“The first thing I say when someone tells me their condom broke is: 'Great, you were using a condom,'” says Christine Brennan, a practicing clinician and associate professor of health policy at LSU’s School of Public Health in New Orleans.
She uses a car analogy to describe the situation of a condom breaking, dubbing it a fender bender. This means that while it’s probably not a big deal, you need to proactively address the “potential issues of secretory transmission.” That means if someone comes inside of you when you weren't expecting it—even a little—you should definitely take the proper precautions to make sure you didn't contract anything or unintentionally start a family.
How fast should I act if a condom breaks while I’m having sex?
“Pregnancy and HIV need to be addressed within 72 hours,” Brennan says. That’s the window of time when a woman can take Plan B (the morning-after pill) to prevent pregnancy, and when anyone can take post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV infection. While people who do get pregnant have the option of an abortion—for now, at least—it can be more physically and emotionally challenging than taking Plan B before a pregnancy begins, she adds. Brennan also tells me that when it comes to HIV and unprotected sex, transmission is very much a risk after that 72-hour window if the party with HIV is not already on treatment (because people on HIV drugs are less likely to spread it).
How do I know when a condom breaks?
As someone who owns a dick and uses condoms, I can assure you that it is obvious for some people when a condom has broken. When it happened to me, I could feel it immediately. There was a quick pop and then a change in sensation, and it was abundantly clear to me that my condom broke. I calmly pulled out and replaced the condom.
Unfortunately, it’s not always so easy for the receptive partner to tell if a condom has broken because there may be no change in sensation for the person receiving the D. Brennan advises that a condom should be always be inspected after being removed, especially if a person came in it. “When it is removed, secretions should pool up in the tip and be noticeable,” she says. Semen dripping out of a condom would be a sign the condom broke.
Fortunately, pre-existing “microtears in condoms" are not really a thing. Or, at least, all those fear-mongering, abstinence-only sex ed teachers were greatly exaggerating the idea that condoms inherently have super-tiny holes for viruses to escape through. Condoms are extensively tested before packaging, and when they do break they usually tear dramatically—latex tends to rip apart, but that takes a lot of strength to achieve.
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Is a broken condom less risky if the person wearing hasn’t come yet?
Of course, there isn't always a full load of semen in a condom when it breaks, and that can dramatically change your risk. “For HIV infection, you’ve got to have a big injection of infected secretions,” Brennan tells me. “But with HPV, syphilis, and herpes, both the receiver and penetrator have equal risk, and condoms don't fully protect you.”
By the way, if you forego condoms, don’t think that the “pulling out” method will be any type of savior in pregnancy prevention or HIV transmission, because it may require more self-control and trust than you can achieve in the heat of the moment. A second too long of pounding, and good intentions fall to shit. And the sex act doesn’t stop at ejaculation, Brennan tells me. “It's really important [to remember] that the sexual act isn't just penetration and orgasm. Clean-up is also important.” This means making sure the condom didn't break, and that you or your partner don't spill any semen when you take it off.
Condom or no condom, practicing good sexual hygiene is crucial. Brennan offers that sage advice that women and men should always follow: “Urinate after sex to clean out and open up your urethra, which will help prevent urinary tract infections.”
How do I store condoms so that they’re less likely to tear or break?
First things first, be realistic about your sex life. “You should keep condoms where you are likely to need them and use them. If you mostly have sex in your car, you should keep them there,” says Kenneth Almanza, program coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Public Health, who works to get PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, a medicine that can prevent HIV infection) distributed statewide. Almanza also educate spatients on the risks of sex, and the different ways to reduce the chance of disease or pregnancy.
That being said, Almanza also points out that if condoms are exposed to extreme heat or cold, then they are more likely to wear out and break. Pay attention to the label, don't keep old ones in your wallet, and if a condom is expired, then throw it away and get a new one. They are so widely available for free (at clinics and other places) that there is no excuse not to have them.
Another way to ensure a condom doesn't break is to use lube, and to always use the right kind of lube. In general, water- and silicone-based lubes work with any condom, but always check the label on the condom to be sure. Almanza points out that oil-based lube is not to be used with latex condoms, as it will cause the condom to weaken and be more likely to break. Another benefit of lube is that a drop or two inside the condom can make it feel more comfortable on the operator.
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