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Male Condoms

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 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 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

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.

How do you use a male condom?

Condoms are most effective if you follow these steps:

  • Use a new condom each time you have sexual intercourse.
  • When opening the condom wrapper, be careful not to poke a hole in the condom with your fingernails, teeth, or other sharp objects.
  • Put the condom on as soon as your penis is hard (erect) and before any sexual contact with your partner.
  • Before putting it on, hold the tip of the condom and squeeze out the air to leave room for the semen after ejaculation.
  • If you aren't circumcised, pull down the loose skin from the head of the penis (foreskin) before putting on the condom.
  • While continuing to hold on to the tip of the condom, unroll it all the way down to the base of your penis.
  • If you are also using the condom as birth control, make sure your partner uses a spermicide according to the manufacturer's instructions. (Although the use of a spermicide increases the effectiveness of a condom as birth control, the use of a spermicide may increase the risk for transmitting HIV).
  • If you want to use a lubricant, never use petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline), grease, hand lotion, baby oil, or anything with oil in it (read the label). Oil (or petroleum) can weaken the condom, increasing the chance that it may break. Instead, use a personal lubricant such as Astroglide or K-Y Jelly.
  • After ejaculation, hold on to the condom at the base of your penis and withdraw from your partner while your penis is still erect. This will keep semen from spilling out of the condom.
  • Wash your hands after handling a used condom.
What do you need to know about buying and storing male condoms?
  • Buy condoms that meet safety standards.
  • Condoms are made of latex (rubber), polyurethane, or sheep intestine. While latex and polyurethane condoms help prevent the spread of STIs such as HIV, sheep intestine condoms don't.
  • Keep the condom wrapped in its original package until you are ready to use it. Store it in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Check the expiration date on the package before using.
  • Don't keep rubber (latex) condoms in a glove compartment or other hot places for a long time. Heat weakens latex and increases the chance that the condom will break.
  • Don't use condoms in damaged packages or condoms that show obvious signs of deterioration, such as brittleness, stickiness, or discoloration, regardless of their expiration date.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of male condoms?

Advantages
  • They are the most effective protection available against STIs.
  • They do not affect future fertility for either a woman or a man.
  • They are used only at the time of sexual intercourse.
  • They are safe to use while a woman is breast-feeding.
  • They are less expensive than hormonal methods of birth control.
  • They are widely available without a prescription.
  • They may help prevent a man from having an orgasm too quickly (premature ejaculation).
Disadvantages
  • Some people are embarrassed to use condoms or feel they may interrupt foreplay or intercourse.
  • Both partners must be comfortable with using a condom and be prepared to use one every time they have sex.
  • Condoms may decrease sexual sensation.
  • Some people are allergic to latex (rubber). These couples should use condoms made of polyurethane (plastic).
  • Condoms may break or leak.
  • Failure rates for barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control. Using an additional method of birth control is a good backup measure in case a condom breaks. If a condom does break and you are using no other birth control method, you can use emergency contraception to help prevent pregnancy.

References

Citations

  1. Trussell J (2007). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 19th ed., pp. 19–47. New York: Ardent Media.

Other Works Consulted

  • Cwiak C, Berga S (2009). Contraception. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 16, chap. 4. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
  • Zieman M, et al. (2007). Condoms for men. In Managing Contraception for Your Pocket. 2007–2009 ed., pp. 56–62. Tiger, GA: Bridging the Gap Foundation.
  • Zieman M, et al. (2007). Female-controlled barrier methods. In Managing Contraception for Your Pocket, 2007–2009 ed., pp. 63–67. Tiger, GA: Bridging the Gap Foundation.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Femi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as of June 4, 2014

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