Commentary Sexual Health

Condoms Breaking? Ur (Probably) Doin’ It Wrong.

Heather Corinna

Want to do your part to help prevent the spread of HIV this World AIDS Day?  One of the easiest ways we can all do that is to use condoms correctly and consistently, avoiding common mishaps which can result in rips or breaks.

Published in partnership with Scarleteen

As we’ve explained in the past, like here, with proper use, condoms actually break very rarely. The common mythology that condoms are flimsy and break all the time is just that: mythology, not reality. Different studies on latex condom breakage tend to reflect a breakage rate of around .4%, or only 4 breaks in every 1,000 uses. So, if you’re having condoms break often, especially before you’ve even used them a few hundred times, it’s not likely something is wrong with condoms, but that something is wrong with the way you’re using them. That’s not surprising, since a lot of people don’t get good information about how to use condoms correctly, or ever see clear, slow demonstrations of proper use where they also get the chance to ask questions.

Since we’ve been having some users lately reporting patterns of breakage, we thought we’d take a few minutes to walk you through a review of some common issues that tend to make breakage more likely, so that those of you using condoms can avoid breaks and have them provide you the high level of effectiveness in preventing pregnancy and STIs you are using them for.

Have you checked the expiration date? Condoms past their expiry date are much more likely to break, because the latex can start to break down. If they’re past the expiry date, they also may have been shuffled around for a long time. The expiry date put on a condom — which you can always find right on the package of every individual condom — is usually for around five years after it’s been manufactured, so you’ve got a pretty good time window. Our advice? Make sure a condom is not only within its expiry date, but around six months ahead of it, the time when a lot of condom resellers dump a batch instead of continuing to sell them. Don’t use condoms past their expiry dates: toss them out and get yourself new ones.

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Are you or your partners storing them properly? Sometimes people carry around what we’ll call the “wishful thinking” condom. That one condom they keep in their wallet from the dawn of time, thinking if they have that one condom, they’ll be more likely to have an opportunity for sex. Or maybe you just think that will assure you’ll never be without a condom when you need one, which would be great if the condom you had had been stored properly.

Condoms need to be stored somewhere that doesn’t get too hot or cold, where they’re not directly exposed to sun or fluorescent light, and where they don’t get bumped around a lot. Back pockets, wallets, the bottom of a purse or inside a car dashboard compartment are not sound places to store condoms. If you want to carry a condom or two around with you, find something you can put them in that protects them, like a pencil case, or in the box they came in if you bought a whole box. There are also cases made expressly for storing condoms, and sometimes when you buy condoms, you might find some already specially packaged in a storage case.

Condom storage is also something to think about before you even have the condom yourself. Some places that sell or dispense condoms don’t store them properly, potentially screwing them up before you even get them. That’s why machines that dispense them aren’t such a great place to get them, nor are places like gas stations, which often keep them near the front windows, where it can get hot or sunny. When purchasing condoms, look for them to be in a spot where temperatures are moderate and they’re not in direct sunlight. You also want to avoid hand-me-down condoms, too, however well-intentioned the person who gave them to you may be. Who knows how that person stored them.

Leaving room in the tip? You don’t put condoms on like you put on a sock or stocking, where you pull them all the way on so that they’re snug at the tip. Instead, we need to leave a little bit of room — around a half inch or so, or the width of two fingers, if that’s easier — at the tip for ejaculate and so the condom can move around a little bit. That makes them feel more comfortable, too.

Using enough lubricant? Plenty of condoms come pre-lubricated, but that’s only a smidgen of lube. More times than not, especially for intercourse that goes on for a while — and more so with anal intercourse than vaginal, since the anus doesn’t produce its own lubricant — you’ll need some extra lube right from the start, or to add lube during sex. Even with vaginal intercourse, while the vagina often produces its own lubrication when the person with the vagina is aroused, lube is often still needed. It’s pretty common for younger people to feel nervous or have issues with arousal, so not being as lubed up on your own as you might be otherwise is typical. Too, if you’re using a hormonal birth control method like the pill, one common side effect is a drier vagina. While we don’t endorse mixing sex with drugs or booze, being wasted also tends to impact lubrication, especially with alcohol. By all means, drinking impairs our judgment no matter what, making it a lot harder to use condoms at all, let alone properly, but it also often inhibits parts of the sexual response cycle. Whatever the reason, chances are awfully good that you need more lube than a condom itself offers. Plus, putting a drop or two of lube inside the condom, as well as more liberally on the outside, makes condoms feel a lot better, too.

Feeling funny about using lube? Don’t, seriously. People have used lubricants for as far back as we know, and if you ask us, beautifully engineered, clean lube in a bottle or tube is a serious improvement over animal guts or blubber, something we know people way back in the day used as lube. The idea that a body creating enough lubricant on its own gives a person some kind of sexual status, and that not being lubed up enough on your own means something is terribly wrong, are both really problematic ideas. Lube makes things feel better most of the time, and it helps condoms be more effective. We can probably agree that there’s no status in sex feeling less than as good as it can, or in a condom failure.

Remember, what you use as lube with latex condoms matters a lot. When buying lube, look for the tube bottle or packet to make clear a lube can be used with condoms. Oil-based lubes or oils, lotions or vaseline are NOT okay to use with latex condoms.

One condom per customer. If you have the idea that two condoms at a time are better than one, ditch it, and fast. That only increases friction, which increases the possibility of breakage. Only use one condom at a time.

Same goes for thinking thinner condoms will be more likely to break: that’s not true. Thinner condoms often feel better and are just as effective as thicker ones.

Does the condom fit? Condoms really aren’t one size fits all. Sure, most brands will fit a lot of people just fine. But some brands or styles don’t work for plenty of folks. So, if a condom is really tough to get on or off, hard to roll down, won’t roll down all the way, or feels uncomfortable, try out some different sizes or brands. If we have to struggle with condoms, we’re more likely to put them on wrong or just ditch them altogether. And with so many options in condoms, there’s no reason anyone should have to use a size or style that doesn’t work for them. The right condom usually feels great and works just as well. Even if you’re getting condoms for free from a clinic or school, you’ll often have more than one option, so snag a few different ones when you can.

Carrying condoms when you’re not the one wearing them? If so, see if you can’t buy variety packs, so you have more than one style or size around in case another just doesn’t work out. Most condom manufacturers sell combination boxes of a couple different styles or fits, sold right where you can get boxes of only one style or size. If you feel funny about having a variety and worry about judgment from a partner, remember that what you’re doing is having an assortment so they’re most likely to have a condom that feels good for them. Every partner is going to appreciate that.

Are you or your partner hanging around after ejaculation or starting intercourse again without changing condoms? Male condoms are manufactured and designed for a single use: in other words, for only one session of intercourse or one ejaculation. After ejaculation happens, it’s really important the person wearing the condom withdraws pretty immediately. If you want to continue that sexual activity or start again, you need to put on a new condom.

Breaking during oral sex use? That’s even more unusual than breaks during intercourse, but if it’s happening, we’ve got one word for you: teeth. You’ve got’em, and they’re sharper than you think (just ask your lunch). If condoms are breaking during oral sex, and they were put on properly, stored properly, and are within the expiry date, teeth are probably the issue here. Remember that during oral sex, you’ve got to watch those little sharpies, both for a partner’s comfort, but also when using condoms.

While we’re talking about teeth, don’t forget that they’re not what you want to use to open a condom. That can easily rip or tear the condom. You want to use your hands to open a condom, not your mouth.

Practice makes perfect. So does patience. If you’re racing around in a big hurry to put a condom on, it’s a lot easier to make mistakes. And when everyone is turned on, they can be a lot tougher to notice. So, if you aren’t already an expert with putting condoms on — whether you’re the person who wears them or not — practice. If you are the person wearing them, practice during masturbation, where you don’t have the pressures we can all feel when there’s a partner there. If you aren’t the person wearing them, get some condoms and find something suitable to practice on: the age-old banana is always an option, and one of our users today said she practiced using a deodorant can.

Remember that it’s ideal for everyone involved with condom use to know the right way to use them and how to put them on. Not only can putting them on for a partner make condoms feel like part of sexual activity, rather than an interruption, we all have different levels of experience and skill with condoms, as well as different levels of condom education. So, if both people know how, and one person is doing something wrong, rather than finding out the hard way, the other person can easily make a correction so condoms work as well as you want them to, every time.

Don’t forget about the female condom! If no matter what you do, male condoms (and we know, this female/male language doesn’t make a lot of sense, and certainly isn’t very inclusive, but it’s what they’re called right now) don’t seem to work out for you, try a female condom to see if that works better. Female condoms are non-latex, and far roomier at the base and through the shaft than male condoms are, and they can also be inserted well in advance of intercourse to help you avoid game-time fumbles. As well, if you or a partner prefer not to withdraw soon after intercourse, that’s okay with female condoms in a way it isn’t with male condoms, which are more likely to break or slip off when withdrawal doesn’t happen soon, or if intercourse is something you continue after ejaculation. Female condoms can be a bit tougher to find, so if you want to try them and are having a hard time finding them, check in with your local sexual health or family planning clinic.

Have questions or want someone to walk you through all the steps of proper condom use so you can be sure you’re doing it right? We’ve got your back: come on over to the message boards, or use our text service. We’re happy to talk with you one-on-one.

P.S. We just got a helpful addition to this list from Scarleteen reader and peer sex educator Katarina Albrecht. She said, “Another important point: Do NOT poke your finger carelessly into the tip to correct the direction for rolling them off! We teach people to blow into the tip to change the direction or be reeeally careful with their nails. We’ve been seeing so. many. girls (and boys) do this with their long, sharp, nicely manicured fingernails.” Thanks, Katarina!

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open the Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

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Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Law and Policy

Texas Lawmaker’s ‘Coerced Abortion’ Campaign ‘Wildly Divorced From Reality’

Teddy Wilson

Anti-choice groups and lawmakers in Texas are charging that coerced abortion has reached epidemic levels, citing bogus research published by researchers who oppose legal abortion care.

A Texas GOP lawmaker has teamed up with an anti-choice organization to raise awareness about the supposed prevalence of forced or coerced abortion, which critics say is “wildly divorced from reality.”

Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) during a press conference at the state capitol on July 13 announced an effort to raise awareness among public officials and law enforcement that forced abortion is illegal in Texas.

White said in a statement that she is proud to work alongside The Justice Foundation (TJF), an anti-choice group, in its efforts to tell law enforcement officers about their role in intervening when a pregnant person is being forced to terminate a pregnancy. 

“Because the law against forced abortions in Texas is not well known, The Justice Foundation is offering free training to police departments and child protective service offices throughout the State on the subject of forced abortion,” White said.

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White was joined at the press conference by Allan Parker, the president of The Justice Foundation, a “Christian faith-based organization” that represents clients in lawsuits related to conservative political causes.

Parker told Rewire that by partnering with White and anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), TJF hopes to reach a wider audience.

“We will partner with anyone interested in stopping forced abortions,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re expanding it to police, social workers, and in the fall we’re going to do school counselors.”

White only has a few months remaining in office, after being defeated in a closely contested Republican primary election in March. She leaves office after serving one term in the state GOP-dominated legislature, but her short time there was marked by controversy.

During the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, she directed her staff to “ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in an email to Rewire that White’s education initiative overstates the prevalence of coerced abortion. “Molly White’s so-called ‘forced abortion’ campaign is yet another example that shows she is wildly divorced from reality,” Busby said.

There is limited data on the how often people are forced or coerced to end a pregnancy, but Parker alleges that the majority of those who have abortions may be forced or coerced.

‘Extremely common but hidden’

“I would say that they are extremely common but hidden,” Parker said. “I would would say coerced or forced abortion range from 25 percent to 60 percent. But, it’s a little hard be to accurate at this point with our data.”

Parker said that if “a very conservative 10 percent” of the about 60,000 abortions that occur per year in Texas were due to coercion, that would mean there are about 6,000 women per year in the state that are forced to have an abortion. Parker believes that percentage is much higher.

“I believe the number is closer to 50 percent, in my opinion,” Parker said. 

There were 54,902 abortions in Texas in 2014, according to recently released statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The state does not collect data on the reasons people seek abortion care. 

White and Parker referenced an oft cited study on coerced abortion pushed by the anti-choice movement.

“According to one published study, sixty-four percent of American women who had abortions felt forced or unduly pressured by someone else to have an unwanted abortion,” White said in a statement.

This statistic is found in a 2004 study about abortion and traumatic stress that was co-authored by David Reardon, Vincent Rue, and Priscilla Coleman, all of whom are among the handful of doctors and scientists whose research is often promoted by anti-choice activists.

The study was cited in a report by the Elliot Institute for Social Sciences Research, an anti-choice organization founded by Reardon. 

Other research suggests far fewer pregnant people are coerced into having an abortion.

Less than 2 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 2004 reported that a partner or parent wanting them to abort was the most important reason they sought the abortion, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute.

That same report found that 24 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 14 percent surveyed in 2004 listed “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion” as one of the reasons that “contributed to their decision to have an abortion.” Eight percent in 1987 and 6 percent in 2004 listed “parents want me to have an abortion” as a contributing factor.

‘Flawed research’ and ‘misinformation’  

Busby said that White used “flawed research” to lobby for legislation aimed at preventing coerced abortions in Texas.

“Since she filed her bogus coerced abortion bill—which did not pass—last year, she has repeatedly cited flawed research and now is partnering with the Justice Foundation, an organization known to disseminate misinformation and shameful materials to crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said.  

White sponsored or co-sponsored dozens of bills during the 2015 legislative session, including several anti-choice bills. The bills she sponsored included proposals to increase requirements for abortion clinics, restrict minors’ access to abortion care, and ban health insurance coverage of abortion services.

White also sponsored HB 1648, which would have required a law enforcement officer to notify the Department of Family and Protective Services if they received information indicating that a person has coerced, forced, or attempted to coerce a pregnant minor to have or seek abortion care.

The bill was met by skepticism by both Republican lawmakers and anti-choice activists.

State affairs committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) told White during a committee hearing the bill needed to be revised, reported the Texas Tribune.

“This committee has passed out a number of landmark pieces of legislation in this area, and the one thing I think we’ve learned is they have to be extremely well-crafted,” Cook said. “My suggestion is that you get some real legal folks to help engage on this, so if you can keep this moving forward you can potentially have the success others have had.”

‘Very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem’

White testified before the state affairs committee that there is a connection between women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence and women who are coerced to have an abortion. “Pregnant women are most frequently victims of domestic violence,” White said. “Their partners often threaten violence and abuse if the woman continues her pregnancy.”

There is research that suggests a connection between coerced abortion and domestic and sexual violence.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, told the American Independent that coerced abortion cannot be removed from the discussion of reproductive coercion.

“Coerced abortion is a very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem, which is violence against women and the impact it has on her health,” Miller said. “To focus on the minutia of coerced abortion really takes away from the really broad problem of domestic violence.”

A 2010 study co-authored by Miller surveyed about 1,300 men and found that 33 percent reported having been involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion; 8 percent reported having at one point sought to prevent a female partner from seeking abortion care; and 4 percent reported having “sought to compel” a female partner to seek an abortion.

Another study co-authored by Miller in 2010 found that among the 1,300 young women surveyed at reproductive health clinics in Northern California, about one in five said they had experienced pregnancy coercion; 15 percent of the survey respondents said they had experienced birth control sabotage.

‘Tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion’

TJF’s so-called Center Against Forced Abortions claims to provide legal resources to pregnant people who are being forced or coerced into terminating a pregnancy. The website includes several documents available as “resources.”

One of the documents, a letter addressed to “father of your child in the womb,” states that that “you may not force, coerce, or unduly pressure the mother of your child in the womb to have an abortion,” and that you could face “criminal charge of fetal homicide.”

The letter states that any attempt to “force, unduly pressure, or coerce” a women to have an abortion could be subject to civil and criminal charges, including prosecution under the Federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

The document cites the 2007 case Lawrence v. State as an example of how one could be prosecuted under Texas law.

“What anti-choice activists are doing here is really egregious,” said Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire’s vice president of Law and the Courts. “They are using a case where a man intentionally shot his pregnant girlfriend and was charged with murder for both her death and the death of the fetus as an example of reproductive coercion. That’s not reproductive coercion. That is extreme domestic violence.”

“To use a horrific case of domestic violence that resulted in a woman’s murder as cover for yet another anti-abortion restriction is the very definition of callousness,” Mason Pieklo added.

Among the other resources that TJF provides is a document produced by Life Dynamics, a prominent anti-choice organization based in Denton, Texas.

Parker said a patient might go to a “pregnancy resource center,” fill out the document, and staff will “send that to all the abortionists in the area that they can find out about. Often that will stop an abortion. That’s about 98 percent successful, I would say.”

Reproductive rights advocates contend that the document is intended to mislead pregnant people into believing they have signed away their legal rights to abortion care.

Abortion providers around the country who are familiar with the document said it has been used for years to deceive and intimidate patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, previously told Rewire that abortion providers from across the country have reported receiving the forms.

“It’s just another tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion—tricking women into thinking they have signed this and discouraging them from going through with their initial decision and inclination,” Saporta said.

Busby said that the types of tactics used by TFJ and other anti-choice organizations are a form of coercion.

“Everyone deserves to make decisions about abortion free of coercion, including not being coerced by crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said. “Anyone’s decision to have an abortion should be free of shame and stigma, which crisis pregnancy centers and groups like the Justice Foundation perpetuate.”

“Law enforcement would be well advised to seek their own legal advice, rather than rely on this so-called ‘training,” Busby said.