The Oldest Profession

Male and female condoms


What are they?

Condoms are barrier methods that prevent sperm meeting an egg. There are male and female condoms. Condoms are made of latex (rubber) or polyurethane (plastic).

How reliable are they?

Effectiveness depends on how carefully they're used. Male condoms are 98 per cent effective when used according to instructions. This means that using this method, two women in 100 will get pregnant in a year. Female condoms are 95 per cent effective. This means five women in 100 will get pregnant in a year.

How are male condoms used?

Male condoms fit over a man's erect penis. They should be used before any close genital contact. Once the man has 'come' but before the penis goes soft, he must withdraw holding the condom firmly in place to avoid spilling any sperm. The condom is then removed and should be disposed of carefully.

How are female condoms used?

Female condoms are put into the vagina and line it loosely when in place. The closed end of the condom is inserted high into the vagina. The open, outer ring lies just outside the vagina. After sex the condom is removed by twisting the outer ring to keep the sperm inside and pulling it out. It should be disposed of carefully.


  • Very effective
  • Easily available (male condoms)
  • Only need to use them when you have sex
  • Help to protect against some sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV
  • Male condoms come in many different varieties, shapes and sizes
  • Female condoms can be put in at any time before sex


  • Can interrupt sex
  • Male condoms can slip off or split if used incorrectly
  • When using the female condom care is needed to ensure the penis goes inside the condom and not down the side of the condom and the vagina
  • Some people are sensitive to the chemicals in latex condoms, although this is not common
  • Oil-based lubricants, such as body oils or lotions, should not be used with latex condoms

Condom allergy

Although in the past condom allergy was thought to be a poor excuse used by men when they didn't want to use a condom, it has become clear recently that the problem is real.

In many cases the problem seems to be an allergy to rubber. Hypoallergenic condoms are now available made from polyurethane instead of latex. Another possibility is a sensitivity to the spermicide that lubricates the condom. If you experience any rash or irritation after intercourse, try using a condom without nonoxynol-9 or 11 spermicide to see if that helps.

For many people, a lack of lubrication is the underlying cause of the irritation. The friction caused by dry skin surfaces makes sex uncomfortable. The solution is to use extra lubricant during foreplay and intercourse. This should be water-based. Oil-based lubricants react with the condom, breaking down and weakening the latex.

To avoid dryness and the friction it brings, 'jel-charge' the condom. Expel the air from the tip of the condom, put lubricant inside the top and massage it over the penis as you role the condom on. This not only solves the problem of dryness but also heightens the sensation experienced during intercourse.

Where can I get condoms?

  • They're free on the NHS
  • Male condoms are free and easily available from contraception clinics, sexual health clinics, genitourinary medicine clinics and some general practices. They can be bought from pharmacies, supermarkets, vending machines and via mail order
  • Female condoms are free from some contraception and sexual health clinics. They can be bought from some pharmacies and via mail order

Advice and support

Call fpa's helpline on 0845 122 8690.


Article originally published by the BBC based on information from the FPA