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There's a legitimate reason you should never use expired condoms

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Condoms are cheap, easy to use, and easy to buy — and they're one of the only birth control methods that also protects against STIs. Win-win.

Before you use one, though, there's one thing you should always check: the expiration date.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration requires that all condoms have an expiration date— each individual condom should have one printed on its wrapper. And this date actually means something important. Condoms become less effective after they've passed it.

"[Condom] materials degrade and deteriorate over time, making the condom less strong and less flexible," Deborah Arrindell, vice president of health policy at the American Sexual Health Association, told INSIDER. "Think of an old rubber band and how dry and brittle it becomes. As a result, the condom will be more prone to break or tear during sex, and is then, of course, less effective."

If it's somehow not possible to obtain a new condom, an expired one could be better than nothing at all.

"If it's all that the couple has and there is no way to procure a non-expired condom, I think using an expired one is better than nothing," gynecologist Dr. Susan E. Pesci, clinical instructor and family planning specialist in the Montefiore Health System, told INSIDER.

Just know that any time you use an expired condom, there's a very real risk it could break.

"Maybe [an expired condom] won't break during sex. If you were asked if you want to prevent STIs and unintended pregnancy, would your answer be 'maybe?'" Arrindell said. "If the choice is between an expired condom and no condom, a 'maybe' is better than no protection, but it's important to understand the risk."

And make sure you give any condom — expired or not — a good visual inspection. Don't use it if it has any holes or tears, or if it seems stiff, dry, or sticky when you open it. Pesci also advised inspecting a condom after sex to look for holes or tears.

You can minimize the risk of breakage by storing your condoms in a cool, dry place, since heat and moisture damages them over time, Planned Parenthood says. And never pair condoms with oil-based lubricants like baby oil or petroleum jelly, since these can weaken latex and make condoms tear, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use water-based lube instead.

If a condom breaks during sex, get tested for STIs.

You should already get regular STI tests— but it's even more crucial after a condom breaks.

"Since it takes some STIs longer than others to show up on a test, it is important that you get tested soon after having sex — within three to six weeks — and again after 3 months to confirm the results," Neil Rana, health equity manager at the National Coalition of STD Directors, told INSIDER.

If you're a person who can get pregnant and you weren't using another form of birth control, you may also want to consider emergency contraception, Pesci added. Planned Parenthood has a simple guide for choosing between the two types: the copper IUD and the morning after pill.

But the important takeaway is simple: Do your best to keep non-expired condoms on hand, and store them properly. You'll save yourself a lot of worry.

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