The steps to using a condom correctly is one of my favorite pieces of information to share, partially because folks seem to be surprised when I list off more steps than they were expecting. Also, it is fundamental information to protect against STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and/or pregnancy. Condoms are one of the most accessible forms of protection available – cheap or free, no ID required to buy them, no doctor’s visit necessary, and they can be found in bathrooms, pharmacies, grocery stores, clinics, sex shops ... so many more places than dental dams, female condoms, even latex gloves, and hormonal or non-hormonal birth control!
Steps to Using a Condom CorrectlyCheck the box and condom wrapper for the expiration date and for a lot number. Expired condoms are more likely to break. A lot number proves that the condoms were part of a batch that was tested, as opposed to condoms that are sold as gag gifts or jokes that are not meant to be used as protection – more likely to be found in specialty stores or bathrooms.
Gently squeeze the condom wrapper between your fingers to check for an air bubble. If the wrapper is flat or deflated it may have a hole in it, meaning the condom could be damaged as well. Store your condoms in a safe, temperature regulated space – avoid extreme temperatures and physical abuse. One night in your wallet probably isn’t going to do much damage, but try your pocket instead. The rest of the box would love to be in a nightstand drawer rather than the glove box of your car.
Opening the package gently with your fingers is key. Avoid using your teeth, knives, and if you are sporting long fingernails, be especially careful. Condoms are tough but fragile when mishandled. If you have lube or other slippery substances on your fingers, opening a condom packet can be especially frustrating, and of course, there is the sense of urgency! Take a deep breath and remember that this piece of latex/polyurethane/lambskin is the protection you and your partner(s) need, and taking an extra few seconds to do this part right is worth it, every time.
Which way does the condom roll? Hold the tip of the condom and start to unroll it to help you figure out which way to put it on. This can be done without the condom ever touching the penis or dildo/vibrator/cucumber, and you don’t have to unroll it very far. If you have placed it on the penis or toy the wrong way and you decide to flip it over and just try again, know that you have exposed the exterior of the condom to any fluids that may have been on the penis/toy, defeating the purpose of using a condom in the first place. Chuck it and start over.
Lube, lube, and more lube! Now is the time to drop some lube in and on the condom and on the penis/toy to not only protect the condom but to also increase sensation for all involved! Certain condoms need certain lubes: latex condoms can be used with water-based or silicone-based lubes. DO NOT use oil-based lubes with latex condoms, ever. The oil degrades the latex, weakening it and causing it to eventually break. Polyurethane condoms can be used with any type of lube – water, silicone, or oil.
Rollin’! Rollin’ on the shaft! And don’t forget to pinch the tip. Holding the tip of the condom, known as the reservoir, place the condom on the penis/toy, and roll it all the way to the base. The idea is to cover as much of the shaft as possible, to prevent exposure and slippage, which can lead to spillage.
Do it. Whatever sex you’ll be engaging in – vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex with a penis or toy. And while you are doing it make sure to...
Check the condom. While pumping, thrusting, rubbing, sucking, or grinding away make sure to touch base (ha!) with the condom. Make sure it is still rolled to the base of the shaft and isn’t sliding or rolling back up.
Hold on to the condom. All done? Great! Before withdrawing the penis/toy hold onto the base of the condom so that it does not slide off the shaft. This is a simple and easy step that can prevent a major fishing expedition and/or a trip to the emergency room. A special note for penises, after ejaculation the penis goes from erect to flaccid pretty quickly so don’t linger too long, even if it is all warm and cozy.
Removal and disposal of the condom. Removing a condom from a penis can get messy, especially if it is a tight fit and the penis is still erect. Roll and tug away from your partner(s) so you aren’t splashing them with any fluids. You can tie it a knot or tie it in a bow but don’t throw it over your shoulder. Throw it into a trash bin and avoid flushing it down the toilet.
Ready for round 2, 3, 4, 10? Use a new condom for each separate sexual behavior. Reusing condoms stresses them out and lowers their effectiveness. Also, different sexual behaviors i.e. anal sex and vaginal sex, should not be mixed together to prevent infections.
Other Tips and Tricks
Types of condoms: There are male condoms and female condoms. Female condoms are made of polyurethane and a bit more expensive and harder to find than male condoms. There are lambskin condoms, latex condoms, and polyurethane condoms. Lambskin condoms are more porous than latex or polyurethane and are recommended for pregnancy prevention and not for STI protection. Latex condoms are the most common and cheapest type of condom. Polyurethane condoms are thinner for more sensation and are more expensive. There are a variety of sizes in condoms (see info below).
Sizing: Using the right size condom for your penis or toy helps to prevent slippage, breakage, and/or spillage. You may need to try a variety of brands of condoms until you find one that works for you.
No dental dam, no worries!: Condoms can be cut up the middle and used as a dental dam to protect during oral sex, rimming – any behavior where the mouth will be touching a person’s genitals or anus. Be sure to use a non-lubricated condom for a dental dam as most regular lube doesn’t taste so great.Remember to ask for consent before engaging in sexual behaviors with your partners!
Erin Brandt (she/her/hers) has been a sexologist for 15 years. When she’s not spreading sexual knowledge, Erin can be found learning from her child, hiking with her partner, cuddling with her pitbull, knitting with her cat, dancing with friends, and searching for the nearest hammock and ocean breeze. Want more? Visit www.positivesexed.com