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Male Condoms - Topic Overview

What is a male condom?

Condoms can protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and they can be used to prevent pregnancy. A male condom is placed over a man's erect penis before sex. Condoms are also called "rubbers," "sheaths," or "skins."

Condoms are made of latex (rubber), polyurethane, or sheep intestine. While latex and polyurethane condoms help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV, sheep intestine condoms do not.

The male condom is a barrier method camera.gif of birth control. Condoms are currently the only male method of birth control besides vasectomy. To more effectively prevent pregnancy, use a condom with a more effective birth control method such as hormonal contraception, an intrauterine device (IUD), a diaphragm with spermicide, or another female barrier method.

How do you get male condoms?

Condoms don't require a prescription or a visit to a health professional. Condoms are sold in drugstores, family planning clinics, and many other places, including vending machines in some restrooms. There are many different kinds of condoms. Some condoms are lubricated, some are ribbed, and some have a "reservoir tip" for holding the semen. You can also buy condoms of different sizes.

How well do male condoms work to prevent pregnancy?

The male condom, if used without spermicide, has a user failure rate (typical use) of 15%. This means that, among all couples that use condoms, 15 out of 100 become pregnant in 1 year. Among couples who use condoms perfectly for 1 year, only 2 out of 100 will become pregnant.1

Condoms that are sold with a coating of spermicide are no more effective than condoms without it. The most common reason for failure, besides not using a condom every time, is that the condom breaks or partially or completely slips off the penis. Slippage occurs more often than breakage, usually when a condom is too large.

Use emergency contraception as a backup if a condom breaks or slips off.

Make sure to check the condom's expiration date, and do not use it if past that date.

How well do they work to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

Male condoms reduce the risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Condoms are often used to reduce the risk of STIs even when the couple is using another method of birth control (such as pills). For the best protection, use the condom during vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

"Natural" or sheep intestine condoms are as effective as latex or polyurethane condoms for preventing pregnancy, but they are not effective against STIs because the small openings in the animal tissue allow organisms to pass through.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 03, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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