Or your most vivid memory is sniggering while you rolled one onto a banana at school...
They can work very well, but you need to know what you're doing - a bit like fertility awareness.
Here's some tips:
“I can’t come in a condom”
That sounds like a lame excuse, but it can be a real thing. So:
- Practice! You don’t have to have actual penis in vagina sex until you are confident that the condom stays on and you know what you’re doing. Masturbation is still sex… Read the instructions, remember to pinch the top, roll it down the right way, and…
- Get the right size – ill-fitting condoms can double the chance of losing an erection and…
2. Hold on
"Where did it go??"
Lingering after ejaculation might be tempting, but the penis goes soft, which means the condom can drop off. So:
- Hold on to the base after you’ve come and keep holding on while you slide yourself out. It might not feel like the most romantic finale, but it’s more satisfying than panicked extraction of condom from vagina and all that follows. Also...
- Get the right size – the wrong size condom can fall off in the middle of sex.
3. Avoid breakages
“How do I avoid it breaking?”
Condoms can break if they are the wrong size, or past the use by date, or stored incorrectly. Or you just expected too much of it… So:
- Get the right size (it's worth repeating some things). One size does not fit all. Most suppliers will send you samples. They even have charts so you can work out which is the best option for your particular width, length, tip…
- Refresh. It’s fine to take off one condom and put on a fresh one if you’re having an extended session. They are not invincible.
- Stay slippy. Use a small amount of proper lube. Too much lube can make them slip off and the wrong kind of lube (body lotion or oil) can break them. Don't use spit - it isn't slippy enough, and dries too quickly.
“They’re so expensive”
I know - how come pills are free and condoms aren’t once you’re 25 or over? But hey, we are where we are, so:
- If you are under 25 and you live in the UK (but not Northern Ireland) you can get condoms for free using the c card scheme. Google your borough name and “c card” to find your local supplier.
- Buy online. The Freedoms Shop is good supplier. There are others. You can just go to your local chemist or supermarket but the best deals are usually online.
5. Avoid allergies
“They used to be fine…”
You or your partner might be allergic to the latex in condoms, or you might become “sensitised”. That means you are fine for ages but then things become sensitive. Allergies are not always an instant thing. So:
- Get latex-free condoms – your supplier will provide them.
- Try lambskin condoms - both latex-free and biodegradable. Avoid these if you are at risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection. Lambskin condoms are more porous than normal ones, which means you’re protected against pregnancy but not infections (fun fact).
6. Consider an internal option
“Isn’t there something else?”
There are other barrier methods available, including the diaphragm, and the cap. These fit over your cervix, inside your vagina. Neither is quite as effective as condoms for avoiding pregnancy, and neither protects you from infection. And they both have to be left in for 6 hours after sex, and used with a big squirt of spermicide, which seems a bit grim to me, but might not be a big deal for you.
Another internal option for condom confidence is...
- The female condom. Also known as the internal condom. For these, one size really does fit all, which makes things simpler. And there is less pressure about timing when you put it in and take it out. Of course there are even more options for your fertile days, but that’s enough for now.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Something else that can help with condom confidence is working out what you would do if you had an unplanned pregnancy. This can happen with all contraception but the chances are slightly higher with condoms. So:
- Have that conversation with yourself, and ideally your partner. The one about what you would do if you had an unplanned pregnancy. Maybe you don’t want to decide now. That’s fine. You can decide to be undecided. You know the other options. If you decide you would like a baby then you might find that the condom does not always get out of the packet. If you are thinking about an abortion then this NHS link could be helpful.
8. Have back-up
“Oh no. It split/fell off/didn’t make it out of the packet…”
Loads of people use condoms successfully. You could be among them. But it’s good to be prepared. One of the advantages of condoms is that you usually know right away if it hasn’t worked – which is way better than discovering months later that the injection or pill or whatever method you were using wasn’t working quite as well as you thought.
You might be on this website because you are reluctant to take hormones. I’d argue that hormonal emergency contraception is different to taking the pill year after year. So:
- Know about emergency contraception. You could even keep some hormonal emergency contraception in stock so you can take it as soon as possible. You can buy it over the counter from a pharmacy. Or you can contact your doctor or the NHS non-emergency number (111) to get a free prescription. The quicker you take it the better it works. Within 12 hours is best for hormonal emergency contraception but you can take it up to 5 days after having sex. You can also have an IUD fitted as emergency contraception.