Everything you need to know about the male condom

Reviewed: October 4, 2021
The popular male condom is a firm favourite amongst contraceptive users

The condom is definitely the ‘Mr Popular’ of the contraceptive world. It’s a contraceptive that is known and loved by many and although it may ooze popularity, we know that at the end of the day, it’s never far away when there’s an emergency.

What is a condom?

Male condoms (also known as external condoms) are thin latex or polyurethane sheaths that are worn on the penis. Condoms come in all shapes, sizes, and materials for those that are sensitive, so even with allergies or sensitive skin, there’s a condom to suit you comfortably.

How effective are condoms?

Condoms are 98% effective if used correctly. So to put it statistically, only 2 out of 100 women will become pregnant from using the male condom. They are the only form of contraception that protect against STI’s as well as pregnancy and can protect during vaginal, oral or anal sex. The most important thing is that you use a condom every time you have sex.

How does a condom work?

Condoms work as a ‘barrier’ method of contraception and prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm getting to the womb. They also work to protect against STI’s during vaginal and oral sex.

How to use a condom

When putting on a condom, open the packet carefully to ensure you don’t rip it; be mindful of long nails and jewellery that could rip the condom.

How to put on a condom – place it over the tip of the penis and squeeze the air out of the teat, if there is one at the end. If it won’t roll down, you’ve probably got it the wrong way round. Take it off, throw it away and start again with a new one. Although they already come pre-lubricated, when using condoms it’s good to know that oil-based products such as Vaseline, lotion or moisturiser can damage the condom, however water-based lubricants are safe to use.

How long do condoms last?

You’ll need to use a new condom each time you have sex. But the good news is they last a long time inside the packet. Just make sure to check the expiry date printed on the packaging.

How do I take a condom off?

After sex, hold the condom at the base of the penis when you withdraw and remove it from the penis, being careful not to spill anything. Never put the condom down the toilet; dispose of it into a bin.

Male condom VS female condom

When used properly, both male and female condoms are highly effective in preventing any unwanted pregnancy. Both forms of condoms work the same – as a barrier for the sperm. External condoms are just that slightly more effective at 98%, as opposed to the female condoms at 95%.  Male condoms may be favoured by some users as they are external, meaning nothing needs to be inserted into the vagina, which may work better for some people. Male condoms are also slightly more accessible than female condoms. Remember that male and female condoms CANNOT be used together, they will become ineffective.

Pros and cons of the condom


  • The condom protects both partners from STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhoea and HIV
  • When used correctly, works as a reliable method of preventing pregnancy
  • You only need to use them when you have sex – no advance preparation needed and good for unplanned sex
  • In most cases, there are no medical side effects from using condoms
  • Easy to get hold of
  • They don’t require a prescription


  • The condom can split, slip off or break during sex
  • It can fall off and get stuck inside the woman’s vagina
  • Condoms have an expiry date
  • They can be affected by storage
  • Some couples find that it interrupts sex

Who should use it?

  • People wanting protection from STIs
  • People wanting a non-hormonal form of contraception
  • People wanting a form of contraception that requires no pre-planning

Who shouldn’t use it?

  • People allergic or sensitive to latex
  • People wanting long term contraception
  • People that don’t know how to apply it properly

Where can I get free condoms?

As one of the most popular forms of contraception, these little things are free and so easily accessible from GPs, sexual health clinics and contraception clinics. However, you’ll need to pay in supermarkets and online (oh and of course pub toilets). For those of you that are allergic to latex, polyurethane condoms are a good alternative. Always use condoms that have the BSI kite mark and the CE mark on the packet; this means they’ve been tested to high safety standards.

This guide was brought to you by The Lowdown. We are the world’s first contraception review platform, providing real-life experiences from thousands of reviews collected from our community of men and women.

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