Condoms are a really important part of 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.

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

Condoms are available 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 the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center.

There is no age requirement to buy them, 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 them 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, and it should roll easily onto the penis or toy—if there’s resistance, throw the condom out and get a new one.
  • Pinch the tip as you roll it on, so there’s enough room for the ejaculate (also called semen, or come/cum).
  • 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 it from slipping off. Take off the condom BEFORE the penis loses its erection (or goes soft), and do it away from your partner, so there’s no chance of spilling any ejaculate on them. Tie the end, 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. Learn more about lube.

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 them less effective. This can be hard when you’re caught up in the moment—especially if you drink or use drugs. This is why we always recommend using an additional form of birth control if you’re having PIV sex.

10. Condoms don’t prevent every STI.

Condoms are a great tool to prevent the spread of HIV, gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and trichomoniasis.  They also help prevent the spread of genital herpes and syphilis, IF the infected site is covered. 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 taking care of your sexual health!

11. People with vaginas can use condoms, too!

Being in control of condom usage can help some people feel more confident about their sexual health. People with vaginas can use internal (also called “female”) condoms, which are inserted into the vagina or anus instead of over the penis or toy. They’re not 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 its external counterpart, so it’s good to practice beforehand.

You can also use internal condoms inside the anus during anal sex. Just be sure to take out the ring in the closed end first!

12. You can use plastic 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. Stay away from lambskin though—even though they help prevent pregnancy, they don’t protect against STIs.

Condoms aren’t the only barrier method! Learn more about dental dams, latex gloves and more.

Using condoms is just one part of being sexually healthy. If you’re 10-22 years old and near NYC, come by the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for confidential health care—including free condoms and other barrier methods, STI testing and treatment, and birth control—at no cost to you!

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 12,000 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.