Q & A: What is a Micro Tear?

Q: I see you guys talk about micro tears in condoms a lot, but I don’t know what they are, and in all honesty, it’s kind of freaking me out? Do condoms normally come with tiny tears in them? Does spermicide cause them? PLEASE ANSWER.

micro tear header

A: Deep breath! Hoo hoo, heeeeeee!

There, feel better? It’s not as scary as you thought, we promise.

There are two types of micro tears we talk about when we talk about safe sex. The one you're thinking of refers to tears in the latex of the condom. The other refers to tears in the tissue lining. We'll get to that in a sec. Let's start with condoms.

Condom Micro Tears

A micro tear is, obviously, a little tiny tear in the condom. They are dangerous because they are so small, they can’t really be seen by the human eye, but they can still let viruses and sperm through.

Unfortunately, the threat of micro tears has long been used by abstinence-only sex educators and crisis pregnancy centers as a threat for people who engage in premarital sex. The idea is to say that all condoms come with micro tears, so viruses and sperm can always pass through and transmit STDs, or cause an unwanted pregnancy. This isn't true. If it were, condoms would be completely useless, unwanted pregnancy rates among condom users would be the same as it is among those who go bareback, and we'd have an even worse STD/STI epidemic than we already do.


Remember, all the condoms that we sell at Condom Depot are FDA-approved. That means that they go through an intense series of testing, and are constantly monitored for breakage and defects. This includes an electric test, where the condom is put over a metal rod and has an electric pulse shot through it to check for any weaknesses in the latex or any tears. Condoms from each production batch are held to very high standards to make sure the other condoms in their batches maintain the same level of safety. A condom with an actual manufacturer’s defect is incredibly rare, and chances are, you’ll notice it long before you even put it on.

But micro tears are a real thing. Luckily, they're very rare. They're also more likely to happen from user error than from a condom manufacturer defect.

There are a number of reasons why micro tears can happen. Here are a few:

The good news is that when condoms fail, they tend to fail very dramatically, even when exposed to the conditions above. Ask anyone who’s ever had a condom break while it was inside or on their body-- you can often feel it happen, or you will notice it when you take the condom off. If you’re careful and consistent about your condom usage, and you follow the basic rules of how to use a condom, micro tears should never be a concern.

Scared that you might not be using condoms correctly (or that someone else might be stealthing you)? That’s the exact purpose that the Condom Depot Learning Center was created for. Here are some articles that may offer you some peace of mind:

Tissue Micro Tears

Have you ever exfoliated a little too zealously and found that your skin hurt afterwards? When something is abrasive, it can open up tiny tears in the flesh. These tiny wounds might seem pretty harmless, but they can have big implications if your partner is carrying an STD.

Tissue micro tears are similar to condom micro tears in that they can happen for a lot of the same reasons, like using a condom without lubrication, or one with the wrong type of lubrication. There's a lot of friction in penetrative sex and without lube, that makes the tissue of the vagina or anus (or even the mouth) can take quite a beating if it's being penetrated.

Micro tears are a direct pathway into your circulatory system, meaning that they're a great way for viruses and germs to get into your body and cause an infection. If you have a condom break, or if you're not using one at all but still putting yourself at risk for micro tears in your tissue, you are at a high risk for transmitting or contracting that STD. This is why condoms and lubricant go hand-in-hand, and why HIV is still prevalent among people who use condoms for anal sex.

In fact, micro tears in the anus both very common and very dangerous. Remember, the anus is the super highway for bacteria in your body, so having open wounds back there, no matter how tiny they are, can put you at a crazy risk for infection. Read up on protecting yourself during anal.

These things have been known to cause micro tears:

  • spermicide/nonoxynol-9
  • textured condoms (not for everyone, but people with sensitive skin sometimes find them abrasive)
  • too much friction, not enough lube
  • too big of toys/body parts without enough training

The best way to prevent tissue micro tears? Lots and lots of non-spermicidal, preferably silicone lube.

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