Condoms are an effective form of barrier contraception as they collect the man’s semen so it does not enter his partner’s vagina, mouth or anus. They are also the most effective way to reduce your risk of contracting a sexually transmissible infection (STI)
Used properly, condoms prevent your partner’s body fluids (blood or vaginal fluids) from entering your body, and vice versa.
Many men and their partners report that the use of condoms enhances their sexual enjoyment. Reasons for this include:
- reduced risk of pregnancy (condoms are 95 to 99 per cent effective)
- fewer concerns about acquiring STIs, including HIV
- improved quality and duration of an erection during sexual intercourse.
Condoms are recommended every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex. Each condom is for one use only. Carry a spare condom in case you need a backup. If you are not confident using condoms, try practising until you feel confident before having sex.
Choosing and storing condoms
Condoms come in different sizes, so choose the right size for you. Always use condoms that meet Australian and international standards.
Properly stored, condoms have a life of about five years. Always:
- Make sure the use-by date on the packet is current.
- Keep condoms in a cool, dry place as they can be damaged by heat.
Buy non-latex condoms if you or your partner are allergic to latex. Note that novelty condoms are not intended for pregnancy or STI prevention, and should not be used for penetrative sex.
Putting the condom on
When using a condom:
- Open the packet carefully, and avoid tearing the condom with your jewellery, teeth or fingernails.
- Check which way the condom unrolls, but do not unroll it.
- Place the condom against the tip of the penis and gently unroll it down to the base of the penis.
- Water-based lubricant can be applied to the inside of the tip of the condom and outside of the condom. Do not apply lubricant to the base of the inside of the condom as this may cause the condom to slip.
- The condom should be placed on the erect penis before it comes into contact with the vagina, mouth or anus. If you don’t get the condom on properly the first time, throw it away and start again.
Possible problems include:
- the condom rolls up during sex – check the condom and roll it back to the base of the penis. It may help to use water-based lubricant
- the condom slides off during sex – pull out and use a new condom. Make sure you have the right condom fit
- the erection subsides during sex – withdraw the penis, holding on to the condom. If you are ready to have sex again, start with a new condom.
Preventing condom breakage
Check that your preferred brand of lubricant is water-based. Water-based lubricants help reduce friction, which can lead to condom breakage. Water-based lubricant should be used for all anal sex. The use of water-based lubricant can also increase both your and your partner’s sexual pleasure.
Avoid oil-based lubricants
Oil-based lubricants – for example, baby oil, massage oil and petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) – can cause a condom to weaken and break. If a condom breaks during sex, your partner could be at risk of pregnancy or contracting an STI.
If a condom breaks, you and your partner may need to speak to your GP or sexual health service about:
- an STI check-up
- emergency contraception (sometimes known as the ‘morning after’ pill) if condoms are your only form of contraception. Emergency contraception is available over the counter from most pharmacies
- if you are a man who has had sex with a male partner, post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (PEP) – this may be appropriate to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. The PEP Information Line (Tel. 1800 889 887) will provide you with details about PEP.
After using a condom during sex:
- Withdraw the penis immediately after ejaculation.
- Hold the rim of the condom to prevent spillage while withdrawing the penis.
- Slip the condom off carefully and put it in the bin.
- Do not flush the condom down the toilet.
Condoms, dams and oral sex
Some STIs can be transmitted during oral sex. To reduce your risk of contracting an STI, it is recommended that condoms be used for oral sex.
You can also use dental dams, which are squares of ultra-thin latex that can be placed over the vulva or anal area during oral sex. Another option is to cut an unrolled condom from the edge to its tip to make a latex barrier.
Condoms for men, and water-based lubricants, can be bought from supermarkets, pharmacies and other outlets. Dams are available through Family Planning Victoria and may be available from selected shops. Latex-free condoms are also available from some outlets.
Male condoms and lubricant are available free from the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and female condoms and dams can be supplied on request.
Other safe sex strategies
Strategies (other than using condoms) to decrease your risk of contracting an STI include:
- Have an STI check-up before having sex with a new partner or soon after having unprotected sex with a new partner. Most STIs (for example, chlamydia) can have no symptoms, so if you have caught an infection, early treatment may prevent further complications and spread.
- Talk to your partner about safe sex and condom use.
- During oral sex, do not get semen or blood in your mouth.
- Avoid oral sex if you have mouth ulcers or bleeding gums. Do not brush your teeth immediately before or after oral sex. Do not give your partner oral sex when you have cold sores.
- Safe sex means sexual activity that limits your contact with your partner’s blood, semen and vaginal fluids, such as mutual masturbation.
Sex without a condom
You can consider sex without a condom (unprotected sex) with a regular partner if:
- both of you have recently been tested for STIs and your results are negative
- you and your partner do not have sex with other people
- you are using another type of contraception, such as the pill, to prevent pregnancy.
Where to get help
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Melbourne Sexual Health Centre
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.