Condoms breaking
January 22, 2015 12:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm dating someone new and condoms have been breaking at an alarming rate. I'm bewildered about what's going on and how to fix it. (NSFW ish stuff inside)

I'm a little confused about how this is happening. We've slept together a few times and the condom has broken about three times - once it was to completion and I took plan B to be safe - other times he didn't finish when we realized it broke. I know all about getting tested anyway so no need to go over that.

However, now I'm a bit nervous about having sex with him going forward. He said it's happened about 1/20 times in the past - it's never happened to me in experience with other partners. His solutions are buying bigger condoms - which I'm trying not to make jokes about, but he's a decent size but not huge. Also he thinks more lube, and possibly me getting wet/more foreplay would help.

I'm concerned because he's had these issues with things breaking in the past - he has a daughter from a previous relationship and that wasn't planned. He kind of jokes about the bigger condoms being a "last resort" but it kind of is - I can't keep dating someone with this issue going on. It really turns me off sex with him entirely. The last time we spent time together we did everything but at my request, which he was fine with. My feeling is he's putting them on wrong or something, but I don't know how to be like, um, let's learn together how to put these on. Maybe that's what I need to do? I honestly can't imagine why the condom has broken 3/5 times we've slept together. Or what to do about it. Right now I'm putting the sex on hold until I can get more comfortable or some understanding of what's going on.

Birth control for me is not something I want right now - maybe if the relationship develops into something more serious, but it's only been a few weeks. It's important to me to have the condom thing a relatively secure option (nothing is 100%, got it).

It seems important to him, too, but bigger condoms seems like a silly solution.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (50 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Actually, "bigger condoms" was exactly what I was going to suggest, as I ran into the same problem with someone who was a bit, er, girthier than usual. He reported that he'd had an unusually-high rate of breakage in the past as well, and then reported after some practice with the bigger size that it seemed to have fixed things. "Decent but not huge" is also a fair description for the size of the guy this was happening to as well.

I'd try that, and also try "more lube and more foreplay" as well because seriously, what would that hurt?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:28 PM on January 22, 2015 [11 favorites]

The nurse at the first college I attended said it's best for guys using condoms to withdraw immediately after they come so that this doesn't happen.
posted by brujita at 12:28 PM on January 22, 2015

The only (extremely rare) breakage I've ever encountered in almost 20 years of using condoms was lube-related. A bit more lube and nothing broke again.
posted by mathowie at 12:30 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

1. Yes, lube.

2. What brand is he using? On the off chance that he's not using a major brand, maybe suggest transitioning to Trojan or Durex?

3. This would be the point in the relationship where I would be weighing whether I wanted to constantly be dealing with the possibility of this happening (even one in 20 condoms is like what, every few months?!), choose a reliable form of backup birth control that I would be in charge of, or just move on to someone I was more sexually compatible with. There is nothing wrong with breaking up with someone because the sex thing just isn't working out.

4. If it's way too soon to start mulling over #3, maybe no PIV sex until you're at that point?
posted by Sara C. at 12:30 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Would it be possible for you to put the condom on him? That way you could be certain that at least it was put on correctly. You could make it part of your foreplay.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:30 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

1) Try a bigger size and different styles. Them being too small is almost certainly a problem.

2) Is he putting them on properly? You need to roll the tip down a bit over your finger, then pinch out the air in the tip while applying, otherwise there's not enough room in the tip for fluids and they can break. Here's a good how-to.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:31 PM on January 22, 2015

- they could all be from the same box of expired or defective condoms
- you could have an allergy to latex that is just showing up, such allergies can cause a sort of sticky dryness irritation that can lead to breakage (although it usually comes with discomfort ime and you probably would have noticed that)
- he could just be really bad at putting on condoms
- a little lube inside and outside can make things work better sometimes
- bigger condoms, why not

A possible solution is for you to wear a female condom.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:31 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, have you tried plastic-based condoms from Durex instead of latex? They're bigger, have lube inside and out (and you might want to add more), and sometimes feel a bit like a plastic bag, but they were totally indestructible for me, and I think their breakage rates are way lower than conventional latex.
posted by mathowie at 12:31 PM on January 22, 2015

Who is putting it on? Perhaps the air is not getting squeezed out of the end properly. Or is he using any mineral oil, eg baby oil, as lube? That rots condoms.
posted by KateViolet at 12:31 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's really no harm in trying the bigger condoms. Why the jokes?
posted by the jam at 12:32 PM on January 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

I had the exact same problem with my current partner when we first met. I'd never had that problem with any other of my partners. We bought sampler packs of condoms, including the larger sizes, we used tons of lube, we put lube inside the condom, all to no avail. We were breaking 1/3 condoms and it was frustrating. Now, I'm not able to conceive, so pregnancy worries were not an issue but health worries were. We ended up getting multiple tests and eventually forgoing the condoms altogether eventually, but in the meantime, it was a real problem, more for him than for me, because it often precluded his orgasm. In our case, my partner's penis has a considerable 'lean' to it, which I think may have contributed to the issue. No great advice besides lube, lube, and more lube. I hear that sheepskin condoms may be better than latex ones, but they're expensive and not as effective. Good luck to you.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 12:36 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Make sure your properly pinching the end and don't buy cheap crappy brands (incase you are).
posted by tanktop at 12:37 PM on January 22, 2015

For what it's worth, I have never been involved in a condom breakage, so yeah, something's up. Try lube, a different size condom, and a different brand as others have suggested here.
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:38 PM on January 22, 2015

Oh, and you do know condoms expire, right? (Asking because I had to be re-reminded of that myself recently.)

Also, how is he storing them? Heat isn't all that great for them, so if he stores his stash somewhere, like, near a radiator or something, maybe just throw those out and get a new box and put it somewhere a bit cooler.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:45 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

They should not be breaking at anything like that rate. Could be lack of lube, could be they are not being put on properly, could be low quality or too-thin condoms, or he could need bigger condoms.

Personally I'd make sure he is putting it on properly.
posted by Justinian at 12:47 PM on January 22, 2015

Oh, buy the condoms yourself. Maybe he's using old condoms or not storing them properly or carrying them in his wallet or something.
posted by Justinian at 12:48 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
1) He is not using old condoms, just bought new ones, not sure of the brand.

2) The reason the bigger condoms thing seems silly/childish to me is that it seems like a cliche that guys are always complaining about busting out of condoms and he doesn't seem especially big to me. However, if other people felt that's a good solution, that's good to know for the purposes of this issue.

3) He's putting them on, I can try putting them on.

4) Nothing wrong with foreplay and that is part of the strategy going forward, but I've had plenty of sexytimes with and without foreplay so just not sure if that's the issue.

5) DTMFA is of course an option but it's only been a few weeks so I'm hesitant to not just try some more things first.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:49 PM on January 22, 2015

You should try to move past seeing properly-sized condoms as silly or childish. They won't work right if they are the wrong size.
posted by Justinian at 12:52 PM on January 22, 2015 [11 favorites]

I... kinda got the feeling before your update that you think this is on purpose?

I think the better question is: Why isn't this a more serious issue to him?

It seems from your narrative he's not taking this as seriously as you are. That alone would be a deal breaker. Why get involved any deeper with someone this cavalier about birth control?
posted by jbenben at 12:54 PM on January 22, 2015 [19 favorites]

The reason the bigger condoms thing seems silly/childish to me is that it seems like a cliche that guys are always complaining about busting out of condoms and he doesn't seem especially big to me.

The "bigger size" condoms are not, like, the size of party balloons or anything; they're probably maybe a couple millimeters more in girth, for guys who are themselves a couple millimeters more in girth. But it makes a difference because if you're talking about a latex thing that has to stretch to accommodate a variety of sizes, there is indeed a higher end of the scale of "normal" past which, if you push that stretch, it will suffer a bit of a structural integrity problem.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:55 PM on January 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

Does he have a foreskin? That can affect how well certain condoms work and fit.

I'd second giving the Durex Skyn line a try - I'm on the big end of things and the Trojan Magnums actually didn't work well for me but the Skyns do.
posted by Candleman at 12:59 PM on January 22, 2015

If you're secure about STD/HIV issues, then you could also explore a diaphragm or cervical cap as non-oral forms of birth control that you control. Diaphragm costs about $25 and is good for years of usage. Just need a fitting.
posted by brookeb at 1:00 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

[let him] read up on proper putting-on techniques and research brands, sizes and reliability (the only time this was an issue for us I later [this was before the time of the internet] found out that I had been using a notorious dud brand, although officially stamped).
posted by Namlit at 1:00 PM on January 22, 2015

I agree with jbenben, why isn't this a bigger deal to him?! Tell him directly, specifically, straight-up how much this issue is a turn off for you. No need to try to figure out what is happening on your own. Make him show you how he puts it on. If it seems not right tell him. Get the little paper of instructions out of the box. Stop and check the condom during sex.
posted by Swisstine at 1:00 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

You say that he says that bigger condoms are the last resort for him.

You agree, thinking that if they don't work, you're breaking up with him because you don't have a choice.

I figure that he is hoping "last resort" means the last resort for condoms. I bet he's hoping you'll say, "Well, we're this far...let's go without condoms now."

Disabuse him of this. Underline it. Make it painfully clear how serious this is for you and the relationship.
posted by inturnaround at 1:03 PM on January 22, 2015 [23 favorites]

The checklist for me is:
  1. Check the expiration (even bought new, you should)
  2. Open the package with your hands, not teeth
  3. No oil based lubes
  4. Drop of lube in the reservoir
  5. Squeeze air out of the tip on application using the pads of your fingers
  6. Lube on the outside
Following this list has yielded 1 broken latex condom ever in nearly 20 years of condom usage. I've broken 2 of the early Avanti polyurethane condoms which I think was more due to them not having a reservoir.
Like others have said, switch brands/sizes/material, prioritizing on strength.
posted by plinth at 1:25 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Same as everyone else -- more lube, make sure he's left space in the end (without air), proper size.

Additionally, are they condoms with a spermicidal lube? If so, switch to ones with normal lubrication. As far as I know, spermicidal lube is actually dries things up faster, in addition to being an irritant. Really, I've never found it to be anything other than counterproductive given its supposed purpose.
posted by mikeh at 1:37 PM on January 22, 2015

Does he happen to be un-circumcised? Back when I had sex ed they didn't explain anything about what to do with the foreskin (pull it back) before putting a condom on.
posted by homesickness at 1:40 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

This seems bogus to me. I get once, perhaps twice but often? And he has a child that he admits was unplanned (from condom breakage, or just not using birth control?)

Until this gets sorted, use a back up barrier contraceptive, like foam, film or get fitted for a diaphragm. Clearly condoms aren't going to be reliable and with a 15% failure rate....I wouldn't mess around with it.

This is too important to just wring your hands over. So try different condoms, sizes, materials, brands. But I'm serious as death eating crackers, get a secondary form of BC.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:06 PM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Other posters have addressed the issue on condom breakage so I want to focus on your comment about not wanting to go on birth control. (Although technically condoms are a form of BC, of course, just a hormone-free one!)

Kudos for getting the EC when needed and taking a break for now. I'm assuming you probably do not want to become pregnant right now so I really suggest you look into another form of backup for the immediate future: hopefully, there's something listed here that would feel like a possibility for you.
posted by smorgasbord at 2:06 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Condomania sells a brand called Coripa in custom sizes, the successor to a brand they used to sell called TheyFit. I was one of the 27,000 customers for the original TheyFit condoms, and I would recommend them. There is also a UK brand called TheyFit which may, or may not, actually be the same thing.

BTW I didn't realize I needed something different until three different brands all broke in a short timeframe with a new partner. I'd had condoms break before, with two different partners years apart, but never more than once with the same partner. Also I had no reason to think I needed bigger condoms, but apparently I did (humblebrag?).
posted by fedward at 2:07 PM on January 22, 2015

Not putting them on correctly. 100%
posted by Segundus at 2:34 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

What lube are you using with the condoms? Make sure it's not anything oil-based (and I don't know why you might otherwise have oil-based anything lingering around your parts unless you're using lotion for foreplay, but if you do...switch to lube) as it makes latex porous, and if you're having that kind of breakage I'd say go straight to sturdy silicone lube (note you can't use this with silicone toys so you may need to plan ahead a little). Wet Platinum is in most drugstores.

Drag is a factor in breakage. You can put a regular condom on like a sock, if you're careful, but if you then rubbed it back and forth on something the friction will tear it, and all you need is a tiny hole and a little more friction and you'll get a blowout.

A bigger condom can provide a little more give, but there's also a lot of people who think lube is a personal insult/failure, and it's not, *especially* in the presence of latex which is an irritant to a lot of people's skin and mucous membranes. Using lube doesn't mean there's something wrong with you or him. If you're using condoms - especially if they are clearly breaking under normal use - you should be using lube to reduce breakage risk. And the stuff that comes on condoms is useless, it doesn't count.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:35 PM on January 22, 2015

Petroleum contamination is a possibility. If either of you use a hand lotion or if either of you are exposed to pretroleum products (EG: mechanic or something) try washing very well before opening the package.

Or switch to polyurethane condoms. They don't stretch as much as latex but are much tougher and conduct heat better. And they aren't degraded by petroleum.

And ya, if he's uncircumcised it is vital to retract the foreskin before application.
posted by Mitheral at 3:37 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Since the issue seems to be not just condoms breaking but also your partner not taking contraceptive failure seriously, might I suggest you try the female condom?

Pros: You're in control of the contraception and many people find they feel better than standard condoms.

Cons: They're a bit more expensive and some people are put off by how they look - but I'd argue that that's just a question of what you're used to, as standard condoms aren't objectively beautiful.

For the record, I've never had a condom break either, and I'd be really freaked out if my partner didn't seem to be taking it seriously. Contraceptive sabotage is a relatively common form of abuse so if you think that is what is going on, definitely DTMFA.
posted by escapepod at 4:10 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Female condoms are awesome if you can get them somewhere for free or low cost, like Planned Parenthood or a clinic. If you can find them in stores, they can be around $1.50 a piece.
- you can put it in yourself, even hours before sex
- protects you better against STIs that transfer via skin to skin contact because it covers more of the "outside"
- that same coverage can also provide additional clitoral stimulation
- can be used to anal sex, too, just remove the ring

They have really come a long way in the past few years, in respect to both their design and material. Google "FC2".
posted by rubster at 4:17 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've had one condom break out of the, um, many condoms I've used. Which is probably thousands. In that one instance of breakage, we didn't use enough lube and I stupidly let him put the condom on when he wasn't completely hard (= potential air bubble when he did get hard).

Put the condom on him yourself when he is completely hard. Make sure that you hold the tip, so that there's no air trapped in there. Apply some water based, condom-safe lube. When he comes, make sure that he pulls out straight away while holding the condom at the base to prevent slippage.

If the condoms are the right size and you're already using enough lube, I'd be a bit suspicious too. Check the expiry dates and that the condom hasn't been tampered with. A small hole (like a pin prick) becomes a big hole, I think, because when condoms fail, it's usually pretty obvious.

Ask your partner to get tested for STIs, and have a bit of money put aside in case you need to buy plan b. and maybe buy some of your own condoms. That in combination with lube and applying them yourself means that you're in control.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 5:24 PM on January 22, 2015

I had some of the same notions as you. Trojan Magnums solved this problem in my world. Supply them yourself and see if the problem persists.
posted by fake at 6:48 PM on January 22, 2015

This guy is full of it whether he realizes it or not. You can fit a regular condom over half a baseball bat. Now- understand that there is a difference between a condom fitting and a condom fitting comfortably... but this guy is implying the former not the latter. Because he's claiming that the condoms don't fit period. As in they are snapping because they are too small. That's complete bs.

Magnum condoms are just a marketing ploy for guys who like to think they are too big for regular condoms. The truth is that Magnums are not that much bigger than regular trojans. In fact if you put them side by side you can often have a hard time telling a difference. You can look up various articles on this. It's a marketing thing... just saying that they are for huge slongs is enough to make guys buy them. And it's this fact that has made their sales grow to over 14% between 2001-2010. There's lots of articles on the brillance of marketing by condom companies on this online including pictures proving the size difference between the two is negligible. According to the article "monetizing the male ego" it was seen that though Magnums are the same length and size as regular trojans (just a tiny bit larger in the middle) it costs $8 for magnums vs $6 for regular trojans. But guys were willing to pay extra and get the same thing just because it was called "magnum" and strokes their ego. In reality they're basically buying the same thing and paying more for it.

Your guy friend is either a- poking holes in the condoms before opening them so that they will break (yes some guys have been known to do this either to get a girl pregnant or to just get a few seconds of 'raw' time in without being called an a-hole for it). Or he's purposely putting it on wrong because it makes him feel manly to think that he's too big for condoms. His attitude is most alarming because he's not taking it seriously despite it making another girl pregnant. So he's into this. I don't know if he gets turned on by the idea of possibly getting a woman pregnant or if it's all just about his own ego, but ultimately it doesn't matter. This is psychological. If you want to keep having sex with him don't tell him that magnums aren't that much bigger because then he'll surely try to go for the Durex XXL's which are the largest on the market, apparently not suitable for any guy under 10". Just get him the Magnums which he apparently believes are very different compared to regular and hope that psychology does the trick.

P.S. I dated a very large guy at around 10" and my hand couldn't even wrap itself completely around the girth of him. Even he could wear regular condoms without them breaking. He did Feel more comfortable in some of the GENUINELY larger brands, but the regular ones never broke. You can fit a regular condom over a whole arm and it will "fit". Your guy is feeding his ego in a dangerous way. If the magnum trick doesn't work and they are still breaking just find someone else and move on.
posted by manderin at 6:55 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites], to redirect....

While manderin is indeed correct that a regular size condom can fit on a guy (in the sense that you can get the thing ON his dick), the thing is, if he is bigger, the latex is going to be stretched REALLY thin. And thus, it may be more prone to breaking. It won't ALWAYS do so, but it increases the odds.

So the notion of it being "complete bs" that a bigger condom can prevent breaking isn't necessarily true, and the dude isn't necessarily "feeding his ego". I mean, if the guy is jerky in other ways, maybe, but if he's a cool dude in every other respect, it may be a stretch to assume he is doing anything like poking holes in the condoms so they break on purpose. I wouldn't necessarily assume, as manderin suggests, that he's doing anything nefarious unless you have other, stronger evidence of that kind of thing.

Especially in light of the fact that other people in here - myself included - have reported experience with the incidence of breakage going down with the upgrade in condom size. And hell, condoms are cheap - it's at least worth a try.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:34 PM on January 22, 2015 [12 favorites]

I haven't seen anyone here mention position. I'm a vagina owner, and every single breakage issue I've ever had has been a matter of girth + position, usually positions involving friction against the pubic bone. Experimenting with position might help you get to the, er, bottom of things. In the meantime, get thyself to a lubery.
posted by sockity sock at 7:44 PM on January 22, 2015

To redirect yet again after jbenben's comment - I don't think anyone is suggesting that it is IMPOSSIBLE to fit a regular size condom onto a big dick. I was merely trying to take Occam's razor to the notion that intentional sabotage was the best likely explanation for condom breakage. Because there are other more likely explanations.

That's all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:49 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yes, you can put a regular condom on a number of large items without them breaking but you're not then rubbing them back and forth in a relatively tight space with a variable amount of elastic skin moving under it for five to fifty minutes. Or you're going to way kinkier clubs than I am. Discussing what can be done with an object in a manner that is vastly different than it's actual use doesn't help with the discussion.

Friction causes condoms to break and wearing the wrong size, too larger or too small, can cause friction. Wear the right size with the right lube put on in the correct way. But please stop spreading the "a condom can go on an arm therefore any condom is fine" myth.
posted by Candleman at 8:05 PM on January 22, 2015 [13 favorites]

Trying to put a condom on that's too small isn't impossible. It can be done, but that doesn't make it not too small for its intended purpose. The comfort isn't great, but it works. The big problem is it's much harder to get on correctly, especially when the condom, hands, and penis are already slippery from other activities. Rolling it farther once it gets into that spot just over the head can be maddening. (Also, watch out for fingernails while struggling with that, not that anyone should have pokey fingernails for sexy times anyway)

I'm putting heavy odds on putting it on wrong/carelessly, either because he doesn't know how or because he feels a bit of a sense of hurry-up-she's-waiting-this-is-not-sexy. A larger size could actually help (if it's really larger.)
posted by ctmf at 8:44 PM on January 22, 2015

Reading this thread, it looks like all possibilities have been covered, except for one- it's winter, are his hands dry? Does he have scratchy calluses and hangnails right now? He could be suffering from a combination of dry skin that catches on the condoms, causing small tears that, due to lack of foreplay, go into a dry area where the positions used are causing more strain on condoms that are too small, the wrong brand, and have been stored in direct sunlight. I have had condoms break before in seemingly ideal situations. It happens.
posted by myselfasme at 2:20 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Does he have long or sharp nails? A small tear can quickly become a broken condom.
posted by The Hyacinth Girl at 3:12 AM on January 23, 2015

The guy I dated that was 10" and very "thick" did rub back and forth. The condoms never broke. And we often used regular sized condoms because we couldn't always find larger/more comfortable one's for him. Based on how you've described this guy, he's not as big as my ex was. Those things shouldn't be breaking at the rate this guy is making them break. And as was already covered- fitting and fitting comfortably are two different things, but breakage shouldn't happen. This is not an issue about the condom. He's doing something very wrong and his attitude over the breakage is the biggest indicator of this. He's getting an ego trip over the condoms snapping.
posted by manderin at 12:47 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry, but I have to agree with the others that are saying he is full of it. He wants to get you on the pill so that he doesn't have to wear a condom. Quality control for condoms includes filling them with several liters of water. If one sample fails that test the whole batch is disposed. I've done that test at home for fun and curiosity, and then used the water filled condom as a yo-yo and it didn't break.

While there is the off chance that one condom from a verified batch may still break, there out of five is way improbable. Have him buy lottery tickets.
posted by Promethea at 1:38 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

If on some level you suspect he's doing it intentionally, I think you should stop seeing him. Either he's doing it intentionally, in which case he's playing roulette with your body, or he's not doing it intentionally, and he just has really weird frequent bad luck? Like 3/5 bad luck? Sure.
At any rate, your question has a subtext that there's something about him you don't quite trust. Go with your gut feeling.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:54 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

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