Condoms: Overall, Your Best Friend
Where, When, How, and Why to Use them
WHAT ARE THEY?
In short, condoms are thin (usually latex) barriers that cover the penis in a sleeve to prevent any fluid transmission. Condoms are put on before any genitals come into contact, then taken off, tied in a knot, and thrown into a trashcan when sexual contact is over. When used perfectly, condoms are between ~98% effective in preventing pregnancy, which means out of 100 couples who rely solely on condoms for birth control, only 2 will get pregnant within the year. Hence why condoms are pretty much the only form of commonly used birth control that protect against STDs—they stop any direct genital to genital contact.
WHEN DO I NEED THEM?
The biggest issue younger people have with condoms is figuring out when it’s finally time to use them.
A lot of young girls, especially ones who aren’t in the healthiest sexual relationships, aren’t ready for penetrative sex and yet still allow for a fair amount of genital contact to please their partners (i.e., think dry humping but without the clothes). In these scenarios, a lot of girls don’t bring up condom usage because they don’t want to make it seem like they’re ready to really have penetrative sex.
If you’re in this position, remember that you truly do not have to do anything you don’t actively desire doing. If the only thing you enjoy about naked grinding is pleasing someone else, you should not be doing it, full stop.
However, if after consideration you do want to continue with non-penetrative genital contact, you should seriously consider condoms. Telling your partner you want to use a condom does not mean you automatically consent to penetrative sex—it just means you’re a smart person who knows that any time genitals touch each other, there’s a chance of fluid transmission, which means there’s a chance of STIs and pregnancy.
I know you’re scared of sounding crazy for making a guy put a condom on when you’re not “having sex,” but as earlier mentioned, not every dude has amazing control of when he’s going to ejaculate, and there is some amount of sperm in pre cum. By using a condom every time there’s genital contact, you can avoid the later panic over an accident in the wrong place.
HOW DO I GET THEM AND HOW DO THEY WORK?
Condoms are by far the form of contraception that is the easiest to obtain. Sold at every drugstore in America, you can usually get them for less than a fancy cup of coffee. If you’re scared about your parents finding out, remember that your debit/credit card doesn’t display exactly what was sold, just the store you bought it from, so don’t panic about slipping it into your Target cart when you’re out buying lip balm. And if you’re truly scared about someone finding out, buy with cash, since there’s no way to track it.
If the financial burden is too much (which is totally fair! If you’re correctly using them every time you need them, it adds up), there are almost always places you can get free or reduced-price condoms. Every Planned Parenthood in America has a bowl of free condoms you can just walk in and take, as do a lot of high school guidance counselors. If you live near a university campus, you can do a quick Google and find where their free condoms are stored; for example, Duke keeps free condoms in a bowl in the Student Wellness Building. In general, Google is your friend! You can search for local condom outreach programs—like this one, which mails Georgia residents free condoms every month.
There’s no point in spending money on condoms if you’re not going to use them properly. Condoms are often said to be 98% percent effective; unfortunately, that statistic comes from studies where couples used condoms perfectly. If used the way “normal teens” use them, condoms are only 85% effective, meaning 15 out of every 100 couples will get pregnant over a year using condoms “normally”. If you’re aiming for that 98% efficacy, you need to be sure your condoms…
a. Yes, condoms expire! They should list their expiration date on the packaging, but be warned, if they were stored poorly (see below), they might still not be at their best, even used before their official expiry date. After their expiration date, the latex in a condom starts to degrade, making them much more likely to snap or tear.
a. A properly stored condom should be kept somewhere consistently dry, room temperature (so not a car glovebox), and low friction (so not a wallet or pocket, as that leads to rubbing!). This is why it helps to carry your own condoms. You’re always protected, and you have other options if your partner pulls a condom out of their sweaty wallet or track bag.
3) Are put on properly
a. Putting on condoms requires practice—you’re not going to master it without doing it. This video demonstration can help, but most of all you’re going to need a banana or a willing penis owner who will let you try it a few times. When putting on a condom, be sure to remember how thin the plastic is—that means not using your teeth to tear the pack open and making sure your nails don’t tear a hole.
4) Are put on early enough
a. Say it with me—no genital contact without a condom. If you’re aiming for the most protection possible, you should be putting on a condom as soon as genitals are touching. “Just the tip” or “just for a second” are bogus arguments that have no scientific reality. If a penis is touching your genitals without a barrier, it can get you pregnant. It probably won’t, but the South isn’t a great place for “probably.”
5) Don’t break
a. A “broken condom” is a condom that has tears in the latex. You can avoid condom tearing in a few ways—mainly, by ensuring they are non-expired, properly put on, and the right size. In addition, condoms can tear if there isn’t proper lubrication. A lack of lubrication (i.e., not being wet enough) is totally normal and easily fixed; you can either spend more time on foreplay before starting penetration or buy some lube at any drugstore or supermarket. If you choose to use lube, don’t use baby oil, petroleum jelly, or any other oil-based lube. Oil degrades latex, so be sure to check your lube’s label and make sure it’s condom safe.
If you follow the above rules perfectly, you should have a 98% chance of not getting pregnant. However, that 2% still exists for a reason. Things can go wrong. So, what should you do if…
THE CONDOM BREAKS
It sucks, but it happens—sometimes, midsex, condoms can tear. A lot of times, the condom-wearing partner can tell when this happens. They might feel the sensation of sex suddenly change (i.e., things might feel “warmer” or “wetter”). Occasionally, the non-condom wearing partner might feel a small “popping” feeling when the tear happens, but it is more likely that the condom-wearing partner will notice. It is also possible that neither partner will notice, which is why you should check the condom every time you change positions.
As soon as either partner thinks the condom has broken, you both should stop having sex to check. A broken condom can look a few different ways; it might be completely broken and bunched around the base of the penis, or there might just be a small rip or tear. Both should be considered a broken condom.
If the condom tore pre-ejaculation, throw the old condom away and put on a new one. Your chances of pregnancy are quite low, but pre-cum has the small potential to lead to pregnancy, so weigh your individual priorities before deciding whether to take Plan B or wait for your period.
Alternatively, if you finish having sex and discover that the condom is broken afterward, you should most probably use Plan B, since that means sperm most probably entered the vaginal canal. Once again, this choice comes down to individual circumstances; you should consider where you were in your cycle, your financial situation, and your access to an abortion before making your decision. You can see below for more info on Plan B, or the “morning-after” pill.
If you’re nervous about condom tearing, you can easily check your condom afterward to assure yourself that everything is fine. When your partner takes it off post-sex, you can momentarily hold it up to ensure that none of the semen leaks out. If any does, you now know that it was a torn condom, and make decisions from there.
THEY TAKE THE CONDOM OFF
Let me be extremely clear—if you are having sex with someone and they take their condom off without your knowledge and freely given permission, that person has assaulted you. This is known as “stealthing,” and it is illegal in the UK, Germany, and New Zealand. In 2021, stealthing also became illegal in California, and similar bills have been introduced in New York and Wisconsin. Do not laugh it off, and do not assume it is normal. Whatever feelings you have about being stealthed are justified, including rage, sadness, and fear.
If you discover they have taken the condom off before they’ve ejaculated, I strongly suggest you leave and never talk to that person again. Luckily, similarly to when condoms break pre-ejaculation, you are reasonably safe from pregnancy.
However, if you discover they’ve taken the condom off only after they’ve finished, you should consider both getting a Plan B and taking an STI test (scroll down to learn more about Plan B)
You should also consider your mental health. Don’t feel “silly” for seeking out campus therapy resources, which are especially available at Women’s Centers. Your feelings, whatever they are, are extremely valid, and need to be addressed so that you can move forward.
Finally, if you live in California, you can consider going to the police to report an assault. In other states, people who stealth are harder to bring to justice, but you should still investigate your local options, including your campus’s policies on condom removal. Any desire to hold an assailant accountable is completely fair and should be honored.