External condoms and socks may both slide over big, ahem, feet.
But while tube socks can be washed, dried, and worn again and still do their duty, condoms — which have a much more important job — can’t. Nope, not ever!
Sometimes called “male condoms” — though folks of any gender identity and presentation can wear them — external condoms are 98 percent effective at lowering the risk of unwanted pregnancy and STI transmission with perfect use.
And this means disposing them after one use.
Even if the wearer never ejaculated, entered another human, or sex is taking place between the same two people!Does it matter what type of barrier you’re using?
Depends on who you ask.
While it’s #UniversalTruth that external condoms (of all materials!), dental dams, latex and nitrile gloves, and finger condoms should be thrown in the garbage after a single use, there’s some debate over whether internal condoms (sometimes called “female condoms”) are reusable.
Most experts, including Planned Parenthood, say that internal condoms aren’t reusable and recommend using a new one every single time you have sex.
But one small 2001 study with 50 participants suggests internal condoms can be washed, dried, and relubricated up to seven times (and used eight times) and still meet the structural standards set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The researchers concluded that due to occasional holes found in the reused internal condom, using a new internal condom or external condom is best.
However, “a reused female condom may be an acceptable next choice in situations where this is not possible.”
So, if you have access to a never-before-used internal or external condom, use that instead of the internal condom.
If, however, you have to reuse an internal condom, clean it as the participants in the study did:
- Rinse the internal condom.
- Wash it for 60 seconds with liquid detergent.
- Rinse it again.
- Pat it dry with clean tissues or towels, or air-dry it.
- Relubricate it with vegetable oil right before reusing.
Important note: Using vegetable oil as lube is only safe alongside internal condoms because they’re made of nitrile.
Never use an oil-based lubricant with a latex barrier method. The oil will degrade the integrity of the latex. This makes the condom less effective at reducing STI transmission or preventing pregnancy.What are the risks of reusing?
As a refresher, the role of condoms is to reduce the risk of STI transmission and unwanted pregnancy. Reuse a condom, and that condom stops being as effective at doing those two things.
For starters: “There’s no way to tell whether you’ve actually rid the condom of viruses and infection that you might be worried, because they’re so microscopic that you wouldn’t be able to see them,” says Dr. Nina Carroll of Your Doctors Online.
Second, part of what makes condoms so effective is their tight fit.
“Reuse a condom and you ramp up the chances that that condom is going to slip and slide off,” she says.
“There’s also a much higher risk that the condom itself rips, breaks, bursts, or gets a hole in it — either with or without you and your partner(s) noticing,” Carroll says.How likely is it that these risks actually occur?
Looking for a percentage? Sorry, but you’re not going to get one.
“You’re never going to get stats on this kind of thing,” Carroll says.
“It wouldn’t be ethical to run a study on how likely STI transmission or unwanted pregnancy are to occur through the reuse of a condom,” she explained.
Makes sense!So, what should you do if you don’t have another condom?
If you’re using condoms to protect against STI transmission or unwanted pregnancy and you don’t have a fresh condom, do not engage in any sexual act that can result in STI transmission or pregnancy.
As a reminder: “A person with a genital STI can transmit that STI through vaginal, oral, or anal sex,” Carroll says.
“If you don’t have an unused condom handy, do other enjoyable sexual activities, such as manual sex, mutual masturbation, or oral sex if STI transmission isn’t a concern,” says Sherry A. Ross, MD, women’s health expert and author of “She-ology” and “She-ology: The She-quel.”
“Don’t underestimate the sexual excitement of a great makeout session or using fingers to bring on an orgasm,” she says.
No matter what, please (!) don’t use the pull-out method (!).
“Pulling out before ejaculation is a completely ineffective way to prevent transmission of STIs that are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact,” Carroll says.
And if there’s any pre-cum or ejaculate released before pulling out, any STI transmitted through bodily fluids can be transmitted.
Even if you and your partner are fluid bonded, you shouldn’t use the pull-out, or withdrawal, method if you don’t want to get pregnant and aren’t on any other form of birth control. It isn’t effective.
Data suggests that up to 28 percent of couples who use the pull-out method get pregnant within the first year. Yikes.What if you do it anyway — is there anything you can do to minimize risk?
“If you made the mistake of reusing a condom, you should go to a healthcare provider to talk about the risk of STI transmission,” Ross says.
“If you can’t get to a healthcare provider, get yours on the phone and ask them about prescribing prophylactic antibiotics for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV,” she says.
And if you’re concerned about getting pregnant, you can take an OTC emergency contraceptive like Plan B within 72 hours.
Remember: “Your partner doesn’t need to fully ejaculate inside you for you to get pregnant,” Carroll says. “It’s possible to get pregnant from pre-cum or only some ejaculate.”What if cost is a barrier — is there anywhere to get free or low-cost condoms?
“Condoms can be costly indeed,” Ross says. “Buying in bulk can help reduce the cost per condom.”
- Planned Parenthood
- school and university health centers
- walk-in health centers and STI testing clinics
- your current healthcare provider
To find free condoms near you, enter your ZIP code into this free condom finder.
“The benefit of going to Planned Parenthood or a health or testing clinic is that you can also get tested and treated for STIs and talk to a healthcare provider about alternative birth control options while there,” Ross adds.Another option: Look into another form of birth control
“If everyone’s STI status is known and you’re in a monogamous relationship, I’d recommend looking into another form of pregnancy prevention,” Carroll says.
While the price of other forms of birth control varies based on where you live and your insurance, they may end up being less expensive per use.
Plus, while condoms are 98 percent effective with perfect use (about 85 percent effective with real-life use), the pill, ring, and patch are even more effective (99 percent!) when used perfectly, and 91 percent effective with real-life use.Bottom line:
Condoms are the only effective way to prevent both pregnancy and STI transmission during sex. But they only work if you use them correctly. And that means only using them once.
Save yourself the frustration by buying some in bulk ASAP or stockpiling them from your local clinic.
Besides, sex is wayyy better when you can be totally focused on the pleasure — and don’t have to worry about the potential risks of reusing a rubber.Reference:
Beksinska ME et al. (2001). Structural integrity of the female condom after multiple uses, washing, drying, and re-lubrication. DOI:
Carroll J. (2020). Personal interview.
How effective are condoms? (n.d.).
How effective is birth control? (n.d.).
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Withdrawal method (coitus interruptus).
Ross S. (2020). Personal interview.
Medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, Ph.D., R.N., CRNA
Written by Gabrielle Kassel
Photo Credit: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition