mural-44A male or external condom is a covering that fits over an erect penis, almost like a second skin. A female, or internal condom, is a soft, loose-fitting nitrile pouch that is inserted into the vagina before intercourse.

Both prevent pregnancy and STIs when used vaginally and can also be used for anal sex to provide protection against STIs. In actual use, male/external condoms are 82% effective – an average of 18 people out of 100 get pregnant when using condoms as their only form of protection for a year. Female/internal condoms are slightly less effective – 79% in actual use. On average 21 out of 100 people get pregnant when using them for a year.

Condoms need to be used every time and from the very beginning of intercourse to most effectively prevent pregnancy. If you are only using condoms sometimes or on certain days of your cycle or if you start having intercourse and then put on a condom before ejaculation then you will  be at higher risk of pregnancy. Condoms can also be used in combination with other contraceptive methods – such as the birth control pill, patch, ring or shot, or an IUD – to provide stronger protection against pregnancy.

If you need strong protection or if you or your partner is not willing to use condoms every time you have sex then condoms on their own may not be the right choice for you.

Condoms protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and HIV. Other contraceptive methods do not prevent STIs.

Are condoms all you need?

Although on their own condoms have a relatively high failure rate, condoms are an excellent method to use in combination with something else. To see how effective condoms are when combined with another method, please see here.

For example:

  • Birth Control Pill, Patch, Ring or Shot: Because the pill, patch, and ring have room for human error, eight people out of 100 will get pregnant while using them for a year. Using these methods with condoms makes them extremely effective at preventing pregnancy. Condoms will also reduce the small risk of pregnancy with the Depo Shot.
  • IUDS: IUDs are small devices a doctor implants into the uterus, and are extremely effective methods of birth control (over 99% in actual use). Condoms used with an IUD lower the chances of getting pregnant even further. Copper IUDs are also the most effective emergency birth control. See the section on “If a condom breaks or slips off” for more information.
  • Withdrawal or “the Pull-Out Method”: this involves withdrawing the penis and ejaculating away from the vagina. This method has a relatively high failure rate on its own – it is only 73% effective in actual use, meaning that 27 people out of 100 will get pregnant while using it for a year. However, using this with a condom (ejaculating into a condom away from the vagina or pulling out after using an internal condom) makes condom use more effective.
  • Spermicides: Spermicides can be used to make condoms more effective. Applying a spermicidal foam, film, gel or sponge close to the cervix (the opening of the uterus at the top of the vagina) before intercourse is more effective than having spermicide on the actual condom. Always check the expiry on the package and read the instructions. Please note: there are currently no spermicides approved by Health Canada.
  • Fertility Awareness Method: the Rhythm method (counting safe days and using condoms on the “unsafe” days) has a relatively high failure rate, because you can ovulate (release an egg) at different times each month. Fertility Awareness Method – which in addition to counting days also includes checking ones cervical mucous and body temperature every day to determine when ovulation is occurring – can provide more protection. The most effective way to use this method is with condoms during “safer” times (when you are less likely to be fertile) and having no sex during less safe times (when you are more likely to be fertile).
  • Plan B/Emergency Pills: Plan B is the most common form of emergency contraceptive pill (sometimes called the “morning after pill”) available in Canada at pharmacies without a prescription. It is about 50% effective overall. Ella, which is slightly more effective at 60% is also available by prescription. See the section on “If a condom breaks or slips off” for more information.

What kind of condoms should you use?

  • All brands of condoms are quality tested in Canada, so will be of high quality. However, sometimes condoms are novelty or joke items. Always look to see if the package says the condom will protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
  • Male/external condoms are available in different sizes. Regular sized condoms will fit most people, but if condoms are breaking or slipping off regularly then you may need larger or smaller sized condoms. Sometimes this problem can be solved with more lubrication (see the section about “using a male/external condom” for more information).
  • Most condoms are made of latex. Some people have latex allergies or sensitivities, so there are condoms made with different materials that you can try. The most common latex alternative is polyurethane (all female/internal condoms are made from polyurethane and some male/external ones are too). There are also some condoms made from animal skin – however, these only protect against pregnancy and not against STIs.
  • Male condoms are the most commonly used. However, with female or internal condoms, women can have more control over condom use. They can even sometimes be used without a partner knowing, if negotiating condom use is difficult. They are also less likely to break and transfer heat better which for some people can increase sensation. However, they are slightly less effective, more expensive and can also sometimes make noise during intercourse.

Before using a condom

  • Get familiar with condoms ahead of time. It is best if the first time you see, touch or use a condom is before rather than during sex. Take a condom out of its package, get used to it, try putting it on yourself or on a vegetable or fruit. The more comfortable you are with condoms, the better chance you will be able to use them successfully.
  • Condoms are most effective when both partners are familiar with them and how they are used.
  • Communicate with your partner about birth control and condoms before, during and after sex. It is best to make sure you are on the same page about condom use and the amount of risk you are comfortable with ahead of time. It is also important that both of you know that a condom is being used and if it has broken or slipped off so that you can take extra precautions if needed (see the section on about if a condom breaks or slips off).
  • Store condoms somewhere cool and dry. Heat and sunlight can damage condoms.
  • Always check the expiry date before using a condom. If the expiry date has passed do not use the condom.
  • “Pillow test” the condom – before opening it, fold and squeeze the package together into a U-shape. If air escapes and the package goes flat rather than pillowy when folded, then do not use it as there may be tears in the package.
  • Open the package down the jagged edge and remove it gently. Using teeth or long nails can tear a condom.
  • Look at the condom to make sure there is no discolouration or flakiness. If there is, throw it away.
  • Think about whether you would like to use another form of birth control along with condoms – for more information on this, please see our website at ca
  • Consider whether you would prefer to use male/external condoms (which this handout focuses on), or female/internal ones. Female/internal condoms go inside the vagina (or can be used anally as well) rather than on the penis.  If you want more information about the female/internal condom, see our website at ca

Using a male/external condom

        • Use water-based lubricant (lube) to help condoms feel better and be less likely to break or slip off. Start with a lubricated condom and add more to the outside of the condom as well as a few drops in the tip before it is rolled on.
        • Do not get oil-based products (ex. hand lotion, Vaseline, and lipstick or lip balm) on a condom or it may break.
        • Put the condom onto the tip of the penis with the rolled up rim facing outward. If you put the condom on the wrong way, it will not roll down. If this happens, discard it because there might already be fluid on it (preejaculate or precum) that can get someone pregnant or give them an STI.
        • Pinch the tip so that there is no air inside and room for the ejaculate (semen).
        • Roll the condom down to the base of the penis.
        • Spermicides can make condoms more effective at preventing pregnancy. Applying a spermicidal foam, film, gel or sponge close to the cervix (the opening of the uterus at the top of the vagina) is more effective than having spermicide on the actual condom. Always check the expiry date, read the instructions, and follow them closely.
        • It can be good to check the condom during sex to make sure it is not breaking or slipping off.
          This can be done regularly throughout intercourse, when shifting positions and/or if the sensation changes (i.e. you start having more or less feeling, the condom feels pulled tight or so on). 

Removing and discarding a male/external condom

          • Withdraw the penis while it is still hard so there is less chance of fluids leaking and move away from the vagina before taking the condom off.
          • Hold the condom while slowly pulling it off bit by bit, keeping the semen inside. Do not pull from the tip.
          • Check the condom to see if it is broken. Observe whether fluids are leaking out or if it has any obvious tears.
          • Throw the condom away in the garbage. Do not flush it down the toilet.

Using a female/internal condom

            • Insert the condom before intercourse begins – it can be inserted up to 6 hours before, but most people insert it between 2 to 20 minutes before.
            • Squeeze the loose inner ring together and insert the closed end of the condom high in the vagina.
            • The outside ring of the condom then lies against the outer lips of the vagina, providing additional protection against STIs.
            • Hold the outside ring when the penis is first inserted to ensure it goes inside the condom (not along the side) and to prevent the condom from being pushed into the vagina.
            • If the condom makes noise during sex try changing positions or adding lubricant inside the condom.

Removing and discarding a female/internal condom

            • After intercourse is finished and before standing up, squeeze and twist the outer ring to keep fluids inside and pull the condom out gently. Be careful not to spill semen near the vagina when you are removing the condom.
            • Throw the condom away in the garbage. Do not flush it down the toilet.

If a condom breaks or slips off

        • Discard condom (see above). Use a new condom if you are going to continue having intercourse.
        • Emergency Pills: Back up with an emergency pill like Plan B or Ella. Plan B and other progestin emergency pills are available at pharmacies without a prescription and you can buy it in advance to have at home. It is approximately 50% effective overall and can be taken up to 5 days after sex, but the sooner you take it the more likely it is to work. Ella is available by prescription. It is more effective overall (approximately 60%) and does not lose effectiveness as quickly over time. They cost $20-$40.
        • Copper IUD: : a Copper IUD is the most effective form of emergency birth control – it is over 99% effective at preventing a pregnancy if inserted any time within 7 days after unprotected sex. If you leave the IUD in, it will continue to provide very effective (over 99%) protection. If you do not like it or want to get pregnant, you can have it taken out any time after your next period.
        • Reassess: if a condom breaks or slips off, it can be a good time to think about whether you want to do something differently with regards to birth control. Is there something you could do to make condoms work better for you? Do you need a more effective method of contraception or something to use in combination with condoms

Questions? For more information about birth control you can make an appointment by calling us at 604-322-6692, you can email us or you contact Sex Sense through email or at 1-800-739-7367.

Updated April 2019