Condoms can protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and they can be used to prevent pregnancy. A male condom is placed over a man's erect penis before sex. Condoms are also called "rubbers," "sheaths," or "skins."
Condoms are made of latex (rubber), polyurethane, or sheep intestine. While latex and polyurethane condoms help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV, sheep intestine condoms do not.
The male condom is a barrier method of birth control. Condoms are currently the only male method of birth control besides vasectomy. To more effectively prevent pregnancy, use a condom with a more effective birth control method such as hormonal contraception, an intrauterine device (IUD), a diaphragm with spermicide, or another female barrier method.
Condoms don't require a prescription or a visit to a health professional. Condoms are sold in drugstores, family planning clinics, and many other places, including vending machines in some restrooms. There are many different kinds of condoms. Some condoms are lubricated, some are ribbed, and some have a "reservoir tip" for holding the semen. You can also buy condoms of different sizes.
The male condom has a user failure rate (typical use) of 18%. This means that, among all couples that use condoms, 18 out of 100 become pregnant in 1 year. Among couples who use condoms perfectly for 1 year, only 2 out of 100 will become pregnant.footnote 1
The most common reason for failure, besides not using a condom every time, is that the condom breaks or partially or completely slips off the penis. Slippage occurs more often than breakage, usually when a condom is too large.
Use emergency contraception as a backup if a condom breaks or slips off.
Make sure to check the condom's expiration date, and do not use it if past that date.
Male condoms reduce the risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Condoms are often used to reduce the risk of STIs even when the couple is using another method of birth control (such as pills). For the best protection, use the condom during vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
"Natural" or sheep intestine condoms are as effective as latex or polyurethane condoms for preventing pregnancy, but they are not effective against STIs because the small openings in the animal tissue allow organisms to pass through.
Condoms are most effective if you follow these steps:
What do you need to know about buying and storing male condoms?
Trussell J, Guthrie KA (2011). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 20th ed., pp. 45–74. Atlanta: Ardent Media.
Current as of:
November 22, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Sarah Marshall MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: November 22, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.