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  3. Birth control

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Do Condoms Expire?

While you may think of food when you think of expiration dates, common household items can and do go bad, and many have expiration or best-by dates. For example, makeup, laundry detergent, and deodorant all lose their efficacy over time or become breeding grounds for harmful bacteria. Condoms are also on that list. Learn how long condoms are good for and what can happen if you use expired condoms below. 

Do condoms expire?

Yes, condoms do expire. Most condoms have a shelf life of a couple of years, so most people will use them well before they expire. However, if you pick up free ones from a health clinic or are relying on your partner’s supply, it’s a good idea to double-check the date.

How long do condoms last? It can depend on the type of material. For example, latex and polyurethane condoms, which are some of the most popular and are widely available in many sizes, textures, and flavors, last approximately five years from the date they’re packaged. Keep in mind that this could be different from the date they’re sold, so always make sure to check the expiration date.

Non-latex condoms, such as those made out of sheepskin or lambskin, only last about a year. These natural materials may also be more prone to breakage. If a condom seems at all off from the normal or is even close to the expiration date, it’s a good idea to use a different one. Condoms packaged with spermicide may also expire faster than those without.

Why do condoms expire?

Condom expiration happens because the materials break down over time. In order to do their job and keep sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from entering your body, the condom material, whether latex, polyurethane, or lambskin, has to be in good shape. Any material naturally breaks down over time, but with condoms, even a microscopic break or tear can lead to an infection or pregnancy.

Condoms can expire more quickly if they aren’t properly stored. Ideally, condoms should be stored long term in a dry place at room temperature and not exposed to direct sunlight. Extreme hot or cold temperatures can cause the material to melt or otherwise break down, but you may not even know it until you go to use it. Condoms should also be stored away from sharp objects to avoid rips and tears, so be careful when you’re putting them in a purse, wallet, or pocket.

What happens if you use an expired condom?

While it can certainly put a damper on the mood to realize that a condom is past its usable date, using expired condoms is never a good idea. For those who are using condoms to protect against STIs, an expired condom makes you just as vulnerable as no condom at all. Dried-out condoms can also be more irritating to the vaginal wall, which can increase the chances of inflammation and even infection.

If you’re using them for birth control, condoms are very effective when used properly, but that includes paying attention to the expiration date. A condom that has already expired may not be thick enough to ensure sperm doesn’t get into the uterus to fertilize an egg.

How can you tell if a condom has expired?

The easiest way to tell if a condom has expired is to look at the expiration date. It is usually printed on the foil pack and box. However, there are also some signs that a condom has expired even before the date on the package has passed. If the condom feels dry or brittle when you take it out of the foil or the lubricant has a gummy or rubbery appearance, the condom might have expired. If it has an odd smell or there’s any damage to the foil package or the condom itself, it should be thrown away. Use another one instead.

Why do condoms break?

Not only can condoms expire, but they can also break. Condoms can break for a variety of reasons. One common one is when there’s already a tear or puncture in the condom that’s too small to see. When the condom is stretched as it’s put on or exposed to friction during sex, this small opening can become a full break. Condoms can also break if they’re not the proper size, which is why it’s important to make sure that a condom isn’t too tight or too loose when it’s put on. Expired condoms may be more fragile and likely to break.

A broken condom can be very serious, because most people don’t notice that there’s been an issue until after sex when the condom is being removed. By this time, any exposure to an STI has already happened, and the chance of a pregnancy is the same as that for unprotected sex. If you realize a condom has broken during sex, it’s a good idea to take precautions to ensure you’re not pregnant and get tested for STIs.

The takeaway

The summary here is that condoms definitely expire. Being aware of the expiration dates and replacing older condoms with a new supply is an important part of protecting your sexual health and preventing unplanned pregnancy. If you’re ever in doubt about whether a condom has expired or you can’t make out the date on the foil, it’s best to err on the side of caution and use a different one. 



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