You might bend the rules with food or skin care, but when the expiration date in question is stamped on a condom — the only thing standing between you and a sexually transmitted infection or unplanned pregnancy — it's best you take notice.
"The materials used to make the condom break down over time," Kate Killoran, MD, an ob-gyn with Your Doctors Online, told POPSUGAR. That means they really do expire, typically three to five years after they're manufactured, though natural materials (like lambskin) don't last nearly as long. The same is true of condoms made with spermicidal lubricant. "The spermicide breaks down the material the condom is made from faster, shortening the shelf life by about two years," Dr. Killoran said.
But the date listed on the packaging isn't the only factor to consider when deciding whether or not a condom is safe to use. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that condoms be stored in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. "Condoms stored in a wallet, purse, car, or other warm place exposed to sunlight can break down more quickly and be less effective," Dr. Killoran explained. If you want to carry one with you, the FDA suggests doing so for only a few hours at a time.
So, even condoms that haven't yet reached their expiration date can't always be trusted. "If it appears dry or cracked, or if the package is open or leaking spermicide or lubricant, it might as well be expired," Dr. Killoran told POPSUGAR. Likewise, ditch any packages where the condom seems gummy or is sticking to itself.
Finally, regardless of whether a condom is bordering on expired, you should take some precautions to help prevent it from breaking. While lubrication can reduce friction, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends water- or silicone-based lubricants over oil-based products, such as petroleum jelly or massage oil, which can weaken the material of a condom. Better safe than sorry.