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Male condoms

Katherine M Stone, MD
Markus J Steiner, PhD
Lee Warner, PhD, MPH
Section Editor
Robert L Barbieri, MD
Deputy Editor
Kristen Eckler, MD, FACOG


When used consistently and correctly, male condom use can reduce the risk of pregnancy and many sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The condom acts as a barrier by preventing direct contact with semen, genital lesions, and sub-clinical viral shedding on the glans and shaft of the penis. It also prevents contact with penile, vaginal or anal discharges.


Condoms are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and thicknesses, with or without lubricants or spermicides, and with or without reservoir-tip or nipple-ends [1]. They can be straight-sided or tapered toward the closed end, textured (ribbed) or smooth, solid-colored or nearly transparent, and odorless, scented, or flavored. Most are about 7 inches (180 mm) long, 2 inches (52 mm) wide, and up to 0.003 inches (0.08 mm) thick.

Material — Condoms are made of latex rubber, natural membranes, or synthetic material.

Rubber (latex) — Approximately 80 percent of male condoms available in the United States are manufactured from natural rubber latex [2]. They are generally less expensive than condoms made from other materials. The dual protection provided by latex condoms against unintended pregnancy, as well as many STIs (particularly HIV), is well documented. However, latex condoms cannot be used by persons with latex sensitivity or allergy, and are not compatible with oil-based lubricants or medications.

Natural membrane — A small proportion (<5 percent) of condoms are made from the intestinal cecum of lambs ("natural skin," "natural membrane," or "lambskin" condoms). While any type of lubricant can be used with these condoms, in contrast to latex condoms, natural membrane condoms contain small pores that may permit the passage of viruses, including hepatitis B virus, herpes simplex virus, and HIV [3,4]. No contraceptive or STI prevention effectiveness data are available. Because of their porosity, they may not provide the same level of protection against STIs as latex condoms and should not be recommended for prevention of sexually transmitted infections [5].


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Apr 4, 2016.
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