Male, or external, condoms are a popular barrier method of birth control. They’re common, convenient, and typically inexpensive. They’re also readily available at most convenience stores, supermarkets, and pharmacies.

Some health clinics also distribute them for free. You may even be able to find them in some vending machines.

Both external and internal (or female) condoms prevent pregnancy by physically containing semen. During sexual intercourse, they block sperm from entering the vagina. You can also use them during oral or anal sex.

External and internal condoms are the only forms of birth control that can also help protect you and your partners from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV.

Male birth control options include condoms and vasectomy. Condoms are a reversible, temporary form of contraception. Vasectomy can sometimes be reversed but is typically considered permanent.

External condoms are a very effective form of birth control. When used correctly, they’re about 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. This means that out of about 100 couples that can get pregnant, pregnancy will occur in two couples.

In addition to preventing pregnancy, condoms also lower the risk of contracting or transmitting STIs. When used often and correctly, external condoms are very effective at preventing HIV and STIs that are transmitted through genital secretions, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis.

When it comes to STIs that can be transmitted via skin around genital areas, such as genital herpes, syphilis, and human papillomavirus (HPV), condoms provide slightly less protection — but they are still very good methods.

While using external condoms can help keep the majority of people safe the majority of the time, the only way to completely prevent STIs and pregnancy is through abstinence.

The two main types of condoms are external and internal condoms. An external (male) condom is a sheath that covers the penis. An internal (female) condom is a sheath that’s inserted into the vagina.

Most condoms are made out of:

  • latex
  • polyurethane
  • polyisoprene, which is a synthetic form of latex

You can find many varieties of external condoms. They come in a wide range of:

  • sizes
  • styles
  • textures
  • colors
  • flavors

Condoms also come in both lubricated and unlubricated varieties. Some lubricated condoms contain spermicide. This substance often contains the chemical nonoxynol-9, which kills sperm.

While spermicides are typically safe for most people, they can cause vaginal irritation and burning. Some people can be allergic to it, too. Talk with your partner before deciding to use an external condom with spermicide to make sure everyone is OK with that choice.

How to put on a condom

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Illustration by Yaja’ Mulcare

Male condoms are relatively easy to use. To put one on yourself:

  1. Wait for your penis to become fully erect.
  2. Carefully tear open the condom package.
  3. Unroll the condom by about a 1/2 inch.
  4. Place the condom on your penis while pinching the tip of the condom to remove air and leave space for semen. This important step helps prevent the condom from breaking.
  5. Roll the condom all the way down your penis.
  6. Smooth out any air bubbles.

You can also use this method to put a condom on your partner.

After you put on the condom, if preferred, you can apply condom-safe lubricant to the outside.

It’s important not to use oil-based lubricants with latex condoms. They can damage latex and cause the condom to break. Instead, look for water-based options.

How to remove a condom

Hold the base of the condom as you withdraw your penis from your partner’s vagina, anus, or mouth. Carefully remove the condom and throw it away. Don’t flush the condom down the toilet.

Always remove your penis from your partner’s vagina, anus, or mouth while it’s still erect. Otherwise, your condom may slip off during withdrawal.

Do not reuse external condoms.

Always check the expiration date

It’s important to check the expiration date on a condom packet before using it. Avoid using condoms that are expired or damaged.

Also be careful about keeping condoms in your wallet or bag. The regular use your wallet or bag gets can cause the condom to deteriorate, dry out, and crack. Instead, try a small case that’s made of hard plastic to store external condoms. This will protect them from bending and friction that may cause damage.

If you do find it helpful to keep a condom in your wallet, check it to make sure it’s not dry or brittle before you use it. If you do store condoms in your wallet, replace them with new ones often.

As a general rule, the longer the condom is in there, the more likely it is to be damaged or defective.

External condoms are very effective when used properly. Keep these general tips in mind to increase their effectiveness:

  • Make sure you or your partner puts on the condom correctly.
  • If you put on a condom backward, use a new one.
  • Never reuse a condom.
  • Don’t use external and internal condoms at the same time. This can damage the condoms and decrease their effectiveness.
  • Don’t use oil-based lubes and medications with latex condoms.
  • You can use oil-based products with synthetic condoms, such as polyurethane condoms.
  • You can lower your chance of pregnancy even further by combining condoms with other methods of birth control, such as hormonal birth control.

If you notice the external condom you’ve been using is torn or broken, make sure you:

  • stop what you’re doing
  • withdraw your penis
  • throw the broken condom away
  • consider your emergency contraception options

If you’re concerned about pregnancy, it’s a good idea to call a doctor or local health clinic right away to ask them about emergency contraception options.

Plan B, also called the “morning-after pill,” is available over the counter for anyone older than age 15 in many pharmacies across the United States.

If you’re concerned about STIs, consider visiting a local testing site. There are many free and low cost options available.

The popularity of external condoms as a birth control method reflects their convenience.


  • affordable
  • easy to access
  • effective at helping prevent pregnancy when used properly
  • effective at helping prevent STIs when used properly
  • helpful for preventing premature ejaculation in some people
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The risks and side effects of using condoms are low.

Using external condoms has a few risks and disadvantages.


  • moderately high failure rate when used improperly or inconsistently
  • potential skin irritation, such as contact dermatitis, due to latex sensitivity or allergy
  • allergic reactions to spermicides, lubes, scents, and other chemicals in the condoms
  • potential for diminished sensation
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If you are unsure if you want to use an external condom, talk with your partner about additional safer sex options, including internal condoms, spermicide, or hormonal birth control.

One important caveat: External condoms are the best method, outside of abstinence, for lowering your risk of STIs.

If you have latex allergies and want to use condoms, consider choosing varieties made from polyurethane or polyisoprene:

  • Polyurethane condoms are made out of plastic. While they feel different than latex condoms, they’re highly effective.
  • Polyisoprene condoms are made out of synthetic latex. They’re safe for most people with latex allergies because allergic reactions are usually triggered by natural contaminants in latex, rather than the rubber itself. Polyisoprene condoms feel more like latex condoms than polyurethane options.

If you find that a specific brand of latex condom triggers an allergy, but things like balloons or your doctor’s gloves do not, you may be allergic to something other than the latex.

Different brands use different lubes, spermicides, and chemicals. It may help to try a different brand of condoms.

External and internal condoms are accessible options of birth control for many people. They’re also two of the best ways to protect yourself against STIs.

However, the effectiveness of a condom is directly related to proper usage, so if you’re unsure about using one, take some time to practice. This way, when the moment comes, you can be sure you’re putting it on correctly.