table of contents
- Different kinds of condoms
- When do different types of condoms expire?
- Where should you keep condoms?
- Should you use different types of lube with different condoms?
- How can you tell if a condom is still good?
- What are the chances of getting pregnant when using a condom?
- Should you use an expired condom if nothing else is available?
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All condoms expire at some point. How long they last depends on what they’re made of and how you store them. Unlike other contraceptives, most condoms can protect you from both unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The exception is natural condoms made from lambskin or sheepskin, which don’t protect against STIs.
Different kinds of condoms
There are three main types of condom materials: latex, synthetic, and natural (Mahdy, 2020).
- Latex condoms are made from natural rubber. About 80% of condoms on the market are latex.
- Synthetic (non-latex) condoms are made from polyurethane or polyisoprene. Synthetic condoms are an option if you’re allergic to latex. About 15% of condoms are made of synthetic materials (Greenberg, 2017).
- Lambskin/sheepskin (natural) condoms are made from lamb or sheep intestinal membrane. They account for the remaining 5% of the condom market. Bear in mind that, unlike the other types of condoms, lambskin and sheepskin condoms don’t protect against STIs, like HIV/AIDS.
You can also find condoms coated with a spermicide, usually nonoxynol-9. Although at first, this would seem like a good idea for providing double protection against unintended pregnancy, it’s really not. Spermicide-coated condoms don’t work any better than uncoated condoms to prevent pregnancy. They can even cause irritation and urinary tract infections in women. And they reduce the lifespan (the time before they expire) of condoms by up to two years (Mahdy, 2020).
Female condoms: how to use, benefits, and effectiveness
When do different types of condoms expire?
The outside of every box of condoms and every individual condom wrapper has a stamp with an expiration date. Be sure to check the expiration date before you buy condoms.
Condoms have very different lifespans, depending on the material they’re made of and whether they have proper storage (Mahdy, 2020; National Coalition, 2021; FDA, 2020):
- Latex condoms last for up to five years.
- Polyurethane condoms last for up to five years.
- Polyisoprene condoms last for up to three years.
- Lambskin/sheepskin condoms last for up to one year.
These dates assume the condoms aren’t coated with spermicide—which, as mentioned, reduces their lifespan by about two years—and that they’re stored correctly.
Where should you keep condoms?
Heat, humidity, and direct sunlight can degrade both the condom wrapper and the condom, causing them to break down. So it’s best to store condoms in a cool, dark, dry place, like a closet or drawer. Avoid keeping them in places that can get warm or humid, like your bathroom, wallet, or car. It’s important to avoid exposing them to direct sunlight, like keeping them near a window.
Should you use different types of lube with different condoms?
It’s important to use the right kind of lube with different condom materials.
- Latex—Use only water-based or silicone-based lubes (like K-Y Jelly, saliva, or glycerin). Don’t use oil-based lubes with latex condoms. Oil-based lubes include baby oil, coconut oil, petroleum jelly (like Vaseline), most hand and body lotions, massage oil, mineral oil, edible oils, and whipped cream. Oil-based lubes can cause latex to tear.
- Polyurethane—Use water-based or oil-based lubes. Don’t use silicone-based lubes—some types of silicone can break down polyurethane.
- Polyisoprene—Use water-based or silicone-based lubes. Don’t use oil-based lubes. Polyisoprene is a synthetic rubber, and like latex, it can tear when used with oils. (However, it’s safe to use polyisoprene condoms if you have a latex allergy).
- Lambskin/sheepskin—Use with any lube.
All of that might be a bit much to think about when you have something more urgent on your mind than comparison shopping—so it’s good to know that you can use water-based lubes with any type of condom.
Can you get pregnant from precum?
How can you tell if a condom is still good?
In addition to checking the expiration date, you should always (National Coalition, 2021):
- Check the wrapper for holes, rips, or tears.
- Squeeze the wrapper. An air bubble should form, which tells you the wrapper is unopened.
- Examine the unwrapped condom. Is it dry, brittle, stiff, or gooey? If so, throw it away.
What are the chances of getting pregnant when using a condom?
The chances of getting pregnant when using condoms have a lot to do with “perfect use” versus “typical use.” Perfect use is using condoms during and throughout every time you have penetrative sex. Typical use means failing to use condoms during every sexual encounter or not using them correctly—the kinds of mistakes that can happen in real life.
Male condom success rates (Marfatia, 2015):
- Perfect use: 97% success rate (three women out of 100 will get pregnant)
- Typical use: 86% success rate (14 women out of 100 will get pregnant)
Female (internal) condom success rates (Planned Parenthood):
- Perfect use: 95% success rate (five women out of 100 will get pregnant)
- Typical use: 79% success rate (21 women out of 100 will get pregnant)
Condom slippage or breakage is rare, but it’s been reported in 2% of cases (Mahdy, 2020).
Male birth control: is it a thing?
Should you use an expired condom if nothing else is available?
Suppose you have no other form of protection available. In that case, a condom that’s passed its expiration date is better than nothing. But remember that using an expired condom is putting you at risk for pregnancy and STIs. To avoid those risks, you’re better off engaging in other types of sex that don’t require a condom, like mutual masturbation.
- Greenberg, J. S., Bruess, C. E., & Oswalt, S. B. (2017). Exploring the dimensions of human sexuality. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=_NOqCwAAQBAJ&pg=PA194&lpg=PA194&dq=polyisoprene+condoms+fda+approved+2008+pregnancy+stds&source=bl&ots=3r_ERy-B_U&sig=ACfU3U3YCUbo0ctLV2IK72BtYuPNJYaRiQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj_irTO6JPqAhXbTTABHZooAdwQ6AEwDXoECA8QAQ#v=onepage&q=polyisoprene%20condoms%20fda%20approved%202008%20pregnancy%20stds&f=false
- Mahdy, H., Shaeffer, A. D., McNabb, D. M. (2020). Condoms. [Updated Apr 26, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Apr. 21, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470385/
- Marfatia, Y. S., Pandya, I., & Mehta, K. (2015). Condoms: Past, present, and future. Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS, 36(2), 133–139. doi: 10.4103/0253-7184.167135. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4660551/
- National Coalition for Sexual Health. (2021). There’s a legitimate reason you should never use expired condoms. Media Center. Retrieved from https://nationalcoalitionforsexualhealth.org/media-center/ncsh-in-the-news/theres-a-legitimate-reason-you-should-never-use-expired-condoms
- Planned Parenthood. (2021). How effective are internal condoms? Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/internal-condom/how-effective-are-internal-condoms
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.