on the penis.
6. Pinch the tip of the condom and roll it on to an erect (hard) penis, leaving a little bit of space at the top to collect semen. Roll the condom down the shaft of the penis all the way to the base. For people who are uncircumcised, it might be more comfortable to pull the foreskin back before placing the condom on the tip of the penis and rolling it down.
7. Wear the condom the whole time you’re having sex.
8. After ejaculation, hold the rim of the condom while pulling the penis out of the other partner’s body. Do this before the penis goes soft, so the condom doesn’t get too loose and let semen out. Carefully take off the condom to avoid spilling any semen.
9. Throw the condom away in the garbage—don’t flush it down the toilet.
10. Condoms are not reusable. Roll on a new condom every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex. You should also use a new condom if you switch from one kind of sex to another (like anal to vaginal).
How to use a female (internal) condom
The female condom can be inserted into the vagina up to eight hours before having sex (1, 7). Most commercially available models have a flexible ring on both ends—an internal ring to hold the condom up inside the vagina, and an external ring to prevent the condom from being pushed up into the vagina.
The female condom doesn’t require an erection for use, unlike the male condom. The female condoms’ rings might also provide extra pleasure. The outer ring of the female condom may provide additional stimulation to the clitoris for some people, and some people may feel additional stimulation from the internal ring during deep penetration (8).
Be sure to check the packaging before use if you have latex allergies, and to confirm that the condom is compatible with your preferred lubricant. Female condoms are often made of polyurethane or nitrile, which is safe to use for people who are allergic to latex. Another benefit to polyurethane or nitrile female condoms is that they can be used with all types of lubricants (1, 8).
It takes practice to insert an internal condom correctly, so you might want to try it out alone before using it for sex with a partner.
How to insert a female condom
1. Remove the condom from its wrapper, and unroll the condom. Pinch the inner closed ring together.
2. Insert the ring as high as possible into your vaginal canal. It's similar to inserting a menstrual cup or tampon. Use your finger to ensure that the condom is deep inside of your vagina.
3. Remove your finger. The rim of the condom opening should rest just outside of the vaginal opening.
How to remove a female condom
After sex, the female condom doesn’t need to be removed immediately, but if your partner has ejaculated, it can get messy when you stand up afterwards (1,9). It’s best to remove the female condom lying down. Grasp the outer ring of the condom and twist it around a few times to seal up any ejaculate fluids for a quick and easy clean up process (1,9).
Are two condoms better than one?
If you put two condoms on at once, there’s a higher chance of condom breakage. This also applies if you use a male (external) condom together with a female (internal) condom.
One condom used correctly is all the protection you need. Best to stick to one condom, and use some condom-safe lubricant.
Now you know more about condoms, you can decide what level of risk is okay for you, and choose what kind of contraception or protection to use. Remember that only condoms can protect you against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The safest option is to use condoms and another form of birth control.
No matter which type you use, keeping condoms in accessible places and including them in your foreplay can make them a part of arousal, rather than an obstacle.