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External (male) condoms

Condoms are one of the best ways to protect your sexual health. They can be used for vaginal, anal and oral sex. 

They are the only type of contraception that stops you getting or passing on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – including HIV – and they also prevent pregnancy.  

The most common type of condom goes on an erect penis, this is an external condom (sometimes called a male condom). You can also get condoms that go inside the vagina or anus, these are internal condoms (sometimes called female condoms).

For condoms to work you have to use them correctly and every time you have sex.  

Read on to find out how to use an external condom. 

What is an external (male) condom?

An external condom (sometimes called a male condom) is a thin piece of rubber (latex). They come in different sizes and should fit securely but not feel uncomfortable. If you are sensitive to rubber, you can get non-latex condoms. 

Where can I get condoms from?

Condoms are often available free from doctors, sexual health clinics and programmes, and they are also sold in shops and pharmacies. 

How does a condom work?

Semen, vaginal fluids and blood can pass on HIV and STIs. A condom stops these fluids from entering the body. It also stops sperm from entering the vagina to prevent pregnancy. Remember, it is the responsibility of men, as well as women, to prevent pregnancy.  

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using condoms?


  • They work really well! 
  • They are the only type of contraception that stops you getting or passing on HIV and STIs as well as preventing pregnancy.  
  • You only need to use them at the time you have sex. 
  • They do not involve hormones. 
  • They do not have any side effects. 
  • You can use them together with other forms of contraception for extra protection.


  • You have to use them correctly every time you have sex. But this is not difficult once you know how! 
  • Some people say condoms interrupt the flow of sex or make sex feel different. But there are plenty of ways to make condoms part of the fun. Remember you can also try internal (female) condoms to see if they are right for you. 

How do I use an external (male) condom?

This may sound difficult but it’s easy once you get the hang of it. Here’s how: 

  1. Put it on when the penis is hard, but before you start having sex. 

  1. Check it hasn’t passed its expiry date. 

  1. Carefully take the condom out of the packet. Don’t use teeth or scissors as these can damage condoms. 

  1. Pinch the air out of the top. 

  1. Check the condom is not inside out – the rim should be on the outside. 

  1. Roll the condom down to the base of the penis. 

  1. Keep the condom on until you finish having sex.  

  1. When you finish, hold the condom down to the base of your penis while you withdraw. 

  1. Wrap the condom in a tissue and put it in the bin.

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Things to remember when using a condom

  • Use a new condom every time you have sex or if you move between vaginal, anal or oral sex. 

  • Don’t double up! Wearing more than one condom or using an internal one as well causes friction that might make the condom split. 

  • Use water-based lubricant to stop condoms from breaking. Don’t use oil-based lubricant as this can damage the condom. 

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What do I do if a condom splits?

Condoms rarely break. But if they do follow these simple steps: 

  1. Withdraw the penis immediately 

  1. Don’t wash inside the anus or vagina as this can spread infection 

  1. If you need to, go to a healthcare facility to get emergency contraception

  1. Get an HIV and STI test.

If we are in a relationship can we stop using condoms?

If you want to prevent pregnancy, you still need to use some form of birth control. And if you’re worried about getting or passing on HIV or STIs, you still need to use condoms. Remember that using condoms isn’t a sign that you don’t trust your partner – it’s a way of showing you care and want to protect you both.  

Do condoms cause cancer?

There is no evidence that condoms cause cancer, either in men or women.

Let's talk about condoms!

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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What can I say to persuade someone who doesn’t want to use a condom?

There are always plenty of excuses to not use a condom. As well as the many advantages listed in the basics tab you might want to remind them that: 

  1. You can still have great sex with a condom: You can make putting on the condom part of the fun by getting your partner to do it. Condoms also come in different sizes, colours, flavours and textures to increase your pleasure, so why not experiment to find the one which does it for you? Using condoms can help you and your partner feel more relaxed as you don’t have to worry you might be putting your health at risk so you can just enjoy the moment. 

  2. Using a condom shows you care: Someone who uses a condom is someone who wants to take care of their and their partner’s sexual health. And it has nothing to do with how many partners someone has or doesn’t have. 

  3. Condoms don’t harm our health in any way. But STIs do. And unwanted pregnancy can have all sorts of difficult consequences. 

What advice can I give to someone about using external condoms?

If someone is thinking about using condoms, the best thing you can do is to give them clear and accurate information, which you can find on this page.  

The best way to speak to someone about any form of contraception, including condoms, is to: 

  1. Respect their decisions: this means their decision to have sex and the type of contraceptive they choose.  
  2. Be open: be prepared to discuss any form of contraception and let them know they can ask anything they want, you won’t judge them. 
  3. Respect their privacy: they might feel embarrassed about discussing things to do with sex. If they are, you could give them details of a friendly healthcare professional, a helpline or factual online resources, like this app. 

It is a good idea to discuss both internal and external condoms, and mention that internal condoms can be particularly good if they are struggling to use external condoms.  

Why not suggest they experiment with both external condoms and internal condoms? They may be surprised which they prefer! 

Remember, they might feel embarrassed about discussing sex with you. If they are, connect them with a friendly healthcare professional, a helpline or factual online resources, like this site. 

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  • Last updated: 19 December 2023
  • Last full review: 01 March 2022
  • Next full review: 01 March 2025
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