Can condoms be reused? At first glance, you might think… Maybe? Condoms are made of strong material, designed to take a lot of pressure and friction. That strength would suggest that you could reuse them if you wanted to? Maybe wash them out, lube them up again, and give it another go? I’m picturing a clothing line with little damp condoms hanging, all in a row. Could be a good way to help the environment and save some money, right? After all, “reuse” is part of the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) of responsible environmentalism.
Sorry, my cheap and environmentally conscious friends but no. Condoms should never be reused, not even once, not even when you’re having sex with the same partner. Condoms are designed to be one-and-done: disposable after just one use. The fact that they're disposable is built into the design of how and why they're effective for blocking STD/STIs and preventing pregnancy. Beyond the “ick” factor, there are just too many variables at play when you’re considering reusing condoms for it to ever be a good idea — with one notable exception. But before we talk about that, let’s take a look at why it’s a bad idea to reuse condoms.
1Risk Of STD/STI Exposure Is Higher
Condoms provide a barrier between people’s genitals when they’re having sex. When a person removes a condom after sex and ejaculation, they’re supposed to hold it at the base as they pull out and then tie it off. Both of those moves are designed to keep any and all fluids released by the penis inside the condom.
If a person is reusing a condom with the same partner and they have an STD/STI, there’s a risk that those fluids could come out of the condom and put their partner at risk of infection. Even if they wash the condom out, viruses are microscopic, so there’s no way of knowing for sure that it all came off in the wash. And if they’re having sex with multiple people, reusing condoms could mean they’re transmitting one person’s bodily fluids to another person, which also ups the partners’ risk of getting an STI or STD.
2Risk Of Pregnancy Is Higher
If a person is using condoms to prevent pregnancy, reusing condoms is also a bad idea. While sperm is bigger than viruses (which is why it’s OK to use lambskin condoms for pregnancy prevention, but not STD/STI protection), it’s still too small to see with the naked eye. So once again, there’s no way to be 100 percent sure that all of the sperm has been washed off if someone is going with the wash and reuse approach.
And if a person is thinking of just having sex again with the same condom, don’t. The ejaculate that’s already in there could squish out the sides while they’re having sex or overflow if they come again. Either way, there’s an increased risk of pregnancy if this is penis-in-vagina sex we’re talking about and an increased risk of STD/STI transmission with any combination of body parts.
3It’s More Likely To Tear
In addition to the squishing-out-the-sides scenario and the can’t-be-sure-it’s-totally-washed conundrum, a condom that’s been reused is more likely to tear. Condoms are designed for one-time use. The friction from sex weakens them, so more friction leads to weaker condoms. Also, all the original lube will have worn off the first time, which increases the risk of tearing.
4It’s Not As Tight
Finally, condoms are designed to be rolled onto penises, creating a nice, tight seal. Once a person takes a condom off, that seal is broken and the condom has stretched. As a result, a reused condom could be looser than a fresh one, increasing the risk of it slipping off during sex.
With One Exception…
There is one exception to all of this, however. When people say “condom,” they’re usually referring to the external condom, sometimes called a “male” condom. It’s the kind that comes in a little foil packet and rolls down over a penis. But there’s another type of condom out there. It’s commonly called the “female” condom but sex educators like to call it the “internal condom” because it can be used in butts, too — and everyone has a butt! (And because not everyone with a vagina is a woman and not every woman has a vagina.)
And internal condoms can be reused! In fact, one study conducted in South Africa that included 50 women who washed, dried, re-lubricated, and reused internal condoms up to seven times found that the condoms met FDA standards for the amount of pressure they could take and the strength of their seams.
So there you have it: Don’t reuse external condoms and only reuse internal condoms if you’re down to thoroughly wash, dry, and re-lubricate them. But rather than go through all of that, why not just get more condoms? Both types are available for free at Planned Parenthood and external condoms are pretty cheap and available at basically every gas station and pharmacy in America. This is one case where it’s really not necessary to reuse.