The male condom is probably the most well-known contraception method. It’s a thin piece of material (typically rubber) shaped like a sleeve. The male condom is also called the outside condom (to contrast it with the female or inside condom).
This article is part of our Contraception Series!
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Note: the information below was sourced from references (1-5), unless stated otherwise.
What is it?
The male condom is probably the most well-known contraception method. It’s a thin piece of material (typically rubber) shaped like a sleeve. The male condom is also called the outside condom (to contrast it with the female or inside condom), and anyone with a penis can use the male or outside condom. Condoms come in many different sizes, so you can always find a condom that fits you, even if you have a larger or smaller-sized penis compared to the average. Traditionally, condoms contain latex, but there are many brands and varieties of condoms on the market today that do not. If you or any of your sex partners have a latex allergy, choose latex-free condoms.
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Condoms are individually packaged, and you need to use a new one every time you have sex (and in some cases, at different points during sex. You can read more about this below). Condoms are generally widely available: you can find them in most drug stores and many grocery stores. In some countries, condoms might be mostly available in pharmacies. If you can’t get condoms in these places in your area, try a women’s health or sexual health clinic.
How does it work?
A condom works as a physical barrier to prevent sperm and genital fluids from entering the vagina, anus, or mouth. This way, it protects against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). A condom should be applied before you start penetration, oral sex, or other forms of sex that involve touching the penis, and you should only use one at the same time. Never apply two condoms on top of each other, because the friction between the condoms can cause tears in the condoms. Don’t combine a male and female condom either, for the same reason.
If you’re using condoms from a brand that’s new to you, always check the instructions on the packaging first. Also make sure to check the expiration date listed on the packaging before use! Disposable birth control can degrade over time, increasing the risk of pregnancy.
How do I use an outside or male condom?
Throw away the condom after use, in the general waste (don’t flush it down the toilet). Never re-use a condom and use a new one every time you have sex. Sometimes, you have to throw away a condom and use a new one while you’re still in the middle of sex. You should do this when:
You find holes or tears in the condom during application
When you’ve rolled the condom down the wrong way during application (this is the case if the thick rim around the entrance is on the inside instead of the outside)
When the condom has slipped off your penis during sex
When you have ejaculated and want to continue having sex
It’s important to use a new condom in all of these situations to keep your risk of pregnancy low.
You should also use a new condom when you’ve penetrated the anus and want to switch to vaginal or oral penetration. This is important to prevent infection of the vagina or mouth.
Condoms have several advantages, including protection against STDs and pregnancy (if used correctly!), low costs (depending on how often you have sex), and they don’t have any effects on the body like hormones might. You also don’t need a doctor’s appointment or a prescription to use condoms, unless you’re experiencing an allergic reaction.
The main disadvantage of a condom is that you have to use one each and every time you have sex. This can be burdensome for some people. If you don’t think you’re able to remember to use a condom every time, or if you don’t think you’ll always have one on hand when you need it, consider using a different method of contraception. This applies mainly to those who have a steady sex partner, or when the risk of STD is (very) low. If you have multiple sex partners (who also have other partners), or if you or your partner hasn’t been tested for STDs yet, you should continue using a condom during sex.
Another disadvantage is that some men or people with a penis experience less sensation using a traditional condom. It might take longer to achieve orgasm in that case. Fortunately, most condom brands offer a large variety of condoms, with different thickness and with different features that increase sensation. You could also try a female or inside condom. Using sex toys can also enhance sensation. Try not to be manipulated into not using a condom because it “doesn’t feel as good” for you partner; it’s more important to protect yourself against pregnancy and disease.
How effective is it?
The male condom is effective at preventing pregnancy. With perfect use, a condom is 98% effective (out of 100 people* using the condom, 2 will become pregnant within a year). With typical use, this decreased to about 82% (out of 100 people* using the condom, 18 will become pregnant within a year).
To keep your risk of pregnancy and disease down, it’s important to apply the condom before you start using your penis during sex. This includes being careful not to get the contents of a used condom inside the vagina, anus, or mouth. This can happen if you continue penetration after ejaculation, or if you use your fingers to touch or penetrate the vagina, anus, or mouth, when you have also touched your penis during sex. Pre-ejaculate (the moisture released from the penis during arousal, also known as “pre-cum”) can also contain sperm cells from previous recent ejaculations. Keep this in mind!
What are possible side-effects?
People with a latex allergy can develop an allergic reaction when using condoms containing latex. If someone involved in the sex you’re having has a known latex allergy, choose latex-free condoms.
When can't I use it?
When you don’t know how to correctly apply a condom. Carefully read the instructions on the box or on the insert before you have sex. You also shouldn’t use a condom that doesn’t fit. Lastly, most condoms can’t be used in combination with an oil-based lubrication, because this damages the condom’s material. Choose a water-based lubrication instead.
Does it work immediately?
Yes. When applied, a condom protects immediately. Check for holes and tears during application and after removal of the condom.
What happens to my fertility if I stop using it?
Since nothing in your body changes when using this method, nothing’s different when you stop using this method. You have a higher risk of pregnancy if you’re having unprotected sex compared to when you’re using contraception.
Does it protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
Yes. When used correctly, a condom protects against STDs, including HIV. Exceptions are genital warts and pubic lice. If you have genital warts on an area that a condom doesn’t cover (for example, the base of the penis, the pubic area, or the scrotum [the ball sack]), you can still give your sex partner genital warts. Lice are always in the pubic hair, which typically isn’t covered by a condom. Lastly, while condoms do decrease the risk of HPV transmission, they can’t reduce the risk to zero because HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact (between areas a condom doesn’t cover).
*People, here, means anyone who is able to become pregnant, including girls, women, and non-binary people and transgender men who still have their uterus, vagina, and ovaries.
Are you curious about other methods to protect yourself from an unwanted pregnancy? Read about other birth control options here!
This article is pending medical review.
Written by Juliëtte Gossens
Reviewed by Sophie Oppelt and Selina Voßen
Edited by Juliëtte Gossens
McFarlane I (ed.). Seeing the unseen: The case for action in the neglected crisis of unintended pregnancy. United Nations Population Fund. 2022. Available from: https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/EN_SWP22%20report_0.pdf
Hacker NF, Gambone JC, Hobel CJ (eds.). Hacker & Moore’s Essentials of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Elsevier; 2016.
Hoffman BL, Schorge JO, Halvorson LM, Hamid CA, Corton MM, Schaffer JI (eds.). William’s Gynecology. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education; 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use, 2016 (US MEC). Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception/mmwr/mec/summary.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016 U.S. Selected Practice Recommendations for Contraceptive Use (U.S. SPR). Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception/mmwr/spr/summary.html
Please note: the information we provide to you here is for educational purposes only. If you’re experiencing any discomfort or have any complaints or questions about your health, please contact your doctor or other relevant health professional. We don’t provide medical advice.