Yes, Condoms Can Be Tricky. That’s No Excuse To Not Use Them

The amazing folks at the Kinsey Institute have made the news again. They had previously reported that when condoms don’t fit right, there’s more breakage, slipping, and other challenges to safer sex. This isn’t really a surprise and I’ve wondered why condoms don’t come in a range of sizes. Sure, there are some variations in size but certainly not as many different sizes as penises come in. (BTW, that’s because of an industry standard, not any regulation. So it’s more of an issue of marketing and inventory than anything else, as far as I can tell.)

Their new research shows that user errors are a serious problem when it comes to correct condom use. That’s because there are a lot of steps to take in order to make sure that you’re doing it right. For example:

  1. Check the expiration date. All condoms in the US have a 5-year expiration date printed on the wrapper of every condom.
  2. Keep condoms away from heat. Heat makes latex brittle. It’s OK to carry them in a pocket, but don’t store them in your wallet or near heat.
  3. Tear the wrapper open at the corner. If you tear it open in the middle, you can rip the condom.
  4. Use the pads of the fingers to handle condoms. Fingernails can easily tear condoms.
  5. Use lubricant in the head of the condom. This keeps air bubbles from forming. Put a few drops of lube in the head of the condom before putting it on. That keeps the lubricant on the more sensitive head of the penis and off the shaft, so the condom won’t slide off. Do not use oil with latex condoms. Oils can make condoms break in about 30 seconds!!
  6. Keeping the sexual energy up when you put the condom on can make it less of an interruption. Kissing, hot talk, having your partner put it on (by hand or with their mouth) can help.
  7. Roll the condom all the way down
  8. Check to make sure that it’s still there every so often during sex
  9. After ejaculation, withdraw the penis before it gets soft or the condom may slide off. Hold the base of the condom to make sure you don’t leave it behind.
  10. Throw condoms out in trash — flushing them can clog the pipes!

Making it even more difficult, when you’re excited, nervous, drunk, or turned on, it can be more challenging to remember and successfully accomplish all of these steps. It would be more effective if we learned how to use condoms when we’re in an emotional state similar to the real-life use, just as pilots learn in flight simulators that mimic the real-world situations they’ll be in.

Of course, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon, but we could get closer to it. When I learned how to put condoms on during a sex ed class, the teacher had us do it in front of the room. The nervousness I felt when my classmates watched me was close enough to the excitement/anxiety of sex (especially early on in my sexual life), that when it came to the real thing, I already knew what it was like to try to open a condom wrapper when I was nervous enough that my hands were shaking.

There’s a gap between the ideal condom use and the real-world use, and closing that gap will go a long way toward reducing STIs and unplanned pregnancies. But there are difficulties to making that happen:

This involves talking openly about such things as erections, semen, lubricant and other aspects of sex that can make people uncomfortable. Crosby [a member of the Kinsey Institute Condom Use Research Team and professor at the University of Kentucky] said this lack of education and detail because of embarrassment or discomfort comes at the cost of individuals’ health and lives.

My hope is that, someday soon, we’ll be able to have these conversations. And if you want some info to make it easier, check out our Safer Sex How-To pages.

Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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