Condoms are made out of fine rubber and create a barrier to prevent infection and sperm from passing between people during sex. They can be used for vaginal sex, anal sex and oral sex.
Condoms are essential for preventing the spread of STIs. They can significantly reduce your risk of infection, even though they do not provide 100% protection against all sexually transmitted infections.
And remember: There's more to sex than sexual intercourse! There are lots of ways to enjoy physical intimacy with your partner without having oral, vaginal or anal sex. Safer sex also includes lots of other activities like kissing, cuddling, rubbing, massage, stroking or masturbation. If you have vaginal, anal or oral sex, it definitely pays to play it safe!
Should I always use a condom?
Use a condom every time you have vaginal or anal sex to minimise the risk of getting or passing on STIs. Consider using condoms for oral sex, especially if you have lots of sexual partners. Even if you don't use a condom every time, or for every type of sex, use one as often as possible—this is safer than not at all. If you have occasionally not used a condom that does not mean it is not worth using a condom every time in future.
Do condoms work?
In preventing STIs
Bacteria, or a virus such as HIV, cannot pass through unbroken rubber! So if used correctly, condoms will prevent the spread of a virus such as HIV.Condoms also reduce your chance of catching chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Remember, some STIs can be transmitted by contact with areas that can’t be covered by a condom, so using a condom cannot guarantee that you will not catch an STI.
In preventing pregnancy
Condoms greatly reduce your chance of getting pregnant. Studies show that if 100 women used condoms every time they had sex for one year, only two of these women would get pregnant.
What are the risks of condoms?
The greatest risk of using condoms is that they will not work properly if they have been damaged by
heat from living in your pocket for weeks;
tearing open the packet and piercing the condom at the same time;
having passed the expiry date.
The other risk is that it is not used properly, for example:
not put on soon enough;
not used in conjunction with a lubricant to prevent tearing;
not held on during withdrawal.
Practice putting condoms on a banana in private if you are embarrassed, so you know what you’re doing and feel confident using them with your partner.
Also, remember! If you are being treated for thrush with antifungal treatment (such as Canesten), this can damage the rubber of a condom and it may not work properly.
If you discover a tear in your condom after sex:
visit a Family Planning clinic for the “morning after” pill within 72 hours, if you are concerned about pregnancy, or
visit a sexual health clinic if you are concerned about STIs for advice from a health professional.
Condom basics for teenagers
Where can teenagers get condoms?
The cheapest way to get condoms is on prescription from your family doctor or Family Planning clinic — see below to find your nearest Family Planning clinic. You can also get them from sexual health clinics and youth health clinics. They can be bought at supermarkets, pharmacies, dairies, pubs, clubs and public toilets. They’re everywhere!
The cheapest way to get condoms is from your Family Planning clinic, sexual health clinic or youth health clinic, or on prescription from your GP. Anyone under 22 years can get a prescription for 144 condoms for $3! Clinics will often give teenagers a box of condoms for free. So no excuses! Otherwise, expect to pay $12–$20 for a pack of twelve from the supermarket or online.
Which condoms should I use?
The main, reputable brands are those available at Family Planning clinics, pharmacies and supermarkets. Check that any novelty, flavoured or coloured condoms do have the expiry dates on them. Condoms marketed in New Zealand must comply with ISO 4074:2002(E) standard.
Does size matter?
Yes, condom sizes do matter! Make sure you or your partner use a condom of the right size. Condoms are more likely to break if they are too tight. The girth (thickness/width) of the penis may be more important than penis length. Try a range of condom sizes (such as Trim, Standard, Large/XL and Superking/XXL) to find which fits you best, or measure around your erect penis using a strip of paper to find the correct diameter of condom for you.
What are the pros of condoms?
Condoms reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancy.
Condoms reduce the chance of catching an STI.
Condoms are readily available.
Condoms are extremely cheap if obtained through the Family Planning clinic.
Condoms are easy to use.
There are many different brands, try different ones until you find one that suits you.
Condoms have no side effects.
Condoms help to prevent cancer of the cervix (the opening to your womb).
What are the cons?
Sex may feel different—but that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t feel good.
Some people are reluctant to use them—you should be reluctant to have sex with those people!
Condoms can cause an interruption to love making—use your imagination and make them part of the fun.
Some people are allergic to rubber—speak to a health professional at Family Planning if this is the case.
JUST THE FACTS is brought to you by the Sexually Transmitted Infections Education Foundation (STIEF) - an initiative funded by the Ministry of Health through collective District Health Boards to educate New Zealanders about STIs.