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External condoms

External condoms

What are external condoms?

External condoms, sometimes referred to as male condoms, “umbrellas,” “raincoats,” “skins,” or “prophylactics” are coverings or sheaths that are worn over an erect penis to prevent sperm in the condom from getting inside the vagina, anus, or mouth. Considered the best barrier contraceptive, they are one of the most popular methods used to prevent pregnancies and protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Just slip it on an erect penis or over a sex toy before any kind of sexual penetration.

External condoms come in hundreds of shapes and sizes, and you can buy them with lube or without. The most common external condoms are made from latex, but condoms can be made from other materials, including lambskin, nitrile, polyurethane, and polyisoprene.

Some external condoms are coated with spermicide – a chemical that kills sperm. Spermicide-coated condoms are not recommended for oral or anal sex. If you or your partner are sensitive to spermicide, look for spermicide-free condoms.

How do external condoms work?

The external condom prevents pregnancy by creating a barrier that stops sperm from getting inside the vagina. It also prevents infections from the penis, semen, vulva, vagina, or anus from being passed on to a partner.

For the greatest effectiveness, the external condom requires correct usage with every sex act (1).

Types of external condoms

Latex condoms. Latex condoms are made of rubber and can stretch up to 800%. These are the most common condoms. Do not use them with oil-based lubricants as they can cause the condom to break or slip, increasing your risk of pregnancy or STIs.

Nonlatex condoms. If you are allergic to latex or prefer oil-based lube, then look for nonlatex condoms. They are usually made from polyisoprene (synthetic rubber) or polyurethane (plastic). Like the latex condom, they can protect you from both pregnancy and STIs. For these types of condoms, you can use either oil- or water-based lubricants. In general, water-based lubricants are recommended when you’re using condoms and they can enhance sexual pleasure.

Animal-skin condoms. Also known as lambskin condoms, they are made from the lining of animals’ intestines. They are a good alternative for people who are allergic to latex condoms. However, be aware that they help to prevent a pregnancy but cannot protect from STIs. With this type of condom, you can use either water- or oil-based lubricants.

How effective are external condoms?

The effectiveness of an external condom is highly dependent on how you use it. You are at higher risk of pregnancy and/or getting a sexually transmitted infection when you don’t use condoms during every sex act. Condom-related pregnancies are caused by incorrect usage, breakage, or slippage.

As commonly used, 13 out of 100 women using the external condom as a contraceptive method end up pregnant within the first year of usage. This translates to 87% effectiveness with common usage. With perfect usage, only 2 out of 100 women using external condoms as their contraceptive end up pregnant within the first year of usage. This translates to 98% effectiveness when used during every sex act and in the correct way.

When used consistently and correctly during vaginal or anal sex, condoms decrease the risk of becoming infected with STIs. With perfect usage, male condoms are 80–95% effective in reducing HIV transmission that would have occurred if a condom was not used.

Proper use of external condoms reduces the risk of getting infected with both the STIs transmitted through discharge (chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV) and those transmitted through skin-to-skin contact (human papillomavirus and herpes) (2).

What does an external condom look like?

Contraception Quiz

Not sure on the method? - Take our dynamic Contraception Quiz.
When it comes to sex, protection is as important as pleasure. But what should one do to start their safe sex journey? Answer some simple questions and based on the responses, we will recommend the next steps.

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External Condom

Compare with similar Contraceptive Methods

Are you wondering if condoms are better than daily pills? Or if you should opt for a birth control implant? We're here to assist you in making this decision. You can select up to 5 contraceptive methods and compare them side by side to weigh the pros and cons of each.

Give a try to our Contraceptive Tool

In the example below, you'll find similar methods to the one you're currently reading about. Feel free to click on any that catch your interest or revisit our Contraceptive Methods page

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