Condoms are a really important part of having safer sex—whether it’s oral, anal, or penis-in-vagina (PIV).

If you use them correctly every single time, you can take charge of your own sexual health AND protect your partner.

But using condoms isn’t as simple as you might think. In one study, 35% of college-aged guys said that a condom had slipped off or broken during sex. While accidents happen, they’re much less likely to occur if you use condoms the right way.

Condoms protect you from many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and help prevent pregnancy.  Since it only takes one accident to get an STI or become or get someone else pregnant, it’s important to use condoms correctly every single time you have sex.

Here’s everything you need to know about condoms.

1. You can get condoms anywhere and everywhere, at any age.

You can buy condoms at most drug stores, grocery stores, gas stations, bodegas, and even online. You can also get them for free at many schools, community health centers, doctor’s offices, and of course here at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center.

There is no age requirement to buy condoms, so you don’t have to worry about having an ID.

2. You need to store them properly.

Condoms will become less effective if they get too hot or cold. This means that it’s a bad idea to store condoms in your glove compartment, bathroom cabinet, refrigerator, or anywhere that gets direct sunlight.

Don’t store condoms in your wallet. The friction damages the condom and can tear the wrapper. If you do put a condom in your wallet, only do it the day that you think you’ll use it.

Don’t store condoms near sharp objects, like scissors or needles. Instead, keep them in your nightstand or another cool, dry place.

3. Condoms expire.

Every condom has an expiration date on the wrapper. Check it before you open it. Do NOT use it if it’s past the expiration date. Throw away condoms that have expired.

4. There’s a right way to open a condom.

Do NOT use your teeth or scissors to open condoms. It’s very easy to accidentally tear or cut the condom. Instead, feel where the condom is inside the package, and open the wrapper with your hands.

5. Putting condoms on the right way is more complicated than you think.

  • Only put condoms on an erect (or hard) penis. You can also use condoms on vibrators, dildos, or other toys.
  • Make sure you put the condom on right side out. If you place the condom on your hand, it should look like a small sombrero. The rim should be on the outside. It should roll easily onto the penis—if there’s resistance, throw the condom out and get a new one.
  • Pinch the tip of the condom. There needs to be enough room for the ejaculate (or come).
  • Roll the condom on to the penis, to the base.

If you need some help remembering, use the acronym OPRaH: Open, Pinch (the tip), Roll (down the penis), and Hold (at the base).

6. There’s a right way to take off condoms.

Hold on to the base of the condom while the penis (or toy) is being withdrawn. This keeps the condom from slipping off. Take off the condom BEFORE the penis loses its erection (or goes soft). Take the condom off away from your partner, so there’s no chance of spilling any ejaculate on them. Tie the end of the condom, wrap it in a tissue or paper towel, and throw it in a trashcan. Do NOT flush it down the toilet—that will only clog it. Do not reuse condoms.

7. Do NOT use oil-based lube.

Oil-based lube and latex do NOT mix. The oil breaks down the latex. Use water- or silicone-based lube instead. We talk more about what lube is and how to use it here.

8. NEVER double bag.

Using two condoms at the same time creates friction and makes it much more likely that the condom will break.

9. Use condoms EVERY time, for every sex act.

Condoms need to be used correctly EVERY time you have sexual contact in order to effectively prevent pregnancy and protect yourself from STIs. Forgetting any of the above steps makes condoms less effective. This can be hard when you’re just excited about being with someone—and especially if you drink or use drugs. This is why we always recommend using an additional form of birth control.

10. Condoms don’t prevent every STI.

Condoms are a great tool to prevent the spread of HIV, gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and trichomoniasis.  It also helps prevent the spread of genital herpes and syphilis, IF the infected site is covered by the condom. However, herpes and HPV can be spread even if there are no visible symptoms. This is why we recommend that EVERYONE (including boys) get the HPV vaccine.

Remember: Even if you use condoms carefully, you can still get STIs. Routine STI testing is still an important part of your sexual health.

11. People with vaginas can use condoms, too!

Lots of people don’t realize that there’s more than one kind of condom. Some people who have vaginas feel more in control of their sexual health if they use condoms themselves. Internal condoms (also called female condoms) are used by people with vaginas. They’re not nearly as common as external (or male) condoms, but you can still get them at community health centers and many grocery stores and corner stores. Make sure you understand exactly how to use one—it can be a little trickier than using an external condom, so it’s good to practice beforehand.

12. You can use plastic condoms if you’re allergic to latex.

Several types of plastic condoms exist, and they’re not hard to get. Having a latex allergy is NOT an excuse to not wear a condom.

Using condoms is just one part of being sexually healthy. If you’re 10-22 years old and near NYC, you can come by Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for free, confidential health services including free condoms, STI testing and birth control.

The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.