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Condom Basics

condom image Condoms—men and women of all ages and from all walks of life are using them for birth control and/or protection from sexually transmitted infections.

A male condom (also known as a rubber) is a sheath worn over the penis. It is made of latex, animal tissue, or polyurethane. A condom is used to catch semen before, during, and after a man ejaculates. When used during vaginal sex, it helps protect against pregnancy. When used during vaginal, anal, and oral sex, it also helps protect against certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Condoms and Pregnancy Prevention

During sexual intercourse, a condom prevents sperm from entering the vagina. According to Planned Parenthood, about 15 out of 100 women will become pregnant during the first year of typical condom use, meaning inconsistent and at times incorrect condom use. Condoms have a 98% efficacy. This efficacy only refers to perfect condom use that is consistent and always correct. Effectiveness refers to typical use and is 82%. Contraceptive foams, creams, jellies, films, and suppositories can also be used to provide additional protection against pregnancy, since they can kill sperm if the condom breaks. Some condoms are coated with a spermicide.

Latex Condoms and the Prevention of STDs

When used consistently and correctly, condoms have been proven as an effective barrier against the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In addition HIV infection, latex condoms help protect against the following STDs:

Latex condoms offer significant protection against:

Types of Condoms

Condoms come in various sizes, shapes, and materials. Here are some things to consider when buying condoms:

Although there are many varieties to choose from, be sure to avoid novelty condoms. Read the label carefully so you know what you are buying. Some may not protect against unwanted pregnancy or STDs.

When to Use a Condom

A man should use a condom any time he has vaginal, anal, or oral sex, if there is even the slightest risk that either person has a STD. A condom should also be used to help prevent unwanted pregnancy. The condom should be put on before any contact and removed and thrown away immediately after ejaculation.

If you are embarrassed to talk to your partner about using condoms, practice talking before you are in a sexual situation. And have your talk well before you are in the heat of passion.

How to Use a Male Condom

Putting on a Condom

Both partners should know how to put on and use a condom.

Taking off a Condom

If the Condom Breaks During Sex

Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception is a method of birth control that can help prevent pregnancy up to 5 days after unprotected sex. It works best if taken as soon as possible, preferably within 72 hours. There are different types of emergency contraception available, both over-the-counter and by prescription. Age restrictions on purchase vary by the type of contraception. The youngest a woman can purchase emergency contraception without a prescription is age 15 with valid identification. This does not currently apply to all brands. Direct any questions you have to your doctor or pharmacist.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Male Condoms


The male condom:


Some drawbacks include that the condom:

Additionally, some men are self-conscious about using condoms.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Female Condoms

The female condom is a thin, soft, loose-fitting, lubricated pouch made of polyurethane that fits inside the vagina and also covers the vulva. An inner ring at the closed end is used to insert the device inside the vagina. The outer ring remains outside the vagina and covers the vulva. It can be used with any type of lubricant. The female condom is about 75% effective in preventing pregnancy.

Before engaging in sexual activity, the woman inserts the female condom into her vagina. The closed end of the tube should cover the cervix and the other end should slightly cover the vulva. The female condom should be discarded after use.



The drawbacks to the female condom include that it is:

Another disadvantage is that, at times, the penis may slip between the device and the woman’s body.

Condoms can be used enjoyably and effectively for preventing pregnancy and many STDs. However, no protective method is 100% effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the surest way to avoid transmission is to abstain from vaginal, anal, and oral sex, or to be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Planned Parenthood


Canadian Federation for Sexual Health

Public Health Agency of Canada


Condom. Planned Parenthood website. Available at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-info/birth-control/condom. Accessed April 6, 2017.

Condom fact sheet in brief. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/brief.html. Updated: March 5, 2013. Accessed April 6, 2017.

Condom use, types, and sizes. Avert web site. Available at: http://www.avert.org/condom-use-types-sizes.htm. Updated February 15, 2017. Accessed April 6, 2017.

Emergency contraception. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114441/Emergency-contraception. Updated November 7, 2016. Accessed April 6, 2017.

Fact sheet for public health personnel. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/latex.html. Updated March 25, 2013. Accessed April 6, 2017.

FDA approves Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive without a prescription for women 15 years of age and older. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm350230.htm. Updated April 30, 2013. Accessed March 23, 2015.

Workowski KA, Berman S, et al. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2010. MMWR. 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.

Last reviewed April 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 3/15/2015