What are condoms?

Learn about your HIV risk and how to lower it.

Most condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV and certain other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), like gonorrhea and chlamydia.

Condoms provide less protection against STDs that can be transmitted through sores or cuts on the skin, like human papillomavirus, genital herpes, and syphilis.

Condoms help prevent HIV for higher risk sexual activities like anal or vaginal sex, and for lower risk activities, like oral sex and sharing sex toys.

You can buy condoms at many stores or online, and you can sometimes get them for free from clinics or health departments.

What are the main types of condoms?

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There are two main types of condoms: condoms used externally and condoms used internally.

An external condom (sometimes called a male condom or just a condom) is worn over the penis during sex. It is a thin layer of latex, plastic, synthetic rubber, or natural membrane.

  • Latex condoms provide the best protection against HIV.
  • Plastic (polyurethane) or synthetic rubber condoms are good for people with latex allergies. Note: Plastic condoms break more often than latex condoms.
  • Natural membrane (such as lambskin) condoms have small holes in them and don’t block HIV and other STDs. These should not be used for HIV or STD prevention.

An internal condom (sometimes called a female condom) is used in the vagina or anus during sex. It is a thin pouch made of a synthetic latex product called nitrile. HIV can’t travel through the nitrile barrier.

How do I use an external condom?

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To use an external condom

  • Carefully open and remove the condom from the wrapper.
  • Place the condom on the tip of the hard penis. If uncircumcised, pull back the foreskin first.
  • Pinch the air out of the tip of the condom. While holding the tip, unroll the condom all the way down the penis.
  • After sex but before pulling out, hold the bottom of the condom and carefully pull out the penis.
  • Carefully remove the condom and throw it in the trash.

If you feel the condom break any time during sex, stop immediately, pull out the penis, take off the broken condom, and put on a new condom.

Use water-based or silicone-based lubricants during sex to help keep the condom from tearing. Don’t use oil-based lubricants because they can weaken the condom and cause it to break.

How do I use an internal condom?

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To use an internal condom

  • Carefully open and remove the condom from the package.
  • While holding the condom at the closed end, squeeze the sides of the inner ring together and insert it into the vagina or anus.
  • Use your finger to push the inner ring up until it rests against the cervix in the vagina or as far into the anus as it can go.
  • Be sure the condom is not twisted. The thin, outer ring should remain outside the vagina or anus.
  • Guide your partner’s penis into the opening of the condom.
  • After sex, gently twist the outer ring and pull the condom out.
  • Carefully throw the condom in the trash after using it one time.

Stop intercourse if you feel the penis slip between the condom and the walls of the vagina/anus or if the outer ring is pushed into the vagina/anus.

Use lubricant during sex to help keep the condom from slipping or tearing. It is safe to use any lubricant with an internal condom.