In the heat of the moment, checking that the condom you’re about to use isn’t expired probably isn’t the top of your list of things to do. However, it should be. Expired condoms are a real concern and we’re breaking it all down so you don't find yourself with a condom that isn’t going to do the job you wanted it to do.
WHAT ARE CONDOMS MADE OUT OF?
Typically, condoms are made out of one of three materials: latex, polyurethane, or lambskin. “Some people have a latex allergy, so polyurethane is a really good option,” says Leah Millheiser, M.D. at Stanford University School of Medicine. “Some people report that they feel more using lambskin, but the problem with lambskin is that it doesn’t necessarily prevent STD transmission.” What all of these different materials have in common is that they don’t last forever. (Be prepared when things heat up with these LELO HEX condoms from the Men's Health store.)
SO, HOW LONG DO THEY LAST FOR?
“Latex condoms generally last for an average of five years after manufacture date, but this can vary with lubrication and spermicide,” says Jessica O’Reilly, Ph.D., host of the Sex With Dr. Jess Podcast. “Rather than calculating how long they’ll last, it’s best to look at the expiration date printed on the package. Storage is key—if they’re stored near heat or bright light, this can shorten their shelf life.”
Dr. Millheiser suggests a trick for remembering how long your condoms last for, although she recognizes it might seem silly. “I always recommend that when you get condoms, you have a box, just write with a sharpie on the box, or write on the actual packet, just the month and date of expiration to remind you,” she says. “Most men actually don’t look at the expiration date and don’t think about condoms having an expiration date.”
Here's what you should look for when choosing a condom:
WHY DO THEY EVEN NEED AN EXPIRATION DATE? IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S FOOD.
Dr. Millheiser says it is a known fact that after a certain amount of time, the condom degrades. “This means that it’s easier for the condom to break and fail during sexual activity,” she says.
Over time the spermicide in the condom can lose its potency and the latex and lubricant can dry out, O’Reilly explains. In addition to being less effective, she says that these expired condoms can irritate skin (and skin down there is not a place you want irritated).
IS IT REALLY SO BAD TO USE AN EXPIRED CONDOM?
Yes and no. On one hand, O’Reilly warns that users that you will have a higher risk of STI transmission and unintended pregnancy. However, both doctors agree that using an expired condom is better than nothing.
“If all you have access to is an expired condom—it’s either that or nothing—use the expired condom because there is a chance that it won’t break,” Dr. Millheiser says. “You would have to test it right after, meaning fill it up with water, like a balloon, and see if anything comes out because you might not know if it broke. But if you have a choice between an expired condom or nothing, use the expired condom if you have no other access to condoms that are not expired.”