Overview of Male Condoms

Torn package of a condom, next to a pile of unopened condoms.

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Male condoms are a thin sheath, usually made of latex rubber, that fit over a man's erect penis during sex. They are considered to be an effective over-the-counter (OTC) barrier method of reversible birth control. Additionally, the use of condoms decreases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Other than a vasectomy, male condoms are the only available method of birth control designed for men. Male condoms are also known as rubbers, prophylactics, safes, protection, and jimmies.

How Condoms Work

Male condoms work as a barrier by collecting semen/sperm before, during, and after ejaculation (i.e., "comes"). This can prevent sperm from coming into contact with the inside of the vagina and from joining a female’s egg. Condoms can also block sexually transmittable disease-causing organisms from coming into contact with a non-infected partner's skin.

Types of Condoms

Trying to pick out a condom can be a fun and exciting experience. But since there are so many types and styles of male condoms, some people find the process of choosing difficult. So, let's break down some of the condom options.

First off, not all male condoms are made the same. Available condoms can be made from:

  • Latex 
  • Polyurethane (plastic)
  • Natural membrane (lambskin)
  • Polyisoprene (non-latex natural rubber)

The materials/chemicals in your condoms could affect your health. It may be good to find out what is in your condoms, but sometimes this can be difficult because condom packages don't readily display this information.

In addition to the material they are made from, male condoms can be:

  • Colored or tinted
  • Transparent or opaque
  • Enhanced with an intensifying lubricant (like LifeStyles Turbo Condoms or Trojan Double Ecstasy Condoms)
  • Dry or powdered
  • Ribbed, studded, or textured (like Sir Richard's Pleasure Dots)
  • Lubricated—with spermicide or without (look to see if the condom contains nonoxynol-9 because there are certain FDA warnings associated with frequent use of this spermicide)
  • Flavored or edible
  • Have "QuickStrips," so they are always put on correctly (Sensis Condoms)
  • Contoured or pleasure shaped
  • Thin (such as Kimono MicroThin Male Condoms and L. Condoms Ultra Thin)
  • Non-lubricated
  • Vegan-friendly
  • Snug or large (like Caution Wear Iron Grip Snugger Fit Condoms or LifeStyles KYNG male condoms)

No matter what type of male condom you choose, it is very important to read the labels. Some novelty condoms may not be intended to protect you against pregnancy or STDs.

Choosing a Condom

All male condoms (besides lambskin condoms) do the same thing—prevent pregnancy and STDs. That being said, there are some things to ask yourself when deciding on condom types:

  • Will male condoms be your main form of birth control and STD prevention?
  • What size condom do you need?
  • Do you understand how to use male condoms?
  • Do you prefer a condom that is more form-fitting or flared; thinner or thicker; or lubricated?

Your answers to these questions will help narrow down your decision about which type of male condom to use.


Condom size does matter. Even though latex condoms are super stretchy, if a condom is too small, you may feel discomfort, and it has the possibility of breaking. Because of this, you may want to figure out your penis size so you can pick out the condom that will fit most securely and comfortably. Navigating condom sizes may be tricky because different condom manufacturers have different standards for categorizing their condoms by size.

Condoms come in various lengths, widths, and thickness, so a man should try different condom brands and styles to find out which fits best. Most packages do not indicate size.

Buying Condoms

You can buy condoms without a prescription. Male condoms are sold at most drugstores or supermarkets as well as in vending machines in some restrooms. You can buy condoms online, or through mail order. You may even be able to get free condoms at family planning clinics, or university medical centers.

One condom will usually cost less than $1. In some states, Medicaid will cover the cost of condoms bought at a clinic or doctor’s office. There are even places that may give condoms away for free.

Some manufacturers have value programs where you can buy a "condom subscription,"—so the more you buy, the less each condom costs.

Specialty condoms (like ones designed to enhance sexual pleasure) as well as polyurethane, polyisoprene, and lambskin condoms tend to be more expensive than regular latex male condoms.


Men and women often say sex is just as pleasurable whether or not they use a condom. Some couples may even include putting on male condoms as part of their foreplay.

Couples also report that it is easier to focus on their sexual pleasure once the worry of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections are gone. Some men may maintain their erection longer when they use condoms. Male condoms are also:

  • Convenient and easy to obtain
  • Inexpensive
  • Do not require a prescription
  • Can be used with other birth control methods
  • Lightweight
  • Disposable
  • Help in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections

Positive Medical Side Effects of Condoms

Besides preventing pregnancy, male condoms can offer additional benefits, including:

  • Preventing sperm from touching the tissues in a woman's vagina. This may lower the chances that her body will produce antibodies against the sperm—one of the causes of infertility.
  • Helping to relieve premature ejaculation and maintain longer erections. Because male condoms compress the outer veins of the penis, they can be helpful for men who have difficulty keeping an erection.


There are also some disadvantages to the use of male condoms, such as:

  • Some men and women feel that the condom dulls sensation.
  • Certain men are unable to maintain an erection after putting on a condom.
  • Some sexual excitement may be lost when sex play is interrupted to put on a condom.
  • Friction caused by condoms may reduce female stimulation—which can make sex less enjoyable or even uncomfortable. Using lubricated condoms may avoid this issue.
  • Some men are self-conscious about using or putting on condoms.
  • Sex may be less enjoyable since a man must withdraw his penis immediately after ejaculation.
  • Male condoms may be uncomfortable to wear. Experimenting with different condom sizes and types can help with this issue.
  • A man may feel pressure to maintain an erection to keep the condom on.
  • A woman cannot feel the warm fluid of the semen entering her body (some women care about this; some do not).
  • Condoms cannot be recycled.
  • Pre-planning is required to have condoms ready in anticipation of having sex.
  • About 4% of women and men are allergic to latex condoms. If this is the case, the couple can use polyurethane condoms.

Storage, Handling, and Use

Pay attention to the expiration date. Condoms deteriorate with age. If properly stored, male condoms will be effective until the expiration date printed on the condom's wrapper.

Condoms should be kept in a cool, dry place and be handled gently. They should not be exposed to heat, light, air, or sunlight for long periods of time. This means that condoms should not be stored in the glove compartment of your car or carried in your wallet or back pocket (unless you are planning on using the condom that day). This is because the friction caused by opening and closing a wallet and from walking may cause tiny holes to develop in the condom. If the condom seems discolored, brittle, or sticky, it may also be more likely to break. So, throw it away and buy a new one.

Other things to be aware of:

  • Don't "double-bag" condoms (using two male condoms or a male condom and female condom at the same time).
  • Only use water-based lubricants intended for use with condoms (like Wet Gelle, KY, Astroglide, etc.) or silicone-based lubricants. Any oil-based or petroleum-based products can make male condoms less safe and effective.

Effectiveness Against Pregnancy

Male condoms are 82% to 98% effective. This means that, with typical use, about 18 out of every 100 women whose partners use condoms for one year will become pregnant. With perfect use, only two will become pregnant.

For condoms to be most effective, they should be put on before the penis comes into contact with or enters the vagina. A male condom must also be carefully removed immediately after ejaculation. Semen should not come into contact with the vagina as the condom is being removed.

The effectiveness of male condoms is compromised when:

  • The condom breaks due to manufacturing defects (which is very rare), or user error.
  • Semen leaks out from a condom during withdrawal.
  • The penis comes into contact with the vagina before the condom is on (the condom is not put on early enough).
  • Condoms used during underwater sex.

Lubricated condoms that have spermicide (sperm-destroying agent) provide additional help in preventing pregnancy. Male condoms can be even more effective if you add additional spermicide to a lubricant, especially in case some semen leaks from the opening of the condom.

STD Protection

Male condoms are one of the only birth control methods that can protect against sexually transmitted infections. They can help reduce the risk of contracting:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Syphilis
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis
  • Chancroid
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

Condoms can also protect against vaginitis caused by trichomoniasis or changes in the pH balance of the vagina that can be triggered by semen. Male condoms offer some protection of HPV/genital warts or herpes—if the condom covers the infected area. Male condoms provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases to both partners during anal and oral sex.

Only latex condoms, non-latex condoms, and polyurethane condoms can effectively prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Condoms made of natural animal membranes (lambskin) may have tiny pores that infectious organisms can pass through, even though sperm cannot.

A Word From Verywell

Using condoms may not be as simple as you first think. Sometimes, it seems male condoms get a bad rap. Some men may complain about using them. But, condoms can be fun, they can be tasty, and they can even glow in the dark!

Even though male condoms have been used for over 12,000 years, a lot of misinformation has still accumulated. The bottom line is that condoms are the only birth control method that offers both pregnancy and STD protection. They are easy to use and inexpensive to buy.

You can also get creative with male condoms and find sexy ways to bring them into your lovemaking. Just remember, if you want your male condom to be most effective, you need to wear one with that perfect fit. Plus, the more comfortable your male condom is, the more likely you'll use it every time you have sex—which increases your condom's effectiveness even more!

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