Not to state the obvious, but sperm is, by design, a force of nature made to be resilient and persistent. But, when it comes to the sperm's longevity in a condom, some external factors are at play that can affect its life span.
The good news if you’re avoiding pregnancy is that the ejaculated sperm can survive for only a few hours once ejaculated into a condom. So if you use condoms correctly and consistently every time you have sex, it's likely that the sperm won't be able to survive long enough to fertilise an egg.
However, suppose accidents happen because you haven't used your condom correctly. In that case, sperm can remain viable in a woman's genital tract for up to 7 days (source). So, if you're trying to avoid pregnancy, you must pay attention to what you're doing during application and removal of your condom.
Table of Contents:
- Does Lubricant in a Condom Kill Sperm?
- Can I Get Pregnant From Sperm in a Condom?
- Can I Get Pregnant if the Condom Splits During Sex?
- How Can I Have the Safest Sex Possible Using a Condom?
- Don't Be Scared of Semen
Standard lubricant doesn't contain anything that kills or inhibits sperm; only spermicidal lubricant containing nonoxynol-9 affects sperm's ability to swim. It affects sperm in several different ways, causing sperm dysfunction, and does kill some sperm (source).
The use of spermicides is not currently advised in the UK. There is no evidence that condoms containing spermicides are any more effective than those that don't, at preventing STIs. In fact some studies have shown they may increase the risk of acquiring an infection (source).
The chances are you’re using a condom to avoid pregnancy (and STDs), so you must be careful when using them, as sperm can still survive inside the condom for several hours. If there is ejaculate left inside the condom after sex, you must be careful to remove and dispose of it properly. Read more here — Can You Flush Condoms Down The Toilet?
Contrary to popular belief, condoms don't split easily — they can tear, but usually only if you're using an expired condom or have punctured it with your nail or teeth when removing it from the foil wrapper.
However, if the condom, for whatever reason the condom splits during intercourse, sperm can still be released into the vagina, and there is a risk of pregnancy. If this happens, you should take emergency contraception as soon as possible - preferably within 24 hours of the accident. If you don't want to be pregnant, don't delay - get help right away! For information about emergency contraception, please see the NHS website at this link.
To have the safest sex possible, you can do some things to lessen your chances of becoming pregnant by using a condom as a birth control method correctly:
- Make sure you use the correct size condom.
- Check the condom has not expired or has been damaged in any way, and check for the CE or UKCA mark which means they have been tested to meet safety standards.
- Put on the condom before any genital contact to avoid pre-ejaculate entering the vagina.
- Use water or silicone-based lubricants, as oil-based ones can damage condoms and make condoms more likely to tear during intercourse.
- Remove the condom after ejaculation, wrap it in a piece of kitchen roll, some toilet paper or a tissue, then put it in the waste bin (wash your hands after disposing of the condom).
- Don't leave the used condom hanging around so it can unintentionally come into contact with your body.
If used properly, condoms are a very effective form of contraception that offers protection from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). To make sure that your sex is safe, always use condoms correctly and consistently.
Reading this blog and the advice we give might feel like contraception in itself. There's no need to fear semen; it's not as robust as we have made it sound. Sperm needs an ideal environment like the vagina to survive; it requires the right atmosphere to stay alive.
While sperm can survive a few hours in a condom, it can only survive for a few minutes if it hits your skin (as long as it's not near your intimate skin) and its life span becomes considerably shorter on fabric.
In summary, depending on the environment, sperm can remain viable for a few hours, and it's best to use condoms correctly and consistently every time you have sex. If you're concerned about pregnancy, take emergency contraception as soon as it is practically possible if there is a risk of semen entering your body during intercourse.
Don't be scared of semen; use the condom as it was intended, and if you really can't risk an unwanted pregnancy, it's definitely worth considering other types of contraception that can be used at the same time as a condom (See: NHS - Your Contraception Guide).