Condoms: Effectiveness, Types, and Proper Use

What Are Condoms?

A condom is a thin, fitted tube that a man wears over his penis during sex or a woman inserts into her vagina before sex. Condoms prevent pregnancies and STDs. They create a barrier that keeps semen and other body fluids out of the vagina, rectum, or mouth. You might hear it called a rubber or the barrier method.

Don’t use male and female condoms at the same time. One can stick to the other and pull it out of place or tear it.

How Effective Are Condoms?

How well a condom works depends a lot on if you use it the right way. A woman can get pregnant even if she or her partner uses a condom.

When used properly, male condoms are about 98% effective. This means that in a year, 2 out of every 100 women whose partners always use condoms correctly will get pregnant. That number rises to 18 out of every 100 women whose partners don’t use the condom correctly every time.

Female condoms are about 95% effective when used properly. They only work 79% of the time if you don’t use them right.

Condoms also greatly lower the risk that one person will pass an STD to the other. The exact risk varies by the type of disease. For example, condoms are almost 100% effective at protecting against HIV. But HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease, can infect areas that a male condom doesn’t cover, like the scrotum. They lower the risk of HPV infection, but they don’t get rid of it.


Types of Condoms

There are many types of male condoms, including:

  • Latex, plastic, or lambskin. Most men use condoms made of latex. If you’re sensitive or allergic to that material, you can use ones made of plastic: polyurethane or polyisoprene. Latex and plastic condoms can protect you from STDs during any kind of sex -- vaginal, oral, and anal. Natural or lambskin condoms are made of material that comes from lamb intestines. They prevent pregnancy, but like human skin, they have tiny openings. That means they don’t protect you from STDs.
  • Lubricated. Lubrication, or lube, is a thin coating of liquid on the condom. It can prevent pain and irritation during sex, and it can help keep the condom from breaking. If you buy one that doesn’t already have lube on it, you’ll probably want to add some lube to make sex more comfortable. Make sure you use a water-based product that’s meant for sex. Oil-based lubricants like petroleum jelly can damage the condom and keep it from working.
  • Spermicide. This kills sperm. Some condoms are pre-coated with it. This can lower the risk of pregnancy, but the amount of spermicide that comes with a condom probably isn’t enough to make a difference. If you want extra protection, get a separate sperm-killing product. Look for one with octoxynol-9. Another common spermicide, nonoxynol-9, can irritate your genitals, which could make you more likely to get HIV.
  • Textured condoms. These include ribbed and studded types. They’re meant to boost the pleasure for you or your partner. But how it makes you feel could be different from what someone else enjoys. If a condom keeps you or your partner from enjoying sex, try textured ones to see if they feel better. You can also make putting on the condom part of foreplay.

You might also find glow-in-the-dark or other novelty condoms, too. But be careful: These kinds typically aren’t FDA-approved, nor do they prevent pregnancies or STDs. Make sure the package clearly states that the product guards against both.

There’s only one type of female condom approved by the FDA for use in the U.S. It’s made of nitrile, a type of latex-free manmade rubber. It comes pre-lubricated.


11 Tips for Proper Male Condom Use

You can put a male condom on at any time before or during sex.

  1. Make sure you don’t tear the condom when you open the package.
  2. Throw it out if it’s brittle, stiff, sticky, or expired.
  3. Put it on after your penis is erect and before it touches any part of your partner.
  4. Keep it on the entire time, from start to finish.
  5. Use a new one every time. That means for every erection.
  6. If you’re uncircumcised, pull your foreskin back before you put the condom on.
  7. If the condom doesn’t have a reservoir tip, pinch the end to leave about a half inch of space to collect the semen when you ejaculate.
  8. As you hold onto the tip (if there isn’t a reservoir), use your other hand to roll the condom all the way down to the base of your penis.
  9. If you feel it break or tear during sex, stop immediately, pull out, and put on a new condom.
  10. After you ejaculate and before you lose your erection, carefully pull out, making sure the condom stays on.
  11. When you remove it, make sure the semen doesn’t spill out.


13 Tips for Proper Female Condom Use

You should insert the condom before you plan to have sex.

  1. Squat with your knees apart or lie down with your legs bent and knees apart.
  2. Open the package and remove the condom.
  3. Hold the condom so the open end hangs down.
  4. You can put lubricant on the outside of the closed end to help it go in easier.
  5. Squeeze the inner ring between your thumb and middle finger.
  6. Insert the inner ring and pouch into your vagina like you’re inserting a tampon.
  7. The condom should go in until the ring is past your pubic bone -- you can find it by curving your finger forward when it’s a couple of inches inside your vagina.
  8. Make sure the condom doesn’t get twisted.
  9. The outer ring should lie against your body -- up to an inch of it may hang out.
  10. Guide your partner’s penis into the condom. Stop if you feel it’s slipping between the condom and your body.
  11. Stop if the outer ring gets pushed into your body or you feel the condom slip out of place.
  12. You don’t have to remove the condom right after sex.
  13. When you do take it out, squeeze and twist the outer ring gently to keep semen inside the pouch. 
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on August 07, 2019



Teens Health: “Condoms.”

Columbia University: “Five kinds of condoms: A guide for consumers.”

FDA: “Condoms and sexually transmitted diseases.”

Virginia Tech: “Condoms and spermicides.”

World Health Organization: “Nonoxynol-9 ineffective in preventing HIV infection.”

Columbia University: “Do textured condoms heighten sexual pleasure?”

Planned Parenthood: “Condom.”

CDC: "Genital HPV infection - fact sheet," “Female Condom Use.”

Center for Young Women's Health: “Male Condoms.”

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