External condoms are a very effective way of preventing many unwanted complications, but only if used correctly. To do that, there are a few things that you need to know first. In this article, we’ll discover just exactly how you are supposed to use a condom, along with the risks of not using one properly.
5 things to know before using an external condom
If you're new to sex, understanding which condom is the right and safe choice for you might feel a bit overwhelming, especially with the many different varieties available. Here are aspects to consider so you could make a safe and informed decision.
1. Condoms are effective
Condoms are super effective at preventing unintended pregnancy and STIs. When used correctly, they have a 98% pregnancy prevention rate. This means that out of 100 people who could become pregnant, 2 of them would become pregnant within a year. When used commonly, condoms are about 85% effective, meaning that out of 100 people who could become pregnant, 15 would become pregnant within a year.
Condoms are also very effective at reducing the risk of various STIs, as well as HIV.
2. Condoms have expiration dates
All condoms have an expiration date, and this can be found printed on the individual package of the condom. The average condom has a shelf life of 3–5 years, depending on the materials used. Using a condom after it has expired increases the likelihood that the material has begun to break down. This means it may be less effective in providing protection against STIs and unintended pregnancy.
Condoms made from natural materials like lambskin, or ones that contain spermicide, tend to break down much faster than those made with synthetic materials like latex, polyurethane, and polyisoprene. Therefore, it's important to check the expiration date each time before using one.
3. Condoms come in a variety of sizes
Condoms come in a range of sizes, suitable for every size and shape of penis. It's important to select the right size, as condoms that are too big can often fall off during sex, increasing the risk of STIs and unwanted pregnancy.
There is no standardized sizing for condoms, so what one brand designates as large might be labeled as regular by another brand. However, most brands have the measurements of the condom on the packaging or on their website. This means that if you know the measurement of your erect penis, you can make an informed guess as to which size may fit you best. However, it is best to try a few different brands and sizes out (before you come into contact with a partner) to find one that fits you best.
A properly fitting condom should cover the length of the penis, leaving space at the top for semen, ensuring a snug fit without irritation.
4. Condoms come in many different types
There are various types of condoms available, with differences in materials, textures, colors, spermicide, and lubrication.
Condoms are usually made from synthetic materials with the most common being latex. However, people who are allergic to latex may opt to use condoms made from plastic, such as polyurethane and polyisoprene. Synthetic condoms help to protect you from STIs and unwanted pregnancy.
Condoms made from natural materials, like lambskin, come from animal tissues. Although they provide protection against pregnancy, it's important to note that they aren't effective in preventing STIs. This is because the pores in the animal tissue are large enough to allow viruses and bacteria to pass through, unlike semen.
Many condoms come pre-lubricated, meaning they already have lubrication applied to the condom. This reduces friction and minimizes the risk of the condom breaking during sex. If your condom doesn't come pre-lubricated, it's a good idea to put some lube on the penis and the outside of the condom to prevent friction. Make sure that you only use a little bit of lubrication on your penis, as too much will increase the risk of it falling off during sex. You should only use water-based and silicone-based lubes with latex condoms, avoiding oil-based lubes, as these will break down the material of the condom, making it ineffective.
Condoms come in a variety of textures, including ribbed and studded. They are intended to enhance pleasure for both partners, but many people report not feeling too much of a difference.
Condoms also come in a variety of colors. These colors don't enhance pleasure or affect the effectiveness of the condom; they are purely for aesthetic purposes.
Certain condoms are coated with a small amount of spermicide, a chemical that damages sperm, offering additional protection against pregnancy. However, the effectiveness of spermicide condoms is not yet fully researched. It's important to note that spermicide doesn't safeguard against STIs.
5. Condoms should be used for all types of sex
You should wear a condom for all types of sex, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. The condom should be put on before any sexual contact and should stay on for the duration of sex or until ejaculation.
How to use a condom correctly
While it may seem straightforward, there is a right and wrong way to put on, use, dispose of, and store condoms. Knowing the correct way to use a condom will help you to have a safe and pleasurable sexual experience.
Putting on a condom
To put on a condom correctly, follow these directions:
- A condom should only be placed on an erect penis. It should be put on before any sexual activity with a partner to reduce the risk of STIs or unintended pregnancy.
- Open the condom wrapper carefully to avoid tearing it. Do not use your teeth to undo the packaging, as this could tear the condom.
- Hold the tip of the condom with your finger and thumb to ensure it's the right way up.
- Place the condom over the tip of your erect penis. While squeezing the tip, unroll the condom down your erect penis.
- If the condom won't unroll, it is likely that it is inside out. If this happens, use a different condom, as this one may have come in contact with semen.
It’s important to make sure that the condom stays on for the entirety of sex, which means any time your penis comes into contact with your partner. If your condom falls off during sex, you should stop having sex, remove the condom fully, and put on a new one.
There is also a correct method for safely and effectively removing the condom after sex. Follow these directions:
- Once ejaculation occurs, remove the condom while the penis is still erect.
- If you've ejaculated inside your partner, hold the condom at the base while carefully withdrawing the penis to ensure it stays in place.
- After fully withdrawing, carefully remove and dispose of the condom in the trash.
- Do not flush the condom in the toilet to avoid clogging and environmental impact.
- If you plan to engage in any further sexual activity after removing the condom, it's crucial to put on a new one before doing so.
To give condoms the best chance at working, you should store them in a cool, dry place away from any direct sunlight or heat. While many people carry a condom in their wallet to have with them at all times, this usually isn't the best idea, as the constant use of the wallet can cause wear and tear to the condom. If you store your condoms in direct sunlight or heat, there's also a chance that they could dry out, making them ineffective.
Possible risks while using condoms
While using a condom is generally quite effective, there are risks if not used properly.
Risks of using a damaged condom. Condoms can be damaged by exposure to sunlight, heat, or friction, such as carrying them for a long time in a wallet. Signs of damage may include dryness, brittleness, or visible tears. Before using a condom, carefully inspect it to see if there are any signs of wear. If there is, make sure you throw them out and get an undamaged one for protection against pregnancy and STIs.
Risks of using an expired condom. The material of a condom breaks down over time, which is why they have expiry dates. When the material starts to break down, the effectiveness of protection decreases. Always check the expiration date on the condom packaging before use, and discard any condoms that have passed their expiration date.
Risks of incorrectly using a condom. Incorrect use, such as not putting on the condom before any sexual contact or using oil-based lubricants with latex condoms, can compromise their effectiveness. This could lead to potential STIs and unplanned pregnancies. To avoid this, always make sure you use and store a condom correctly before, during, and after sex, as stated above.
It's important to use external condoms for safe and enjoyable sexual experiences. Proper usage of condoms is essential for preventing unintended pregnancy or protecting against STIs. Remember to check the expiration date before using them. It's crucial to find the right size for effectiveness, and different types are available to cater to personal preferences. Always use a condom for all types of sex, and make sure to follow the correct usage, removal, and storage procedures. Be cautious of potential risks, including using damaged condoms. Staying informed and practicing safe sex will lead to pleasurable experiences.
How do you tell if a condom is expired?
Checking if a condom has expired is a straightforward process. Simply look for the expiration date on the condom's packaging. In case the date is missing or unclear, it's recommended to play it safe and throw out the condom and use one that is definitely not expired.
Do condoms break when expired?
Yes, condoms can be more likely to break when they are past their expiration date. As condoms age, the materials break down, affecting their effectiveness and strength. It's important to always check the date before using a condom.
Do condoms affect female pleasure?
For most people with vaginas, using an external condom doesn't affect pleasure. In fact, research has found that women consistently reported high levels of arousal and enjoyment, with minimal differences in whether condoms were used or not.
When used correctly, external condoms are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy and substantially reduce the risk of various STIs, including HIV.
Correctly storing, putting on, using, and disposing of condoms is essential for a safe and pleasurable sexual experience.
Choosing the right size, checking expiration dates, and understanding different condom types are also crucial in making safe and informed decisions.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Condom effectiveness.
- Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS. Correct and consistent use of condoms.
- Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS. Condoms: Past, present, and future.
- The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Characteristics of Condom and Lubricant Use among a Nationally Representative Probability Sample of Adults Ages 18–59 in the United States.