External (Male) Condoms

What are they and how do they work?

  • An external condom is a covering designed to fit over an erect penis, almost like a second skin and can be used for oral, vaginal and anal sex

  • The condom catches and holds ejaculated semen so that sperm cannot enter the vagina and uterus and cause a pregnancy.

What kinds of condoms are available?

There are 3 types of condoms

  • Latex condoms –most commonly available and are very effective in protecting against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

  • Polyurethane condoms –an alternative for people who have latex allergies. They are made of plastic and are as effective as latex condoms in preventing pregnancy and protecting against sexually transmitted infections.

  • Natural condoms –made from animal membrane. While they are effective in preventing pregnancy, they offer no protection against sexually transmitted infections.

Condoms come in many different types, sizes, colours and flavours. Condoms packaged with spermicidal lubricant do not have the same pregnancy protection as using condoms with a separate spermicide (such as foam, gels, film, or sponge). If you are using a non-lubricated (dry) condom, we recommend that you also use spermicidal or lubricating jelly, foam or saliva for lubrication. Do NOT use more than one condom at a time (no double bagging - 2 external or 1 external/1internal condom) as it may increase the risk of breakage.

How effective are they?

  • Used by themselves, external condoms are 85% (typical use) to 98% (perfect use) effective at preventing pregnancy. This means that from 2 up to 15 out of 100 couples who use condoms as their only birth control method for one year will experience a pregnancy. They are considered a very effective way to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

Caution: Spermicides with nonoxynol-9 have been shown to cause irritation to the vaginal lining, therefore increasing the risk of exposure to HIV. This concern is greater with the frequency of intercourse and increases with the number of sexual partners.

Advantages of condoms

  • Easy to use; available without a prescription; no hormones

  • Protects against sexually transmitted infections

  • A contraceptive method that men can use

  • Using this method, men have the opportunity to learn more about their own bodies and to share responsibility for contraception

  • Low cost or free

Disadvantages of condoms

  • If allergic to latex, may cause irritation in the vagina or on the penis.

  • May break if improperly stored or used incorrectly

  • Needs to be applied before each act of intercourse, reducing spontaneity

  • May reduce sensitivity during intercourse

  • Oil based products such as Vaseline, baby oil, massage oil or creams can cause latex condoms to tear or break

How do I use condoms?

  1. Talk openly with your partner and work together to be safe. Contraception is for the protection of both of you. Practice handling and using condoms like when masturbating before you need to use them with a partner. 

  2. Check the expiry date and that the air bubble is still present in the package.

  3. Open package carefully. Teeth or long fingernails can tear the condom.

  4. Pinch tip of condom and place on tip of penis

  5. Roll the condom down to the base of the penis. If the condom doesn’t have a reservoir end, leave about a 1/2 inch of space at the end for the semen.

  6. If you are using lubricant, now is the time to put lots of it on the outside of the condom before inserting the penis during sexual intercourse.

  7. After the man ejaculates (comes) he should pull his penis out before it gets soft, by holding the rim of the condom at the base of his penis so it doesn’t slip off while he withdraws.

  8. Check that the condom has not torn before throwing it away. If it has torn or if semen spills into the vagina, quickly insert a spermicide such as an applicator of foam and seek emergency contraception to help prevent pregnancy. You may also consider going for STI testing.

  9. Tie off the used condom and throw it away in the garbage (not the toilet), and use a new one for each act of intercourse.

  10. We recommend having ECP available (i.e., Plan B) on hand in case the condom breaks, leaks or slips off and you have no other back up contraception in place.

Health Canada has issued the following recommendations regarding the use of the spermicide nonoxynol-9 (N-9):
  • The benefit of any N-9 lubricated condom probably outweighs the risk of using no condom at all. However, the best STD and HIV barrier is a latex condom without N-9.
  • Condoms lubricated with N-9 should not be used for anal intercourse.
  • Those using N-9 lubricated condoms should be provided with information about the potential for irritation of the vaginal and cervical mucosa, which may in turn increase the risk of HIV.
  • The adverse affects of using N-9 may not apply to women who use N-9 less frequently and therefore the risks and benefits of using N-9 should be evaluated on an individual basis.
Revised March 2009

TIP: water based lubricants can increase sensation and decrease risk of breakage