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The external condom (male condom) 

MSI UK nurse with condoms in hand.

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The external condom (male condom) 

The external condom (also called the male condom) is a very thin rubber or plastic sheath that goes over the penis. It only needs to be used when you have sex. Condoms are the only contraceptive method which protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

The condom works by acting as a barrier to stop sperm from travelling through the vagina to the uterus (womb) during sex, and preventing the sperm and egg from meeting. 

The external condom

Would you like to find out everything you need to know about the external condom? We’ve created this short explainer video, filled with information about the condom including: 

– What it is 
– How to use it 
– How effective it is in protecting against pregnancy 
– Advantages 
– Disadvantages 

Nurse showing client external condoms

Effectiveness of the external condom  

The external condom works reasonably well at preventing pregnancy, but its ability to stop a pregnancy largely depends on it being used properly every time you have sex. This means it must be worn from the start to the finish of the sex act, and a new one must be used for every sex act. 
Perfect use: 98% effective. This means that 2 in 100 people whose partners use a condom will get pregnant in a year. 
Typical use: around 82% effective. This means around 18 in 100 people will get pregnant in a year. 

Never use any oil-based lubricant with a condom as it will make it more likely to break during sex (silicone or water-based lube is fine). 

How do I use an external condom? 

Check that the condom has not gone past its expiry date or been damaged 

  1. Carefully tear open the foil packaging (don’t use your teeth), making sure not to rip the condom inside. 
  2. Before any contact is made between the penis and the vagina place the condom at the head of the erect penis. 
  3. Squeeze the tip of the condom between your thumb and forefinger to prevent air being trapped and unroll the condom all the way to the base of the erect penis. 
  4. After ejaculation, withdraw the penis from the vagina while it is still erect, holding the condom firmly in place at the base of the penis. 
  5. Slide the condom off the penis, taking care not to spill any semen or to allow the penis to come into contact with the vagina. 
  6. Although it is unlikely to happen, it is always good practice to check that the condom did not break during sex. Dispose of the used condom hygienically – tie the top so that nothing spills out and throw it in a rubbish bin (not in the toilet as it may cause a blockage). 

The only contraceptive method that protects against STIs  

Condoms (external and internal) are the only contraceptive method which protect against sexually transmitted infections. To ensure protection from both pregnancy and infection, we recommend “dual protection”. This means using a condom in addition to the contraceptive method of your choice to prevent pregnancy. 

Advantages and disadvantages of the external condom 

It can be used at any time. 

You only need to use condoms when you have sex. 

External condoms can be used for any sexual activity (oral, anal and vaginal) and they help to protect against most sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. 

External condoms come in a variety of shapes, sizes and textures, including latex free options. 

Condoms do not have any side effects and will not affect monthly bleeding patterns. 

Condoms can be used straight after childbirth, abortion or miscarriage. 

Condoms have to be used correctly every single time you have sex to be effective. 

If the condom breaks, tears, falls off or gets pushed into the vagina during sex, then you may need to go to a doctor or pharmacy to use emergency contraception as soon as possible to prevent pregnancy (and you may be at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection). 

Condoms will create a different sexual sensation than sex without a condom. 

In the UK, you can get condoms for free from sexual health clinics, some GP surgeries and some young people’s services. 

You can buy condoms from pharmacies, supermarkets, some websites, vending machines in some public toilets and some petrol stations. 

At MSI UK, we primarily offer contraception services as part of your abortion care. We also offer contraception services in some parts of England for people who have not accessed our abortion services. From these clinics, people can access LARC (Long-Acting Reversible Contraception, such as the coils, the implant and the injection) with us without having had an abortion. 

Follow the link to find out more: MSI UK Contraception Clinics   

Learn more about contraception 

Visit the pages below to learn more about different methods of contraception (short-acting and long-acting), and to find a useful comparison tool to help you find a contraceptive method that is right for you. 

MSI Reproductive Choices UK 20230612_0764

Which method is right for me?  

Find a contraception comparison tool that can help you find the right method for you.   

MSI Reproductive Choices UK 20230605_0517

Short-acting contraception  

Short-acting methods include the contraceptive pill, patch and ring.

MSI Reproductive Choices UK 20230605_0792

Long-acting contraception  

Long-acting contraceptive methods include the coils, the injection and the implant.