When Should You Use A Condom?

Updated on July 8, 2024

We live in a world where sexual health and responsible intimacy practices remain paramount to maintaining healthy relationships. Although there are several new prophylactics that have hit the market in the last decade — such as PrEP and PEP — the condom remains a tried and true staple of staying safe. 

Consistency and correct use are key

Both traditional external condoms (i.e., “male condoms”) and internal condoms (i.e., female condoms) are only effective if they are used consistently and correctly, whether vaginally or anally. When properly used, condoms are 95% effective in preventing STIs and 98% effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies. Each condom-free sexual encounter can increase the risk of exposure to infections such as HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, underscoring the importance of using a condom each and every time, regardless of the type of sexual activity. 

The correct use of condoms, whether for men or women, is equally as important as consistent use. Since condoms have been around in one form or another since the early 1800s, it can be easy to assume that your partner will understand how to use them correctly, yet studies show that “basic errors” in condom use remain commonplace, leading to less effectiveness. 

When using an external condom, the wearer must leave space at the tip. Partners should avoid the use of oil-based lubricants, which can degrade latex-based condoms. In addition, both internal and external condom users should avoid turning them inside out and check the expiration date on each one they use. That condom you’ve been keeping in your wallet for years “just in case?” It’s probably time to throw it away! 

Both internal and external condoms have also been known to break, slip, or completely fall off due to improper use. Following the instructions on proper placement, removal, and disposal will maximize the effectiveness of the condom. 

The benefits of consistency and correct usage can extend beyond protecting yourself. Correct and consistent use of condoms also contributes to greater public health, protecting the people you are intimate with and everyone they are intimate with, improving health outcomes overall.

When is condom use especially important?

Although condom use each and every time is a healthy approach to sexual responsibility, there are several situations where condom use is especially important. For instance, using condoms with any new partner is crucial. 

In the early stages of any relationship — whether casual or committed — it’s essential to be fully aware of one another’s sexual health history. These conversations require trust, honesty, and open communication. Even if you trust someone completely, condom use at the beginning of a relationship is still a good standard to uphold as an extra preventative measure that reduces the risk of spreading STIs as you build trust within your new relationship. 

Condom use is also important if you engage in non-monogamous sexual encounters, as there are many scenarios where your current partner may have many other partners and vice versa. Consistent condom use can lessen the heightened risk of spreading STIs that come with having multiple partners to better protect yourself, your partner(s), and anyone else in your sexual network.

Condom use is also vital within relationships where an STI is known. If a partner is undergoing treatment for an STI, responsible condom use can help prevent transmission. This can be especially important for infections where the viral load can fluctuate, such as HIV. In partnerships where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is negative, condom use combined with other preventative measures such as antiretroviral therapies and PrEP can be a good strategy to protect the health of both partners. 

Open lines of communication

As with most aspects of a relationship, open communication is critical to safe and trustworthy sexual activity. Communication should include subjects such as testing frequency, past partners, and personal thoughts on sexual safety. Both partners should feel comfortable entering into a sexual relationship without unnecessary anxiety or fear for their health and well-being. 

By remaining consistent with condom use, a safer and more pleasurable experience can be fostered between partners, and sexual health can remain a priority with each and every encounter.

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Lisa Barr
Lisa Barr is the Executive Director at Hope and Help Center of Central Florida, Inc. d/b/a Hope & Help. She has the privilege of leading an incredible team of talented, compassionate, and dedicated nonprofit healthcare professionals who make a difference every day. For over nine years, she has been overseeing the strategic planning, implementation, risk management, and organizational development of this vital community resource that provides HIV/STD prevention, education, testing, and treatment services.With an MBA from The Johns Hopkins University and a background in business development, marketing, and grant writing, Barr brings a combination of analytical skills, strategic thinking, and creative problem-solving to her role. She is passionate about enhancing the quality of life and health outcomes of Hope & Help’s clients, partners, and staff, as well as expanding the organization’s reach and impact in the region. Her mission is to foster a culture of excellence, innovation, and collaboration that enables Hope & Help to fulfill its vision of a world without HIV/AIDS.