Rubbster! Condoms for sexual health FAQs

PrEP, TasP and condoms all prevent HIV.
Here’s everything you need to know about using condoms for sexual healh.


How do condoms work?

Condoms provide a physical barrier, stopping semen and other body fluids being transferred between partners. As well as preventing HIV transmission, condoms also stop several other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) being passed on and prevent unwanted pregnancy.

What advantages do condoms have?

Condoms are cheap and readily available. They don’t require you to see a doctor or to take medication on an on-going basis. They make sense for people who don’t have sex frequently or who only need protection from time to time. They are a simple and practical way to protect both/all partners from a range of sexual health problems.

How effective are condoms against HIV?

HIV cannot pass through an intact condom. So, if a condom is used correctly from the beginning of intercourse to the end and does not break, it will prevent HIV from being passed on. However, people who plan to use condoms may not do so every time they have sex. Also condoms are sometimes used in the wrong way, causing them to break or come off. Studies show that the ‘real world’ effectiveness of condoms is lower than 100%. There’s more information on this in Aidsmap’s factsheet.


How effective are condoms against STIs?

An important advantage of condoms is that they protect against many sexually transmitted infections (STIs), not just HIV. STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea can be passed on through body fluids – in these cases, condoms provide a high level of protection. Some other STIs like herpes and genital warts are passed on through skin-to-skin contact – in these cases, the protection is less complete. There’s more information on this here.

What can be done to make condoms more comfortable?

Penises come in different shapes and sizes, and so do condoms. A condom that is the wrong size is more likely to be uncomfortable, to come off or to break. People with an allergy or sensitivity to latex (which most condoms are made from) may prefer a polyurethane or polyisoprene condom. They are also thinner and better able to transmit heat, making sex feel more natural. If there’s friction or discomfort during sex, use a lube (lubricant).

What lubricants should be used?

Latex condoms should be used with a water-based, or preferably silicone-based lube (lubricant). Oil-based lubricants such as body lotions, massage oils, or Vaseline, will weaken the latex and can cause the condom to break. You can get lube from the same places as condoms.


Why is it important to use a lubricant?

If things are too dry during vaginal or anal sex, it can be uncomfortable and there’s a greater risk of the condom splitting. The vagina/front-hole usually lubricates itself when sexually aroused; additional lubricant might not be needed unless the vagina/front-hole feels dry. Lubricant should always be used for anal sex. While condoms come pre-lubricated, this is not enough for anal sex and may not be for vaginal/front-hole sex.

What are Femidoms or  ‘female’ condoms?

As well as condoms that go on a penis, the Femidom or ‘female’ condom is also available. It is made from polyurethane (not latex) and is put in the vagina/front-hole. There’s more information here. It can also be used during anal sex.

Where can you get hold of condoms?

HIV, sexual health and contraception clinics provide free condoms. Condoms and lube are commonly sold in shops, but Femidoms aren’t as widely available. Specialised online retailers are good places to find condoms in a range of materials and sizes, as well as different lubricants. The Freedoms Shop is a good online retailer run by the NHS.

What’s the right way to put on a condom?

Putting a condom on the right way makes it more likely that it will stay in place and work properly. Click here for full instructions.

What’s the right way to put a Femidom on?

Femidoms work in a different way and have their own instructions. Read them here.

Do people taking PrEP need to use condoms as well?

Although people taking PrEP are usually advised to try to use condoms as well, the reality is that many people use PrEP without condoms. Especially for people who don’t like condoms or find them hard to use, PrEP is a really effective way to protect against HIV. If you want more protection, combining condoms and PrEP will be even safer. Perhaps most importantly, condoms will also protect against STIs, which PrEP can’t do.