How to Use a Condom

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How to Use a Condom

Topic Overview

When to use a condom

Condoms can be used with spermicide to prevent pregnancy or alone to help protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Pregnancy prevention. Use a condom and spermicide to prevent pregnancy. Make sure to check the condom's expiration date, and do not use it if past that date.

STI protection. To protect yourself and your partner from STI infection, use a condom during vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Even if you are protected against pregnancy by other birth control methods, condoms are the best available protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). (The only way to be completely protected against sexually transmitted infections, however, is to abstain from sex.)

A rubber barrier (dental dam) can be used for protection during oral sex.

Proper condom use

Condoms are most effective if you follow these steps.

  • Use a new condom each time you have sexual intercourse.
  • When opening the condom wrapper, be careful not to poke a hole in the condom with your fingernails, teeth, or other sharp objects.
  • Put the condom on as soon as your penis is hard (erect) and before any sexual contact with your partner.
  • Before putting it on, hold the tip of the condom and squeeze out the air to leave room for the semen after ejaculation.
  • If you are not circumcised, pull down the loose skin from the head of the penis (foreskin) before putting on the condom.
  • While continuing to hold onto the tip of the condom, unroll it all the way down to the base of your penis.
  • If you are also using the condom as birth control, make sure your partner uses a spermicide according to the manufacturer's instructions. (Although the use of a spermicide increases the effectiveness of a condom as birth control, the use of a spermicide may increase the risk for transmitting HIV/AIDS).
  • If you want to use a lubricant, never use petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline), grease, hand lotion, baby oil, or anything with oil in it (read the label). Oil (or petroleum) can weaken the condom, increasing the chance that it may break. Instead, use a personal lubricant such as Astroglide or K-Y Jelly.
  • After ejaculation, hold onto the condom at the base of your penis and withdraw from your partner while your penis is still erect. This will keep semen from spilling out of the condom.
  • Wash your hands after handling a used condom.

Buying and storing condoms

  • Buy condoms that meet safety standards.
  • 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.
  • Keep the condom wrapped in its original package until you are ready to use it. Store in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Check the expiration date on the package before using.
  • Don't keep rubber (latex) condoms in a glove compartment or other hot places for a long time. Heat weakens latex and increases the chance that the condom will break.
  • Don't use condoms in damaged packages or condoms that show obvious signs of deterioration, such as brittleness, stickiness, or discolouration, regardless of their expiration date.

Female condoms

The female condom is a tube of soft plastic (polyurethane) with a closed end. Each end has a ring or rim. The ring at the closed end is inserted deep into the vagina over the cervix, like a diaphragm, to hold the tube in place. The ring at the open end remains outside the opening of the vagina. The female condom can be inserted up to 8 hours before sexual intercourse. It should not be used at the same time as a male condom.

The female condom should be removed immediately after intercourse, while the woman is still lying down. The outside ring is twisted to close off the condom and hold the semen inside before the condom is removed. A new condom should be used with each act of sexual intercourse. Female condoms are sold in drugstores or family planning clinics.

The female condom provides some protection of the genital area around the opening to the vagina during intercourse and may reduce the risk of getting or transmitting infections such as genital herpes or genital warts.


Other Works Consulted

  • Cwiak C, Berga S (2009). Contraception. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 16, chap. 4. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
  • Zieman M, et al. (2007). Condoms for men. In Managing Contraception for Your Pocket. 2007–2009 ed., pp. 56–62. Tiger, GA: Bridging the Gap Foundation.
  • Zieman M, et al. (2007). Female-controlled barrier methods. In Managing Contraception for Your Pocket, 2007–2009 ed., pp. 63–67. Tiger, GA: Bridging the Gap Foundation.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised July 6, 2010

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