What are Condoms?

man holding a condom

Condoms are thin, stretchy sheaths that cover the penis during sex. They prevent sperm from entering the anus or vagina, and can also protect against sexually transmitted infections.

  • Using condoms is as much about protecting yourself as it is about protecting your partner(s).
  • Used correctly, condoms can prevent transmission of most sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV.
  • Most condoms are made of latex but non-latex varieties are also available. They can be sensitive and pleasure-enhancing, and are ideal for people who are allergic or sensitive to latex.
  • Lambskin or “Natural” condoms do not provide reliable protection against HIV and other STIs and should not be used.
  • Condoms come in different sizes. The width measurement of the base of a condom is usually shown in millimetres on a box of condoms. Try different sizes to find the one that fits you best.
  • Good quality condoms display a kite mark and/or CE mark.
  • Condoms do go out of date, so always check the expiry date on the package.
  • Find out where you can pick up free condoms and lube.

10 Steps to Use Condoms Correctly

Using condoms is easy once you know how, but like anything it’s good to practice a few times before you’re caught up in the heat of the moment! Practicing on yourself is a good way to get used to putting condoms on correctly.

Here are some basic guidelines for how to properly put a condom on, make sure it stays intact, and safely remove it.

  1. Always choose condoms with the CE mark – a recognised safety standard.
  2. Check the expiry date and don’t use it if it is out of date.
  3. Check that the roll of the condom is on the outside.
  4. Hold the tip (closed end) of the condom and squeeze out the air to make room for semen.
  5. Unroll the condom over your penis all the way to the base.
  6. Apply plenty of water-based or silicone-based lube on the outside of the condom and in and around your partner’s anus.
  7. During sex, check to make sure the condom is still on correctly.
  8. If you are having penetrative sex for more than 20 minutes, the risk of condom failure increases, so it’s advisable to change the condom if you are having sex for longer than this.
  9. After you come, while you’re still hard, hold onto the base of the condom as you pull out so that it doesn’t slip off.
  10. After you’ve pulled out carefully remove the condom keeping the tip lower than the open end so semen doesn’t spill out. You can tie the end, or wrap it up in toilet roll and throw it away.

Check out this video on how to use a condom properly:

Tips when using Condoms

  • Always use a fresh condom every time you have sex.
  • Put the condom on before there is any contact with the mouth, vagina or anus and not just before ejaculation (cumming).
  • Change condoms during sex if you’re having sex for a long time (every 20 minutes).
  • Use water-based lubrication with your condoms for safer anal sex. This helps to stop the condom breaking. Remember, never use oil-based lubrication (like Vaseline) with latex condoms as this destroys the latex.
  • Never use two condoms together.
  • If you accidentally start unrolling a condom inside out, throw it away and start again with a fresh one.
  • Never unroll a condom fully before putting it on – it’s almost impossible to put on a condom properly after it is unrolled completely.
  • Squeeze all the air out of the end of the condom before you start putting it on.
  • Be careful with fingernails – they could tear the condom.
  • After sex, hold the condom during withdrawal (pulling out).
  • Don’t put lubrication inside a condom – it is more likely to slip off
  • Make sure the condom is the right size –too small and it may break – too big and it may slip off.
  • Try flavoured condoms for oral sex. Some flavoured condoms should not be used for penetrative sex so always check the packet for details.

What if the condom breaks?

If you think you may have been exposed to HIV through unprotected sex, or if a condom tears or slips off during anal sex, there is a treatment option available that may prevent HIV infection.

Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) involves taking a combination of anti-HIV drugs for four weeks to prevent the HIV infection from taking hold in the body.

You must begin PEP within 72 hours (3 days) of the exposure to HIV–the earlier treatment starts the better.

PEP is available only by prescription from hospital Accident and Emergency (A&E) Departments, and some sexual health and STI clinics. Not everyone who asks for it will be prescribed PEP. There are guidelines for prescribing and each person is assessed based on their potential risk of exposure to HIV.

If you and/or your partner find yourselves in such a situation, seek medical advice as soon as possible.

See the section on PEP for more information and where to go for advice and assistance.

Whether you avail of PEP or not you should get tested for STIs if you had sex and the condom broke. Getting tested will help you know for sure if you have an STI, even if there are no symptoms. Find out where you can get tested here.


If you’re having anal sex using plenty of lube is a must! Put a generous amount of lube all over the outside of the condom, and in and around the anus. Be sure to apply more lube during long periods of sex.

If you’re using latex condoms, use only water-based or silicone-based lubes. Oil-based lubricants (like vaseline, baby oil, or massage oil) will damage latex condoms and should never be used with them.

Some latex condom-friendly lubes include: ‘Wet Stuff’, ‘Pasante TLC’, ‘Liquid Silk’, and ‘K-Y Jelly.’ You can find lube at most chemists and some larger grocery stores, and sex shops will have an even bigger selection.

Never use saliva (spit) as a lubricant, this increases the risk of a condom splitting because it dries quickly. Never put lube on the penis before putting the condom on, this can increase the risk of the condom slipping off.