Condoms are an effective form of barrier contraception as they collect the man’s semen so it doesn’t enter his partner’s vagina, mouth or anus. They are also the most effective way to reduce your risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STI).
Used properly, condoms prevent your partner’s body fluids (blood or vaginal fluids) from entering your body, and vice versa.
Many people report that the use of condoms enhances their sexual enjoyment. Reasons for this include:
- reduced fear of pregnancy (condoms are 95 to 99% 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’re not confident using condoms, before you have sex, practise putting them on until you feel more confident.
There are also condoms that are inserted into the vagina rather than put onto the penis. These are known as female condoms.
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- or silicone-based, not oil-based. Both water- and silicone-based lubricants help to reduce friction, and so help prevent condom breakage. Water- and silicone-based lubricant should be used for all anal sex. The use of 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 have potentially been exposed to HIV, post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (PEP) 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 and how to access it. If your partner has HIV, but is on treatment and has very low levels of the virus in their body (also referred to as an undetectable HIV viral load), then there is no risk of transmission of HIV. This is called U=U or undetectable=untransmissible, and PEP is not required.
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 condomless sex with a new partner. Most STIs (for example, chlamydia) can have no symptoms, so if you have caught an infection, early diagnosis and treatment may prevent further complications and transmission to other people.
- 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 semen, blood and vaginal fluids, such as mutual masturbation.
- HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is the use of medication to prevent HIV transmission. It is up to 99% effective at preventing HIV transmission, but does not protect against other STIs. If you or your partner are on PrEP, you will still need to use condoms to prevent other STIs.
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, and
- you and your partner do not have sex with other people, and
- you are using another type of contraception, such as the pill, to prevent pregnancy.
If you or your regular sexual partner are HIV-positive, you can consider sex without a condom if:
- the HIV-negative partner is on PrEP to protect against HIV transmission, or
- the HIV-positive partner is taking HIV treatment and has a very low or undetectable viral load (U=U).
Where to get help
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Melbourne Sexual Health Centre
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