By Madeleine Castellanos, M.D.
In today's wonderful world of silently but sexually transmitted illnesses, wearing a condom is a must. It does take a little bit of a learning curve, and certainly a little investment in finding just which condom fits you the best and feels the best for the both of you. But considering that there are dozens of different STIs and that many of them can infect without causing any immediate symptoms whatsoever, a condom is your best bet for protection short of abstinence.
Even though using a condom properly can be easily learned, there are occasional mishaps and slip-ups. Since most condoms are made of latex, they are very stretchy with a resilient ring that pops back into place when squeezed. Add the fact that some condoms are pre-lubricated and you could find your condom flying out across the room as it slips through your fingers. Other times, opening the package becomes the challenge, as you struggle with your slippery fingers to get this little scored pouch to open up. Always try to open close to the edge rather than the middle, since the condom could be torn if you open the package in the middle a little too vigorously. For this same reason, you should try to use your fingers rather than your teeth.
In order to decrease the chance of breakage, you should always make sure that you are not working with an old, expired condom. The package can only keep it's integrity for so long, which is why you need to check the expiration date on the package while the lights are still on (and hopefully in time to get a replacement if necessary). Don't keep the condom in a wallet for too long, and never let it stay in the car because heat or extreme cold damages the latex. If the little package looks kind of deflated, don't use that condom. Also, when using a male condom, leave yourself a little room at the tip by squeezing the air out of the tip as you put it on. This not only leaves a little room for the semen after ejaculation, but it also creates less tension on the tip of the condom during thrusting. Many condoms have a reservoir tip, but still take out the air as you put it on.
If you're in the dark and you can't figure which way the ridge is facing, and you don't have it so that it rolls outwards, you may end up putting a lot of force on the condom just to get it down the shaft and can break it. Always check the ridge prior to putting the condom on the penis to make sure it will roll down easily. Use lube only on the tip of the condom on the inside, but plenty as you need it on the outside since too little lube can result in too much friction leading to breakage. If you put lube all over the penis before putting the condom on, however, the condom could easily slide off the penis during intercourse and you could pull out to find the condom deep inside the vagina or rectum. Use only condoms that are approved for sex and not "novelty condoms" that may not protect against pregnancy or STIs. Only use water-based or silicone-based lubes since oil will disintegrate latex. Keep in mind that silicone lube is not compatible with silicone toys (dildos, vibrators, rings, etc.) and that many condoms come pre-lubricated with a silicone-based lube.
If a condom should break on you, do yourself and your partner a favor and stop what you are doing and replace the condom. Don't just ignore it or think it's too embarrassing to mention. Sure it cuts into the action, but that's a better alternative than an unwanted pregnancy or STI. You can even tell your partner that you were so into the action that you actually broke the condom! It's just a matter of respecting both yourself and your partner's wishes and sexual health.