Condoms are worn during sexual activity to prevent sexually transmissible infections and as a contraceptive method to prevent pregnancy. There are two different kinds of condom available, the external condom and the internal condom. This information brochure is about the external condom. For more information about the internal condom, see SHFPACT’s information brochure about this.
HOW DO EXTERNAL CONDOMS WORK AND WHAT ARE THEY MADE OF?
External condoms are made of thin, strong latex rubber or polyurethane. They are used by being rolled onto the erect penis before vaginal, anal, or oral sex. A condom is a physical barrier that stops body fluids (e.g., semen, vaginal fluids) from passing between sexual partners. A condom can only be used once then needs to be discarded in the bin.
HOW EFFECTIVE ARE EXTERNAL CONDOMS AS A CONTRACEPTION?
As a contraceptive method external condoms are 98% effective with perfect use, and 88% effective with typical use. Perfect use means using a condom correctly every time you have sex and using it the whole time. If not used correctly and consistently, the failure rate will be higher.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF CONDOMS?
- Condoms are the best protection against sexually transmissible infections (STIs).
- They can be used as needed.
- They are easy to get from supermarkets, pharmacies, adult shops, and vending machines.
- They are not too expensive.
- There are no significant medical risks or side effects.
- They can be used in combination with other contraceptive methods, such as the contraceptive pill, to increase that method’s effectiveness.
- They can be used with fertility awareness methods to reduce the risk of pregnancy.
WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF CONDOMS?
- A small number of people are sensitive to latex or lubricant. (Non-latex condoms are available for people with latex allergies, and there are low allergy lubricants available).
- The interruption to sexual activity can be a concern for some people.
- Some people complain of reduced sensitivity during sexual activity.
- They can break or slip off.
- Some people may experience difficulties with erections (this can sometimes be helped by practicing using condoms before any sexual activity with a partner, especially for younger people).
- Those whose erections are less firm may find it a little difficult to use external condoms.
WHY IS LUBRICATION IMPORTANT WHEN USING EXTERNAL CONDOMS?
Lubrication is the wetness that makes penetration more comfortable during intercourse. While most condoms are already lubricated, additional water-based lubrication is a good idea. This will increase comfort and help prevent breakages.
Water-based lubricants are available from pharmacies and supermarkets; several brands are available, so find one that suits. Saliva (spit) is not usually slippery enough to use but may help if nothing else is available.
Oil-based lubricants can weaken latex condoms and increase the risk that the condom will break so should not be used. Oil based lubricants include petroleum jelly (e.g., Vaseline), cooking oil, baby oil, suntan oil, massage oil, hand lotions, or creams.
WHY DO CONDOMS SLIP OR BREAK?
The condom may slip or break if:
- It is not put on correctly.
- There is not enough lubrication during sexual intercourse.
- An oil-based lubricant is used.
- A vaginal thrush treatment that is oil-based is used.
Check with your pharmacist and use a water-based treatment.
- It is torn by fingernails, jewellery, or teeth.
- Sexual intercourse is prolonged or very vigorous.
- The penis loses erection before withdrawal.
- The penis and condom are not held securely when withdrawing.
- The condom is too big or too small for the penis.
- The latex is weakened when past its use-by date or exposed to heat or sunlight.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF A CONDOM SLIPS OR BREAKS?
Emergency contraception can be used to help prevent pregnancy if a condom slips or breaks. It is taken by the partner at risk of becoming pregnant, should be used within 72 hours, and the sooner it is used the better. Emergency contraception can be obtained from Walk-in Centres, SHFPACT, Canberra Sexual Health Centre, and most chemists.
If your sexual partner is a new partner, or a casual partner, you should consider having a sexual health check for sexually transmissible infections. You can do this at SHFPACT, at Canberra Sexual Health Centre or with your GP.
If you feel you might be at risk of exposure to HIV then you may need medication to reduce the risk of becoming infected. This medication is called PEP. PEP needs to be taken within 72 hours of exposure.
If you think you may need PEP please contact Canberra Sexual Health Centre on 02 51242184 or go to your local hospital emergency department if it is after hours. See SHFPACT’s PrEP and PEP information brochure for more information about this.
WHERE ARE CONDOMS AVAILABLE?
External condoms are available from pharmacies, supermarkets, convenience stores, vending machines, adult shops, and online. They come in different shapes, thicknesses, flavours, textures, sizes, and colours. Adult shops can assist with less common sizes if you are having difficulty with fit or comfort wearing a condom.
HOW DO I USE A CONDOM?
Image ID: A illustrations and flow chart of how to use and put on a condom.
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