You're about to have sex. But suddenly, you remember you forgot to pick up that new box of condoms at the drug store. You dig through some drawers and find a loose rubber floating around in your beside table. You feel triumph — until you realize the package claims this contraceptive expired sometime last year. Should you take your chances, like it's a (probably harmless but sketchy) jar of expired salsa? Or do you have to throw your expired condoms in the trash along with your hopes of penetrative sex tonight?
Here's the thing: Condoms have expiration dates for a reason.
Are expired condoms safe to use?
Over time, condom materials (including latex, polyurethane, and lambskin) will degrade and become brittle, says Nerys Benfield, MD, MPH, a gynecologist from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center. When condoms are less flexible, they break or tear more easily. So, using an expired condom leaves you at greater risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection or getting pregnant, Dr. Benfield says.
What happens if you use an expired condom?
But what if you don't have any other condoms in your house, and you go for the expired one anyway? (Or maybe you only noticed the packet's expiration date post-coitus, as you were cleaning up.) "Despite all the risks, both partners will benefit from using an expired condom versus no condom at all," Dr. Banfield says. If the expired condom was stored in a cool, dry place, it may work better than nothing, she says. But you're taking on a risk: It may not protect against all STIs. Planned Parenthood adds that if you're using a condom you know is expired and you're having P-in-V sex, it can't hurt to invoke the pull out method as an additional precaution against pregnancy.
That said, if you can get new condoms, that's your best bet. (You can even order them ASAP on TaskRabbit or Postmates if you don't want to leave the house!)
How long does it take condoms to expire?
In general, most latex and polyurethane condoms will have an expiration date of about five years past the manufacture date, says Deborah Arrindell, vice president of health policy for the American Sexual Health Association. Polyisoprene condoms tend to have a shorter shelf life, but are still good for about three years, she says. And if you use non-latex natural condoms, like ones made out of sheepskin, keep in mind that they tend to have the shortest lifespan (and won't protect against STIs), Dr. Benfield says.
How do you know if a condom is expired?
The best way to check the expiration date is to just read what's printed on the wrapper of the condom you're using. Besides double-checking the date, be sure to inspect the wrapper for any holes or tears, Dr. Banfield says. (One easy way you can check is by pressing down on the wrapper; if you feel an air cushion, it means it hasn't been damaged.) "Once you open the condom, if it feels dry, has a foul odor, or you see any holes, you should throw it out and get a new one," she says. And if you don't see an expiration date on the packaging, or if it's illegible, follow the adage, "When in doubt, toss it out," Arrindell says.
Discovering a condom past its prime might be one small roadblock in your hookup, but there are so many other pleasurable sexual activities that don't involve penetrative intercourse or oral sex, like touching or mutual masturbation, Arrindell says. And hey, the next time you get busy with this person, you'll be sure to be, you know, covered.