Sex educators hear this urban legend all the time: “condoms you get for free from clinics or schools can’t be trusted because they don’t work as well and break easier.” But this is absolutely NOT true — free condoms are the same condoms you buy in stores, and they work just as well.
It’s understandable why people think free condoms are less reliable. Usually we tend to think free = crappy, and expensive = quality, right? Not in this case. Condoms are tested and FDA approved, whether you buy them or get them for free — they’re all effective and safe, as long as you use them correctly.
So how do free condoms even exist in the first place? Who are these magic condom fairies sprinkling free rubbers across the land? The truth is “free” condoms are only free to the public. Government programs, health departments, non-profits, clinics, and schools actually do buy these condoms — the same condoms you can buy in stores — and give them away to anyone who needs them.
The logic behind these programs is that giving people condoms is easier and cheaper than treating them for STDs and dealing with high rates of infections. Think about it: a condom costs much less than a doctor’s appointment. It’s a basic public health thing — EVERYONE benefits from safer sex. Giving away free condoms is an investment in the community.
The one downside to free condom programs is there’s usually not much variety available. If you prefer a certain style or need a special size, type, or material (like non-latex), you might have to buy your protection. But if the free ones work for you, go ahead and use them with confidence. Just make sure to store them correctly (away from extreme temperatures and any sharp objects that can damage them), and check the expiration date. What really keeps condoms from breaking is taking proper care of them and using them correctly every single time you have sex — not paying for them.
There are a few condoms you should avoid, free or not. Condoms marked “novelty” or “for entertainment purposes” are not cleared by the FDA to prevent STDs or pregnancy, so you can’t rely on them to keep you safe. And remember that animal skin (AKA lambskin) condoms don’t protect against HIV or other STDs, so stick to latex or plastics like polyurethane, nitrile, or polyisoprene for full protection.