You might think you've mastered the art of putting a condom on a partner or yourself after sex ed in school, but when it comes to handling one IRL, things can get complicated. At some point, all of us could probably use a refresher on how to put on a condom, whether we had rad health teachers or were stuck with abstinence-only education.
Because the truth is, according to Planned Parenthood, condoms are only 82% effective when you add in human error (but 98% effective when used properly). And human error is common with condom use — in one study, 25.3% of people reported unrolling the condom before putting it on. Knowing the exact right way to use condoms is important for anyone looking to prevent pregnancy or STI transmission.
That's why we reached out to a couple of our favorite sex educators and consulted Planned Parenthood's recommendations to get an in-depth refresher on how to put on a condom.
The first thing to keep in mind? When people talk about condoms, they're usually referring to the male condom, a birth control method and safer sex barrier typically made out of latex and placed over a penis. But condoms aren't just for penises; they can also be used over dildos to protect against STIs. (Yes, STIs can spread through sex toys.) And if latex male condoms don't work for you (for whatever reason), know that there are other sexual barrier options out there.
Read on for a step-by-step guide to putting on condoms — and don't be afraid to practice on a banana or cucumber.
The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we're learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we're helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it's done to how to make sure it's consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once. Check out more here.
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Check the expiration date.
While condoms last for several years, according to Planned Parenthood, it's a good idea to make sure the store you purchased them from isn't selling old condoms. Even if you just purchased a pack, make sure to check the expiration date on the box, as well of the condition of the package, says Timaree Schmit, PhD, a sex educator. If the expiration date has passed, throw out those bad boys and purchase new ones.
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Make sure the condom has been stored correctly.
"Expiration date definitely matters, although storage conditions matter just as much, if not more," Dr. Schmit says. "Keeping condoms in a moderate temperature and away from punctures is critical."
A bedside table is an ideal location to keep condoms, but sometimes you want to have sex somewhere other than your own bed. According to Dr. Schmit, your purse or bag is a good spot, as long as you keep it away from keys or anything that could puncture the wrappers. She says that storing condoms in wallets is okay if it's for a short period of time (like one night), but wallets aren't a good long-term storage spot for condoms because body heat could damage the latex if you carry your wallet in a clothing pocket.
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Open the wrapper carefully.
To avoid ripping and breaking the condom when you open the package, unwrap it carefully, using your fingers to gently tear the edge open. And don’t use something sharp, such as scissors or your teeth — that could lead to accidental tearing. Sure, it may seem sexy in the moment, but unwrapping a condom with your mouth could lead to you or your partner unintentionally biting the latex and ripping the condom, and it's not so sexy when the condom breaks during sex.
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Make sure the condom isn’t inside out.
Before you or your partner puts it on, double check to make sure that the condom isn't inside out. Here's a little trick: When a condom is in the right direction to be put on, it should look like a cute little hat. According to Planned Parenthood, it’s okay to unroll it a little bit to double check that it’s not inside out. However, if you start to put it over a penis or strap-on dildo the wrong way, don’t try to re-roll it and reuse it. Toss out the condom, and start over with a fresh one.
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Pinch the tip.
After unrolling the condom, as you're about to place it on the penis or dildo, pinch the pointy nub at the end of the condom with your thumb and index finger. If the tip is easily accessible, you know the condom isn't inside out. This move is especially important when using condoms on penises — you want to pinch the tip of the condom to make room for the semen once your partner ejaculates.
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Unroll the condom.
While using one hand to hold the tip in place, unroll the condom all the way down to the base of the shaft of the penis or dildo. Since cold hands don't always feel sexy, "warm up your hands first if you have the chance to do so," says Jessica O'Reilly, PhD, a Toronto-based sexologist. Condoms come in a variety of sizes — the brand myONE Perfect Fit comes in a whopping 56 sizes, for example — but most standard-sized condoms will fit most penises and dildos comfortably when applied properly. (So no whining about condoms if you have a penis, please.)
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Don’t be scared of lube.
Some condoms come pre-lubricated, but since dryness can lead to condom breakage, use a latex-friendly lube if you need extra moisture (just don't use an oil-based lube, such as coconut oil, since oil can break down latex). You can place a little lube inside the tip of the condom before you roll it on, or squirt some into your hand and rub it on the outside of the condom once it’s put on the penis or dildo all the way, says Dr. O'Reilly. Most condom companies, such as Trojan, also make lubricants that are sold in drug stores right next to their condom selection, so you shouldn't have a hard time finding one.
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Get it on.
Now that you’ve correctly put on the condom, you can get it on. If something feels off or the condom breaks, have the partner with the penis or dildo pull out and re-wrap with a new condom. If the condom broke, and there's been an exchange of semen and/or bodily fluids, you can stop by your local pharmacy to pick up over-the-counter emergency contraceptive (if you're worried about pregnancy) and/or schedule an appointment for an STI screening.
However, if you're putting on the condom correctly and it doesn't break, and especially if you're using it in conjunction with another protection method, such as birth control pills and/or PrEP, there's no reason to worry too much (though, again, condoms are not 100% effective).
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Take off the condom with care.
Especially if there’s semen involved, use extra care when taking off the condom. "When you're done, hold on to the [base] of the condom while withdrawing," Dr. Schmit says. Pull out the penis or dildo with the condom still on, and then roll it off, tie the end in a knot (as to not spill any semen), and toss it in the trash. Those with penises should take the condom off while they're still hard, since it's easier to remove and, as a result, helps you avoid spilling semen, Dr. Schmit says. And, of course, never reuse a condom.