Condoms (for men)

Also called 'rubbers', 'sheaths' or 'skins'.

Male condoms are a method of birth control, which are used to prevent pregnancy. They also reduce the risk of infection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Condoms are rolled onto a man's erect penis to create a barrier to stop sperm and infection passing between sexual partners. Condoms are used for vaginal, anal and oral sex.

Most male condoms are made from thin latex or rubber. 

How well do male condoms prevent pregnancy?

When used correctly and every time, male condoms are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy. This means that among couples who use condoms perfectly for 1 year, only 2 out of 100 will become pregnant. Correct or perfect use of condoms involves:

  • using a condom every time you have sex
  • putting a condom on the penis before it touches the vaginal area
  • the penis not touching the woman's vaginal area after the condom is taken off. 

With normal use, the male condom has a user failure rate of about 15%. This means that, among all couples that use condoms, about 15 out of 100 become pregnant in 1 year. The most common reasons for condom failure are:

  • not using a condom every time
  • the condom breaking
  • the condom partially or completely slipping off the penis. Slippage occurs more often than breakage, usually when a condom is too large. 

How well do condoms prevent sexually transmitted infections?

Male condoms reduce the risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Condoms also reduce the risk of syphilis, herpes and wart virus infection. However, sometimes skin not covered by the condom can be infected with these viruses. 

For the best protection, use the condom during vaginal, oral and anal sex.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the male condom?

Advantages

  • They are the most effective protection available against STIs.
  • They are used only at the time of sexual intercourse.
  • They do not affect future fertility for either a woman or a man.
  • 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.

Disadvantages

  • Both partners must be comfortable with using a condom and be prepared to use one every time they have sex.
  • Some people are embarrassed to use condoms or feel they may interrupt foreplay or intercourse.
  • Condoms may decrease sexual sensation.
  • Some people are allergic to latex or rubber. Polyurethane condoms are available for people who are allergic to rubber. 
  • 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.

How to use a male condom

For it to be effective in preventing pregnancy, it is important to use a condom correctly. Use a new condom each time you have sexual intercourse and follow these steps:

  1. Check the condom pack to make sure the expiry date has not passed.
  2. Open the condom wrapper, being careful not to poke a hole in the condom with your fingernails, teeth, or other sharp objects.
  3. Make sure your penis does not touch your partner’s vagina, mouth or anus before being covered by a condom.
  4. Check the condom is the right way up, then hold the tip of the condom and squeeze out the air to leave room for the semen after ejaculation.
  5. Put the condom on as soon as your penis is hard (erect). If you aren't circumcised, pull down the loose skin from the head of the penis (foreskin) before putting on the condom.
  6. While continuing to hold on to the tip of the condom, unroll it all the way down to the base of your penis.
  7. Apply a water-based lubricant (eg, KY Jelly, Wet Stuff, Sylk and Top Gel). Oil-based lubricants such as vaseline can cause latex or rubber condoms to break.
  8. 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.

Why is lubrication important?

Lubrication 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.

  • 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 water-based lubricant such as  KY Jelly, Wet Stuff, Sylk and Top Gel.

Do I need to use 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 a Family Planning clinic, your 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 (coming), stop and put on a new condom.

Where can I get condoms?

Condoms can be bought from family planning clinics, supermarkets, pharmacies, pubs, public toilets, garages, 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 can get up to 144 condoms for $5 with a prescription.
  • You are legally allowed to buy condoms at any age.

Learn more

The following links provide further information about condoms:
Male condoms NZ Family Planning
Barrier methods NZ Family Planning

Credits: Editorial team. Last reviewed: 05 Jan 2016