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An external (male) condom, also known as a rubber, is a sheath of thin, strong material worn over the erect penis during intercourse to catch the ejaculated sperm. Condoms are made of latex, polyurethane or “natural skin” (made from an animal’s internal organ). Condoms are either pre-lubricated or non-lubricated; choosing one or the other is a personal preference.  However, additional lubrication may be added to a condom so that intercourse will be more comfortable. With latex condoms, only use water or silicone lubrication. Condoms reduce the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  Internal (female) condoms are also available and are made of polyurethane (plastic) or nitrile (a synthetic rubber).


When perfectly used, women whose partners use male condoms reduce the risk of pregnancy by 98% while typical use of condoms increases the risk of pregnancy by reducing the effectiveness to 85%. Oftentimes due to user error and not getting the correct fit, condoms can break, slip off, or are used incorrectly before, during, or after intercourse. There is also no evidence that adding spermicide to a condom further reduces risk of pregnancy. However, spermicides can increase risk of HIV transmission, and are not recommended. 

When latex condoms are used correctly and consistently, they can reduce the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection like chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonas, and HIV. Condoms are not 100% effective in preventing STIs. Polyurethane and nitrile condoms are as effective as latex condoms in preventing pregnancy and STIs and are alternative options for people with latex allergies. “Natural skin” condoms prevent pregnancy but do not reduce the risk for STIs because the natural pores in “natural skin” condoms still allow for viruses and bacteria to pass through, as opposed to sperm due to larger sized-pores.


It is important to talk to your partners about using condoms before you have sex.  Be honest and direct about your feelings.  Let your partner know that you are concerned about both of you.  It’s easier to have this talk before you are about to have sex.  


•           Use a new condom for each sexual act (vaginal, oral or anal) and make sure you are applying it to an erect (hard) penis.

•           First, check the expiration date on the package which is generally located on the back of the condom package and gently press the package to test for air in the package. If the condom is expired or has no air in the packaging, grab another condom package.

•           While opening the package, be careful not to tear the condom with teeth, fingernails or anything sharp. Push the condom to one side before opening.

•           Once you have opened the condom, check to make sure you identify the correct way to unroll the condom. To do this, make sure the condom rim rolls down and the tip points up. If you unroll the condom the wrong way, you will have to throw it out and start over. If the penis is uncircumcised, pull the foreskin back before putting the condom on.

•           Put the condom on the erect penis while holding the ½ inch reservoir (for catching the ejaculate) at the tip. Roll the condom down the shaft of the erect penis while smoothing out air bubbles until the condom is fully unrolled at the base of the penis. 

•           Use lubrication on the outside of the condom if needed. For extra pleasure, you may add a drop of lubrication into the reservoir of the condom before putting it on.

•           Have intercourse. Check the condom for tears. If the condom breaks during sex, withdraw immediately.  If pregnancy is a concern, emergency contraception is available without a prescription.

•           After ejaculating and before the penis becomes limp (soft), pull the penis out while holding the base/rim of the condom firmly.

•           Take the condom off being careful not to spill any semen and tie the opening into a knot. Dispose of the condom in the trash. Condoms should never be flushed down the toilet.

•           Carefully wash the genitals and hands before another sex act.

•           If you are worried about how to use a condom, practice using one before you have sex.


Condoms should be stored in a cool, dry place.  Heat can cause the condom to break more easily so don’t carry them in a pocket or wallet exposed to body heat.  Make sure the package is sealed by checking for air when you are ready to use one.  Adequate lubrication and proper fit makes condom breakage during sex less likely.  If you need extra lubrication, use lubricants like Wet, Astroglide, K-Y, or saliva with latex condoms.  Avoid oil-based lubricants like massage oils, baby oil, and body lotions as they can weaken the latex and cause a tear.  Some vaginal yeast medications can also weaken the latex. 


•           When used correctly and consistently, condoms can reduce the risk for pregnancy and STIs. 

•           They are available at drugstores, clinics and discount stores, and at the IU Health Center in the Health and Wellness Department and the Women’s clinic (3rd floor of the IU Health Center).

  • If you request an educational program, condoms are also available.

•           They can prolong pleasure for both partners especially for men who have problems with premature ejaculation.