Condoms

Also called rubbers, sheaths or skins

Condoms (pūkoro ure) are used to prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from passing between people during sex. They also help protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

On this page, you can find the following information:

What are condoms?

Condoms are a form of contraception (birth control). They are suitable for almost everyone. There are 2 types of condoms: external and internal.

External condoms

  • These are thin tubes of latex that are fitted over an erect penis before sex, to protect against unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • They are easily available and 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.
  • At some clinics you may be able to get a prescription by phone.
  • They come in different shapes, sizes, colours, textures and flavours.

Internal condoms

  • These go into a vagina and work by catching sperm at ejaculation (coming).
  • It is a tube with flexible rings at each end – one end is closed and the other is open. The closed end stays deep in the vagina and the opened end stays outside the vaginal opening during intercourse.
  • Internal condoms are latex-free so can be used by people who are allergic to latex and can be used with water-based lubricants.
  • Internal condoms can be bought from a range of retailers such as the Family Planning NZ online shop. However, there is no subsidy.
  • Internal condoms are not as effective external condoms in preventing pregnancy and not as easy to use correctly.

How well do condoms prevent pregnancy?

When used correctly and every time, 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 before the penis touches the vaginal area
  • the penis not touching the vaginal area after the condom is taken off. 

What causes condom failure?

Condoms have a failure rate of about 18%. This means that, among all couples who use condoms, about 18 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 partly or completely slipping off the penis.

Slipping off happens more often than breaking, usually when a condom is too large and when lubricant is put inside the condom or on the penis before putting on a condom. 

How well do condoms prevent sexually transmitted infections?

Condoms significantly reduce the chance of you catching or spreading HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Condoms also reduce the chance of syphilis, herpes and genital wart virus infection. However, they don’t give 100% protection because sometimes skin not covered by condoms can be infected with these viruses. 

For the best protection, use condoms during vaginal, oral, anal sex and when sharing sex toys (put a fresh one on before you start and whenever you switch who’s using it).

What are the pros and cons of condoms?

Pros Cons

✔ Reduce the chance of catching and spreading STIs.

✔ Easy to use.

✔ No side effects.

✔ Safe to use while breastfeeding.

✔ Widely available to buy without a prescription.

✔ Cheap if you get them from a healthcare provider. 

✘ Both partners must be prepared to use one every time they have sex.

✘ Some people are embarrassed to use condoms or feel they interrupt sex.

✘ Sex may feel different. 

✘ Some people are allergic to latex or rubber. Polyurethane condoms are available for people who are allergic to rubber. 

✘ Failure rates for barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of contraception – condoms may slip, break or leak.

Using an extra method of contraception is a good back-up measure in case a condom slips or breaks. If a condom does slip or break and you are using no other method of contraception, you can use emergency contraception to help prevent pregnancy.

How do you use external condoms?

It's important to use condoms correctly to stop them from slipping or breaking and so they work well to prevent pregnancy. Your healthcare provider will be able to teach you how to use them correctly and give advice if you have any problems.

Use a new condom each time you have sex and follow these steps:

  • Check the condom pack to make sure the expiry date has not passed.
  • Open the condom wrapper, being careful not to poke a hole in the condom with your fingernails, teeth or other sharp objects.
  • 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, then hold the tip of the condom and squeeze out the air to leave room for the semen after ejaculation (coming).
  • 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 your 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.
  • 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 lubrication, the condom is much more likely to break. All subsidised condoms available in Aotearoa New Zealand come pre-lubricated but you may need to use extra, particularly for anal sex or if you have had problems with irritation or condoms breaking in the past.

  • Do use a water-based or silicone-based lubricant (eg, KY Jelly, Wet Stuff, Sylk or Durex Perfect Glide).
  • Do not use any lubricant with oil in it, such as petroleum jelly (eg, Vaseline), grease, hand lotion or baby oil (read the label if you're not sure what's in it). Oil (or petroleum) can weaken the condom and cause it to break.

Do I need to use spermicide?

Spermicides are no longer recommended for use with condoms 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 healthcare provider.

If you think your condom has broken before ejaculation (coming), stop and put on a new condom.

Where can I get condoms?

External 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.

Internal condoms can be bought from a range of retailers such as the Family Planning NZ online shop. However, there is no subsidy.

Learn more

The following links provide further information about condoms. 

Condoms NZ Family Planning
Internal condoms NZ Family Planning
Barrier methods NZ Family Planning
Safer sex and condoms Ministry of Health, NZ
Just the facts about condoms Just the Facts, NZ
Condoms + lube NZ AIDS Foundation

References

  1. New Zealand Aotearoa’s guidance on contraception Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020
  2. Contraception: which option for which patient? BPAC, NZ, 2019

Reviewed by

Dr Alice Miller trained as a GP in the UK and has been working in New Zealand since 2013. She has undertaken extra study in diabetes, sexual and reproductive healthcare, and skin cancer medicine. Alice has a special interest in preventative health and self-care, which she is building on by studying for the Diploma of Public Health with the University of Otago in Wellington.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Alice Miller, FRNZCGP, Wellington Last reviewed: 17 Apr 2021