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Using condoms to prevent HIV

Condoms create a barrier that stops HIV from touching and entering your body during sex. 

They can prevent HIV during all kinds of sex – vaginal, anal, oral and when using sex toys. 

When used correctly, condoms are the best option to prevent HIV. 

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How does HIV get passed on during sex?

HIV is found in body fluids such as pre-cum, semen (cum), vaginal fluid, blood and anal mucus. If your sexual partner has HIV, their infected fluids can pass into your body during sex. This can happen through the penis, vagina and rectum, or sores in your mouth and throat. You can only get HIV from someone who has HIV and has a detectable viral load. 

How do condoms prevent HIV transmission during sex?

Condoms form a barrier that stops HIV in your partner’s body fluid from touching and entering your body during sex. 

How effective are condoms at preventing HIV?

When used correctly, condoms are the best option to prevent HIV. 

What kind of condoms prevent HIV?

All condoms can prevent HIV if they are used properly. Make sure you put a condom on before any sexual contact. The main types of condoms are: 

Should I use lube with a condom to help prevent HIV?

Yes. Lubricants, or lube, make sex safer by reducing the risk of tears or damage to the vagina or anus caused by dryness or friction. It can also reduce the risk of a condom breaking. 

Lube is particularly important for anal sex, as the anus is delicate and does not self-lubricate. 

Use water-based lubricants not oil-based lubricants. This is because oil-based lubricants (such as Vaseline) weaken the latex in condoms and can cause them to break. 

Do condoms prevent HIV during all kinds of sex?

Yes. Condoms can prevent HIV if you have any kind of sex. Here is how you can use condoms during different types of sex. Remember to put them on before any sexual contact. 

  • Vaginal sex – use an external condom on the penis, or an internal condom inside the vagina. 
  • Anal sex - use an external condom on the penis, or an internal condom inside the anus. 
  • Oral sex - use an external condom on the penis, or a dental dam on the vagina. 
  • Sex using toys such as dildos - use an external condom on the toy, or an internal condom inside the vagina or anus. 

What should I do if the condom breaks – will I get HIV?

If your partner doesn’t have HIV, or has HIV but is on regular treatment and their viral load is undetectable, there is no risk of HIV. 

If your partner has HIV but is not on regular treatment or is unsure if they are undetectable, visit a sexual health professional. You may be offered post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). This involves taking antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) for a month to reduce the chance of getting HIV. PEP has a high success rate, but it is not a replacement for condoms. 

If you’re in a relationship with someone who has HIV, you could use pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to protect you from HIV.  

Where can I get condoms?

Condoms are often available free from sexual health clinics or healthcare professionals. They are also sold in many shops and pharmacies. 

What if my partner won’t use a condom?

It can be difficult if you want to use a condom and your partner doesn’t, but it’s important to talk about it. It isn’t a sign that you don’t trust them – it’s a way of showing you care and want to protect you both. 

If your partner refuses to use a condom don’t feel pressured into having unprotected sex – remember you always have the right to decide whether to have sex or not. 

How to talk about condoms with your partner

Let's talk about using condoms to prevent HIV!

Here are a few questions to help kick-off discussions on the issues you need to talk about! You can share them on social, on WhatsApp or just get talking.

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Why are condoms so central to HIV prevention?

Condoms are a relatively cost-effective tool for preventing HIV. And, they have the added benefit of also preventing other STIs and unwanted pregnancy. 

Why can we not rely on condoms alone to prevent HIV?

For condoms to work effectively: 

  • they must be available  

  • they must be affordable 

  • people must know how to use them 

  • people must be able to ask their partner to use them (condom negotiation). 

The reality is, often one or more of these requirements are missing. So, HIV prevention programmes should follow the combination prevention approach. Combination prevention means that efforts to prevent HIV do not rely on a single intervention (such as condom distribution). Instead, it should use a combination of behavioural, biomedical and structural prevention strategies. 

Condoms are one example of a biomedical intervention to prevent HIV. There are many other biomedical interventions, such as voluntary medical external circumcision, PrEP, PEP and HIV testing. 

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  • Last updated: 21 March 2022
  • Last full review: 01 March 2022
  • Next full review: 01 March 2025
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