Most men are good about keeping condoms on hand, but sometimes they can get a little careless when it comes to the expiration date. Condoms should be kept in a cool place and out of the sun, since extreme heat can cause latex to become weak and sticky.
But can expired condoms hurt you during sex?
1. Increased Risk of STIs
While it might not feel as urgent as a milk carton’s expiration date, checking the dates on your condoms is important for protecting against unintended pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) like HPV. But can expired condoms hurt you?
As time passes, the lubricant on some types of condoms can dry out and degrade, making it harder for them to slip on easily or penetrate well. Additionally, the wear and tear of years spent in your wallet, purse, or glove box can also work against them. Condoms stored in a pocket can be particularly problematic, as they can quickly degrade from the jostling and sweat they endure there, which reduces their efficacy over time.
Expired condoms can also be more likely to break or tear during use, leading to unprotected sex and increasing the risk of unwanted pregnancy or STIs. To help prevent these problems, gynecologist Nerys Benfield suggests giving any condom a visual inspection, whether it’s expired or not, to make sure there are no holes, tears, or funky smells before using it.
Of course, it’s important to remember that even a brand-new condom can fail if it’s not used properly or if it’s not the right fit. For example, if a man uses an elongated condom on himself instead of a short one, it can increase the chances of the sperm coming out through the end, which can lead to an unprotected sex and STIs.
2. Increased Risk of Unwanted Pregnancy
A condom that’s past its expiration date has a higher chance of breaking during sexual activity. This can put both men and women at risk for STIs and unintended pregnancy, especially if the condom is made of latex and contains spermicide. Over time, spermicide can lose its potency and the latex and lubricant in the condom may dry out. This can lead to a loss of sensitivity for both partners, which can cause discomfort or even pain during sex. The brittle, dry material can also irritate the skin on the penis and in and around the vagina.
Condoms with spermicide have an average shelf life of two years, and they can easily become ineffective after that. This degradation can happen for a variety of reasons, including temperature, age and wear and tear from being carried in pockets, wallets, purses or glove boxes. Moreover, when condoms are stored improperly, they can experience damage from exposure to heat and sunlight.
The good news is that the odds of catching an STI or getting pregnant with expired condoms are still pretty low. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry, so make sure you check the expiration date on every single condom before using it. And be sure to keep a stash of fresh ones on hand, just in case.
3. Increased Risk of Breakage
As time passes, your condom will lose lubrication and the spermicide inside can break down, which increases your risk of unprotected sex. You may also have a harder time inserting the condom properly or you might notice that it’s already starting to lose its shape or elasticity. If you’re using a latex condom with visible tears or a sticky texture, it’s best to throw it away and buy new ones.
Condoms can last longer with proper storage, but the type of material and how it’s stored plays a role in how long they’ll remain effective. For example, a latex condom stored in a cool dark place will last much longer than one in your pants pocket or wallet. Condoms made of natural materials like lambskin tend to have a shorter lifespan (and don’t protect against STIs), while polyisoprene condoms can be used up to three years after their manufacture date.
Ultimately, even with proper storage, all condoms expire over time. Check the label on your condoms to see if it’s still valid, then look for any signs of wear and tear or an unpleasant odor that can indicate it’s been sitting around too long. Having other forms of birth control on hand can help you avoid pregnancy and STIs if you find yourself relying on expired condoms in a pinch.
Condoms (aka rubbers, Johnnys or love gloves) are made of a stretchy plastic that loses its integrity over time. They can also break down or develop holes if they’re exposed to extreme temperatures or are stored improperly. If you notice an unpleasant odor or the condom has holes or a tear, it’s time to toss it.
The type of condom material affects how quickly it expires. Lambskin, for example, degrades faster than latex or polyurethane. Condoms with chemical additives like spermicide have a shorter lifespan than those without additives. Lube and flavorings can also affect how long a condom lasts.
It’s important to regularly check the condom box or wrapper for a stamped expiration date. If you’re unsure about the condom’s shelf life, squeeze it gently and look for air bubbles.
Expired condoms don’t just increase the risk of STIs and unwanted pregnancy, they also give off a foul odor and are prone to breakage during use. If you’re worried about using an expired condom, consider buying extras and storing them separately from your other sex toys in case of breakage or leaks. Condoms can also come in handy for other tasks, such as cleaning out clogged drainpipes or protecting your hands when mixing paints or handling raw vegetables. They can even help protect your hands when scrubbing a greasy pan or working with rough materials like plaster or concrete.