At roughly $1 per, condom costs can quickly add up — especially if you use them as your primary form of contraception, and especially if you have sex regularly. But please, please, do not wash condoms between uses. These are one-and-done items. And while you may be rolling your eyes at a command that strikes you as the definition of "duh," this reminder bears repeating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least, thinks so.
On July 23, the federal agency's sexually transmitted infection-dedicated Twitter account tweeted a warning. "We say it because people do it," the tweet read. "Don't wash or reuse #condoms! Use a fresh one for each #sex act."
It bears noting that this particular account does tweet out condom factoids every so often, so it's possible there was nothing extra special about last week that made the message particularly timely. But response to this particular missive came in fast and thick: At time of writing, the tweet had accrued 435 comments, more than 1,300 retweets, and over 1,600 likes. As you probably expected, Twitter brought its jokes:
Even news reports effused skepticism, some adopting a particularly flippant tone in delivering the message. And sure, many will (and did) find this advice wildly self-explanatory, and wonder why it even bears repetition. Lots of people know what condoms do: Protect against the transmission of STIs and, when used for PIV sex, reduce the risk of pregnancy. Indeed, when correctly deployed, condoms may be up to 98 percent effective, although human error drops that figure down to 85 percent in real life. But it's not all common knowledge, because the numbers demonstrate that a lot of people are lost when it comes to rolling on a condom — if they're even using one. And given the White House's hostile attitude toward all things sex-related, that ineptitude makes particular sense.
The current administration aggressively promotes abstinence-only sex education, which typically omits mention of condoms from the curriculum. Alternatively, it might introduce such medical fallacies as "condoms cause cancer." Keeping all that in mind, you may find yourself less surprised that the CDC has to pop in with quick reminders about the correct way to use barrier contraception. Too many people were never taught how.
What's more, Trump and his cohort have done their damndest to limit access to contraception. Part of that war on sexual health means shuttering organizations like Planned Parenthood, whose clinics offer visitors free condoms as a matter of course. In the early days of the Trump age, roughly 3 million women who required federal assistance in order to afford birth control lived in counties without a single publicly funded sexual health clinic offering the full contraceptive spectrum. Indeed, over half of Planned Parenthood centers operate in medically underserved areas, or parts of the country where another option simply does not exist. So if you cannot afford your birth control because the government has deliberately placed it out of reach, and if condoms put a formidable dent in your monthly budget, you might find yourself in a bit of a pickle if you can't pick up free prophylactics at a conveniently located sexual health clinic. You might find yourself staring at the rubber you just removed and wondering if it might just stretch for another use.
Thanks to the CDC, we have a firm answer on that score: Always no. "For many sexually active people, using condoms the right way every time is the most effective method for preventing STDs," Dr. Elizabeth Torrone, an epidemiologist with the CDC Division of STD Prevention, tells Bustle. "Condoms prevent the spread of most STDs and likely reduce the risk of all STDs, but a condom is only effective when used correctly. Incorrect use, such as reusing a condom or using more than one at a time, diminishes the protective effect of condoms by leading to condom breakage, slippage, or leakage."
Washing a condom degrades the latex without killing any of the microorganisms lurking on its surface, making this a risky proposition for couples hoping to stay STI-free. What's more, a used condom will be stretched and quite difficult to reapply. And once its lube has been rinsed away, you might find using a condom to be a lot less comfortable than the last time around.
The moral of this story? Toss your used condoms in the trash, and roll on a new one each and every time you have sex. In a mutually monogamous relationship and finding it prohibitively expensive and inconvenient to maintain a rubber supply? Call your nearest Planned Parenthood and ask about pricing plans for IUD insertion or another form of birth control. Feeling ready to judge people for a practice that challenges your most basic understanding of common sense? Count yourself lucky that you received some form of sex education and can afford to regularly restock your condom drawer.