External Condom

What is an external condom?

An external condom (sometimes referred to as a male condom) is a thin, protective sheath that fits snugly over the penis or sex toy during sex. They come in a variety of styles, so you can try different types and brands to decide which ones you like best.

External condoms are made from:

  • Latex (rubber) - Widely available but some people are allergic to latex
  • Polyisoprene (a plastic) - Has good strength and elasticity
  • Polyurethane (a plastic) - Has less elasticity and a slightly higher breakage rate
  • Lambskin ("natural skin") - Protects against pregnancy but not sexually transmitted infections (STI)

How do they work?

Condoms act as a barrier to:

  • Prevent semen from entering the vagina, and so prevent pregnancy
  • Prevent the exchange of body fluids, and so prevent STI (except lambskin condoms)

How effective are condoms?

18 out of 100 users will become pregnant each year. This is typically due to breakage, slippage, and inconsistent or incomplete use such as not wearing it for the entire encounter. Combining condoms with another method increases effectiveness. 

What are the benefits?


  • Are safe and simple to use
  • Are fairly inexpensive and easy to get -- See Where can I get condoms?
  • Do not require a prescription
  • Protect against STI, except condoms made from lamb skin
  • Can be put on as a part of sex play
  • Are convenient and can be disposed of easily
  • May help a user to stay erect longer

What are the downsides?

  • You have to remember to use a condom every time you have sex.
  • They are not as effective at preventing pregnancy as other methods of birth control.
  • Some people are allergic to latex.
  • You need cooperation from your partners to use condoms.
  • Some people feel that condoms reduce sensation and make sex less pleasurable. Try different condoms to find the most comfortable shape, size and texture for you and your partner.

How do I use a condom?

  1. Check in with your partner to ask for consent. 
  2. Inspect the package to ensure it is in good condition and does not have any holes or tears. 
  3. Check the expiration date on the condom package. Don't use condoms that have expired.
  4. Using your fingertips, carefully tear open the package at the perforation, making sure not to tear the condom. Don't use teeth or sharp objects like scissors, which may tear the condom. Carefully take it out of the wrapper. 
  5. Determine which way the condom unrolls. Condoms only unroll one way; if you begin to unroll it the wrong way on a penis, don’t just flip it over as there may be fluids or germs on the condom – start over with a new condom.
  6. Pinch the reservoir tip, or the top ½ inch or so at the tip of the condom. This is to create space for ejaculatory fluids.
  7. Place the condom against the tip of the erect penis or toy.
  8. Unroll the condom, smoothing out any air bubbles, all the way to the base of the penis or toy before engaging in sex.
  9. If condom is on a penis, remove penis from partner's body while still erect, holding the base of the condom with fingers.
  10. Turn or move away from partner and remove the condom.
  11. Dispose of condom in the trash; if desired, you can wrap it in tissue first. Do not flush it down the toilet as doing so can cause plumbing clogs.
  12. Wash your hands and genitals to prevent fluids from getting on a partner.

How to increase effectiveness

Condoms may occasionally break or slip during use. You can reduce that risk with these tips.

Condom care:

  • Store them properly, out of direct sunlight and at room temperature. 
  • DO NOT store condoms in your wallet; the heat from your body can damage them, and carrying a condom for long periods of time can also lead to tiny holes or tears.
  • Check the condom and amount of lubrication during lengthy or rough sex.

Banish air bubbles: 

  • ​Squeeze air out of the tip before you roll on the condom.
  • Squeeze out any air bubbles as you roll it down to the base of the penis or toy.

Use enough lube:

  • Many condoms are pre-lubricated.
  • Adding more lubricant to the outside of the condom can reduce friction.
  • Use only silicone or water-based lubricants with condoms.
  • Never use oils such as massage oil or Vaseline with latex condoms.

Where can I get condoms and what are costs?

Free condoms and other safer sex items are available to U-M students at UHS Wolverine Wellness. You can buy condoms at most drug stores and supermarkets. They are even available at convenience stores and in some vending machines. Condoms usually cost about $1 each. 

Important tips

  • Get condoms in advance so you'll have them available.
  • Never reuse a condom. Use a new condom each time you have sex.

Personal experiences

Although I have been on birth control (the pill, then IUD) since I became sexually active, I have tried to always use condoms for prevention against STIs. In general, I have found male [external] condoms easy to use although they require communication with my male sexual partners. After finding the right style that works for me, my consistency of condom use increased. It's worth shopping around to find the right protection for you and your partner!

I had sex and we used a condom. Unfortunately the condom broke, and she was not on birth control. This turned out to be very trying for me, helping pay for Plan B, and just needing to keep my cool. Now I always pay attention to putting on condoms properly.

Where can I get more information?

Talk to your health care provider. You can also get reliable information and watch a video from Planned Parenthood.