Condom application and usage sounds like the simplest of tasks. Roll it on, have sex, roll it off.
Yet on more than a few occasions I've been asked if there are "right" and "wrong" ways to use a condom.
The answer is yes, there are. There's a good chance you're not using condoms properly to ensure their intended efficacy.
I feel like I'm banging on – yet again – with the following preface. Nevertheless people still seem to ignore the following crucial fact: condoms are not just to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Particularly if you're a teenager or twenty-something, I understand you think this is the worst thing that could happen to you. It's not. Sexually transmitted infections are common no matter what kind of sex you're having, and some of them (like HPV and HIV) stay with you for life.
Please also know that there are groups of people that believe the myth they're not at risk with unprotected sex. This is a lie: if you're a virgin, a lesbian, have low sperm count, are over 50, find condoms numbing, or think you can "trust" your sexual partner's history, you still need protection.
Use one latex condom only, no makeshift alternatives
"Double-bagging," as they call it, is less safe than wearing one condom, not more. Never let anybody convince you that wearing two condoms at once is a good idea. Don't use non-latex condoms unless one party has a latex allergy and has discussed alternatives with their medical provider. Moreover, if you don't have condoms on hand, don't have penetrative sex. Any makeshift efforts (glad wrap, the "pulling out" method, and so on) are dangerous.
Check expiry dates
When you use a condom every time you have sex – and it needs to be every time – there is one thing to check before you even begin: the expiration date. Condoms usually expire after 3-4 years (I'm not kidding, I just found one in my bedside table that expired in 2014, covertly mixed amongst a bunch of non-expired ones). Check your condom stash every now and again to ensure all expiry dates remain well in the future.
Open it carefully
As animalistic as it might feel, don't use your teeth to open a condom wrapper. It risks tearing the latex. It's a good idea to use one thumb to push the condom in the packet away from the seal, so when you rip it open you never take any of the actual condom with you.
Roll it the right way
Most men have put a condom straight on their penis, only to discover it's the wrong way around and they need to flip it over. If you do this, STI protection is compromised as your tissue is now on both sides of the barrier you're trying to use. Make sure you have the condom the right way up (roll it down a little with your fingers to be confident) before it touches anything, so no sexual fluid can be exchanged from one partner to the other. Pinch the tip of the condom to remove any air (air bubbles can result in holes in the condom with friction), and roll it all the way down.
Yes, lube can be messy. It's also essential for both the safety and comfort of both partners. It should always be water-based and applied liberally. Worry about your sheets later if need be.
Get the right fit
Condoms should be a tight fit. Not painfully so, but enough so there's no chance it will slide during sex. If you have typically found stock-standard condoms not right for you (maybe they're too small, too big, too wide, not wide enough... ), you can easily buy different varieties that will suit you better. However, lads, just so you know: you're not impressing anybody if you're buying XL condoms you don't need. It's like buying shoes multiple sizes too big: unsafe and just plain stupid.
Keep tabs on it throughout sex
Even when the fit is perfect, condoms can still move around. Throughout intercourse, look down to inspect the condom and be sure it has remained in place, and is still not torn. If for any reason a condom comes off, always replace it with a new one – never re-apply.
Remove the condom correctly
Immediately afterwards, hold the condom on at the base of your groin, and ensure it doesn't budge when the penis is removed. This is to guarantee no semen will escape the latex. Then inspect the condom one last time to check it hasn't ripped at all. If it has and there's cause for concern, visit a sexual health clinic, family planning centre, or GP within 72 hours.
Throw it in the trash
There is a natural inclination to discard a used condom in the toilet. This is a terrible idea. It contributes to what is known as the "fatberg": a solid mass of wet wipes, nappies, condoms, tampons, and sanitary pads that have been flushed down the sewage system, congealed with grease and fat, and created an enormous rock-like clog of non-biodegradable waste. Gross, right? The alternative is far less disgusting: wrap the condom in a tissue and throw it in the rubbish bin.