It's not enough to just use condoms. You have to use them correctly! But as many as three out of four people don't.
That's because a lot of us have a love-hate relationship with condoms. The most common complaints? You guessed 'em: They reduce sensation, they're difficult to put on, and, ewww, that smell. But they sure are handy to have around when you're suddenly turned on. And, unquestionably, condoms can go a long way toward preventing both pregnancy and a huge share of the 19 million annual cases of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), from AIDS to herpes, with a lot of very unpleasant stops in between.
So please make sure you're not making any of the top 10 most dangerous condom mistakes:
- Not checking for visible damage. Nearly 75% of people never bother looking for tears or holes -- even if they use their teeth to open the packet (don't!) or snag the condom on their jewelry or fingernails, according to a Kinsey Institute report.
- Not checking the expiration date. Yes, that little date printed on the wrapper is news to 61% of users. Not you, of course! Just don't confuse the expiration date (EXP) with the manufacture date (MFG). Condoms last a lot longer than even Twinkies -- up to 5 years for plain ones, though only 2 years or so for those with a spermicide, which gradually breaks down the latex. But condoms kept in men's wallets get toasty from body heat, which can considerably shorten a condom's life expectancy (and maybe yours). If a condom is sticky or brittle, toss it.
- Not discussing condom use beforehand. Yes, 60% of people say it doesn't work out well when a partner springs condoms on them at the last minute. The more both partners discuss (and even practice) using condoms, the better things will go when the big moment comes. (Find out more about staying in top sexual condition for your partner.)
- Putting it on late in the action. About 43% of students in a sex-behavior study donned the condom after penetration had already occurred. Presumably they didn't know that some sperm can be released before the final fireworks, posing pregnancy and STD risks.
- Not leaving room at the top. It's apparently news to four out of 10 condom users that before putting it on, you need to gently squeeze the tip of the condom to remove any trapped air and leave space for the sperm. Otherwise, the condom's more likely to break.
- Putting it on wrong. Don't you hate when that happens? About 30% of people put it on inside out and don't realize that an inside-out condom is more likely to slip off (go peek at number 8 on this list). The safest thing to do? Start with a new one. The right way: The condom should look a little like a ski cap with the bottom edges rolled up (not under). The cap should fit over the penis so that the brim unrolls easily down the shaft. Any other way and it's a dunce cap.
- Breaking the condom. About 29% of users report breakage. A large chunk of that is user error, not product defects, say researchers. In addition to the mistakes in numbers 1, 2, 5, and 6, add this: using oil-based lubricants (like petroleum jelly, face and body creams, and baby oil or mineral oil). These can make the latex pop. Instead, use kinder, gentler water-based or silicone lubricants (think glycerin or K-Y Jelly).
- Slipping off during sex. The 13% who report slippage have many reasons, including, "It just didn't fit right." To find a good fit, buy a variety of styles and sizes (there really aren't that many choices) and try them at leisure. Remember, natural lambskin sounds nice and can prevent pregnancy, but it doesn't protect against the viruses that cause AIDS, hepatitis, and herpes. Only latex can do that.
- Taking the condom off too soon. Duh, not a good idea. For the 15% of men who report doing this, losing an erection is a big reason. But erections can come and go during sex; besides, ejaculation can occur without an erection, bringing with it all the risks of pregnancy and STDs. (Here's what you need to know about healthy male sexual functioning.)
- The biggest mistake of all: NOT using a condom. Don't let all these potential problems (or that ewww-y smell) turn you off to condoms or simply make you say, "Why bother?" Take a breath, get it right, and save your (sex) life.