Condoms are considered an important commodity for any dating adult. Not only do they prevent unwanted pregnancies, but they also serve to protect people from STDs. Additionally, their affordability and accessibility make them a good choice for protection. But how long do they last, irrespective of whether it’s in your wallet or your drawer?
Before we get into how long condoms last, let’s just start out with some fun historical facts about condoms in general.
Have you ever wondered about the brilliant, magical condom? Here are some things you probably never knew about them.
As early as the 1600s, people used animal-based condoms, but they were very expensive. If you were a prostitute, it could cost you up to three months’ pay. Because of that, they were reused a lot. And yes, that’s gross, but it’s true.
It wasn’t until around 1844 that rubber condoms began to be mass-produced. This made them more affordable for everyone.
A long time ago, you needed a doctor to write you a prescription in order to get condoms. That’s why some people were embarrassed to buy them.
Plus, it was almost impossible for a woman to buy them. But in the 1920s, around Prohibition time, condoms became readily available through vending machines.
Early condoms were made from animal parts, like intestines. In pre-15th century China, little pieces of oiled silk were put over the end of the penis. And in Japan, men used condom caps made out of tortoise shells just for the tip!
[Read: History of condoms – how to be a condom know-it-all in 5 minutes]
Condoms don’t last forever, and they do, indeed, expire. Using one after it expires can greatly reduce its effectiveness.
If you use one after it expires, they are drier and weaker, so they are more likely to break during sex. That puts you and your partner at risk of unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
If the condom hasn’t expired, they are about 98% effective at preventing pregnancies if they are used perfectly every time you have sex. But, because people can be accidentally careless, the actual effectiveness rate of preventing pregnancies is around 85%.
But if you use an expired condom, then that percentage continues to go down. Certain factors can have an impact on why and how quickly they expire. Here they are. [Read: Buying condoms – The newbie’s complete guide to using condoms]
If you have a condom in your pocket, purse, wallet, in your car, or anywhere that experiences a lot of wear or friction, the wear and tear on it can reduce its strength.
For that reason, you should keep them stored in a safe place. You would think the bathroom would be a good spot, but actually, it’s not. That’s because you need to keep them away from heat and humidity as they can degrade the materials of the condom wrapper and the condom itself. And, of course, keep them far away from any sharp objects.
The type of material that a condom is made of can also influence how quickly it expires too.
Some are made of natural materials like lambskin, which break down faster than synthetic materials like latex and polyurethane condoms. [Read: Interesting facts about condoms you have no idea about]
If a condom has chemical additives in it like spermicide, that can shorten its shelf life by several years. Spermicide takes up to two years off the life span if it’s a latex or polyurethane one.
As for those with lube or added flavoring, it’s more unclear whether that affects the condom’s shelf life. So, you should err on the side of caution. If you notice any signs of wear and tear, if it feels brittle, or if it smells bad, then throw it in the garbage and get a new one.
Condoms have come a long way from the days of using ancient fish bladders. Nowadays, their modern-day variety provides protection, pleasure, and eye candy.
But despite what your favorite condom manufacturer tells you about their product’s durability, all condoms eventually expire.
Like any commodity, the effectiveness of condoms, as well as their quality, degenerates over time. Improper storage and mishandling further decrease their efficiency. Aside from knowing how to put it on, it is important to check if the condom you use is still safe to put on. [Read: Birth control options and what they can do for you]
The majority of condoms are made of latex, which is a rubber-like material. On average, commercial latex condoms have a shelf life of four to five years from their manufacturing date. That is if the condom is stored properly.
However, even stored properly, they degenerate over time. They become brittle after their date of expiration. It is not advisable to use it then because, as we’ve already discussed, a brittle condom is prone to breaking during sex and thus leaves you and your partner unprotected.
Upon opening, the best quality commercially-produced latex condom is still usable for eight to ten hours, depending on temperature.
Opened condoms dry up and lose their elasticity, making them brittle. [Read: 15 things they don’t teach you in sex ed]
There are different condom types, each designed with additive material for a specific purpose. The shelf life of a condom depends on what type of material it’s made from. By far, latex condoms have the longest shelf life among other types.
Last two to five years. Its spermicidal content doesn’t last long, shortening its shelf life compared to regular latex condoms.
These have the longest shelf life, about five years. It is a material used as a latex substitute and caters to those allergic to latex.
Despite being a safe alternative, polyurethane condoms are physically less durable and more susceptible to heat damage compared to latex.
Aside from latex and polyurethane, there are also polyisoprene condoms that have a shorter shelf life, and then there are other exotic, natural condoms made up of organic material such as lambskin or sheepskin.
These types sacrifice shelf life for a unique sensation during use. That’s why their lifespan is shorter than the other types of artificial rubber condoms. They usually last one year from their manufacturing date. It’s also important to note that lambskin condoms don’t protect against STIs due to the material being naturally porous. [Read: The different types of condoms and how each of them can improve your sex life]
No. The thickness does not dictate whether a condom will last longer in storage or not. It only matters when it’s subjected to action. Thick condoms are more resistant to tears and bursts but are still vulnerable to heat damage and degeneration with time. [Read: The newbie’s complete guide to buying and using condoms]
Be sure to take good care of your condoms! Avoid these mistakes if you want your condoms to last longer and stay safer as well.
Ideally, condoms should be stored in a cool, dry place in order to extend their shelf life.
Random placement near sources of heat, such as appliances or in direct sunlight, dries up the moisture inside the pack and makes your condoms brittle.
Placing it inside the wallet initially seems smart as it allows you to carry protection anywhere.
In reality, placing it in an area where it is subjected to friction, pressure, and constant changes in temperature causes damage to the condom’s structure.
The foil pack may not be as durable as you think.
Even if you keep it outside your wallet, it can be scratched or punctured by other objects in your bag, such as keys, pens, and other sharp items. If your condoms are kept outside of their box, you won’t be able to easily tell if it’s sustained damage by the time you use it. Simply said, there’s a reason why it comes in a box.
The last risk of damage usually comes from the moment of use. Your condom may have survived by being stored properly, but if used improperly and mishandled, it won’t be of much use to you in the end.
Mishandling comes from using the wrong lubricant, wearing two layers of condoms, and wearing them improperly. [Read: Unprotected sex and the dangers most people don’t think about]
The best way to prolong a condom’s shelf life is to emulate the conditions it is kept in the store. When it comes to sexual protection, focus on safe storage, and store it like you would a bottle of medication.
Don’t store it in your wallet or dump it in the pocket in your bag. Keep it in its box and store it inside your medicine cabinet or inside the drawer of your nightstand. It’s important to keep your condoms stored in a dry place away from heat.
Sharp objects puncture the wrapper making it dry and brittle. Or even worse, they could puncture the condom itself, making it useless. Keep your rubbers away from pointy things!
This practice prevents you from storing condoms until their actual expiration dates.
Not with your teeth, please. [Read: How to have safe sex in every single way possible]
So, you see a random pack of condoms lying around. You wonder if it’s still safe to use. What do you do then?
Every box of condoms has an expiration date, so you know how long they last. If your condom is fortunately found inside its box, you still check if it’s within its shelf life. If it isn’t, the only thing to do is to throw it away. Maybe use it as a live sample for sex education demonstrations.
Is it in a cool and dry place? Or did you happen to find it beneath your car seat or wedged between the bed frame and mattress? If the place you found is not a conducive area to store condoms, forget about using them.
Each individual wrapper should have an expiry date. Does it have tears, holes, or wrinkles? If you found it in the aforementioned states, simply chuck it into the bin.
You may still go through a phase where you’d want to save that lonely pack you casually found somewhere. But if you want to be safe, at least check if it is still flexible and lubricated.
A dry and stiff condom is a sign that it’s way past its usable state. It must not be used for your own safety. [Read: Why men hate wearing condoms and why you need one]
If your condom has expired but you stored it in a cool, dry place, it could still be relatively safe to use. But if you have an unexpired one at hand, then you should always use that. If you use an expired condom that has tiny tears or holes, then it definitely won’t be effective in keeping bodily fluids out. That means that you have a higher risk for an unwanted pregnancy AND an STD.
On the other hand, you should never use expired condoms that contain spermicide because the chemicals in them could cause skin irritation and a burning sensation. As much as possible, using expired rubbers should be the last thing that crosses your mind.
If the only thing you have to use during sex is an expired condom, then it is better than not using one at all. Hopefully, it’s not in too bad of a condition. And if that’s true, then it will still offer some protection against diseases and unwanted pregnancy. [Read: Newsflash – women hate condoms just as much as men do]
When you have sex without a condom, you have absolutely no protection at all. Especially if your partner and you don’t use another form of birth control.
Regardless, it’s best to keep your eye on the box and throw them away after they have expired. Go out and get some new condoms instead. Doing this gives you the best possible protection you can have.
Even though an expired one is better than not using one at all, only a condom that has been stored properly, hasn’t expired, and is used perfectly offers 98% protection against STDs and unwanted pregnancy.
For this reason, it’s always a good idea to keep some emergency contraception with you at all times. You shouldn’t use this emergency contraception as your primary method of birth control, but it will help you have peace of mind if you happen to use an expired condom or if it breaks during sex.
[Read: How to become a condom know-it-all in five minutes]
The bottom line is condoms may boast extra durability, but nothing lasts forever. Over time, condoms lose their durability, and, ultimately, their effectiveness in providing protection.
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