What To Do If A Condom Breaks

Accidents do happen—here's what to do to prevent STIs (including HIV) and pregnancy.

A condom that is worn incorrectly or used past its expiration date during sex can break or slip off, putting you at risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Here's your plan of action should accidental breakage or slippage happen.

What To Do if You Feel a Condom Break

The CDC stated that three major things should be done at the moment of a condom break: immediately stop sexual activity, withdraw, and remove the broken condom to replace it with a new one. Also, depending on your situation, other actions may be necessary to take after an experience with a broken condom.

For Prevention of HIV and Other STIs

If you know you have been exposed to HIV—or suspect it's even remotely possible you were exposed—see your healthcare provider and ask for post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), a preventive treatment for HIV that may keep you from being infected.

The treatment is a month-long course of HIV antiretroviral medications. The treatment is most effective if you start the medications right away but should be taken within 72 hours of possible exposure, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Additionally, side effects can include extreme nausea and fatigue, but in most cases, the side effects from the medications can be treated and are not life-threatening.

If you don't have a provider, you can find PEP by calling a health clinic, an AIDS service organization, or your local health department or by visiting an emergency room.

As for STIs, see your healthcare provider for a full panel of tests or arrange to be tested at a health clinic. You may not be able to prevent infection, but the tests will likely reveal if you have been infected—and the sooner you start treatment to cure the disease or ease symptoms, the better.

For Prevention of Pregnancy

You can also take emergency contraception, known as the morning-after pill. The most common morning-after pills are tablets containing high doses of levonorgestrel, a synthetic progestin hormone that is also in birth control pills. Brand names include Next Choice One Dose, My Way, and Plan B One-Step.

Several brands of emergency contraception are available over the counter and can reduce the risk of pregnancy by 75-89% if taken within 72 hours of sex. It's most effective when taken right away; taking it within 24 hours is encouraged. Many women's health organizations recommend purchasing it before you need it, so you have it on hand if you ever do. You can buy it at a pharmacy in person or online; you can also get it at a women's health center.

Per the Office on Women's Health (OWH), another oral emergency contraception pill is ulipristal acetate (known as its brand name, Ella, in the United States). It is the most effective type of oral emergency contraception, and you should take it within five days after having unprotected (or condomless) sex. Of note, according to the OWH, it is only available by prescription.

Oral emergency contraception is safe to take, but side effects may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fatigue, headache, and menstrual changes. If you experience severe abdominal pain, seek medication attention. If your period is more than a week late after taking Plan B or another morning-after pill, you might be pregnant and should get tested.

Finally, you might also decide to get an intrauterine device (IUD), which can serve as emergency contraception after having condomless sex—per the CDC. The IUD would need to be placed inside the uterus within five days after the condom break or slip in order to be most effective. You'll want to talk with your healthcare provider to see if this option might be right for you.

How To Keep Condom Breakage From Happening Again

Once the immediate crisis is over, put some thought into why the condom broke. "These accidents don't happen easily," Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, a psychologist specializing in HIV at New York University, told Health. "Are you using condoms correctly? Are you using the right kind of lube? Are the condoms old or expired? It's important to identify the problem so you can avoid an accident in the future."

The CDC additionally recommended only using latex or polyurethane condoms (no natural condoms), keeping condoms away from extreme heat, and not using oil-based lubricants or reusing condoms. These things would help keep condoms from tearing and lessen the chance of condom breakage.

Overall, it's best to be prepared as possible before, during, and after using condoms to lower your worries about a potential incident with a broken condom.

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