The Freddie Guide to: Condoms

5 min read
Freddie Team

How do you use condoms? Read Freddie's guide to condoms for HIV and STI prevention.

What are condoms?

Condoms are thin, tube-shaped pieces of latex or other synthetic materials. These make a barrier between people’s genitals during sex. This stops bodily fluids or infections transferring from one person to another. Condoms help prevent pregnancy, HIV and most STIs.

Condoms either go over the penis (external condoms) or inside the front hole/vagina or back hole/rectum (internal condoms). External condoms are often called “male condoms” and internal condoms are often called “female condoms”. External ones are a lot more common. 

You can use condoms on a penis someone was born with or one made through phalloplasty. You can also put them on sex toys, if you’re sharing them.

You can use external condoms for oral, anal or vaginal sex. Condoms protect against HIV and STIs, whether you’re the insertive partner (top) or receptive one (bottom).

How effective are condoms?

Condoms are a highly effective way to prevent HIV when used correctly. Studies estimate that external condoms fail (i.e. they break, slip or leak) between 0.4% and 6.5% of the time. 

When used correctly, condoms can also prevent bacterial STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Condoms do not prevent STIs that can be passed through skin-to-skin contact. For example, if someone has genital warts or sores from syphilis, MPOX or herpes (oral or genital). 

Condom types

Condoms are usually made of latex, but can also be made of polyurethane and polyisoprene. These are useful if you or your partner are allergic to latex. Avoid lambskin condoms - these have small holes in them, so they don’t prevent STIs and HIV.

Condoms come in all different sizes. They even come in flavours, but these should be used for oral sex only. This is because the flavour ingredients can cause irritation or infections if used for vaginal or anal sex.

Condom sizes

When it comes to condom sizes, girth (in other words, the thickness of a penis) is more important than length. This is because the girth of a penis is what keeps the condom in place. You can measure girth with a flexible tape measure or a piece of string. You can wrap the string around the penis and then measure this against a tape measure.

Condoms generally come in four size categories. These can vary depending on the brand. They are:

  • Snug – 4.7 inch girth and under
  • Standard – 4.7 to 5.1 inch girth
  • Large – 5.1 to 6 inch girth
  • Extra large – 6 inch girth and above

If you or your partner are wearing an external condom, it should fit snugly and not move during sex. If it’s too tight or painful then try a bigger size. If a condom doesn’t cover the whole penis or it breaks during sex these can be signs it’s too small.

If the condom is too loose then you can try a smaller one. Signs that a condom is too large can be if it falls off or moves around during sex, or if it’s hanging loose off the end of a penis. 

Regular external condoms won’t fit someone who has had a metoidioplasty, but if you are able to penetrate your partner then you can try using finger cots. These are like latex gloves but for individual fingers, and they can help prevent STIs.

Where to buy condoms

You can buy condoms at pharmacies, convenience stores, sex shops and some supermarkets. However, most sexual health clinics, student health services, 2SLGBTQ+ health services and community health centres will provide free ones. Some organizations will also send free condoms in the post, depending on your location. 

How to use a condom

First, check the expiry date on the condom packet. Yes, condoms expire! If they are stored correctly, they can have a lifespan of up to five years. 

Make sure the condom is intact with no rips or tears. The packet should not leak air or fluids. Open it with your hands, not teeth – this helps avoid damaging the condom itself.

Next, make sure the unrolled condom is the right way up. Then pinch the tip with one hand to squeeze out any air and then, at the same time, roll the ring all the way down the shaft with your other hand.

To take a condom off a penis, the wearer should first move away from their partner’s body and then remove it while they’re still hard. This helps avoid any fluid spilling out, if the person produces sperm.

Don’t reuse condoms. If it breaks, falls off or you want to go again, just grab a new one! It helps to keep a few around.

Condom tips

Condoms are only effective when they are used properly. There’s a few things to keep in mind to ensure they work as an STI prevention tool.

Store condoms properly.

Condoms can be damaged by extreme temperature, so store them in a cool, dry place. Keep them away from direct sunlight or hot places like your car glove compartment. Don’t store them in your wallet or back pocket for long amounts of time, as this can also damage them.

Do not use oil-based lube with condoms

This includes lube alternatives like coconut oil and baby oil. Oil-based lube makes condoms degrade, which can make them ineffective and raises the risk of STIs.

Do not use lambskin condoms.

These are made from animal material. They are an alternative for people with latex allergies but while they prevent pregnancy, they do not prevent STIs and HIV.

New hole, new condom.

You should use a new condom every time you change between partners or change between vaginal (front) and anal sex. 

This also applies to toys that go inside you. If you are swapping between partners or between vaginal and anal use (even on yourself), you should use condoms on your toys and replace them. This is because bacteria can be carried on the outside of condoms that could cause infections.

Negotiating condom use

It’s a good idea to discuss condoms before you have sex with someone. This can make it easier to set any boundaries you may have. 

Many hookup apps give options for you to put your safety practices (like PrEP, HIV treatment or condoms) in your profile. If someone doesn’t have their safety preferences on a profile, then just ask! 

If someone doesn’t respond positively to your choice of safer sex tools, then they’re not worth your time. Great sex is about more than just pleasure - it’s also about respect. That means respect for any boundaries you both have.

Condoms and consent

If you consented to sex with a condom, that means you did not consent to sex without a condom. If someone asks you to have condomless sex and you don’t want to, then you can say no.

Consent should be freely given - if someone pressures you into not using a condom and you say yes, then that is not consent. 

If someone forces or coerces you into condomless sex, or if they remove a condom without telling you, then that is assault. It’s a crime. If this has happened to you and you would like support, then you can reach out to a local sexual assault support service. There are some that provide support specifically to 2SLGBTQ+ people.

You do not have to report an incident to the police, but you can if you feel safe or comfortable doing this.

Your sexual health toolkit

Condoms are one of many ways to prevent HIV and STIs. Think of them as one item in a broad sexual health toolkit.

Some people may use methods like PrEP, HIV treatment and DoxyPEP instead of condoms. Others may use these along with condoms. All are valid and effective ways to take control of your sexual health!

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