Why condoms are important

Condoms help protect against a range of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) , including Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea and HIV.

When used for vaginal sex, condoms prevent pregnancy by stopping the man’s semen (containing sperm) from entering the woman’s body. For oral sex on a man condoms avoid getting semen or vaginal secretions in the mouth, particularly if you have any cuts and sores (eg ulcers and cold sores) as this may increase the risk of infection.

Condoms are the only form of contraception to offer protection against both STIs and unplanned pregnancy.

Condoms are easy to use if the instructions are followed correctly – they are more likely to break or come off if put on incorrectly.

Condom facts

  1. condoms are the most popular method of contraception in the UK
  2. condoms come in different shapes and sizes
  3. condoms should have the British Kitemark or the CE mark, meaning they have been British standard tested
  4. condoms are marked with a ‘best before date’ – throw them away after this date
  5. used correctly and consistently, condoms are up to 98% effective
  6. condoms are very strong but fingernails, zips, teeth and jewellery including rings and piercings, can damage them
  7. condoms should never be used more than once!
  8. if people have anal sex and then vaginal sex or vice versa, they should change the condom in between
  9. condoms may also be used for oral sex as STIs can be transmitted this way too
  10. most condoms have a slippery coating (lubricant) to help make sex comfortable and feel natural

Flavoured condoms are recommended for oral sex, although they can be used for vaginal sex as long as they have a kitemark or CE mark. Some people find flavoured condoms cause irritation due to the flavouring ingredients. In this case, it may be advisable to stop using them and to seek medical advice.

You may also want to use extra water based lubricant. It is especially important to use extra lubricant for anal sex because the anus is not self- lubricating like the vagina. Slippery sex means safer sex, as there is less friction and the condom is less likely to break.

Always use water-based lubricant with Latex condoms. Anything oil based can damage condoms (such as baby oil. massage lotion, butter!) and should not be used with condoms. You will be given a sachet of lubricant when you are given free condoms with a C-Card.

Female condom (femidom) 

A female condom is inserted into the vagina by the woman before sex takes place.

Carrying and storing condoms

Be prepared and carry condoms wherever you go. Condoms can be carried easily and discreetly in pockets, bags, wallets and purses. It is a good idea to keep them handy. Carrying condoms shows a willingness to practice safer sex and shows respect for a partner’s health.

Condoms should be stored in a cool, dry place, as heat and sunlight can damage them. If you keep them in pockets or wallets, check and change them regularly to ensure they do not get too warm and start to disintegrate.

If a condom breaks…

If the condom breaks or comes off during sex, put a new one on before continuing.

If the condom breaks and you are concerned about an unwanted pregnancy, emergency contraception is an option. This can be taken up to 72 hours (three days) after unprotected sex, but it is more effective in preventing pregnancy the sooner it is taken.

You can obtain free emergency contraception from a SHAC clinic or click here for a list of where you can obtain FREE Emergency Contraception if you are under 25 years from a pharmacy

You may also want to get a sexual health check up if you are concerned about STIs.

Latex allergies

Most condoms are made out of latex (rubber). The alternative to using a latex condom is to use one made out of polyurethane (plastic). You can obtain latex free condoms with a C-Card for free, if you are allergic to latex.

The female condom or femidom is another option, as this too, is made out of plastic and can be obtained free with a C-Card 

How to discuss condoms…

  1. check out what your partner thinks about using condoms before you actually come to have sex
  2. be prepared – don’t always rely on your partner to have condoms, carry your own and keep a supply handy
  3. be confident – take the lead and explain why it is important to you to use a condom
  4. be confident using condoms – practice putting one on when you are on your own (or girls on a cucumber or banana!), practice makes perfect!
  5. be assertive – you know what’s best for your body so say exactly how you feel. If your partner won’t use a condom, say you won’t have sex without one. And remember you can still have plenty of fun without having sex (kissing, touching, masturbating) as long as genital fluids haven’t been exchange, then it’s safe!
  6. be safe – always put condoms on well before you start to have sex or touch your partner’s genitals. Some semen comes out of the penis before he ‘comes’ or ejaculates, which can be enough to cause pregnancy or transmit an STI
  7. be practical – don’t leave talking about condoms until the last minute, talk about them before you get carried away
  8. be honest – say if you find the subject awkward or embarrassing – you are not the only one!! It will help to be honest about it and it might help you and your partner feel more relaxed

Putting a condom on can be fun, erotic and sexy! Condoms don’t have to get in the way of the passion – make them part of the intimacy and fun of foreplay. Try coloured, flavoured and ribbed condoms – they could provide extra fun (just make sure they have a kitemark or CE mark on them).

To make using a condom more pleasurable and sensitive for the male partner, you could try ‘gel charging’, this is where a tiny (the size of a pea) amount of lubricant is put on the inside end of the condom before it is put on – though it must be a water based gel or lubricant. Be careful not to put too much lubricant in, as it might make the condom slip off.

Relax and always do what you feel is right. Don’t have sex unless you feel you are ready and want to do it. Please feel free to go along to a SHAC clinic to discuss it with someone.

Where are condoms available?

Condoms are on sale in pharmacies, shops, supermarkets, petrol stations, vending machines in toilets in pubs and from the internet. However, if you have a C-Card you can get them for free from lots of places in Brighton & Hove, click here to find out more about C-Cards

They’re also available free from SHAC clinics and most GPs (Doctors).