If you have had sexual intercourse without a condom or there’s been an accident where the condom broke, the first reaction is to panic immediately. After all, it is that thin sheath of rubber that is the only thing protecting you and your partner from pregnancy, a sexually transmitted infection, or both. As scary as the situation may be, remember that you are not the only person to go through such an experience. There are several steps you can take to address the risks and to remain sexually healthy and protected. Let us take a look at what to do after a condom failure or unprotected sex.
What To Do Immediately After a Condom Failure or Unprotected Sex?
A condom is the only protection you and your partner have from a potential sexually transmitted disease, a pregnancy, or both.(1) If you have unprotected sex or condom failures, dealing with the situation immediately will make it less likely that there will be any serious outcome.(2) If you notice that the condom has broken, immediately stop any sexual activity and move away from your partner.(3, 4, 5, 6) Or, if you have had sex without a condom, there are a few things you can immediately do that may help.
Go To The Bathroom
First of all, go to the bathroom to remove all lingering fluids from the penis, vagina, or anus. This will make you feel more comfortable and also help remove bacteria that may cause urinary tract infections (UTIs).(7)
Sit on the toilet and push down with the anal or genital muscles. This will help you push out any remaining fluids. Urinating will also help.
If you have a vulva and you have had penis in vagina sex, urinating will not remove the risk of getting pregnant. This is because sperm would have already traveled towards the egg.
Wash Up But Do Not Douche
It is a common myth that genital areas need to be thoroughly cleansed after any sexual activity. While washing and drying your genital region will definitely increase your comfort level, but vaginal or anal douching will actually put you at an increased risk of an infection. This is because the use of douching products can cause inflammation and irritation.(8, 9, 10)
If you want to wash up, have a simple shower or use lukewarm water to splash and clean the genital area.
Check How You Are Feeling
Your own health is of equal importance after an event such as this. So make sure to take the time out to ask yourself how you are feeling. It is normal to go through a wide range of emotions after having sex without a condom – from worry to anger or even sadness. You can speak to your family or friends about the situation so that they can be your support system. There are also many associations you can reach out to, such as Planned Parenthood or the National Coalition for Sexual Health.(11, 12)
Think About What’s Next
Once you have gotten more comfortable, the next thing to do is to think about what steps to take now. For example, if you need to take emergency contraception (EC), you should find out your nearest pharmacy and its opening times. There are some forms of emergency contraception medications that are available over the counter and do not require a doctor’s prescription.(13)
On the other hand, if you are concerned that you might have gotten exposed to a potential sexually transmitted infection (STI) or HIV, you should book an appointment with your doctor or a sexual health clinic at the earliest. Remember that you only need to have penetrative or oral sex with someone once to get a sexually transmitted infection.(14)
Keep A Close Watch On Your Symptoms
It is important that you keep a close eye on your symptoms over the next few days. While some sexually transmitted diseases can be symptomless, others can start showing up in the form of symptoms like itchiness, smelly discharge, sores, or pain during urination. This is why it is important to watch your genital area, anus, and mouth region close and schedule an STI test at the earliest if you notice even the slightest symptom.
What To Do Within Three Days of Condom Failure or Unprotected Sex?
There are certain types of emergency contraception that have to be taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex. At the same time, it is also critical to take preventive medication for HIV within this same time.
Taking PEP From A Doctor
If you are worried that you might have contracted HIV, there are medications known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) that can lower your risk of developing an infection.(15) It is important, though, that you begin the treatment as soon as possible, typically within a few hours itself of the potential exposure. This is vital to the success of the medication.
You will need to take the medication once or twice a day for at least 28 days. However, it might still not be effective for everyone.
When PEP medication works, the combination of drugs, known as antiretroviral medications, helps stop the HIV from replicating and spreading throughout the body.(16)
Take Emergency Contraception Pills Like Plan B
Emergency contraception pills work to prevent pregnancy by blocking the process of ovulation in the body. These pills contain a synthetic hormone known as levonorgestrel that must be taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex for maximum effectiveness. Plan B is an example of an emergency contraception pill. These pills are easily available over the counter at all pharmacies and cost up to $50.(17)
If taken within 24 hours of having unprotected sex, the risk of pregnancy will get reduced by nearly 95 percent.(18) This risk gets reduced by 88 percent if a levonorgestrel emergency contraception pill is taken within 24 hours and 72 hours after intercourse.
Consult A Doctor About ParaGard or Ella
There are some other types of emergency contraception pills that are there to help prevent pregnancy as well. Ella is one such pill that can be taken up to five days after intercourse, and ParaGard is an intrauterine device (IUD) that can be used as a more long-term birth control method. However, these methods of contraception can only be accessed by a doctor.(19, 20)
What To Do Within Five Days Of Condom Failure or Unprotected Sex?
You should ideally take the over-the-counter forms of emergency contraception pills within three days of unprotected sex or condom breakage for having the best chance of preventing pregnancy; prescription medications should be taken within five days from the incident.
ParaGard is the most effective form of emergency contraception, with data showing only 1 in 1000 people getting pregnant after using ParaGard. (18) It also works equally well if used on day five as well as on day one, so there is not much to worry about the timing. Of course, remember that it can only be gotten with a doctor’s appointment and sometimes may involve a hefty fee. However, remember that the copper does make it challenging for sperm to reach the egg, and it is used as regular birth control for up to a decade at a time.
When it comes to Ella, it can also prevent or delay ovulation by blocking the progesterone hormone and lowering the chances of pregnancy by 85 percent if taken within five days of having unprotected sex.(21)
If you have already crossed the 72-hour window, you can still have a levonorgestrel emergency contraception pill, like Plan B, for another two days. However, remember that the longer you wait to take the medication, the less effective it will be at lowering the chance of pregnancy.
What To Do After Two Weeks of Condom Failure or Unprotected Sex?
Pain and unusual discharge when you urinate are some of the common symptoms of sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia.(22, 23) You should also keep an eye out for any bleeding after the intercourse and between your periods.
However, it is possible for some people to never experience any symptoms at all.
This is why it is important to get tested for both of these sexually transmitted infections every two weeks after unprotected sex, as they can lead to more serious issues such as infertility in the future.
Waiting for approximately 14 days after your potential exposure is considered to be an appropriate time to get the most reliable results.(26)
It is important to know that genital areas are not the only body places that need to be tested for sexually transmitted infections. If a sexual activity involves your anus or mouth, you will need to be tested there as well to ensure that you receive the correct treatment.
What To Do After Three Weeks of Condom Failure or Unprotected Sex?
Now comes the concern about pregnancy. If you are concerned that you might be pregnant, the first sign to watch out for, of course, would be a missed period. You will need to take a pregnancy test to confirm this.
As pregnancy tests work by detecting the presence of a hormone known as the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). It can take some time for sufficient hCG to build up in the body for it to be detected by a pregnancy test. This is why you should wait for up to three weeks after having sex to take the pregnancy test.(27)
If the pregnancy test is positive, you should book an appointment with a gynecologist to discuss your options at the earliest.
After three weeks, when it comes to testing for HIV and genital herpes, it is important to know that there is no cure for either of these infections. You are likely to notice that genital herpes will show up as blisters that leave open sores or as an itching or burning sensation. (28)
HIV can sometimes resemble the flu. However, these are just short-term symptoms, and after they disappear, you may not notice any other symptoms.
Waiting for at least three weeks to get tested for HIV and genital herpes is required as both infections have a lengthy incubation period. This means that you are likely to get a false negative if you get tested too early.(29)
Even though the viruses will continue to always remain in the body, there are treatments available. Antiviral medication can help relieve the symptoms of genital herpes if needed, and there are different types of medications used to stop HIV from replicating.
What To Do After Six Weeks of Condom Failure or Unprotected Sex?
After six weeks, it is necessary to get tested for syphilis. Syphilis is another sexually transmitted infection that is difficult to spot, especially if you have no symptoms. It is important to get tested for syphilis as it can lead to long-term health problems in different parts of the body.(30)
Some of the symptoms of syphilis you may notice include:
- Joint pain
- Blotchy rash on the soles of your feet or palms of hands
- Small growths or sores in the genital area or mouth
The incubation period for syphilis can be even longer than other infections. This is why it is necessary to wait for around six weeks to get tested to get a more reliable result.(31)
If the test is positive, you will be put on a course of antibiotics. You should avoid having any sexual intercourse until the infection has fully cleared.
Whether you have knowingly had sex without a condom or had an accident with the condom, there are several steps that you can take to look after your sexual health and protect yourself against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection. It is also necessary to keep yourself protected on an ongoing basis by using reliable contraception and getting yourself tested for sexually transmitted infections regularly.
- Beksinska, M., Wong, R. and Smit, J., 2020. Male and female condoms: Their key role in pregnancy and STI/HIV prevention. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 66, pp.55-67.
- Twizelimana, D. and Muula, A.S., 2020. Actions taken by female sex workers (FSWs) after condom failure in semi urban Blantyre, Malawi. BMC women’s health, 20(1), pp.1-7.
- Parsons, J.T., Halkitis, P.N., Bimbi, D. and Borkowski, T., 2000. Perceptions of the benefits and costs associated with condom use and unprotected sex among late adolescent college students. Journal of adolescence, 23(4), pp.377-391.
- Flowers, P., Smith, J.A., Sheeran, P. and Beail, N., 1997. Health and romance: Understanding unprotected sex in relationships between gay men. British Journal of Health Psychology, 2(1), pp.73-86.
- Hingson, R., Heeren, T., Winter, M.R. and Wechsler, H., 2003. Early age of first drunkenness as a factor in college students’ unplanned and unprotected sex attributable to drinking. Pediatrics, 111(1), pp.34-41.
- Kirby, D., 2000. School-based interventions to prevent unprotected sex and HIV among adolescents. In Handbook of HIV prevention (pp. 83-101). Springer, Boston, MA.
- Nguyen, H. and Weir, M., 2002. Urinary tract infection as a possible marker for teenage sex. Southern medical journal, 95(8), pp.867-870.
- Joesoef, M.R., Sumampouw, H., Linnan, M., Schmid, S., Idajadi, A. and Louis, M.S., 1996. Douching and sexually transmitted diseases in pregnant women in Surabaya, Indonesia. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 174(1), pp.115-119.
- Annang, L., Grimley, D.M. and Hook III, E.W., 2006. Vaginal douche practices among black women at risk: Exploring douching prevalence, reasons for douching, and sexually transmitted disease infection. Sexually transmitted diseases, 33(4), pp.215-219.
- Oh, M.K., Merchant, J.S. and Brown, P., 2002. Douching behavior in high-risk adolescents: What do they use, when and why do they douche?. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, 15(2), pp.83-88.
- Plannedparenthood.org. 2021. Planned Parenthood | Official Site. [online] Available at: <https://www.plannedparenthood.org/> [Accessed 17 November 2021].
- National Coalition for Sexual Health. 2021. National Coalition for Sexual Health. [online] Available at: <https://nationalcoalitionforsexualhealth.org/> [Accessed 17 November 2021].
- Shen, J., Che, Y., Showell, E., Chen, K. and Cheng, L., 2019. Interventions for emergency contraception. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1).
- Ashenhurst, J.R., Wilhite, E.R., Harden, K.P. and Fromme, K., 2017. Number of sexual partners and relationship status are associated with unprotected sex across emerging adulthood. Archives of sexual behavior, 46(2), pp.419-432.
- Tht.org.uk. 2021. PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV) | Terrence Higgins Trust. [online] Available at: <https://www.tht.org.uk/hiv-and-sexual-health/pep-post-exposure-prophylaxis-hiv> [Accessed 18 November 2021].
- Plannedparenthood.org. 2021. PEP and HIV. [online] Available at: <https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/hiv-aids/pep> [Accessed 18 November 2021].
- Plannedparenthood.org. 2021. What Kind of Emergency Contraception Is Best For Me?. [online] Available at: <https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/morning-after-pill-emergency-contraception/which-kind-emergency-contraception-should-i-use> [Accessed 18 November 2021].
- Plannedparenthood.org. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/5713/9611/6188/Emergency_Contraception_History_and_Access.pdf> [Accessed 18 November 2021].
- Kim, A. and Bridgeman, M.B., 2011. Ulipristal Acetate (ella): a selective progesterone receptor modulator for emergency contraception. Pharmacy and therapeutics, 36(6), p.325.
- effective are copper IUD, H., ParaGard®(Copper IUD) ParaGard® is a copper intrauterine device (IUD) that is used to prevent pregnancy. This method of birth control is nonhormonal and is used for long-term pregnancy prevention.
- Plannedparenthood.org. 2021. What is the ella Morning-After Pill? | Cost & Effectiveness. [online] Available at: <https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/morning-after-pill-emergency-contraception/whats-ella-morning-after-pill> [Accessed 18 November 2021].
- Rietmeijer, C.A., Van Bemmelen, R., Judson, F.N. and Douglas Jr, J.M., 2002. Incidence and repeat infection rates of Chlamydia trachomatis among male and female patients in an STD clinic: implications for screening and rescreening. Sexually transmitted diseases, 29(2), pp.65-72.
- Potterat, J.J., Rothenberg, R.B., Woodhouse, D.E., Muth, J.B., Pratts, C.I. and Fogle, J.S., 1985. Gonorrhea as a social disease. Sexually transmitted diseases, pp.25-32.
- Cdc.gov. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/the-facts/gonorrhea-the-facts-2012.pdf> [Accessed 18 November 2021].
- nhs.uk. 2021. Chlamydia. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chlamydia/> [Accessed 18 November 2021].
- Ndhealth.gov. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.ndhealth.gov/hiv/Docs/CTR/TimePeriodsReference_HIVSTDsHep.pdf> [Accessed 18 November 2021].
- Plannedparenthood.org. 2021. How soon after unprotected sex can I take a pregnancy test?. [online] Available at: <https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/ask-experts/how-soon-after-unprotected-sex-can-i-take-a-pregnancy-test> [Accessed 18 November 2021].
- Tideman, R.L., Taylor, J., Marks, C., Seifert, C., Berry, G., Trudinger, B., Cunningham, A. and Mindel, A., 2001. Sexual and demographic risk factors for herpes simplex type 1 and 2 in women attending an antenatal clinic. Sexually transmitted infections, 77(6), pp.413-415.
- HIV.gov. 2021. HIV Testing Overview. [online] Available at: <https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/hiv-testing/learn-about-hiv-testing/hiv-testing-overview> [Accessed 18 November 2021].
- nhs.uk. 2021. Syphilis. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/syphilis/> [Accessed 18 November 2021].
- Lewis, D.A. and Young, H., 2006. Syphilis. Sexually transmitted infections, 82, pp.iv13-5.