The temperatures are rising, the Covid-19 infection rates are dropping, and the rallying cries of shot girl summer can be heard far and wide. Along with it comes the potential for *gasp* human touch, and possibly even the return of the casual hookup. But if you’re planning to partake in some fresh sexual escapades of your own this summer, and you’re incorporating a new partner, let us be the first to remind you that lube does expire, as do condoms. So, if you’re dusting off an old bottle or unearthing a few tired packs from the bottom of a nightstand drawer, it would be wise to search for their expiration dates—and toss the products that are past their prime.
While there aren’t standardized expiration dates for sexual goods like condoms and lubricant, the benchmark is generally three to five years for the former and one to three years for the latter, says board-certified OB/GYN Lucky Sekhon, MD. The variation therein comes from the different materials and ingredients used to make these kinds of products.
“Latex and polyurethane condoms will last longer—closer to the five-year mark—than condoms made of polyisoprene, which typically expire after three years,” says Lindsay Wynn, co-founder and CEO of vaginal-wellness brand Momotaro Apotheca. And any natural materials like lambskin will expire even more quickly, says Dr. Sekhon. So, if you can’t find an expiration date on the label of an old pack of condoms, you can start by checking the ingredients list for the above materials, and doing the math from there.
If you’re still on the fence or can’t quite remember when you purchased a particular pack, open one up, and give it a good look. You might have to unroll it for a full assessment, but if the condom feels extra chalky, dry, or brittle, that’s a good sign that it’s time to toss it, says Wynn.
“Latex and polyurethane condoms will last longer than condoms made of polyisoprene, which typically expire after three years.” —Lindsay Wynn, co-founder and CEO of Momotaro Apotheca
With lube, there is a bit more nuance around expiration dates, depending on what the formulation contains. “In general, silicone-based lubricants usually have a slightly longer shelf life than water-based ones,” says Andrea Giebel, head of quality management at sexual-wellness brand pjur. There are also a couple ingredients that tend to expire more quickly—namely, Nonoxynol-9 and other kinds of spermicide, which you could find in lubricant or as a coating on condoms—and those would be less potent after that point, says sexologist Jess O’Reilly, PhD, host of the @SexWithDrJess podcast.
What you’ll typically see when lube does expire is a change in viscosity, says Wynn: “What might have once been super slippery and wet may now look and feel thicker, which can happen from evaporation and dehydration of the product.” Squirt a bit into your hand (ideally, before you’re in the heat of the moment), and investigate it. “If you observe anything unusual in its consistency, color, smell, or tackiness, you may want to replace it as a precautionary measure,” says Dr. O’Reilly.
Why you shouldn’t use expired lube or condoms
The main concern with an extra-old condom is that its dryness and brittleness could lead to cracking during sex, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, an OB/GYN and clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine. That, of course, can reduce its overall efficacy in preventing pregnancy and transmission of STDs. Not to mention, the decrease in user-friendliness that’s likely to come with a chalky condom—a phrase that’s making my skin crawl just to write, much less experience.
When it comes to expired lube, you could see a dip in efficacy, too, with a stickier feel and less of an easy glide. “Certain chemicals in lubricant can change properties over time in a way that could be irritating to skin or disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in the reproductive tract,” says Dr. Sekhon. And as noted above, ingredients like spermicides may be rendered ineffective over time, as well.
How to best store condoms and lube to extend their shelf life
All the experts recommend keeping both condoms and lube in a cool, dry place. Room temperature is generally sufficient, but any excess heat or humidity—we’re looking at you, summer—could break down the ingredients in both products more quickly. Dr. Sekhon also suggests avoiding storing condoms in any place where there is a risk of tearing, like in a toiletries bag with sharp objects.
It’s also worth noting that condoms shouldn’t stay in a pocket (or a wallet that’s in a pocket) for more than a few hours, as those spots get a lot of body heat, says Dr. Sekhon: “If you’re planning on doing this, consider refreshing your supply often to ensure you have a fresh, unexpired condom whenever you’re ready to reach for it.”
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