What Should I Do If a Condom Breaks?

Some Panic-Free Tips Than Can Significantly Reduce Your Risk of HIV

Rubber condom filled with water, leaking from puncture hole
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Question: What should I do if a condom breaks?

Answer:  Accidents happens, but few can cause the cause the kind of anxiety many people have when a condom bursts during sex. If ever in this situation, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce the risk of infection should either of you be HIV-positive (or one or both of you not know your status).

If a condom breaks while having sex, it's best to stop immediately and pull out carefully.

The most important thing at this stage is to avoid panicking. Instead, take the time to calmly assess what just happened, asking yourselves:

  • Is the condom still on the penis or has it disappeared inside the vagina or rectum?
  • Were you just starting to having sex, or were you near the point of ejaculation?
  • Or did the breakage happen after ejaculation?

If you relatively confident that there was no exchange of body fluids——say, if the condom burst just as you were starting to have intercourse—then you may decide to start afresh with a new condom. Take the time (if you haven't already) to check the expiration date on the condom and be sure to use an approved water- or silicone-based lubricant.

(Here are few other, common condom mistakes you should never make.)

If on the other hand, you think that there may have been an exposure, it's best to stop altogether. You can wash the genital areas gently with soap and water, but do not douche, scrub, or use a harsh disinfectant any sort.

Douching can strip away protective bacteria from mucosal tissues, as well as physically disrupt the delicate membranes. Disinfectants can also damage mucosal cells and cause an inflammatory response that promotes, rather than inhibits, HIV infection.

If there has been ejaculation, try to remove as much semen from the vagina and rectum as possible.

Women can do this by squatting down and squeezing their vagina muscles. If you engaged in anal sex, sit on the toilet and bear down to expel as much semen as you can.

Again, less is more: clear, clean but do not stress the delicate tissues of the vagina or rectum.

Preventing HIV If Body Fluids are Exchanged

If an exposure has occurred (or if you are in any doubt), go immediately to your nearest clinic or emergency room, ideally with your partner. You can then discuss what had happened, sharing as much detail as possible with the intake doctor or nurse.

They can advise you whether you should begin HIV post-prophylaxis therapy (PEP), a 28-day course of antiretroviral drugs that may reduce your risk of getting HIV.

Before treatment is prescribed, a rapid HIV test will be given to assess whether you and/or your partner has HIV.  Even both tests are negative, you may still want to proceed if there is any chance that you are within the so-called "window period" during which HIV tests can sometimes deliver a false negative result.

PEP should be started ideally within in the first 24 hours after an exposure, although it can be prescribed within 48 (and maybe 72) hours of exposure.

Tips on How to Reduce Condom Breakage

  • Never used an expired condom, or one that has been stored in either hot or cold temperatures (such as in your glove compartment or wallet).
  • Never wear two condoms at once. The friction caused by the two barriers can facilitate breakage.
  • Never use oil-based lubricants such as Vaseline, and avoid nonoxynol 9 products which can inflame vaginal and rectal tissues.
  • Use plenty of lube when having intercourse. Don't skimp.
  • Make certain that you are using properly sized condoms. Don't go too big (which can cause a condom to slip off) or too small (which can cause a condom to burst). Learn more about how to properly size a condom for a safe, snug fit.
  • And finally, never, ever reuse a condom.

Edited by James Myhre and Dennis Sifris, M.D.

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