You might've seen someone put a condom on a banana in middle school health class, but beyond that, we learn frighteningly little about how to use condoms. So, we probably shouldn't be surprised that over the course of a month, 29 percent of people who recently used a condom had some sort of problem with it, according to a recent National Center for Health Statistics report. That's pretty frightening: How are we supposed to prevent pregnancy if a third of us are regularly having issues with the very thing that's supposed to do that?
"Unless a parent/guardian, teacher, or healthcare worker intentionally spent time going through the steps with us (or if we’ve sought out help on our own), we’ve sort of been left to our own devices to figure [condoms] out on our own, often learning from the mistakes we’ve already made," sex educator Anne Hodder, ACS tells Bustle. And learning from your mistakes is fine, except when those mistakes can cause you to get pregnant or contract STIs. In that case, it's probably in your best interest to get it right the first time.
Toward that end, here are some of the most common mistakes people make when they use condoms — and how to prevent them.
Without realizing it, many of us sabotage our chances of effectively using a condom before we even take it out of its package. Your condoms shouldn't be floating freely in your purse, where pens, keys, and other objects could poke holes in them. "It’s tough to see these micro punctures or tears through the wrapper, and there’s a risk that people will end up using a condom that looks a-OK from the outside but actually has been compromised," Hodder explains.
To stop this from happening, Hodder recommends putting a condom in an empty mint tin. Or get condoms like Lovability's that come in their own tins. If you've left a condom somewhere near objects that could puncture it, squeeze the wrapper to make sure no air escapes (which indicates that it's intact) before you use it.
Latex allergies are really common, says Hodder. The signs of a latex allergy include itching and redness in the genitals or, in more severe cases, shortness of breath, coughing, sneezing, or itchy eyes. If that sounds like you, Hodder recommends using polyisoprene condoms instead.
When you put on a condom, it should be pointing upward like a little hat, says Hodder. If it looks inverted, it's probably on the wrong way. Cath Hakanson, sex educator and founder of Sex Ed Rescue, says another sign of an inside out condom is that it doesn't roll on smoothly. Inside out condoms are more likely to come off, and that defeats the whole purpose.
A lot of people will start to put a condom on inside out, then just turn it around and get back to business. "There’s no 5 Second Rule for sexually transmitted infections," says Hodder. "As soon as a condom makes contact with skin or bodily fluids, it can be considered 'used.'" Once you fail at putting on a condom right the first time, get another one. And always carry at least three so you have an alternative if that happens.
You should be paying attention to condoms' expiration dates. "The materials that condoms are made of have shelf lives, just like the food we eat, and the older the condom, the less strong and reliable the condom will be," says Hodder. "I recommend checking all the condoms you have before the possibility of sex is even a twinkle in your eye so that, in the heat of the moment, you don’t have to take a minute to see whether or not your condom is too old to roll on." In fact, before you even buy the condom, make sure the expiration date is far in the future.
The top of the condom shouldn't be directly touching the penis, says Hakanson. If there's not enough room, the ejaculate can get out through the sides (the horror!).
No matter how much lubrication you naturally produce, you'll need additional lube with condoms, because otherwise, they can break, says Hakanson.
Whether a condom is too loose or too tight, it'll slip off more easily if it's not a perfect fit, says Hakanson. So when you or your partner go condom-shopping, it's time to put aside your pride and get the size that'll protect you the best.
Proper condom usage is not nearly as obvious as it seems, so don't be afraid to do research, ask questions, and pause if it seems like something's off.