What you need to know about condoms

There are two main types of condoms. External condoms that are worn over the penis (male condoms) and internal condoms (female condoms) that go inside the vagina.

Also known as

The external condom is also known as…

  • protection

  • rubber

  • johnny

  • Durex

  • male condom

The internal condom is also known as...

  • Femidom

  • female condom

Condoms are an excellent method of contraception used only at the time of sex, so no side effects at other times. They can be used on their own or with other methods of contraception. For example, you can use the pill for extra protection against pregnancy and the condom to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

Dr Paula Baraitser. Medical Director, SH:24

Likelihood of getting pregnant over one year

External condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy if they’re used correctly every time. But no one's perfect, and in real life people won't always put them on correctly or at the right time. So the way most people use them, they're 82% effective. Typically, 12 in 100 people using external condoms will get pregnant in one year.

Internal condoms are 95% effective with perfect use and 79% effective with typical use. This means 21 of 100 people using them will get pregnant in 1 year.

Condoms are a good option if you...

  • want a high level of protection from STIs during vaginal and anal sex

  • can’t or don’t want to use hormonal methods of contraception because of the health risks or side effects

  • want a method you only have to think about when you’re having sex

  • experience premature ejaculation (external condoms can improve this)

  • feel comfortable using them 

They’re not recommended if you...

  • prefer not to think about contraception when you’re having sex

  • are allergic to what they’re made from – some people are allergic to latex, for example, although you can get non-latex condoms

How to avoid condoms breaking

Even extra-thin condoms are very strong. They all go through a range of tests for strength when they’re made, as this video inside a condom factory shows.

If condoms do break, it may be because they haven’t been stored or used correctly. To avoid a break:

  • always read and follow the instructions on the packet

  • open them carefully so they don’t tear

  • never store them near any form of heat, even under a bedside lamp

  • do not use them after their expiry date

  • do not use condoms with lubricants that contain oil or fat such as baby oil or vaseline as this reduces the strength of the condom (choose a water-based lubricant if you’re using one with condoms)

Condoms are very effective at preventing STIs

According to the World Health Organization, external (male) condoms are the most effective means of preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. 

External condoms can also be useful to prevent infection if you use them to cover sex toys.

Internal (female) condoms are also thought to reduce the risk of STIs, although there’s currently less research to back this up.

Condoms are safe to use

Condoms are one of the safest methods of contraception:

  • there are no health risks unless you are allergic to the ingredients

  • you can use them even if you’re on medication 

  • they’re hormone-free so they don’t affect your hormonal cycle

Real contraception experiences

Honestly, I sort of appreciate a bit less sensation. I sometimes come sooner than I want to without a condom, and the extra time is good for me.

I really seriously do not get the big deal with them. They are less messy. I don't notice anything less enjoyable or get any less pleasure, or even really notice it's there.

Condoms are pretty bad – it basically takes away like 50% of any feeling or pleasure and I don’t like how they smell.

Condoms and latex allergies

People with a latex allergy should use condoms made of polyurethane, polyisoprene, silicone, polyethylene or nitrile.

Internal (female) condoms are not as popular

This is probably because they’ve not been as strongly promoted. Many people think they’re an important, and under-used, method of contraception.

Other people’s experiences

In a large study in Australia, 556 women were given female condoms. These were the results:

  • 51% reported some difficulty inserting them, but only 46% had seen a demonstration

  • around 50% rated the sensation and comfort of the female condom as the same or better than the male condom

  • 66% said it gave the same or better lubrication

  • 51% said they would consider using the female condom again for STI prevention, 40% said they would use it for contraception

  • 43% would recommend them to others

Everything you wanted to know about sexual health and wellbeing - your questions answered by our expert team.