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Male and female condoms provide excellent protection against HIV and most other sexually transmitted infections. To be effective, they need to be used correctly.

Where possible, choose a condom with a quality kitemark. Don’t use old condoms or ones that have been left in direct sunlight for any length of time.

Don’t flush used condoms down the toilet, as this can cause blockages in the sewerage system.

Male condoms

Most male condoms are made of latex, a form of rubber. Some people are allergic to latex, and polyurethane (a type of plastic) condoms are a safe alternative.

Male condoms come in a range of shapes, sizes, thicknesses, flavours, textures and colours. Though the standard size will fit most men, smaller and larger condoms are available. Use a brand that fits well. Some condoms are designed only to enhance sexual pleasure and do not act as an effective, protective barrier. Check the information on the package. Normal-strength condoms can be safely used for anal sex.

Male condoms are commonly sold in chemists, garages and supermarkets, and from vending machines. In some cities, gay venues provide free condoms. HIV clinics and sexual health clinics provide free condoms, as do contraception clinics. Our online tool, the e-atlas, is a good place to start looking for local services and providers of free condoms.

Using a male condom correctly:

  • Condoms come in a plastic or foil wrapper. When opening the wrapper be careful not to tear the condom.
  • Put the condom on once your penis is hard, but before penetration begins.
  • Condoms come with a teat or a plain end. In either case, it is important to allow enough room for the semen to be able to fill the end of the condom. Make sure there is no air in the condom, by holding the teat or end between your thumb and forefinger as you roll the condom on. If you leave air in the end of the condom, it may break when you ejaculate into it. Unroll the condom all the way down the shaft of the penis.
  • Using a lubricant with condoms makes breakage less likely and can also increase the comfort of your partner. Apply a lubricant to the outside of the condom. Reapply during sex if necessary. A water-based or silicone-based lubricant should be used with condoms. Oil-based lubricant, such as baby oil, petroleum jelly (Vaseline) or body lotion, can weaken condoms very quickly, making breakages more likely.
  • If you lose your erection, the condom may slip. This is the biggest single cause of condom failure. Holding the base of the condom will help it stay in place.
  • If the condom slips or breaks, withdraw immediately and use a new one.
  • After ejaculating, withdraw the penis promptly, before it goes soft. Hold on to the base of the condom as you withdraw.
  • Never re-use condoms.

  • If you are having penetrative sex for a long time, the risk of the condom breaking increases. It is safest to change the condom every 30 minutes.

Female condoms

The female condom is a plastic pouch that you insert before sex. It is usually made of polyurethane, nitrile rubber or latex.

The female condom has two flexible rings: the ring at the closed end holds it in place in the vagina. The ring at the open end should remain outside the vagina during sex.

Sexual health clinics and HIV clinics provide female condoms for free, although they are not as widely available as male condoms. You can also buy them from some chemists or from websites.

Some women prefer the female condom because they can be in control of both contraception and protecting themselves and their partner from HIV. You can put a female condom in several hours before having sex. Some people also prefer them because of their thinness and sensitivity, which can improve sensation.

Using a female condom correctly:

  • To insert it, find a comfortable position. You can stand with one foot on a chair, sit on the edge of a chair or bath, lie down, or squat.
  • Squeeze together the sides of the inner ring at the closed end of the female condom and insert it into the vagina like a tampon.
  • Putting a finger inside the female condom, push the inner ring into the vagina as far as it can go.
  • Pull out your finger and let the outer ring stay outside the vagina during sex.
  • Use your hand to guide your partner’s penis into the female condom (make sure his penis doesn’t slip between the condom and the side of the vagina).
  • The female condom is loose-fitting and will move during sex. That’s fine as long as the penis stays inside it.
  • You don’t have to take it out immediately after sex. When you do remove it, squeeze and twist the outer ring to keep semen inside the pouch. Gently pull it out of the vagina.

HIV & sex

Published January 2016

Last reviewed January 2016

Next review January 2019

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this booklet.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.
Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.