Condoms are used during sex to provide a barrier against infection. When used properly and every time you have sex, they are the best protection against HIV and many other sexually transmitted infections. They are also a good way of preventing an unwanted pregnancy.
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Anyone can get free condoms from a sexual health (GUM) clinic, from contraceptive or family planning clinics, GP surgeries, HIV organisations or HIV clinics. Condoms can be bought at supermarkets, chemists and garages, or from websites like www.freedoms-shop.nhs.uk. There are no age restrictions for buying condoms in the UK.
It’s important to choose good quality condoms. Check for a quality mark such as the BSI Kitemark or the European CE mark. Condoms are marked with a ‘best before’ date. When this date has passed, throw the condoms away. You should also check that the package is not damaged. There are instructions on how to use them inside every pack.
Store condoms somewhere cool and dry. Don’t keep them in your pocket or your wallet, as this can cause the condom to weaken. It’s a good idea to keep them in places nearby to where you think you might have sex, so that you always have one to hand.
If you’re having difficulties with using condoms correctly, or perhaps you’re finding it difficult to negotiate using condoms with your partner, you can speak to a health advisor in your local sexual health clinic. They are trained to offer advice and support on issues such as this.
Lubricants are products that provide some extra fluid during vaginal or anal sex, which helps prevent condoms breaking. The vagina usually lubricates itself when a woman is sexually aroused, so you may not need additional lubricant for vaginal sex unless the vagina feels dry. However, you should always use lubricant for anal sex.
Most condoms come pre-lubricated, but this is not enough for anal sex and may not always be for vaginal sex either. Condoms should be used with a water-based or silicone-based lubricant. Never use oil-based lubricants such as body lotions, massage or baby oil or Vaseline, as these weaken the latex and can cause the condom to break.