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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- If the penis is uncircumcised, gently pull the foreskin back to reveal the glans.
- Squeeze the end of the condom so there is no air in the reservoir, and place it on the tip of the erect penis.
- 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.
- 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.
- After ejaculation, hold the rim of the condom to keep it from slipping off, and withdraw the penis before the erection is lost.
- 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.