November 24, 2022/Sex & Relationships

Common Questions About Condoms

Yes, there is a condom that will fit

Variety of condom types.

Condoms are often part of safe sex and contraception discussions because, when used correctly, they’re effective for birth control and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But there’s quite a bit of confusion out there about condoms. Do they truly protect against herpes? Are two condoms better than one? Are some penises really “too big” for every condom out there? Physician assistant and sexual health expert Evan Cottrill, PA-C, AAHIVS, HIVPCP, helps clear up common myths about condoms.

What are the types of condoms?

First, some basics. What are the different types of condoms? There are two main types:

  • External condoms are worn over the penis to collect ejaculation fluids.
  • Internal condoms are worn inside the body to act as a barrier and keep ejaculation fluids from entering someone’s body.

There are also dental dams, which act as a barrier during oral sex of any kind.

All types of condoms reduce the risk of transmitting STIs through bodily fluids. Condoms also prevent pregnancy by keeping semen from entering the vagina. There are many other methods of birth control to prevent pregnancy, but a condom can also protect you from STIs. This is also true if you’re having anal sex.

Below, Cottrill walks us through nine facts about condoms and debunks some popular myths along the way.

Are lambskin condoms different from latex condoms?

Condoms made from latex, polyurethane and other synthetic materials can protect you from STIs. But lamb cecum condoms, also called natural membrane or lambskin condoms, can allow viruses to pass through.

If you’re only concerned about preventing pregnancy, lambskin condoms are fine. But if you want protection from STIs, use a latex or polyurethane condom.

Are some people too big for condoms?

If someone has ever told you, Condoms don’t fit me, don’t buy it — this is a myth.

“Anatomic size varies, of course,” says Cottrill. “But there is a condom that can fit every person.”

Most penises don’t require a special condom size. But if needed, there are larger — and smaller — condom sizes available. If you can’t find the right fit at your local grocery store, try searching for them online.

Do condoms protect against herpes?

“Yes, when you use condoms consistently and correctly, they do protect against herpes,” says Cottrill.


The myth that condoms don’t protect against herpes probably came from people who weren’t using them correctly or weren’t using them enough. Herpes is a lifelong condition that spreads through close contact with someone who’s had the infection — even when they’re not having an outbreak and show no signs or symptoms of infection. Herpes can also spread through oral sex and by sharing sex toys, which means it’s important to use a dental dam or condom when participating in these activities.

“You need to use condoms for all types of sex, including oral sex, to prevent the spread of herpes,” states Cottrill.

Do condoms protect against HIV?

“Condoms most definitely reduce the risk of transmitting HIV,” says Cottrill.

However, when it comes to protecting against the spread of viral STIs, such as HIV, hepatitis C and herpes simplex virus (HSV), the condom material matters. For the best protection, avoid lambskin condoms and use latex or polyurethane instead.

Do condoms protect against HPV?

Yes, condoms protect against human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

“Condoms are effective against any STI, whether bacterial or viral,” notes Cottrill. He again emphasizes that latex and polyurethane condoms — not lambskin — are your best protection.

Is it bad to keep a condom in your wallet?

“This is a very popular question,” says Cottrill. “I do not recommend keeping condoms in your wallet because heat lowers the quality of the material over time. Plus, the packaging can get torn or opened.”

It’s also not a good idea to keep condoms in your car, which can get very hot in the sun. It’s best to store condoms in a cool place where the package won’t get crushed, folded or punctured.

Should you use two condoms?

It might seem logical that two condoms would be better than one — twice the protection or something like that, right? But it’s actually the opposite.

“Do not use two condoms at the same time,” says Cottrill.

Friction during sex can weaken the condoms as they slide against each other, leading to breakage. You also don’t want to wear external condoms while your partner wears an internal condom for the same reasons. Using one condom at a time is most effective.


Can you use any lube with condoms?

Choosing the right lubricant depends partly on the type of condom you’re using. If you’re using latex, stick with silicone or water-based lubricants. Don’t use oil-based substances such as petroleum jelly (Vaseline®), lotion, massage oil or coconut oil, as these can weaken the latex and lead to tears.

But you can use oil-based lubricants with condoms made of polyurethane or other synthetic materials, as these won’t break down so easily.

Do condom expiration dates matter?

Yes, condoms expire, and it’s important to look at those dates.

“It’s best not to use a condom that’s past the date printed on the package or over five years old,” cautions Cottrill.

The condom material breaks down over time, so an older condom is more likely to tear during sex.

Tips for choosing and using condoms

When choosing a condom, consider:

  • Size: Regular-sized external condoms work just fine for most people. But you can find other sizes available, if necessary, typically right on the shelf at your local drugstore or online.
  • Material: Lambskin condoms work for avoiding pregnancy but aren’t great for STI protection. Latex and polyurethane condoms are best if you want to prevent the spread of STIs.
  • Allergies: Some people are allergic to latex. If that’s you or your partner, use condoms made of polyurethane or another synthetic material.

No matter what type of condom you’re choosing, use a new condom every time and follow the directions on the package to minimize the risk of slippage, leakage or breakage. If your condom does tear or break while you’re having sex, stop immediately and replace it with a new condom. If you’re concerned about possible pregnancy or STIs, make an appointment with a healthcare provider.

If you’ve tossed the box and need a refresher on how to properly use external condoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a handy guide for using external condoms.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Male and female in embrace in foreground with contraception choices circling in background
February 2, 2024/Sex & Relationships
What You Should Know About Safe Sex Practices

‘Safer sex’ means STI prevention, avoiding unintended pregnancies and psychologically safe practices for everyone

person showing hickey on their neck
January 4, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
How To Get Rid of Your Hickey, Fast

This type of bruise might benefit from warm compresses, but time is really the healing key

person covering face in bed in embarrassment
October 1, 2023/Sex & Relationships
Untimely Toots: Why You Fart During Sex

It’s perfectly normal for gas pockets to ‘evacuate’ during the motions of sex

woman holding baby while talking to doctor
September 4, 2023/Pregnancy & Childbirth
Breastfeeding? Yes, You Can Still Get Pregnant

Popular myth says breastfeeding prevents pregnancy, but that’s not the whole story

Man looking at smartphone while sitting on bed scheduling an appointment online.
August 27, 2023/Men's Health
When (and Why) You Should Start Seeing a Urologist

Manage your sexual health and urinary function with annual appointments starting at age 40

plan b pill with water
May 14, 2023/Sex & Relationships
What You Should Do if a Condom Breaks

Turn to emergency birth control and STI tests

person in bed holding head with headache
Can an Orgasm Cause a Headache?

Yes, especially if you get migraines — but medicine can help

Small jar of olive oil on a rustic wooden table.
March 27, 2023/Sex & Relationships
Lubricant Alternatives: What To Use and What To Avoid

Stay away from hand lotion and honey, but coconut oil can do the trick

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey