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Condoms are usually quite effective at preventing pregnancy. But in order to lessen the chance that you or a partner will get pregnant, you need to use them correctly.

Using a condom correctly prevents it from breaking.

Read on to learn about how condoms work, how effective they are, the kinds available, and more.

If you use an external condom perfectly — that is, if you put it on correctly and use the correct lube with it — it’s about 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood.

But in reality, Planned Parenthood says, condoms are about 85 percent effective when people use them as their only form of contraception. That’s because condoms might be used incorrectly.

If you’re using condoms as well as another form of contraception, the chances of you or your partner getting pregnant are lower.

Bear in mind that each form of contraception has its own level of effectiveness, and some are more effective than others.

As with condoms, other forms of contraception must be used correctly in order to be as effective as possible.

If you or your partner don’t want to become pregnant, it might be a good idea to use both condoms and another form of contraception — such as oral contraceptives or an IUD — to decrease the risk of pregnancy.

You or your partner are more likely to fall pregnant if you have sex during certain stages of the menstrual cycle.

However, to be on the safe side, you still should use a condom every time you have penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex.

A person who has a vulva can become pregnant only during ovulation, which is when their ovary releases an egg. The egg can be fertilized 24 to 48 hours after ovulation occurs.

Ovulation generally happens about halfway through the menstrual cycle. A person who has a 28-day menstrual cycle, for example, will probably ovulate about 14 days after their period starts.

Sperm remains viable in the body for up to 5 days. This means that if you have PIV sex 5 days before the person with a vulva ovulates, pregnancy is still possible.

However, ovulation might be early or late. And if the ovulating partner has an irregular menstrual cycle, it’ll be difficult to accurately predict the day of ovulation.

So, to be on the safe side, you and your partner should always use a condom during PIV sex — even during mensuration.

As mentioned, using a condom correctly decreases your risk of pregnancy. Here’s what you need to know about using condoms correctly.

Size

Using the proper size is important. But how do you know what condom size to use?

External condom manufacturers often use vague terms like “snug fit” or “XXL.” Based on that alone, it’s hard to tell which size you or your partner needs.

Most standard-size external condoms will fit most penises.

Condoms stretch a great deal, and external condoms are usually far longer than the average penis. It’s extremely unlikely that a standard external condom won’t fit a large penis.

However, some people with a penis prefer a tighter fit, while others feel uncomfortable with such snugness.

It’s best to check out a brand’s website for the measurements. That way, you or your partner can measure in privacy and match it up with the measurements on the website.

Internal condoms, on the other hand, are available in only one size. These condoms should fit securely in any individuals’ vaginal canal.

Storage

While it might seem convenient to store a condom in a wallet, keeping it there for a while isn’t a good idea. Body heat and friction (from using the wallet often) can damage it.

Similarly, it’s not a good idea to store it in a car, bathroom, or your pocket for a long time.

Instead, keep it somewhere cool, like a drawer or cupboard.

If you’re having sex elsewhere and need to transport your condoms, put them in a toiletry bag, a coin purse, a pocket on the side of your bag, or an empty wallet — wherever they won’t be rubbed or heated.

To be safe, only put a condom in your bag or wallet a few hours before you intend to use it.

Expiration

Yes, condoms have expiration dates! If you use a condom that’s expired, it’s more likely to break.

Each condom package should include an expiration date on it. Before opening the package, look for the date and ensure the condom hasn’t expired.

If it hasn’t expired, your next step should be to closely examine the package for damage or holes.

If it’s not expired or damaged, open the package and put the condom on.

As you put it on, look out for holes or tears. If there’s any sort of damage on the condom, even a tiny hole or rip, remove it and use another one.

Use

An external condom can be put on once the penis is erect, just before sexual activity.

It should cover the entire penis, from the head to the base, and there shouldn’t be any air bubbles. The teat at the tip of the condom shouldn’t contain air — that space is needed for semen.

An internal condom can be inserted into the vaginal canal up to 8 hours before sexual activity. The outer ring should hang about an inch outside of the vaginal opening.

If you use an internal condom, the penis can be put into or near the vagina before it’s fully erect.

Removal

Remove the condom after ejaculation. If you want to continue having sex after the partner with a penis has ejaculated, you’ll need to remove the condom and use a new one.

Be careful not to spill any semen, and tie a knot at the end of the condom to prevent the semen from leaking out. Throw it away; don’t flush it.

Open the package carefully. Don’t use your teeth to rip the package open, or you could end up ripping the condom itself.

Putting it on

Put the condom on once the penis is fully erect. It’s important to put it on the right way: It should fit like a beanie, not a shower cap.

If it’s hard to roll onto the penis, it’s probably the wrong way around. If you put it on inside out, throw away the condom and use a new one.

Unroll the condom slightly — by about a centimeter — and place it on the head of the penis. Squeeze the tip of the condom (the teat-like part) and use your other hand to roll the condom over the penis.

Roll it out all the way down the penis. Smooth out any air bubbles.

If you’d like, lubricant can be put inside or outside of the condom.

Taking it off

After the partner with a penis ejaculates, they should pull out of the vagina while holding the condom near the opening, which will be at the base of the penis. This prevents it from rolling off the penis or getting stuck in the vagina.

Once the penis is fully out of the vagina, pull the condom off slowly. Be careful not to spill any semen.

Once it’s off, knot the end of the condom so that semen won’t spill out. Throw it away. Don’t flush the condom.

Open the package carefully. Don’t use your teeth to rip the package open, or you could end up ripping the condom itself.

Putting it in

An internal condom can be inserted up to 8 hours before intercourse.

Push it as far into the vagina as it will go (that is, right up against the cervix). If you’d like, you can use lubricant on the outside or inside of the condom to reduce friction.

The inner ring should go around the cervix. The outer ring should be outside the vagina. Try not to twist the condom.

When the penis enters the vagina, it shouldn’t come into direct contact with the inside of the vagina.

Taking it out

After sex, gently twist the outside of the condom and remove it from the vagina. Be careful not to spill any semen. Tie a knot in it and throw it away — don’t flush it.

As with external condoms, internal condoms should never be reused.

Can you use an internal and an external condom at the same time? No.

Using two condoms at the same time is actually riskier, because the friction could cause one or both of them to break. This applies to two internal condoms, two external condoms, or one of each.

Instead, use one condom, and look into getting another form of contraception (such as an IUD, implant, or pill) if you want to be extra safe.

Even if you use the condom perfectly, there’s a risk that it’ll break.

If you notice that it’s broken, stop immediately and withdraw the penis from the vagina. Remove the condom.

If you or your partner are on another form of contraception, such as an IUD or the pill, pregnancy is unlikely to occur.

You can also get an emergency contraceptive (EC) pill over the counter at your local pharmacy. You don’t need a doctor’s prescription.

It’s important to take EC pills within the first 3 to 5 days after sex — the sooner, the better.

Plan B, for example, is 95 percent effective when taken within 24 hours of sex and 61 percent effective when taken between 48 and 72 hours after sex, according to the manufacturer.

When a condom breaks, it’s also possible for you and your partner to transmit a sexually transmitted infection (STI) to one another.

If you’re concerned about STIs, talk with a doctor or go to a sexual health clinic and ask if you can be tested. They’ll discuss your options for STI screening and testing.

If your partner has HIV, or if you’re not certain that your partner is HIV negative, you can get post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which protects against the transmission of HIV.

In order for PEP to work, it should be taken within 72 hours of potential exposure — the sooner, the better. In order to get PEP, you’ll need a prescription from a doctor or other healthcare provider.

Condoms are effective at preventing pregnancy when they’re used correctly. To further decrease the chances of you or your partner getting pregnant, use another type of contraception along with condoms.


Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Grahamstown, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.