Condoms are usually the first birth control method you’ll encounter. They’re easy to use, easy to buy, easy to carry, and you don’t need a prescription to get them. They’re also the one of the only forms of birth control that protects against STIs. You can even use them during oral sex to prevent the spread of STIs from your partner’s penis to your mouth or throat! It’s always a good idea to carry around a couple of these bad boys with you. Even if you don’t need to use condoms yourself, have a couple of spares on hand to help your friends out.

How do condoms work?

There are two main types of condoms: those that go over top of a penis or dildo, also referred to as male condoms, and those that are inserted into the vagina or anus, also referred to as female or internal condoms.

Male Condoms

Male condoms are like little balloons for your wang. They’re shaped like a tube: one end is sealed and has a little space to catch your ejaculatory fluids, and the other end is open. They’re thin, flexible, and super stretchy, so that they can fit over virtually any penis size. (Reader: if your penis-owing hookup buddy tries to get out of wearing a condom because they think their penis is too large, please refer them to this informative video. It’ll fit.) Most commonly, condoms are made of latex, but there are also varieties made of plastic or lambskin for those allergic to latex (important note here: the lambskin condoms do not protect against STIs). They can come pre-lubricated or un-lubricated, but for the love of all that is holy, get the lubricated ones.

Condoms work as a form of birth control by physically blocking the semen that your partner ejaculates from their penis. This is why it’s important to make sure that your condoms haven’t expired and don’t have any holes or tears in them. If the condom tears while you’re having sex, stop banging and get a new one. Never ever ever put a used condom back on. Use a new condom each and every time you get down and dirty.

Internal Condoms

These ones aren’t used as much as male condoms. They’re harder to insert, and your partner needs to have pretty good aim with their penis or dildo. Basically, they’re made of the same materials as other condoms, but they also have two small plastic rings at each end; one ring sits as the opening of your vagina or anus and holds the condom open, and one rests inside your vagina or anus so that the condom forms a long tube and lies comfortably inside your body.

As above, these condoms work to prevent pregnancy by creating a physical barrier between your partner’s semen and your eggs. They only work if they’re intact, so if they expire or tear, get a new one.

How do you put on a condom?

Male Condoms

We’ve all seen demonstrations of someone sliding a male condom over a banana to show you how to put a condom on, right? I’ll walk you through the steps just in case.

  1. If you’re using a male condom, tear the package (without ripping the condom itself), and take the condom out. Make sure to keep the condom rolled up at this point. Right now, the condom is going to look like a weird, slippery, rolled-up disk, with the tip poking out on one side. The tip will catch all the fluids the penis ejaculates.
  2. Put the condom right on the end of your dong, pinch the tip of the condom firmly with one hand, and slide the sides of the condom down with the other hand so that the condom unrolls along the shaft of your penis.

In case you don’t which side of the condom is the right side, here’s a handy tip one sex educator told me: the correct side will be shaped like a sombrero—the tip will look like the part of the hat your head goes in, and the rolls will go outwards like the rim of a sombrero. The wrong side will look like a toque (or beanie)—the tip will still look like the part of the hat that your head goes in, but the rolls will face inward, making it all slouchy like a toque. You definitely want it to look like a sombrero. Here’s a handy diagram from Planned Parenthood of Illinois to help illustrate the sombrero vs toque example.

Condom infographic
Image by Planned Parenthood of Illinois

See? Left side: sombrero, good! Right side: toque, bad.

Remember, if you place the condom on your dick the wrong way, don’t try to turn it around—get a new condom. Even if you haven’t ejaculated, any pre-cum on your penis might have touched the surface of your condom, ruining the point of creating a physical barrier between semen and eggs.

Internal Condoms

To insert an internal condom, remove it from it’s packaging just like you would a male condom. Unlike male condoms, however, you should unravel your internal condom so that it’s not all bunched up. Then pinch the ring at the end between two fingers and slide it right on up inside your vagina or anus. The plastic ring will spring back into shape once it’s inside your body, creating a lovely penis-shaped tube.

With both kinds of condoms, be sure not to spill their contents when you remove them. If you get jizz all over your bizz, there wasn’t much point wrapping it up in the first place, was there?

How much do condoms cost?

Here’s another fun thing about condoms: they’re one of the cheapest birth control options. Planned Parenthood claims that male condoms cost up to about $2/condom (USD) and that internal condoms cost up to about $4 (USD). In Canada, a pack of 10 male condoms costs around $10 at Walmart. If you can’t afford condoms, there are lots of places to get them for free. Most sexual health clinics have bins of individual condom packages in their receptions rooms; you can grab a handful for free. At every university I’ve attended, free condoms have been available in student dorms, in the student health clinics, and in areas like the Student Union Building. Bring your backpack and stuff it full! You don’t even have to be a student—it’s not like anyone will know! Just remember to check the expiry dates.

How effective are condoms?

When used correctly, condoms are pretty darn good at preventing pregnancy. According to Options for Sexual Health, male condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy when they’re used perfectly. However, people have a tendency to misuse them a little bit. With typical, imperfect use, male condoms are 85% effective at preventing pregnancy.

The stats are a little different for internal condoms. According to the same source, with perfect use, internal condoms are 95% effective at preventing pregnancy. With typical use, internal condoms are 79% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Why is there such a large difference between the stats for perfect use and typical use? Condoms are rarely used perfectly. Perfect use would mean putting a non-expired condom on exactly right, without getting any pre-ejaculate fluid or semen on the outside, before there has been any form of genital contact, and disposing of it after sex properly without allowing any fluid to spill out. In reality, people tend not to be quite so careful. If you know that you might not stick to all those rules in the heat of the moment, you should probably consider hormonal or surgical birth control methods.


  • Protect against STIs.
  • Cheap and easy to buy.
  • Don’t require a prescription.
  • No side effects.


  • Must be worn during every sexual encounter.
  • Not as effective as hormonal or surgical forms of birth control.
Image via Pexels
References: “Condom,”, Planned Parenthood,; “Female Condoms,”, Planned Parenthood,; “How Effective Are Condoms?”,,; “Safer Condom Use,” Health Canada, Government of Canada, 9 Dec. 2014,; “RELATIVE EFFECTIVENESS OF BIRTH CONTROL METHODS,” OPTIONSFORSEXUALHEALTH.ORG, OPTIONS FOR SEXUAL HEALTH, MAR. 2009, HTTPS://WWW.OPTIONSFORSEXUALHEALTH.ORG/BIRTH-CONTROL-PREGNANCY/BIRTH-CONTROL-OPTIONS/EFFECTIVENESS