How Condoms Work

How to Use a Condom

How to put on a condom
How to put on a condom
2009 HowStuffWorks

Lab tests show that latex condoms are effective barriers against sperm and microorganisms. But in practice, whether they prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancy has a lot to do with whether people use them consistently and correctly. Here are the basic steps, which should begin before sexual contact with the penis:

  1. Start with proper condom storage -- keep them away from heat and light. Wallets, pockets and glove compartments expose condoms to temperatures that can cause them to break down.
  2. Look at the package to make sure it isn't damaged and the condom isn't past its expiration date. If it's expired or damaged, throw the condom away and get a new one.
  3. Open the foil package by tearing it carefully along one side. Some packages have a notch that serves as a starting point. Don't use teeth or sharp fingernails.
  4. Make sure the condom is right-side up. The tip should stick up from the center of the condom. If it's upside down, it won't unroll correctly.
  5. If the penis is uncircumcised, gently pull the foreskin back to reveal the glans.
  6. Squeeze the end of the condom so there is no air in the reservoir, and place it on the tip of the erect penis.
  7. Carefully unroll the condom down the length of the penis. Be careful not to pull the unrolled portion over the rolled portion -- this will make it difficult to unroll the condom the rest of the way.
  8. If additional lubricant is needed, use one that's water-based. Petroleum jelly, baby oil and hand lotion are oil-based and will break down the condom. Additional lubrication may reduce the likelihood of condom breakage during anal penetration but may increase it during vaginal penetration.
  9. After ejaculation, hold the rim of the condom to keep it from slipping off, and withdraw the penis before the erection is lost.
  10. Remove the condom carefully, wrap it in tissue, and place it in a garbage can -- not in a toilet. Never reuse condoms.

Condoms break more often if they're blown up, filled with water or unrolled before use, or if they are used for very prolonged or aggressive activity [source: Spencer and Gerofi]. If the condom breaks, stop and replace it with a new one. If a broken condom is discovered after ejaculation and pregnancy is a concern, speak to a medical professional about emergency contraception. If STIs are a concern, speak to a doctor about screening.