When it comes to contraception, the male condom remains one of the most popular options out there. This makes sense, considering they are so readily available, and fairly easy to use. Still, there are a lot of condom mistakes that people continue to make on the reg and these can, of course, end with some unwanted results. So, to avoid that, and to make sure you're using a condom correctly, I answered every condom question you've ever had, with a little help from some experts on the topic.
How long are condoms good for?
Just like food, condoms go bad, so you need to make sure your rubber has not expired before you use it. Make a habit of always checking the expiration date before you engage in sex. Most likely, you'll be in the clear because, according to Dr. Jessica O'Reilly, most latex condoms have a shelf life of five years, but it never hurts just to check and it's super easy because the expiration date is printed on each individual wrapper.
Where can I get free condoms?
Don't want to dole out money for a condom? Don't worry, there are literally so many opportunities to snag some free ones. If you're in high school, try your school nurse's office. If you go to a Catholic school (or a similarly religious institution), this may be a no-go, but if your school is safe-sex heavy when it comes to their sex education, there's probably a good chance the nurse has condoms to give out.
College and university students should have a pretty easy time getting free condoms. Head to your college's health center, chances are there's a jar full of them right there in the lobby. Or, you may not even have to leave your dorm. Some RAs keep them for students, or, if your building has a front desk, there could be some there. Pretty much, anywhere on campus could have condoms (a student center, public bathroom, gym), so keep an eye out for them next time you're wandering around.
If you can't find them at school, there's always your doctor, who will definitely provide you with a few condoms if you tell them you're in need. Or, if you are lucky enough to live near a Planned Parenthood, you can head over there to get some free condoms too, just enter your ZIP code here to find the nearest location.
How do I put on a condom?
If you put on a condom wrong, there's really no point in wearing one anyway, so make sure you're using the condom correctly from the start. When you open the wrapper, do so carefully, along the edge, so as not to rip the product inside. Don't use scissors or your teeth to open up the wrapper, because this could cause accidentally tearing, rendering the condom useless.
Next, unroll it a tiny bit to make sure it isn't inside out. If it's the right way, the tip will pop out. If you start to place the condom on a penis and realize it's on inside out, don't take it off and flip it around. Instead, toss that condom and try again with another.
As your unroll the condom onto the penis, pinch the tip with your thumb and index finger. This way, you'll make sure that there is room for the semen, post-ejaculation. That means, you don't want the tip of the penis to be pressed up against the bottom of the condom, you want to leave some room there.
Where can I buy condoms?
If you're looking to get condoms for free, scroll up a little for all their secret hiding spots. But, if you're willing to pay for the protection, there are a ton of different stores that carry the product. Pretty much any drugstore or pharmacy will have a large selection of condoms. Usually, a box of three will cost $2 to $6, but if you buy in a box of 12 or more, they could go for less than $1 a pop.
You can also buy them online, in supermarkets, and other convenience stores. Yes, it can be embarrassing, but luckily, there is no age limit to buying condoms, so don't worry about getting rejected.
How effective are they?
The answer to this question can range a lot, depending on who you are, what you're trying to prevent, and if you're using the product correctly.
"The reality is, condoms are not great at preventing pregnancy," Natasha Bhuyan MD and family physician at One Medical told Seventeen. "But they're certainly much more effective at preventing STIs."
According to Dr. Bhuyan, if a heterosexual couple correctly uses a condom every time they engage in intercourse, it will be 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. Unfortunately, most couples don't use them every time, or they don't use them correctly, making the statistic closer to 85% effectiveness.
However, when it comes to preventing STIs like chlamydia or gonorrhea, condoms are 98% effective, though they aren't as great for infections transmitted through skin to skin contact, like herpes or genital warts. "While condoms can reduce the risk of contracting those infections, they can't eliminate it entirely," Dr. Bhuyan says. "Condoms can reduce the risk of herpes from male to female by 96% and from female to male to 65%." So, it's necessary to know your partner's sexual history and to get tested regularly on top of using condoms in order to avoid contracting an infection.
Do condoms prevent HIV?
While condoms can help protect you against HIV, if you are at a high risk of contracting the virus there are other steps you can take in order to help your odds of staying safe.
Dr. Bhuyan suggests talking to your doctor to find out your risk level, and, if it is high, asking them about options like pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PREP as it's commonly called.
"PREP is something that's actually gaining a lot of traction now and thankfully so because it's this amazing medication that, if you use it daily and regularly, it can reduce your risk of HIV by 98%," Dr. Bhuyan says. If you come in contact with HIV—whether through condomless sex, or if the condom breaks, or through various other ways—the virus can't replicate in your system thanks to PREP. Still, even if you are on PREP, it's important to wear a condom every time you have intercourse because you can never be too safe.
How can I make a condom more effective?
So, how can you be part of the population who use a condom correctly every time and prevent 98% of pregnancies? Make sure your condoms aren't expired and you're putting them on correctly for starters (scroll up for more info on these). You also have to be careful about storing your condoms. "They shouldn't be stored in really hot places like in your car and they shouldn't be stored in really cold places," Dr. Bhuyan warns.
And, while double the condoms may seem like double the protection, in reality, wearing two at once will cause a lot of friction between the layers, leaving to a higher chance of breakage. So, just stick to one.
Finally, if you opt to use lube during intercourse, use one that is water-based. According to Dr. Bhuyan, oil-based lubricants, like Vaseline, will wear down the condoms, which is no good.
How tight should a condom be?
A lot of condoms advertise themselves as "regular" in terms of size, but "regular" can range a lot from brand to brand, and you have to be careful, because a condom that's too big could slip right off, while one that's too small could break. In order to make sure the condom you're using is the right size, it's important to measure the penis and to do so when it's erect, because it does grow when aroused. Get numbers for the length and width (the diameter of the penis). Then, when buying condoms, make sure to look and see the size that the condom fits. Most brands have an accompanying size chart to help with this.
Why does a condom break?
As we know, condoms aren't perfect, and yes, they break sometimes. According to Dr. Bhuyan, this is usually due to friction, which is obviously an issue because sex is like all friction. There are, however, some steps that you can take to lessen the chance of breakage, like adding lube to your sexual routine, and also making sure that the condom you are using hasn't expired, and is stored correctly.
How can I prevent a condom from breaking?
While often a condom breaking is simply bad luck, there are some steps to take in order to prevent it from happening. As I stated above, make sure to always check the expiration date before you use a condom, because if the rubber is expired, it's no good. Also, make sure you are storing your condoms correctly, in a room temperature environment (not in your car's glove compartment where it bakes in the hot sun all day).
You've definitely heard this before (I've already mentioned it once in this article), but I am going to say it again anyway: only use one condom. Double the rubber does not mean double the protection. In actuality, "that friction [between two layered condoms] can increase the risk of breakage," Dr. Bhuyan says. So you'll end up doing more harm than good.
And finally, again, stick to water-based lube. Oil-based lubrication (like Vaseline) will actually wear down the condom. You also might have an issue if you are not using enough lube so stick to water-based and be liberal with it.
How can I tell if a condom breaks?
Sometimes, you will definitely be able to feel a condom break, and if you do, you should stop having intercourse immediately. But, other times, according to Dr. Bhuyan, it may be harder to tell. Often, whether you are having vaginal or anal intercourse, the receiver may not be able to feel it, and the person wearing the condom won't either until post-ejaculation. Of course, at that point, you're already at a higher risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, so it's important to take the necessary steps to reduce these risks.
What should I do if a condom breaks?
If the condom does break, don't worry, just step into action. Dr. Bhuyan recommends heading to the doctor to figure out your risk of pregnancy or an STI.
"If you're a gay man who is having receptive anal intercourse, you might be at a high risk of getting HIV," a fact backed up by HIV.gov, which estimates that 26,000 of new HIV infections per year affect gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. If this describes you, it may be worth it to look into medications to prevent the virus. If you're a female having heterosexual sex with someone who was recently tested, you are probably at a lower risk for the virus, but you have other things to think about. Consider getting tested for STIs like chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea.
If you're nervous about getting pregnant, there are emergency contraceptives that are effective up to five days after intercourse. You actually have a lot of options, so make sure to talk to your doctor about the right step for you.
Most importantly, don't worry. It's important to feel empowered and in control when it comes to your sexual health. "So, if a condom does break and you're not sure what to do, don't be worried because doctors are here to support you," Dr. Bhuyan says.
Are all condoms equally effective?
Definitely not. You know those cute, novelty condoms that you might get for your friend as a joke? Many times, they aren't actually meant to be used as protection. In fact, if you read the fine print on those funny wrappers, you'll see that they say they aren't to be used in intercourse, but you could easily miss that message if you aren't looking for it.
Then, there are "lambskin" condoms, which is usually what people use when their significant other is allergic to latex. These condoms, which are made from animal intestines, may offer "fair to good protection" against pregnancy and bacterial infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, says Dr. Vanessa Cullins, but they are not as succesful against preventing HIV and AIDS. Instead, if latex condoms are off the table, opt for a female condom instead.
In all, just make sure you are doing your research and bringing any questions you have to your doctor. It's important to stay informed and confident when it comes to your sexual health.
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