Beware of These Common Condom Mistakes

From counterfeits to recalls, not all condoms are created equally. Here’s a few things you should take into consideration the next time you buy a pack.

By Jessie Schiewe


If you’ve ever bought discounted condoms at the pharmacy or shopped for them in bulk online, you’re not alone. Condoms can be pricey and no one likes paying full-price for such fleeting, single-use items.

In fact, the urge to save money on them has been tempting people for hundreds of years, serving as perfect examples of how not to use a condom. In the 1600s in Europe, when early contraceptives made from animal intestines first became available to the public, people often washed and reused them because they were so expensive.

More recently, in an effort to milk as much value as possible out of the ephemeral products, people in some parts of China have begun the very-dangerous practice of repurposing used condoms into rubber bands and hair ties.

And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recycling old rubbers for multiple romps is still something people do today, even in the U.S. It’s such a common condom mistake that the organization has taken to Twitter to warn others against doing so. “We say it because people do it,” @CDCSTD tweeted last July. “Don’t wash or reuse condoms! Use a fresh one for each sex act.”

Although it saves you money, it’s a risky move because condoms aren’t designed to be worn more than once, breaking down after each use and losing their effectiveness as a protective shield.

You also can’t just scrub away viruses and bacteria with soap and water. Whatever nefarious stuff is lurking in the condom will stay there despite washing. Hopefully you don’t do this (and if you do, please stop!).

Merely using a rubber properly is not enough to safeguard you from infection and pregnancy either. Where you buy them from can have as much importance as how you use them.

Because the single-use products are easy to make, require few materials, and are always in-demand, condoms are a lucrative business to get into, be that legally or illegally. In recent years, thousands of counterfeit condoms have been sold on the market, and in some cases, seized by government authorities. The vast majority of them are knock-offs of Durex and Okamoto condoms that are faulty and improperly made in China under unsanitary conditions. The operations, which are often led by gangs, can include washed and recycled rubbers in the mix, as well as ones punctured with holes or coated in toxic-smelling lubrication oils.

A lot of these fake condoms remain in China, unknowingly being sold in supermarkets, vending machines, and hotels. But thousands of these damaged and unsafe sheaths also make it out of the country, getting shipped overseas or sold online through sites like eBay and Alibaba. Not long ago, 40,000 counterfeit condoms were confiscated in Puerto Rico on their way to the U.S., and in 2013, at least a million faulty ones containing rips in the material were unknowingly distributed at a health agency in Ghana.

Whom you buy condoms from might also be something to consider. The best-selling condom manufacturer in the world is Durex, a century-old company that made headlines in the 1950s for creating the first lubricated condom, and which now dominates 30% of the market. Though based in the U.K., production of Durex’s condoms was moved overseas a decade ago, now taking place solely in China, India, and Thailand.


Although you won’t find any mention of it on their Wikipedia page, the brand has suffered for the worse since then. In recent years, Durex has become not only the focus of a number of counterfeit rings, but its quality has become less reliable. Recalls of Durex products are now commonplace around the world. Thousands of boxes were pulled from store shelves in Canada, the U.K., and Ireland last year after failing tests for durability, longevity, and “burst pressure.” Given the company’s dominance in the market — and the sheer number of people who use their products daily — this news is not only upsetting, but alarming. If you can’t trust the industry leader to keep you safe, who can you trust?

Our answer to avoiding these common condom mistakes: opt for smaller, yet still reputable brands. Often encased in sleek, stylish packaging, boutique condoms might be more expensive than the ones you’ll find at Costco, but they’re also safer, more regulated, and in a lot of cases, better designed.

Brands like Maude make ripping open a condom pouch a seamless — and, if you do it with your mouth, tasteless — experience, while the British line TheyFit comes in 66 different sizes to ensure you find one that is just right for you. From vegan to latex-free, ethical to fair trade, there are plenty of condom brands out there with better track records and less risks than many bigger name companies. There are even designer branded rubbers you can use. Marc Jacobs released a line of colored condoms in his stores a decade ago and last summer, Alexander Wang and Trojan collaborated to create limited-edition “Protect Your Wang” darlings.

Regardless of where you buy them from, make sure to take care of your condoms. “Know how to store them,” Carol Queen, the staff sexologist at Good Vibrations in San Francisco, advised. “Like wine, they should be kept at a stable temperature. Keep a condom too warm, and it’s much more likely to break.”

Where condoms — or as Queen called them, “lowly French letter[s]” — live before their inevitable day of use can also play a role in their effectiveness. “Don’t throw one in your purse to get ravaged by pens and keys,” she cautioned. “Don’t keep it in a wallet or glove compartment.”

In the end, if you can’t justify spending more than a dollar per rubber or if you think keeping them protected and safe is a ridiculous notion, then just do this: stay vigilant. If the condom looks weird, smells weird, or feels weird, you probably shouldn’t use it.


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