Condoms are a great way to prevent STIs and pregnancy — when used correctly. But that doesn’t always happen.
In fact, so many people make a certain condom mistake that the CDC tweeted a warning about it last week:
If the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tweets about it, you know it’s a real problem. So yes, a fair number of people are rinsing out and reusing condoms.
And some of the responses were pretty great.
Seriously, condoms are meant to be used once. Washing or reusing a condom will diminish its effectiveness.
Like toilet paper and tampons, condoms are a single-use item. Reusing them is not only pretty gross, but it puts you and your sexual partner(s) at risk. Condoms can prevent the spread of most STIs — like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis — but only when used correctly.
“Incorrect use, such as reusing a condom or using more than one at a time, diminishes the protective effect of condoms by leading to condom breakage, slippage, or leakage,” Dr. Elizabeth Torrone, an epidemiologist at the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, told BuzzFeed News in an email. Soap and water won’t kill all of the tiny microorganisms on or inside the condom, and it can only make the latex more prone to tear.
Condoms are up to 98% effective at preventing pregnancy when used perfectly, but this figure drops with inconsistent or incorrect use. “There's no way you can confirm the integrity of the condom for protection against pregnancy once it has been used, removed, washed, and replaced,” Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a board-certified OB-GYN and author of The Complete A to Z for your V, told BuzzFeed News. Simply put, used condoms should go in the trash after sex, even if ejaculation doesn’t occur.
“You should use the condom in the way the manufacturer has intended and tested — if you don’t, you cannot rely on the condom anymore to do those duties,” Dweck said. That means using the condom straight from its original packaging, keeping it on the whole time, and wearing a new one each time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex — and when you switch between these with the same partner(s). “Let’s say you have sex three times in one night — you should be changing the condom three times or before the next sex act,” said Dweck.
Putting on an unrolled condom — which it would be if it has been used and washed — is going to be quite the struggle. And once you do, it probably won’t fit.
You have to put the condom on the right way for it to be effective. “Condoms are rolled up for a reason ... because it makes them easier to apply when you roll it onto an erect penis,” said Dweck. Wearing a condom correctly also ensures a solid barrier against STIs and sperm. Putting an unrolled condom on would be pretty difficult. “Now you have to get this flimsy thing — that’s washed and not lubricated — on the penis ... it’s not impossible but very challenging,” said Dweck.
Washing and reusing a condom will probably affect the tightness and fit, and a loose condom is more likely to leak or fall off during sex.
The bottom line: Do not put a used condom back on...ever.
So please, use a new condom every time you have sex. If cost is an issue, there are ways to get them for free or cheap.
People may reuse condoms for several reasons. For starters, they might run out of condoms and think that reusing one is the best option (it’s not). Some people may be misinformed or uneducated about how condoms work and why it’s important to use them correctly. People may also reuse condoms because they think it’s more cost-effective.
Whatever the reason, it really isn’t worth putting you and your partner at a greater risk for STIs and unintended pregnancy. If you’re going to wear a condom, you might as well make sure it works — right?
You can purchase condoms at just about any drugstore or supermarket or order them online. There are no age restrictions to purchase condoms and they are typically about $1 apiece, but you may save by purchasing them in bulk. You can usually find condoms for free or low cost at your state or local health department, Planned Parenthood, doctor’s offices, college health centers, and community or nonprofit sexual health clinics.