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How effective are condoms?

Virtually Healthcare is an innovative GP practice that provides expert contraception advice and sexual health care. Appointments are easy to access remotely or in-person and are free of charge on the NHS.

What are condoms?

Condoms are barrier methods of contraception that stop sperm from reaching an egg. As well as preventing pregnancy, condoms also protect against sexually transmitted infections.

There are external and internal condoms:

  • External condoms: Also known as male condoms, external condoms are thin sheaths of latex or polyurethane that fit over an erect penis. Semen is ejaculated into the sheath, preventing sperm from reaching the egg.
  • Internal condoms: Internal or female condoms are soft plastic or synthetic rubber sheaths put inside the vagina. The condom loosely lines the vagina, blocking sperm from reaching an egg in the womb.

How do condoms work?

Condoms are barrier methods of contraception. They work as a physical barrier, stopping sperm from getting to an egg and preventing fertilisation. 

How effective are condoms?

Condoms are very effective if they are used consistently and perfectly. External condoms are 98% effective if you follow the instructions every time you have sex, which means that out of every 100 women using condoms for a year, two will become pregnant1

With typical use, following the instructions some, but not all of the time, condoms are around 82% effective, meaning 18 in every 100 women will get pregnant in a year. 

There is a risk of pregnancy if sperm gets into the vagina during sex. This can happen if:

  • The condom splits.
  • Nails, jewellery or piercings damage the condom.
  • The condom falls off.
  • You reuse a condom.
  • The condom is the wrong size.
  • You use a novelty condom which is not effective.
  • You allow the penis to touch the vulva or vagina before putting a condom on. Fluid released before ejaculation may contain sperm. 
  • The penis is withdrawn too slowly after ejaculation. When the condom becomes loose, semen can leak out.
  • The condom is damaged by oil-based lubricants, lotions or massage oils.


Internal condoms are slightly less effective. With perfect use, they are around 95% effective at preventing pregnancy. This falls to 79% effectiveness with more typical use.

If you are worried that your condom may have leaked or failed, or if you’ve had sex without contraception, contact a family planning doctor at Virtually Healthcare for emergency contraception. 


Contraceptive care at Virtually Healthcare

Virtually Healthcare has a team of GPs and family planning doctors providing comprehensive contraceptive care. Before suggesting the best contraceptive options for your needs, your doctor will listen to your sex life, preferences, and any pregnancy plans. These could include condoms, the coil or hormonal methods, including the pill, mini-pill, contraceptive implants, injections, or intrauterine systems like the Mirena device.

The Virtually Healthcare difference

Virtually Healthcare is an innovative GP practice, providing high-quality healthcare in the surgery or the privacy of your home. Virtually Healthcare is designed for modern lifestyles. You can book consultations easily, with virtual appointments available seven days a week.

The expert team includes more than 40 clinicians working together to investigate and treat disease and help you optimise your health and wellbeing. GPs, sexual health specialists, family planning doctors, physiotherapists, and practice nurses all work together to provide a cutting-edge primary care service. 

During the pandemic, patients have found it difficult to access healthcare. Virtually Healthcare provides same-day video or telephone consultations if you contact us before 3 pm. Our clinicians can provide assessment and advice, arrange investigations, prescribe treatment or arrange a face-to-face review. 

At Virtually Healthcare, our focus is on you. Our clinicians take a holistic approach to care. Whether you want an easy, convenient way to get contraception or a discreet testing service for STIs, our dedicated team offers expert advice and treatment.

Advantages and disadvantages of condoms

The right choice of contraception is very personal. It will depend on your sex life, number of partners, preferences and whether you are planning a family soon. 

At Virtually Healthcare, your doctor can discuss the pros and cons of a contraceptive so that you can make an informed choice. For condoms, these include

The advantages

  • Readily available in shops, vending machines and free of charge from family planning services.
  • Protect against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. 
  • You only use them when you’re having sex.
  • No effect on fertility. 
  • No hormones. 
  • No impact on periods. 
  • They are available in a range of sizes.

The disadvantages

  • A condom can affect spontaneity during sex. 
  • The condom can split or slip off.
  • Some people develop allergies or sensitivities to latex condoms.

How to use condoms safely

Using a condom safely can prevent pregnancy and protect against STIs. Safe condom use includes:

  • Use a new condom each time you have sex.
  • There’s a use-by date on the packet- check this and don’t use a condom that is out of date.
  • Put the condom on before the penis touches the genitals, anus or mouth.
  • Don’t use oil-based lubricants or lotions. Water-based lube can prevent condoms tearing, particularly during anal sex.
  • Take care when handling the condom to avoid splits and tears. 
  • Ensure the condom is the right size.
  • Hold the teat between your finger and thumb to stop it from filling with air. Roll the condom down the penis.
  • If the condom doesn’t roll down, it may be on inside out, take it off and use another one.
  • Pull the penis out after ejaculation, before it gets soft. Hold the condom in place at the bottom of the penis to stop any leaks2.

Don’t let the penis touch the genitals again without using a new condom.


Hot topics in contraceptive care

Safe sex and condoms

Condoms can prevent the spread of many STIs, including HIV. However, many sexually active young people aren’t using condoms during sex. Research by Public Health England showed that about half of 16 to 24-year-olds had sex with new partners without using condoms. As many as one in 10 sexually active people in the same age group had never used a condom.

What is safe sex?

According to the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASSH)3:

Safer sex means having sex with less risk of transmission a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Your risk of catching a  sexually transmitted infection depends on the disease and whether you’re having oral, vaginal or anal sex. You can reduce your risk of STI by:

  • Using condoms whenever you have penetrative sex 
  • The risk during oral sex is lower. Condoms and oral dams will reduce this even more. 
  • Having non-penetrative sex like rubbing and mutual masturbation. However, remember that this type of contact can still spread warts and herpes.
  • Have regular sexual health checks, particularly before sex with a new partner.
  • Having fewer sexual partners.
  • Having STI vaccinations such as HPV and hepatitis B.


Can you get vegan condoms?

Condoms made from latex often contain casein, a protein from milk. Condoms may also be tested for safety on animals. Vegan condoms are free from all animal products and are not tested using animals. Find out more on:–-keeping-it-vegan

Types of consultations we offer

We offer written, telephone and video consultations with a range of male and female clinicians from GPs, nurse practitioners, and primary care specialists such as physiotherapy.