What is a condom?

A condom is a thin, loose-fitting pouch or sheath that protects against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or infections (STIs). As a barrier method of birth control (contraception), condoms prevent pregnancy by keeping a male’s sperm from reaching a female’s eggs. You can buy condoms over the counter at pharmacies, grocery stores and general merchandise stores.

How do condoms work?

Condoms serve as barriers between bodies. They prevent pregnancy by catching ejaculate (semen) so sperm can’t enter a partner’s uterus. Condoms lower STD risk by stopping or greatly reducing people’s exchange of bodily fluids.

How effective are condoms?

When used consistently and correctly, condoms are highly effective at preventing STDs, including herpes simplex virus (HSV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

In any given year, approximately 15 out of every 100 people who rely on condoms as their only birth control get pregnant. Condoms can tear, leak or slip off. You can increase a condom’s effectiveness by pairing it with another form of birth control. Options include spermicide (foam or jelly that disables sperm), the pill (oral contraceptives) or a diaphragm.

What are the types of condoms?

There are different types of condoms. You should only use one type of condom at a time during intercourse. Using more than one condom creates friction, increasing the odds of a rip or tear. Condom types include:

  • Regular (male): These condoms go over the penis to collect ejaculation fluids.
  • Internal (female): An internal condom goes inside the vagina to keep sperm from entering the uterus. A soft, flexible ring attached to the condom stays outside the vagina for easy removal. Internal condoms may not be as effective as regular (male) condoms in preventing STDs.
  • Dental dams: These thin latex or polyurethane sheets serve as a barrier between a person’s mouth and a partner’s genitals or anus during oral sex. Dental dams reduce your risk of STDs such as oropharyngeal human papillomavirus (HPV).

What are condoms made of?

You may hear people refer to condoms as rubbers. That’s because most regular (male) condoms are made from latex, a type of rubber. Some people have a latex allergy that causes skin rashes[jM3] , itching and other problems. Don’t use latex condoms if you or your partner have a latex allergy. Instead try:

  • Internal (female) condoms, which are made from a synthetic, nonlatex material called nitrile.
  • Regular (male) condoms made from polyurethane (a type of plastic).
  • Regular (male condoms) made from natural materials like lambskin. Natural condoms prevent pregnancy, but they don’t protect against all types of STDs.

What’s the difference between lubricated and nonlubricated condoms?

Lubricated condoms have a substance (lube) that helps reduce friction during sex. Friction can increase the risk of a torn or ripped condom. Some condoms are coated with spermicide, a substance that slows down sperm so it can’t reach a female’s egg. Nonlubricated condoms — as the name suggests — are not lubricated.

You can use an over-the-counter lubricant with any condom. With latex condoms, use water-based lubricants — not oil-based lube. Oil weakens latex rubber, increasing the risk of a tear, break or leak.

What are the benefits of using condoms?

For sexually active people, condoms are the only way to protect against STDs. They can also prevent pregnancy.

What are the risks of using condoms?

Condoms can break, tear or slip off, exposing you to another person’s bodily fluids. If this happens, you have a higher risk of an STD or unwanted pregnancy. Other potential problems include:

What should I do if a condom breaks?

Women concerned about pregnancy can use over-the-counter emergency contraception, sometimes referred to as Plan B® or the morning-after pill. Your healthcare provider can prescribe an even stronger pill or insert a copper intrauterine device (IUD) to stop conception.

When used within 72 hours of intercourse, emergency contraception is up to 89% effective at preventing pregnancy. You should also talk to your provider about STD and HIV testing.

When should I call the doctor?

You should call your healthcare provider if you need emergency contraception or STD testing or you show signs of:

  • STD.
  • Urinary tract infection.
  • Latex allergy.
  • Pregnancy.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

If you’re sexually active, using a condom correctly and consistently is the only way to ensure you don’t get or transmit an STD. Condoms can also prevent pregnancy when used correctly and consistently. Unfortunately, condoms aren’t foolproof. They can rip, tear, leak or slip off. If this happens, talk to your healthcare provider about emergency contraception options and STD testing. Condoms come in many different types, styles, textures and sizes. You and your partner may need to try different ones before finding the condoms that work best for you both.

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