Keeping Condoms Snug and Sound

Spencer Wharton

My boyfriend and I have recently become sexually active (we’re both newbies) and we’re having some serious issues with the condoms slipping/breaking. So, I guess I have two questions: What are some reasons that condoms slip/break, and do you have any tips for how to avoid those things?

-Doesn’t Want to Take Plan B Again

Good on you for practicing safer sex!

External condoms can be a little tricky. According to Planned Parenthood, each year, only 2 out of 100 women whose partners use external condoms perfectly get pregnant. That’s not bad. But that refers to perfect use, and unfortunately, when you look at the typical failure rate––that is, the rate among women whose partners don’t always use condoms perfectly––that number jumps up to 18 out of 100. That’s almost a 20 percent failure rate. Clearly, to maximize the protection provided by condoms, you want to use them correctly, but not everyone’s taught how best to do this. What’s a person to do?

In general, if condoms are slipping off or breaking, there are two things you want to investigate first: the fit of the condoms, and the amount and type of lube you’re using.

To start with, if condoms keep slipping off, check to make sure they fit. A well-fitting condom should sit snugly around the penis without bunching up anywhere––if it’s bunching, that means there’s extra material, and extra material means the condom’s too big. It’s easy to slip out of a condom that’s too big. At the same time, a well-fitting condom also shouldn’t feel uncomfortable or painfully tight, and shouldn’t be stretched taut. If your boyfriend is concerned that the condoms you have don’t fit, consider trying a condom sampler pack like this one from Babeland to find a brand and size that does the trick.

In terms of lubrication, the key is to apply the right amount in the right places. It’s a good practice to put a single drop of lube inside the tip of the condom before putting it on, but as you might imagine, putting too much lube inside the condom makes it harder for it to snugly wrap around the penis, and thus more likely to slip off. Don’t go overboard; you want a single drop in the tip of the condom. Meanwhile, when it comes to preventing breakage, you want to minimize the amount of friction on the outside of the condom, which means ensuring the outside is well-lubricated. When condoms dry out, they get less stretchy and more prone to tearing. Keep things slip-slidey with lube and you’ll decrease that risk.

You should also make sure that the condoms you’re using are compatible with the lube you’re using. Check out my previous post on choosing lube for more advice about that.

If you’ve ruled out lube and condom size as causes, then a few other things to consider are:

  • Intensity of sex: Are you having really vigorous sex? That can put a condom at higher risk for breaking (or slipping off if the two problems above aren’t dealt with). Stop every once in a while to check the condom and reapply lube as needed.
  • Condition of condoms: Condom wrappers should be unwrinkled, free of any holes, and in generally good condition. The condoms should also be unexpired; most have an expiration date printed on the wrapper so you can check. If your condoms are expired or not in great condition, don’t use them––throw them out and get new ones.
  • Timing and withdrawal: Anyone wearing a condom should pull out immediately after ejaculation, while their penis is still erect. When they do so, they should grab the base of the condom as they withdraw. Both of these techniques keep them from slipping out of the condom.

For more information on external condoms, check out Scarleteen’s “Condom Basics: A User’s Manual“.

Good luck!

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