What is a Male Condom?
Male condoms are a barrier method of contraception that can prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. A male condom is a thin sheath that is placed over the user’s erect penis before sexual activity to prevent direct contact of the penis with the partner’s skin, mucosa, and genital secretions.1 Condoms may be made of latex, animal skin, or plastic.2 They may only be used once and a new condom must be used for every separate sexual encounter. The key to the effectiveness of male condoms is to use them consistently and correctly.3
Effectiveness of Male Condoms?
Condoms are very effective! For perfect users (those who use a condom each and every time they have sex and put it on correctly), the effectiveness rate is 98%. For typical users, the statistics show that the effectiveness rate is approximately 82%.4 The reason typical users have a higher failure rate is largely due to partners not using a condom for every act of sexual intercourse or not administering the condom correctly. It is important to pay special attention to the directions on the condom wrapper.
How To Use A Male Condom
Knowledge and experience on how to properly put on a condom promotes maximum protection. Be sure to put the condom on the erect penis prior to initial contact with the vagina, anus, or mouth. The only way to ensure protection from pregnancy and STIs is to apply the condom correctly and to use a new condom for every sexual encounter. Also, never use two condoms at once--this increases friction and the likelihood of the condoms tearing.
How to Check the Quality of a Condom
First and foremost, when using a condom, it is very important to check the condom. According to Men’s Health magazine, 82.7% of women and 74.5% of men fail to check the condom for damage before use. This can be done in four simple steps.
Firstly, assess the condom’s wrapping. If the wrapping is worn, torn, or looks old, it is best to dispose of the condom. It is also important to make sure the wrapper is sealed tight. One can do this by gently pressing on the packaging and feeling for any air leaks (AKA: the pillow test). If any air leaks, the condom may be damaged and should be thrown out. After all, any holes that damaged the wrapper could easily damage the condom itself.
Always make sure that the condom has not expired. Typically expiration dates are printed on the back or side of a condom. If the expiration date is not visible on the condom, it is better to throw that condom away and use a new one with an expiration date that has not passed.
Take a Good Look at the Condom
After you have checked that the wrapper is solid and the expiration date has not passed, you are ready to check the actual condom. Unroll the condom very carefully and check for signs of the “three Ds.”
1. Discoloration (a very dark yellow, non-transparent color)
2. Damage (any holes, tears, or weak areas on the condom)
3. Dryness (the condom is brittle to the touch and/or is sticky and dry)
If any of these are present, it is best to dispose of the condom. Each of these factors can contribute to the failure of a condom’s functionality.
The Water Test
For the last step, you can fill the condom with water. It is critical to make sure that you do not fill the condom similarly to filling a water balloon. Fill the condom just enough to ensure it is hole-free but make sure not to put stress on the condom with excessive amounts of water. Overfilling the condom can result in straining the condom, which may result in breakage. Filling the condom with water allows you to physically check the condom for holes or tears. If water leaks or squirts from a hole in the condom- do NOT use the condom. Be careful when utilizing this method that you do not confuse water from the initial filling for a leaky part of the condom. If the condom has no holes, shows no signs of leaking, and fulfills the first 3 requirements it is safe to use.
Helpful hint: The water test may eliminate some of the condom’s pre-applied lubricant. It is safe to apply some lubricant to the outside of the condom. Remember to never apply lubricant to the inside of a condom or else it may slip off during intercourse. Remember also that it is best to use a water-based lubricant with latex condoms.
Physically Applying the Condom:
1. Check the condom (as per the steps written above)
2. Place the top of the condom on the head of the penis so that it will unroll down the shaft. If the penis is uncircumcised, pull back the foreskin before rolling the condom over the erect penis. Pinch and hold the tip of the condom, leaving a reservoir of approximately one inch, as you roll the condom down the shaft to the base of the penis. The reservoir provides a space to collect the user’s ejaculate. As you roll the condom down, make sure to carefully smooth out any air bubbles along the way.
3. If the condom is not pre-lubricated on the outside, it is recommended to apply water-based or silicone-based lube to the outside of the condom to reduce friction and increase the recipient’s pleasure.
HELPFUL HINT- Pull back any pubic hairs that might get in the way of the condom. This will prevent an otherwise enjoyable experience from being marred by pain!
4. After sexual conduct, carefully pull the penis out of your partner's body BEFORE the penis loses its erection by holding the base of the condom in order to prevent it from slipping off. Then remove the condom from the penis away from your partner, making sure not to spill the semen.
5. Tie the condom in a knot and dispose the condom in a trashcan. Never flush a condom down the toilet, since it may clog the sewage system and is not biodegradable. A few companies, however, produce a biodegradable latex condom.5
Here is a short video provided by Planned Parenthood demonstrating how to put on a condom.
What You Need To Know…
- Moisture, heat, and light can make condoms more susceptible to breakage. Condoms should always be stored in a cool, dry place (i.e. it is not a good idea to store a condom in your wallet or glove compartment for months at a time). Do not use a condom if the integrity of the package has been compromised, such as the condom appearing crinkly, damaged, or dry.6
- Some users enjoy applying lube to the inside tip of the condom because it improves the wearer’s sensitivity. However, this is not recommended since it may increase the likelihood of the condom slipping off during activity.7 If interior lubrication is desired, be sure to use only a small dab of a water or silicone-based lubrication.
What Type of Condom Should I Use?
Latex condoms are the best type of condom to use and the most widely available8. Latex offers better protection than animal skin condoms, such as lambskin, which contain pores that are big enough for HIV and other sexually transmittable infections to pass through. Many people prefer animal skin condoms because they are thinner and do not dull sensitivity as much as latex condoms. However, it is important to keep in mind that latex offers the best protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. With today’s technology, latex condoms have never been thinner, while also providing excellent STI protection. In addition, there are many available designs that serve to enhance both partners’ pleasure (e.g., textured, flavored, warming).
- For latex condoms, use only water-based lubricants, such as KY Jelly or Astroglide!9 Oil based lubricants cannot be used because they damage the material and therefore the effectiveness of the condom. Vaseline, baby oil, and even whipped cream are examples of oil-based lubricants that should not be used!
- Plastic, or polyurethane, condoms are available for individuals that are allergic to latex, which is a type of rubber. These two types of condoms are roughly equivalent in their effectiveness of preventing pregnancy and the transmission of infections. Plastic condoms are slightly thinner, more expensive, and less flexible than latex, so more lubrication is required.10 Oil-based or water-based lubrication may be used with plastic condoms.
Condoms come in a variety of shapes, widths, and lengths. The style of condom used is widely up to the user’s discretion. Latex condoms are made of material intended to stretch and fit to the size of the user’s penis. Still, wearing the appropriate size condom may decrease the odds of the condom slipping off or breaking. Check out this comprehensive condom size chart.
Advantages of the Male Condom
1. When used properly and consistently, the male condom is a very effective method for preventing pregnancy and is one of the few contraceptive methods that can protect against sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV and HPV).11
2. The reduction in sensitivity can prolong sexual activity.
3. Condoms are inexpensive.
4. Easy to obtain and can be found at locations such as the local drugstore, supermarket, bathroom vending machine, local family planning center (such as Planned Parenthood), or health service provider.
5. Come in a variety of colors, flavors, scents, textures, and shapes to enhance pleasure for both partners.
6. You do not need a prescription to purchase one.
7. Putting on the condom can be used as an element of foreplay.
8. Type of birth control that is immediately reversible if you do decide to have children.
Disadvantages of the Male Condom
1. Can interrupt the spontaneity of sex.
2. Can decrease sensitivity.
3. Not 100% effective, but one of the next best methods to abstinence in preventing STIs and pregnancy.12
4. The user may feel self-conscious while putting the condom on and may lose his erection. If he does feel anxious, he could reduce tension by allowing his partner to roll the condom onto his penis.
5. The condom may pinch the penis.
6. They can deteriorate with age, especially if kept in hot or sunny places.
While a typical condom ranges anywhere from $0.30 to $1.00, buying them bulk is more cost effective. Your local Planned Parenthood or health clinic may provide free or inexpensive condoms. Ribbed, flavored, glow in the dark, lubricated, and spermicidal condoms, however, are more expensive than regular ones.
7Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (2007 Jan). Male and female condoms.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Accessed from
5,10,12AVERT. (2011). Condoms: Effectiveness, history and availability. AVERT International
HIV & AIDS Charity. Accessed from http://www.avert.org/condoms.htm
1,3,11CDC. (2011, April 6). Condoms and STDS: Fact sheet for public health personnel.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed from
Condom Sizes. (2012). Condom size chart. Condom-sizes.org. Accessed from
2,6,8Palo Alto Medical Foundation. (2012). Male condom. Palo Alto Medical Foundation: A
Sutter Health Affiliate. Accessed from
4,9Planned Parenthood. (2012). Condom. Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc.
Accessed from http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-
Planned Parenthood. (2011, February 10). How to put on a condom-Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Accessed from
Haller, Madeline. 15 Condom Mistakes You’re Making. news.menshealth.com, 2012
Last Updated 13 May 2014.