The main points
- Using condoms is highly recommended to reduce the risk of contracting Sexually Transmissible Infections (STIs)
- Always use a new, lubricated condom every time you have sex. If more lubricant is needed, use water-based lubricant only
- Check the use-by date and be careful not to tear the condom when opening the packet with fingernails, jewellery or teeth.
The male condom
The male condom is a fine, strong, latex rubber sheath available in a variety of sizes and styles. Condoms made from polyurethane or polyisoprene instead of rubber are available for people allergic to latex.
How do I get condoms?
Condoms are available from pharmacies, family planning clinics, supermarkets, petrol stations as well as university and hotel vending machines. All condoms purchased from these outlets meet Australian safety standards, but internet purchases may not.
How effective is it?
When male condoms are used according to the instructions every single time you have sex and there are no mishaps, the chances of becoming pregnant are about two per cent. On average, condom use is 82% effective at preventing pregnancy. This means that if 100 people use condoms for a year, a maximum of 18 will become pregnant. It can be hard to use a condom every single time you have sex - you might run out, think it’s safe to have sex without a condom on a particular occasion or just take a chance.
What stops a male condom from working?
Condoms, when used according to the instructions (see below), are unlikely to break.
However, they may break if:
- you use oil-based lubricants (e.g. Vaseline, some moisturisers and massage oils) for lubrication
- they are stored in a place that can get too warm (e.g. car glove box)
- you don’t use the correct size for your erect penis
Condoms are less effective at preventing pregnancy if the penis and vagina come in contact before the condom is put on or after it is taken off.
Most people using condoms will have a mishap at some stage, but if this is happening frequently, it is important to see a doctor or a nurse. There may be a problem with the type of condom you are using or with your technique, and this could be easily fixed.
If a condom breaks or falls off, or if semen leaks out, you should use emergency contraception as soon as possible. Emergency contraception is available from pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription.
How does it work?
Condoms prevent pregnancy by collecting the man’s semen (ejaculate or cum) and stopping it from entering the uterus (womb). Condoms also decrease the risk of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and blood borne viruses (BBVs) by acting as a physical barrier. They are most effective against infections such as HIV, hepatitis B, chlamydia and gonorrhoea, which are transmitted by the exchange of infected bodily fluids and/or physical sexual contact.
How do I use a condom?
- Always use a new, lubricated condom every time you have sex. If more lubricant is needed, use only water-based lubricants (e.g. KY jelly, Lubafax, Lifestyle).
- Check the use-by date and open the packet, being careful not to tear the condom with fingernails, jewellery or teeth.
- Do not test the condom. Unrolling the condom before fitting may damage it and make it more difficult to put on.
- Before there has been any contact between the penis and vagina, hold the teat of the condom between thumb and forefinger to remove any air. Then unroll the condom onto the erect penis. If the penis is not fully erect, the condom may slip.
- After ejaculation, the penis should be withdrawn before the erection subsides. Hold the base of the condom while withdrawing to prevent leakage of the semen.
- There should be no contact between the penis and vagina after you’ve taken the condom off.
- Dispose of the condom carefully (not in the toilet, as they can block the sewerage system).
What are the advantages?
- They are inexpensive and widely available
- They reduce the risk of STIs
- There are no health problems that may be worsened by condoms.
What are the disadvantages?
- You need to be motivated to use them correctly every time you have sex.
- Some couples don’t like the effect of condoms on sensation during sex.
- They are not as effective as some other methods of contraception.
- You need a way of disposing of them.
Who shouldn't use male condoms?
No-one. Sometimes, however, they may be more difficult to use if the man has difficulty keeping an erection. Using condoms is highly recommended to reduce the risk of STIs.
As the failure rate is comparatively high for the average user of condoms, it is recommended that women use an additional method of contraception if they:
- are highly fertile (e.g. young women).
- would put their health at risk by becoming pregnant.
What are the side effects?
The only possible side effect from using a condom made of rubber is allergy to rubber. This can cause inflammation, redness and sometimes skin breakage on the penis itself. If you find that you have an allergy to rubber condoms try latex condoms instead.
Male condoms cannot harm a pregnancy.
Are they for me?
Male condoms might be right for you and your partner/s if:
- you want a contraceptive method which also decreases the risk of acquiring or transmitting STIs and/or BBVs
- you don’t want to use hormonal contraception.
Other things you should know
Because of the comparatively high failure rate for the average user, an additional method of contraception such as the pill, injection or implant is often recommended for the female partner of a male using condoms during sex.
Where to get more information, support or advice
- Contact Family Planning Victoria's clinics
- Visit Better Health Channel