First things first: Take a deep breath.

You aren’t the first person — and you certainly won’t be the last — to experience a torn or broken condom during sexual activity.

The risks you face depend on when the condom broke and the type of intercourse you were having.

There are steps you can take to reduce your risk for sexually transmitted infections (STI) and pregnancy, but time is of the essence.

We’ll talk you through what to do next.

If you notice the condom you’re using is broken, stop what you’re doing right away. Withdraw from your partner’s body.

Then, assess what you need to do next. These questions can help you determine your next steps.

Things to consider

  • Did breakage happen after ejaculation? If no ejaculate or pre-ejaculate is present, you may be able to remove the old condom, roll on a new one, and continue about your business.
  • Is the condom still on? If it isn’t, you may need to pull it out of you or your partner’s body.
  • Could I get pregnant? If so, you may need to get emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy.
  • Could I transmit or contract an STI? If you or your partner are unfamiliar with your STI status, consider getting tested. You may also want to take preventive medicine.

Immediately afterward

Head straight to the bathroom. These steps may help:

  • Bear down. While you’re seated over the toilet, push down with your vaginal muscles. This can help push out any lingering ejaculate.
  • Urinate. Force yourself to pee while you’re sitting on the toilet. This won’t wash semen out of the vaginal canal, but it may help remove anything on the outside of the vagina.
  • Wash up. Hop in the shower, or use lukewarm water to gently splash your genitals. This also helps wash away any lingering ejaculate.
  • Avoid douching. The chemicals in a douche can irritate the sensitive skin around the vagina. This can open you up to inflammation and infection. It can also push semen further into your body.

Emergency contraception

If you aren’t using another form of contraception, such as the pill, you may want to consider emergency contraception (EC).

This includes hormonal EC pills or a copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Although EC is most effective when used within 24 hours of semen exposure, it can still be used for up to five days afterward.

EC is 95 percent effective when used within five days of intercourse.

EC pills deliver a high dose of hormones to stop ovulation, reduce the chances of fertilization, or prevent a fertilized egg from implanting to the uterus.

You can purchase EC pills without a prescription at your local pharmacy. Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, and MyWay are all available over the counter and cost between $35 and $50.

Talk to your local pharmacist or other healthcare provider about which EC option is right for you.

As a general rule of thumb, EC pills may be less effective for people who have a higher body mass index (BMI).

There isn’t any research to suggest that the copper IUD is similarly affected by BMI, so this option may be more effective.

You may also consider getting a copper IUD. These must be placed by a doctor. Health insurance typically covers it.

In addition to acting as EC, copper IUDs are more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy for up to 10 years.

When to take a pregnancy test

For a reliable result, wait until the first day of your missed period to take a home pregnancy test.

Pregnancy tests work by detecting a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG).

HCG is present when a fertilized egg is attached to the uterus. The longer the egg is attached, the higher the hCG levels rise.

It takes several weeks after implantation for your hCG levels to be high enough to register with an at-home pregnancy test.

If you get a positive test result, consider waiting a few days and test again.

If you don’t want to wait, see a doctor or other healthcare provider to get a blood or urine test to confirm your results.

Immediately afterward

Don’t douche, use an enema, or use any harsh soaps to scrub your mouth, genitals, or anal area.

These products can cause inflammation and may increase your risk for infection. They may also push ejaculate higher into the body.

Preventive medication

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is the only preventive medication available at this time. PEP can reduce your risk for contracting HIV.

If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, see a doctor or other healthcare provider right away.

You must start PEP within 72 hours of suspected exposure. The sooner you’re able to start, the better.

PEP isn’t a one-time pill. You’ll need to take the medication once or twice daily for at least 28 days.

It won’t be as effective if you don’t take it as prescribed.

When to get an STI test

For reliable results, wait at least 14 days after suspected exposure.

As a general rule of thumb:

STIWhen to get tested after potential exposure
chlamydiaat least 2 weeks
gonorrheaat least 2 weeks
syphilisat 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months
genital wartsif symptoms appear
genital herpesat least 3 weeks
HIVat least 3 weeks

If you’ve performed oral sex, make sure to request a throat swab during your STI screen.

Also request an anal Pap smear if you’ve received anal sex.

Oral and anal tests can look for STIs that may be missed during a standard STI screening.

If you receive a positive result, your healthcare provider will discuss your options for treatment and advise you on any next steps.

STI symptoms to watch for

Many STIs are asymptomatic. This means they don’t present any symptoms, and you may have an infection without knowing it. That’s why STI screenings are so important.

When symptoms are present, they may include:

  • rash
  • blisters
  • itching
  • unusual discharge
  • burning during urination
  • pain during intercourse
  • fever

See a doctor or other healthcare provider right away if you begin experiencing any of these symptoms.

Once you’ve handled the immediate aftermath, it’s important to look at what might have led to the condom’s failure.

This will reduce your risk for future mishaps.

Size

Did the condom tear or break? This may be a sign that the condom was too small. Look to size up one level to get a better fit.

Did the condom slip off during intercourse? The condom may be too large. Size down. A condom should fit snuggly and not move freely.

The best way to find a good fit is to try different types and sizes until you find one that, well, fits like a glove.

Once you find one you like, keep a ready supply for future engagements.

Use

Don’t use oil-based lubrication. The chemicals in the lube can weaken the latex material of the condom, which could cause a break. Instead, look for water- or silicone-based lubes.

Do use plenty of lube, however. You can apply a little lube to the penis before rolling on the condom to make it more comfortable — but only a little. Any more on the inside and the condom may slip or move. Save the bulk of the lube for the outside of the condom.

Keep your supply up to date. Condoms that are too old are more likely to tear. Check for an expiration date, and keep a fresh box at all times.

Never wear two condoms at one time. You may think the extra layer will reduce sensitivity or help you last longer, but it can actually lead to discomfort and cause both condoms to tear.

Storage

Keep condoms away from heat, cold, and light. These elements can weaken the material and increase the risk of a break.

The friction in your wallet — and in your glove box — can make condoms ineffective.

Store condoms in a cool, dry place.

Avoid opening condom packages with sharp objects like your teeth, a knife, or scissors.

Even tiny nicks in the surface can leak bodily fluids.

If you’re concerned about your risk for pregnancy or STIs, see a doctor or other healthcare provider right away.

EC and preventive HIV medicine are most effective when taken within 24 hours.

While most EC can be purchased at pharmacies without a prescription, an IUD must be placed by a doctor. Likewise, PEP medication requires a doctor’s prescription.

You can also talk to your healthcare provider about STI screening. They can advise you on the best time to test.