Condoms can be great for many people. While a lot of people don’t like them, it’s worth knowing about what they can do, and how to use them correctly. There are many different condom options out there, and they are very effective and cheap. They can be a great choice if you don’t know your partner well. They’re also great for making sure one of you doesn’t give the other a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or HIV. Condoms are easy to use, come in all kinds of colors and flavors, and it’s pretty easy to find them for free. Here are some questions that a lot of people have about them, and the answers.

Condoms are the best way to protect yourself from getting STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HIV, herpes, and others. While STDs are very common throughout the US and the country, many are highest among gay men and trans people who have sex with cis men.

The problem is that many times, people who get an STD don’t realize it, and can end up passing it along to their sex partners. You can have an STD and not have any symptoms. Many STDs are curable, but some aren’t. (The good news is even if you’ve got herpes or HIV, medications can dramatically reduce both their effects and transmission.) Condoms (used with water or silicon-based lube to help prevent breakage) can help you protect yourself in situations when you’re not sure if your partner does or doesn’t have an STD.

In laboratory testing, condoms used according to directions should be 99.5% effective against HIV with only mechanical failure (i.e. breakage) resulting in infections. Since we are human, not machines, how well do they actually work in reality to prevent HIV?

If you want to avoid breakage, make sure you’re putting them on correctly. For more information, click here.

In real life, even those who report using condoms consistently don’t use them 100% of the time. In one frequently-cited study (Smith D. K. et al.), while participants reported consistent use for some of the study period, only a small minority used them 100% of the time during the entire length of the study period.

Additionally, it turns out that using condoms only sometimes with HIV-positive partners offers “minimal or no protection” to the HIV-negative partner. People in the study having receptive and insertive anal sex who reported “sometimes” using condoms had an estimated condom effectiveness rate of only 8%.

Condoms are easily accessible and affordable and have the extra benefit of reducing the risk of other STD infections. When condoms are combined with other HIV-prevention methods—like PrEP and having an undetectable viral load — you get the most protection.

There may be times when you don’t use condoms. Or maybe you just don’t like them and never use them.

Thinking ahead of time about the risks you’re willing or not willing to take is a very useful way to take care of your health.

When would you feel better wearing one? When would you feel fine not wearing one? Does it change based on whether your sex partner is a one-time hook-up or long-term partner?

Having a plan about when you’ll use condoms, or not, is one way that people can feel comfortable that they’re taking care of their sexual health. HIV-negative people who never use condoms, or only use them some of the time, will benefit from PrEP to reduce their risk for HIV (although PrEP does NOT protect against other STDs). And people who are HIV-positive will be doing a great job of protecting their partner from HIV if they have an undetectable viral load.

Plans are just that: plans. Although making a plan is great to do, it’s also important to check in with yourself periodically about how you’re sticking to it (or if you’re not sticking to it). It doesn’t make sense to set yourself up for a plan if you can’t stick with it. And often, it’ll just feel bad, when sex is supposed to feel good.

Condoms protect against infections that can be spread through semen (e.g., HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia) because they catch the semen and prevent it from infecting the other person. They also create a barrier between vaginal and anal fluids that may spread similar infections.

Condoms can also protect against infections that are spread by skin-to-skin contact, like herpes and syphilis. But, if there are skin lesions or sores – and some may be too small to see – that aren’t covered by a condom, there’s still the risk of passing an STD on to someone else.

Condoms work best with lubrication. It’s especially important for people having anal sex with condoms to use lube, and lots of it. Lube prevents condoms from ripping or breaking, or from causing chafing.

Many condoms are already lubricated. You can also use your own water- or silicone-based lube. Don’t use oil-based lubes like baby oil or petroleum jelly because those will damage latex condoms.

Like anything else, practice makes perfect. If you’ve never used them, try buying a variety of them and see which one feels the best.

Read below for more thorough instructions on how to put on condoms, courtesy of HIV.gov. They look long, but again, with a bit of practice, it can all be done very quickly.

Roll-on Condoms (Condoms that you put on a dick)

Storage: Keep them in a cool, dry place. Don’t keep them in your wallet or in your car. If condoms get too hot or too cold, they’ll be more likely to break or tear.

Check the quality: First, check the foil wrapper for tears. Don’t use a condom if the foil packet is damaged or opened. Check the expiration date. Don’t use a condom if it’s past the expiration date.

Open the foil wrapper: Open the foil wrapper carefully–you don’t want to tear the condom. Don’t use your teeth or fingernails.

Check the condom: Make sure the condoms looks OK to use. Don’t use a condom that is gummy, brittle, discolored, or has any holes in it.

Start rolling the condom on: Put it on when the dick is erect.

Leave space for semen: No need to worry about this if the condom has a “reservoir” tip. If not, pinch the tip of the condom enough to leave a half-inch space for semen to collect. Holding the tip, unroll the condom all the way to the base of the erect penis.

Use lube: Besides making sex feel better, lube helps prevent condom breakage. Only use water-based or silicone-based lubricants. Don’t use oil-based lubricants (like petroleum jelly, shortening, mineral oil, massage oils, body lotions, and cooking oil) with latex condoms. Oil-based products can weaken the latex and cause the condom to break. Put the lubricant on the outside of the condom.

Check the condom: Feel free to check every so often during sex to make sure it’s still on. If you feel the condom break at any point during sexual activity, stop, withdraw, remove the broken condom, and put on a new one on.

After ejaculation: Before the dick gets soft, grip the rim of the condom and carefully pull it off. Make sure that semen doesn’t spill out when the condom comes off. You or your partner may also want to pull it off and ejaculate somewhere else (someone’s chest, or the bed, for example).

Throw it away: Wrap the condom in a tissue and throw it in the trash. Don’t flush it down the toilet.

Use a new condom: Put a new one on if you want to have sex again, or in a different way, or with a different partner.

If you need a tutorial on how to put a condom on your dick correctly, check out this video: How to Put on a Roll-On Condom

Internal condoms (condoms that you put inside of your vagina/front hole or butt)

You can use internal condoms for vaginal/front hole or anal sex. Internal condoms are ones that the bottom wears. But, make sure that you don’t use an internal condom and a roll-on condom together. “Double bagging” can lead to tears. The condoms can rub together, creating friction that makes them break during sex.

Cut your fingernails: You’re going to stick your fingers up your vagina/front hole or butt, so make sure your fingers are clean and that your fingernails aren’t too long or snagged.

Use plenty of lube: Lube up your vagina/front hole or butt to get it ready for the condom. You want to make sure you can slide the condom in easily.

Open the condom: Carefully open the package, making sure not to tear the condom.

Figure out what goes where: The condom has two different rings. If you are using the condom in your vagina/front hole, push the smaller ring in first. To do so, hold the smaller inner ring between your thumb, index and forefinger, and squeeze it so that it forms an oval. If you are using the condom in your butt, REMOVE the small ring before inserting it inside. The bigger ring is going to stay outside of your vagina/front hole or butt.

Put the condom in: Push the smaller ring you’re holding as far up your vagina/front hole as you can. If you are using internal condoms in your butt, use your fingers to gently push the condom as deep as you can while the bigger ring remains outside. This may be easier if one leg is raised, so you can put your leg up on a stool or on the lid of a toilet.

Wash your hands, then push the condom in some more: After washing your hands, use your fingers to push the condom farther inside you, by pushing it up from the inside. Make sure the outer ring is not inserted. This will keep the condom from disappearing up inside your vagina/front hole or butt.

Lube up: Keep the condom wet by adding more lube. Keep adding lube during sex.

Keep tabs on the condom: Check every now and again during sex that the outer ring is still outside of your hole. You can also check that your partner’s dick hasn’t slipped between the outer ring of the condom and your vagina/front hole or rectum. If it has, stop and remove the condom before you start having sex again.

Don’t reuse the condom: Use a new one each time.

After you’re done: Because the condom lines the inside of your hole and is not dependent upon erection to stay in place, the insertive partner does not have to withdraw immediately after ejaculation. The condom can be removed when it suits both partners, making sure that no semen is spilled. The outer ring should be twisted to keep the semen inside, then pulled gently. Throw away the used internal condom.

If you need more info on how to use internal condoms, watch this video.

It’s easy! They’re available in pharmacies and many other kinds of stores. Many city health departments and clinics will give them away for free. Even more convenient are services that deliver condoms right to your door. To buy condoms online, try:

Condomania

Condom Finder

Free Condoms from Gilead

Don’t fret. There are lots of condom options for people who have latex allergies, although non-latex condoms tend to be more expensive than latex condoms. Latex and non-latex condoms, though not lambskin, work equally well to protect against STDs. Here are the options:

Polyisoprene
These are the most recent condoms to be brought to market. Polyisoprene condoms have a soft, natural feel that conforms to skin–similar to latex.

Polyurethane
Polyurethane condoms are thinner and stronger than latex condoms, and transfer heat more efficiently, which some say increases pleasure.

Lambskin – Note: Lambskin condoms, which are made from the intestinal membranes of lambs, do NOT protect against STDs or HIV. Do NOT use lambskin condoms if you need protection.