Condoms are one of the most effective ways to prevent pregnancy and protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

But if they aren’t used correctly, you’re more likely to experience breaks, tears, and other issues that can put you and your partner at risk.

Read on to learn how to correctly use male and female condoms and dental dams, what to do if the condom breaks, and more.

You should always check that your chosen barrier method is safe to use before you plan to engage in intercourse.

Make sure to:

Check the expiration date. All condoms or dams have an expiration date printed on the box or the wrapper. Don’t use the condom after this date. Expired condoms may tear or break more easily.

Look for obvious defects. If a condom feels brittle or sticky, toss it and get a new one. If a condom is discolored, has an odor, or has any unusual textures, toss it. It’s better to use a condom you can trust.

Look for signs of friction. You probably know that you shouldn’t store condoms in your wallet or purse, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. If you do this, make sure to check for signs of friction on the wrapper. If the color has rubbed off, the condom inside is probably worn down, too. This means it’s more likely to break, so toss it and get a new one.

male condom

Male condoms are a barrier method of protection. They cover the penis tip and shaft and capture ejaculate that’s released during orgasm.

A male condom can be used for vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Not only can it protect against unwanted pregnancy, it can also prevent STIs and other bacteria, such as fecal matter, from passing between partners.

Here’s how to use a male condom correctly:

  1. Open the condom wrapper carefully. Don’t use your teeth or scissors, both could accidentally tear or puncture the condom.
  2. Check for damage or wear and tear that might make the condom fail.
  3. Hold the rim of the condom in one hand. Pinch the tip of the condom with your thumb and forefinger with the other.
  4. Roll the condom down the penis, making sure the rim is on the outside. If the rim is under and not rolling correctly, remove it, and throw it away. Precum may be on the condom, and precum may contain trace amounts of semen.
  5. Apply a few drops of a water-based lube to the outside of the condom if you’d like to reduce friction. Lube can also enhance sensitivity.
  6. After orgasm or ejaculation, pull out of your partner’s body while your penis is still erect. Hold the condom in place with one hand while you pull out. Holding the condom prevents slippage, which could introduce semen or fluids into your partner’s body.

Female condoms, or internal condoms, are larger than male condoms. However, most people can still use them comfortably and effectively. Female condoms are primarily used for vaginal sex, but they can also be used for anal sex.

Like male condoms, female condoms are highly effective at preventing pregnancy and reducing the risk of sharing STIs when used correctly.

Here’s how to use a female condom:

  1. Remove the condom from the packaging. Don’t use your teeth or scissors, as this may tear or rip the condom.
  2. Get into a comfortable position. Consider lying on your bed or propping your leg on a stool.
  3. Pinch the smaller, inner ring that’s at the closed end of the condom between your thumb and forefinger. Use your other hand to pull back the folds of your labia around the vagina. Slide the squeezed inner ring into your vagina.
  4. Slide your forefinger, middle finger, or both into the open end of the condom until you reach the closed end of the condom. Gently push the condom further into your vagina until you reach the cervix.
  5. Rest the outer ring of the condom on the external vagina. Hold it in place during intercourse. If the outer ring goes into the vagina during penetration, pull it back out.
  6. Insert the penis into the condom, ensuring that it goes into the vagina and not between the condom and the vagina.
  7. After orgasm or ejaculation, twist the condom, and gently pull it out of your vagina, being careful not to spill semen.

A dental dam is a latex or polyurethane sheet that can be used during vaginal oral sex or anal sex to protect against the spread of STIs. A male condom is the best barrier method for penile oral sex.

Here’s how to use a dental dam for oral sex:

  1. Open the dental dam’s package carefully. Don’t cut it open with scissors or tear it open with your teeth. This can tear or rip the dam.
  2. Unfold the dam, looking for holes or damage that could make it less effective.
  3. Lay the dam across the vaginal or anal area. Lube on the dam or natural static will hold the dam in place. During oral sex, you should hold the dam in place to prevent it from slipping too much.
  4. After oral sex, fold the dam up, and throw it away.

A male condom can be used for penile oral sex. It should be applied before any oral sex begins. Put the condom on as you could for vaginal or anal sex. Likewise, after an orgasm or ejaculation, you should remove the condom, being careful not to spill any semen.

You can use lube with condoms. It can reduce friction and increase sensation.

You should use water- or silicone-based lube if you’re using a latex, polyurethane, or polyisoprene condom. Oil-based lubes, including petroleum jelly, lotion, or baby oil, can break down these condom, which might lead to failure during intercourse.

Spermicide is also OK to use with condoms. In fact, you should use a barrier method with spermicide for the greatest level of protection against unwanted pregnancy. You can apply spermicide to the outside of a male condom, the inside of a female condom, or directly into the vagina before sex.

Most spermicides have a window during which they’re effective. Follow the directions on the spermicide’s box, and don’t use the product outside of that window. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t insert spermicide more than 30 to 60 minutes before intercourse.

If you want to confirm that the condom didn’t break during intercourse, you can remove the condom careful and fill it with water under a running faucet. If there’s a break in the condom, water will leak through the hole. If no water leaks, the condom didn’t break during use.

Afterward, you can twist the condom or tie the open end in a knot. Wrap the condom in tissue and throw it in the garbage. Don’t flush the condom — this can clog your plumbing.

If you’re in the middle of sex when you discover a broken condom, immediately withdraw from your partner’s body. Remove the condom and replace it with a new condom. Use a new dam if it breaks or tears.

If you know the condom broke during sex or you’re worried you might have been exposed to semen, you have options to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Visit your doctor or a health clinic and ask about emergency contraception.

The emergency contraceptive pill and copper intrauterine device (IUD) can be used within five days of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. They’re 95 percent effective if taken or inserted during this timeframe.

You may also consider getting tested for STIs to ensure that nothing spread between you and your partner.

Correct condom use goes beyond properly inserting or rolling the condom. You should also keep the following in mind when selecting and using condoms:

Size matters. Don’t be aspirational with your condom choice. A properly-fitted condom is the most effective; a condom that’s too big or too small may slip or roll off during sex.

Practice makes perfect. Don’t wait to try applying a condom when you’re in the heat of the moment. Try using an extra condom before you need one so you feel more confident.

Look for alternative materials. Latex is the most common condom option, but condoms made from other materials are available if you have an allergy. Look for condoms made from polyurethane or polyisoprene. Lambskin condoms are also available, but they don’t protect against STIs.

Get condoms for free. Your local health department, as well as some women’s or health clinics, may offer free condoms.

Store correctly. It’s not a good idea to keep condoms in your wallet, purse, car, or bathrooms. Instead, store them in a cool, dry place where they won’t be exposed to heat, humidity, or friction.

Have a conversation. Don’t let protection be a dull topic. Talk with your partner about the variety of options that are available — condoms come in a variety of flavors and textures —and find something that makes sex safety more fun.

Condoms are one of the most effective birth control methods. They also happen to be the only form of protection that prevents the spread of STIs.

Using several birth control options — such as a hormonal birth control with a condom or spermicide with a condom — offers double the protection against pregnancy and STIs.

Knowing you’re protected also can make sex more relaxing and enjoyable. When you know you’re protected against an unplanned pregnancy and STIs, you and your partner can relax and enjoy each other more.