That little piece of latex can help protect you from pregnancy and STDs—so make sure you're using it the right way
Here's a bummer stat: Rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis have reached an all-time high in the U.S., according to the latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (In 2015, more than 1.5 million cases of chlamydia were reported, a 6 percent increase from 2014. Gonorrhea was at 395,000 cases, up 13 percent; and almost 24,000 cases of syphilis were reported, an increase of 19 percent.)
The only surefire way to prevent contracting an STI is complete abstinence, but let's be honest, that's not always realistic, so condoms are the next best thing. (Plus, you can actually have better sex with one of these five condoms.) The thing is, they aren't 100 percent effective, especially if you're not using them correctly. Protect yourself by avoiding one of these all-too-common mistakes.
You Didn't Check the Condom
You don't have to go all Inspector Gadget, but double check the expiration date and make sure the packaging is intact, says Laurie Bennett-Cook, a clinical sexologist in Los Angeles. There should be a small cushion of air if you press on the wrapper and a slip-slide feeling of lube. And this little inspection doesn't have to be unsexy. "When it comes time to put the condom on, you can say, 'Let me get that for you,' and use that as your opportunity to check it out," says Bennett-Cook. (A little awkward? Maybe, but this is just one conversation you must have for a healthy sex life.) Checking the condom is especially important if he's supplying the gear. (You never know, the condom could have been stashed his wallet or the glove box of his car for a year.) And when a condom is old or stored improperly, the latex breaks down, increasing the risk of failure.
He Thinks Two Is Better Than One
"Some people think that they're better off with two condoms just in case one breaks, but that's not the case," says Lauren Streicher, M.D., an associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. The reality: Double bagging creates more friction between the condoms, upping the chance that one (or both) will break.
He Puts It On at the Wrong Time
The best time for the condom to go on is after the penis is erect and before there's any vaginal contact, says Streicher. Putting it on too late is an easy way to pick up anything he's passing along. If he tries to put it on before he's erect, he'll probably have trouble getting it on, the condom may not sit properly on his penis, and it could even interfere with him getting a full erection.
You Didn't Pinch the Tip
Most condoms are made with a reservoir tip designed to catch semen, but if you (or your partner) use one that doesn't have that feature, make sure there's enough space in the tip. "If there's no space, there's a greater chance that there's going to be condom breakage when your guy ejaculates because there's no room for the semen to go," says Streicher. Leaving space doesn't mean an air bubble. If there's air left at the end of the condom, it also increases the likelihood of breaking, says Rena McDaniel, M.Ed., a clinical sexologist. Your move: "Pinch the top of the condom as you're putting it on to avoid letting air in while keeping a bit of room at the top," she says.
He's Using the Wrong Size
Size matters when it comes to condoms. "If a guy wears a size that's too small, first of all, he'll have trouble getting it on, it's going to be uncomfortable, and it's more likely to break," says Streicher. And if he uses one that's too big? It could slip off pretty easily, adds Bennett-Cook. Though your partner may have convinced himself that he's a Magnum-only type of guy, if he's not, speak up. Simply tell him you'd prefer he use a different condom. Having a stash of your own, in a variety of brands and sizes, could be helpful. (BTW, check out these condoms with a cause.)
You Use the Wrong Kind of Lube (or Skip It Altogether)
Condoms can dry out, meaning they might be more likely to break. A squirt of lube can go a long way. "If you (or your partner) put a little bit of lube inside the condom before he puts it on, it adds a ton of sensation for him," says McDaniel. Lube outside of the condom can help keep things slipping and sliding comfortably too. But don't reach for any old thing. Water-based lubricants are best with latex condoms. Oil-based ones (like petroleum jelly, massage oils, body lotion, and that weird stuff your friend told you to try), can weaken the latex.
You Cuddle with Him (and the Condom) Post-Sex
When the deed is done, it's normal to want to just lie there intertwined. But if he lingers inside you, the condom may slip off when he goes flaccid, which means all of his little guys will end up exactly where you didn't want them. "The safest time to remove a condom is right after ejaculation when the penis is still hard," says McDaniel. Gently change positions and don't forget to hold onto the base of the condom during removal so it doesn't slip off, she says.
You Have an On-Again, Off-Again Relationship with Condoms
One of the biggest mistakes anyone can make with their sexual health is only using condoms sometimes (or even most of the time). A condom can protect you only when you use it—which should be every.single.time. All it takes is one instance without to wind up with something that requires a course of antibiotics (or worse, something that you can't get rid of). Make the slogan "no glove, no love" words you live by.