Proper Condom Use and AIDS/HIV Prevention

Man opening condom
Science Photo Library - Ian Hooten/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

The primary reason that condoms fail to prevent HIV/STD infection or pregnancy is incorrect or inconsistent use, not a failure of the condom itself. Consistent use means using a condom with each and every act of anal, vaginal, or oral sex.

But let's be honest: That doesn't always happen, either because of misinformation, misuse, or misconceptions about personal HIV risk.

So, let's start by outlining the 12 steps to putting on a male condom correctly and see how many you get right:

1: Buy the Right Condom

One size doesn't fit all. Start by sizing the condom to your penis or the penis of your partner to prevent slippage or breakage. Choose FDA-approved condoms made of latex or polyurethane, but avoid natural lambskin condoms, novelty condoms, or condoms pre-lubricated with the spermicide nonoxynol-09 (the latter of which can compromise the delicate mucosal tissues of the vagina and anus). And be sure to purchase plenty of condoms, not just a few, in case there is an accidental tear or breakage.

2: Store Your Condoms Correctly

Always store condoms in a cool, dry place and away from sunlight. Don't keep them any place where they'll be exposed to heat or fluctuations in temperatures, including your glove compartment, wallet, or back pocket.

3: Check the Condom Package and Date

First and foremost, always check the expiration date of the condom and never use an expired condom. Check the wrapper for any signs of tears or damage. If you remove the condom from its wrapper and it looks discolored, brittle or sticky, throw it out and get another.

4: Get the Right Lubricant

Always use an approved water-based or silicone lubricant. Oil-based lubricants (including baby oil, mineral oil petroleum jelly or vegetable shortening) can weaken the structure of latex, increasing the risk of tears or breakage.

5: Open the Condom Carefully

Open the condom carefully using the easy-tear edges. Don't get carried away and simply rip the package open. Tearing the package with your teeth is also a bad idea, since you may not see if you've inadvertently nipped the condom with your teeth. 

6: Determine Which Side of the Condom Is Up

Place the condom on your thumb, but don't unroll it. Check the rolled edges of the condom. If the condom is right side up, there will be a rimmed lip on the edge. If it's inside-out, the edge will be smooth. Don't rely on the reservoir tip as the indicator of this, as it may be inverted. If situated properly, the condom will roll smoothly away from the reservoir tip.

7: Pre-Lube the Condom and Penis

It sometimes makes it easier to unroll the condom if you put a drop of lubricant on the inside of the reservoir tip. Don't put too much lubricant, as it can fill the reservoir and force some of the sperm to the sides of the condom during ejaculation.

8: Make Sure the Penis Is Fully Erect

If the penis is not fully erect, there is a greater chance that the condom will slip off. If erections tend to come and go, which is not uncommon, try using a cock ring, which is worn around the base of the penis and can help maintain a longer-lasting erection.

9: Pinch the Reservoir Tip as You Unroll the Condom

By fully pinching the reservoir tip, you eliminate the air pocket, which can direct the ejaculated sperm to the sides of the condom rather than into the tip itself. The condom should roll down easily down the length of the penis shaft. If you struggle to unroll the condom because it is inside out, throws it away and start again. Once on, smooth out any air bubbles that may be trapped on the sides of the penis. And never "double bag" condoms (placing one atop the other as a form of added protection), as this will only increase friction and, with it, the risk of slippage and breakage.

10: Lubricate the Condom and Penis

Proper lubrication reduces the friction during intercourse, which can tear condoms and cause discomfort. Don't over-apply, however, as this can make the penis far too slippery, increasing the risk of condom slippage.

11: Replace Condoms Between Each Sex Act

If you and your partner are taking a break, or changing between anal sex and vaginal sex, make every effort to change condoms. If the former case, allowing the penis to go even semi-erect can potentially increase the risk of slippage. Better to start again and to never reuse the same condom. In the latter case, alternating anal to vaginal sex can increase the risk of bacterial infection.

12: Remove the Condom Carefully After Ejaculation

Withdraw the penis and remove the condom immediately after ejaculation. Avoid keeping the penis in the vagina or anus for any period of time, as this can increase the likelihood of slippage. Hold the base of the condom tightly with one hand as you pull off the condom with the other. Do not squish the reservoir tip. Quickly tie the open end of the condom into a knot, wrap it in toilet paper or tissue, and dispose of in a wastebasket. Do not flush it down the toilet, as this can damage your plumbing!

Was this page helpful?