This essay was originally published at ANewDomain.net:
You never forget your first time.
I remember thinking: “God, this is without a doubt the best, most natural feeling condom I have ever tried, and I totally take back everything that I ever said about condoms making sex feel like you’re wearing a raincoat or whatever, and I’m going to take careful note of the brand of this condom so that I can buy thousands and thousands of them so that I can continue to enjoy this experience even if, by some terrible act of capitalism gone awry, the outfit that makes them goes out of business.”
Then I looked down and realized that the reason that that particular condom felt so great was that it had broken.
A meta-study conducted by the Kinsey Institute over the course of 16 years found that as many as 40 percent of sexually active Americans have experienced a condom break. Family planning experts believe that roughly 3 percent of condoms break.
Condoms are practically a religious necessity in the post HIV-AIDS era, particularly among Millennials and Generation Xers. But condoms aren’t foolproof. They leak. They break. Which is why 15 percent of people who use them still get pregnant.
You might get lucky. Since it has happened at least five or six times to me, maybe it will never happen to you. However, just you are an unlucky soul like me, it’s much smarter to be prepared for the possibility of a ruptured rubber than to trust in the fates.
Odds are, you probably won’t realize your prophylactic ripped until it’s too late – i.e., after you ejaculated. So if – okay, when – it happens, what should you do?
There are two concerns: STDs and pregnancy risk. What you choose to do about each depends on variables like how much you know about your partner, whether or not you are monogamous, and the point in your partner’s menstrual cycle.
Let’s start with the STD issue.
First thing: after sex, take a shower and thoroughly wash your genitals with soap and water. Believe it or not, this basic step could help you dodge a bullet. Do not douche.
Reach around and make sure you get all the little pieces of plastic. Sometimes it doesn’t break in one or two pieces. You don’t want to leave that stuff in your junk.
If you lose a condom during sex with a partner with whom you are both certain that you are monogamous, and you have both been recently tested for standard STDs including HIV-AIDS, you probably don’t have much to worry about.
If, on the other hand, it occurs with someone whose sexual history you aren’t certain about and/or hasn’t been tested extremely recently, get postexposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP is a “morning after” treatment that can (but isn’t guaranteed) to prevent HIV infection. You take HIV antiretroviral meds for a full month. It’s definitely best to begin them immediately, but they can work up to 72 hours after possible exposure. Side effects include nausea and fatigue.
You can get it from any doctor, health clinic, AIDS organization, local health department, or hospital emergency room.
If you are a woman, you should more seriously consider a PEP treatment course than if you are a man due to the fact that HIV transmission is more likely from male to female than the other way around.
Morning-after pregnancy prevention, which used to be confusing and difficult to obtain in a timely manner, is now available over-the-counter in the United States. All women should keep the high dose birth control pill Plan B (cost $50 to $60 at most pharmacies), which is also known as emergency contraception, in their medicine cabinets so that it’s there in case of a condom accident. After the incident, take it as soon as you can, certainly under 24 hours later, but it can be effective if taken within 72 hours. Unfortunately, you have to be 17 years old or older in order to purchase Plan B without parental consent. You didn’t hear it from me, but if you don’t have understanding parents, this is a time to reach out to your older, cooler, over 17 friends.
If a condom breaks, there’s no need to freak out. For one thing, it probably won’t happen on one of the five days a month during which a woman can become pregnant. This is obviously a decision that you need to make for yourself, but if this happens to you outside of the so-called “fertile window,” the chance that you will suffer an unwanted pregnancy is slim to none, no matter what.
Most experts say you should both be tested for the usual standard battery of sexually transmitted diseases after something like this occurs, and that’s true, but the smarter, more relevant advice is to get tested regularly, especially if you and/or your partner are nonmonogamous.
Bottom line: Though obviously disturbing, a condom break is nothing to jump off a bridge over. They happen occasionally and the vast majority of the time – pretty much all of the time – no one gets an STD and no one gets pregnant as a result. Just make sure you reduce the chances of it happening over and over again, by using new condoms, not old ones, storing them in a cool place, investing in high-quality brands, and getting the right size.