The condom is a form of contraception. It also protects against sexually transmissible infections (STIs). This page explains how a condom works and tells you how to use it.
What is a condom?
A condom is a fine barrier which is rolled on to the penis before sex. It is used as a barrier to stop sperm and infection passing between sexual partners. It is usually made of rubber.
Condoms are used for vaginal, anal and oral sex.
Why use condoms?
They help protect against pregnancy and sexually transmissible infections (STIs), including HIV which can lead to AIDS. Partners share responsibility for safer sex and contraception.
Most other methods of contraception don’t protect you against STIs, including HIV. To protect yourself, use condoms as well.
Condoms are easy to get, are easy to use, have no side effects (unless you are allergic to rubber) and help prevent cancer of the cervix.
Internal condoms are another type of condom. These are put inside the vagina.
How safe are condoms?
If used correctly every time you have sex, condoms provide very good protection from pregnancy and infection.
When condoms are used correctly every time, the pregnancy rate is two out of 100 each year.
Typically however, 15 out of 100 will get pregnant each year when using condoms as contraception.
Viruses such as HIV cannot pass through an unbroken rubber condom.
Studies prove safety of condoms
Two studies prove the safety of condoms. The studies involved couples where one person was HIV positive and the other was not infected.
The first study showed that if condoms were used correctly, none of the uninfected partners got HIV. Where condoms were not used correctly, 10 out of every 100 partners became infected.
The second study showed that two out of 100 women became infected when condoms were always used. Fifteen out of 100 women became infected if condoms were not used every time.
Reduce risk of STIs
Condoms are known to greatly reduce the risk of catching other STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
Condoms also reduce the risk of syphilis, herpes and wart virus infection, but sometimes skin not covered by the condom can be infected with these viruses.
Why do condoms slip or break?
- Not put on correctly.
- Torn by fingernails, jewellery or teeth.
- Not enough lubrication (wetness) during sexual intercourse.
- Wrong lubricant is used.
- Prolonged or very vigorous sexual intercourse.
- Penis goes soft before withdrawal.
- Condom slips off during withdrawal.
- Rubber loses its strength when condoms are kept in a warm place like a glovebox or hip pocket.
- Rubber loses its strength because the condoms are past “use by” date.
- Rubber is damaged by some thrush treatments (clotrimazole is least likely to damage condoms).
Talk to your health professional if you have problems using condoms.
Why is lubricant important?
Lubrication is the wetness that makes it easy to slide in and out during sex. If there is not enough, the condom is much more likely to break. Extra lubrication should always be used, particularly for anal sex.
What lubricants should be used with condoms?
You should use water-based lubricants.
You should avoid using oil-based lubricants such as petroleum jelly (Vaseline), baby oil, suntan oils, cooking oils, butter and margarine, hand lotion or massage oils. Oil-based lubricants damage rubber.
Spit (saliva) is not usually slippery enough to use as a lubricant but may help if nothing else is available.
What about spermicide?
Spermicides are no longer recommended for condom use as they can irritate sensitive skin and increase the risk of getting an STI.
What if a condom breaks?
If your main concern is pregnancy go to one of our clinics, a doctor or a pharmacy for emergency contraception within 72 hours.
If you are worried about STIs, talk to a health professional.
If you think your condom has broken before ejaculation (cumming), stop and put on a new condom.
How do I talk about using condoms?
People can give lots of reasons for not using a condom. It’s important to talk with your partner about using condoms and sexual safety so you are not being pressured into doing things you don’t really want to do, or at risk of infection or pregnancy.
What if my partner or I don't like using condoms?
If you or your partner does not want to use a condom, there are other safe and pleasurable sexual things that you can do together instead of sexual intercourse. Try masturbating each other, massage, cuddling … use your imagination.
If a condom is not comfortable, try a different brand. Condoms come in different sizes, shapes, thicknesses, flavours, textures and colours. Try some to see which suit you best.
Where can I get condoms?
Condoms can be bought from Family Planning clinics, pharmacies, supermarkets, pubs, public toilets, nightclubs, dairies, sex shops and online.
It is cheaper to get them on prescription from a Family Planning clinic, a Sexual Health Centre or a doctor. You are legally allowed to buy condoms at any age.
As well as regular appointments, you can also get a prescription for condoms with a phone appointment.
What should I know before I use a condom?
- Before you use a condom for the first time, practise putting them on.
- Always check the expiry (use by) date on the pack.
- If you are allergic to rubber, special condoms are available – ask your health professional.
- Do not rely on novelty condoms for protection against pregnancy and STIs.
How do I use a condom?
- Check the condom pack to make sure the expiry date has not passed.
- Open the packet carefully. Fingernails, rings and teeth can tear the condom.
- Make sure your penis does not touch your partner’s vagina, mouth or anus before being covered by a condom.
- Check the condom is the right way up.
- Pinch the tip of the condom to remove any air.
- Roll the condom on the hard penis all the way down to the base. If it doesn't roll, it means you have the condom on the wrong way and you could expose your partner to pre-cum which can result in pregnancy and/or STIs. If this happens, make sure you get a new condom and start over again.
- Use water-based lube.
- After cumming and when withdrawing hold the condom on the base of the penis so that no semen is spilt.
- Wrap the used condom in tissue or toilet paper and put it in the rubbish.
- Use a new condom and lube each time you have sex.
Watch our video on how to use a condom.
Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.