External (or 'male') condoms

Condoms are sheaths made of very thin latex that cover the penis during sex. They are designed to stop semen from coming into contact with the vagina, anus or mouth, as well as providing a barrier to prevent skin-skin transmission of STIs. Condoms are the only contraceptive method that also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

They can be used by anyone with a penis to prevent pregnancy and protect against STIs. They can also be used on penetrative sex toys. Each condom can only be used once, so protection only lasts as long as the condom is intact and worn on the penis.

When used correctly, they are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy.

How it works

How to use it

First, check the packet for any signs of damage or expiry. Then push the condom to the side of the packet before tearing it open. Unroll the condom a bit to check the roll is on the outside - make sure to do this before the condom touches the penis, as if you begin to put it on inside out you will need to discard it and use a new one.

When the penis is erect, pinch the tip of the condom and roll it down to the base of the penis with your other hand.

To put it on, first check the roll is on the outside. Squeeze the teat of the condom and roll it down the penis with your other hand. If you put it on inside out you will need to discard it and use a new one.

Once used, hold the condom at the base until the penis is removed, then tie the condom in a knot, wrap it in a tissue and throw it in the bin (not in the toilet!)

Why it works

Condoms are a barrier method of contraception. They stop sperm from reaching an egg by creating a physical barrier between them. Condoms also prevent the transmission of STIs by providing a barrier during vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Pros and Cons


  • Condoms are the only method that protect against both pregnancy and STIs.
  • You only need to use them when you have sex.
  • There are no serious side effects.
  • They come in different shapes, sizes, textures, colours and flavours which can make sex more fun.
  • They’re easily available. Find out how to get free condoms in Southend-on-sea.
  • You can use them in addition to other methods (e.g. the pill, implant, injection) for extra protection.
  • You can use them on sex toys.


Condoms are a good method of contraception if you remember to keep them with you when you think you are going to have sex. You should also be confident about putting them on or asking your partner to put one on. Condoms are made less effective if:

  • The penis touches the area around the vagina before a condom is put on.
  • The condom splits or comes off (this might mean you are using wrong size).
  • The condom gets damaged by sharp fingernails or jewellery.
  • You use oil-based lubricants (such as lotion, baby oil or petroleum jelly) with latex condoms, as this damages the condom.
  • You are using medication for conditions like thrush, such as creams, pessaries or suppositories, as this can damage latex condoms.

If your condom has failed, for example by coming off or splitting, and you could fall pregnanct, you will need to think about emergency contraception. Find out more about emergency contraception.


Will I be asked for ID when buying condoms?

No. There are no age restrictions on buying condoms, or on getting free and confidential advice about using condoms or other contraception.

Do I need to use lube?

Condoms come ready lubricated to make them easier to use, but you may also like to use additional lubricant, or ‘lube’. This is particularly advised for anal sex, to reduce the chance of the condom splitting.

Any kind of lubricant can be used with condoms that are not made of latex. However, if you are using latex condoms, do not use oil-based lubricants, such as body oil or lotion, petroleum jelly or creams (such as Vaseline). This is because they can damage the latex and make the condom more likely to split. Lubricants are cheap and available in most pharmacies, at sexual health clinics and online.