Condoms (male and female)
NHS Choices - Introduction
Condoms are a form of barrier contraception. They prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from reaching an egg.
Condoms can also help stop sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, being passed from one sexual partner to another. They protect against STIs when used in penetrative sex (vaginal or anal) and oral sex.
Condoms are the only form of contraception that protect against both pregnancy and STIs.
It is important to use condoms correctly, and to make sure the penis doesn't make contact with the vagina before a condom has been put on, to avoid the risk of STIs being passed between partners.
Find out how to use a condom.
If used correctly, male condoms are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy. Female condoms are thought to be around 95% effective.
Condoms are made from very thin latex rubber or a very thin plastic (either polyisoprene or polyurethane). Each pack should display either the British BSI Kitemark or the European CE symbol as proof of quality, and should clearly state the expiry date of the condoms. Do not use out-of-date condoms.
Which condoms are suitable for me and my partner?
Both male and female condoms are available in the UK and are suitable for most people. The male condom fits over a man’s erect penis. The female condom is put into the vagina and loosely lines it. It is up to you and your partner which type of condom you use.
There are many different varieties and brands of male condom. Currently, only one brand of female condom, called Femidom, is available in the UK.
Most people can safely use condoms. However, they may not be the most suitable method of contraception for everyone:
- Some men and women are sensitive to the chemicals in male latex condoms. If this is a problem, polyurethane condoms have a lower risk of causing an allergic reaction.
- Men who have difficulty keeping an erection may not be able to use male condoms, as the penis must be erect to prevent semen leaking from the condom or the condom slipping off.
- Female condoms may not be the most suitable contraception for women who do not feel comfortable touching their genital area.
Read more about things to consider when using condoms.
Where can I get condoms?
Everyone can get condoms for free, even if they are under 16. They are available from the following places in your local area:
- family planning clinics
- sexual health or GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinics
- some GP surgeries
- Brook Advisory Centres (for under-25s only)
- gay pubs and clubs
You can also buy male and female condoms from:
- petrol stations
- vending machines in public toilets
- mail-order catalogues
If you buy condoms online, make sure you buy them from a pharmacist or other legitimate retailer. Always choose condoms that carry the European CE mark or British BSI Kitemark as a sign of quality assurance.
For information on condoms and all sexual health services, call Sexual Health Direct, run by FPA, on 0845 122 8690.