We know that we should practice safer sex but just how effective are condoms in reality?
Prophylactics have a clearly defined sense of purpose — to deliver on a promise. That promise focuses primarily on one thing — protecting your private parts — and condoms do that one thing extremely well.
How effective are condoms?
There wasn't a lot of data about prophylactics throughout history. Current statistics tell us that if you are consistent with their use, condom effectiveness is 98%. Keep on reading to find out what this stat covers and what could lower this high rate.
Myths and misconceptions
There are lots of myths and misconceptions out there about condoms. For the record, these devices are the only ones that protect against both unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. You may hear stories about how someone got pregnant even when using them or other stuff like that. Obviously, flukes do happen, but condoms are excellent at birth control.
How often do condoms work?
Here’s an earth-shattering revelation and a basic condom fact for you. Condoms pretty much work as often as you use them, and logically, the reverse is also true. They won't work for you if you don't use them. It's that simple.
Correct and consistent use is the key to this male sheath’s success rate.
What is condom effectiveness?
It is the average rate in which condoms successfully fulfill their purpose. First, we need to establish what kind of effectiveness we are referring to. Is it against pregnancy or STIs? Let's take a look at pregnancy rates since there are studies that give us numbers for a better overview.
There are two usage scenarios for you to consider:
- Perfect use
- Typical use
We don't live in an ideal world, and none of us is perfect, but for this example let's pretend we do and we are.
By nature, some of us are a bit more skilled, thorough, persistent, disciplined, responsible... If this sounds like you (meaning, you use them the way you are supposed to and every time you engage in any sort of frisky business), then condoms will favor you with their ultimate reliability.
Perfect use calculation
The study monitored a sample of 100 couples that used condoms correctly every time throughout a 12-month period.
Results of perfect use
The study shows that with consistent and "perfect" use, the probability of pregnancy is ultra low, resulting in a 98% success rate. In other words, two couples out of 100 get pregnant under this scenario.
Now, let's take a look at the other type of “use” situation.
Let's call this typical use or real-life conditions. This refers to being less consistent overall and perhaps not as responsible as we described above. In this case, the success rate is a bit lower.
As in the example above, monitoring 100 couples for 12 months of typical condom use resulted in an 83% success rate.
So what causes a 12% fluctuation in a device that can be almost infallible?
User error impacts condom effectiveness no doubt about it.
So what constitutes user error?
Any missteps you make.
- Not using one at all because you got so caught up in your sexy shenanigans is a classic blunder.
- Putting it on midway through ranks high on the mistake list.
- Maybe you asked your roommate for a spare rubber because you ran out but you two aren’t the same size.
- You’re too rough when opening the package or putting it on, causing damage.
These are just a few examples but you can see there are many ways men can screw up if not careful. These errors are the most significant factor between perfect and typical use results.
Believe it or not, breakage and slippage contribute only minimally to condom failure rate.
Tip: If you think your condoms might not fit you properly, maybe because you are on one extreme side of the spectrum or the other, use our size chart to help you find a better fit.
100% accurate data reporting
As you can imagine, even extracting the data can be challenging let alone distinguishing what role user error might have played in a particular unintended pregnancy.
Any survey that asks: “How effective are condoms?” must rely on self-reported data, which means that said data could be a tad suspect.
Theoretically, the only way to bypass any data discrepancy is to supervise couples while “performing”. It’s doubtful for a variety of reasons that a survey of this nature will happen, so for now, we have to trust the self-reported data.
Correcting user error
We’ve established that user error is more often what causes decreased efficacy. Solutions for fixing such transgressions include condom education and self-awareness. Learn about prophylactics, use your common sense and be consistent with their use. If you do, these rubber inventions work their hardest for you.
Earlier in the article, we noted that we must distinguish between the two areas of condom effectiveness: unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Condom effectiveness against STIs
Sexually transmitted infections are definitely an issue in our society. According to public health report, there are roughly 19 million new STIs cases annually in the U.S.
Knowing how lovers transmit common STIs helps all of us understand how condoms work to protect us.
Effective against STIs
We need to state that no condom completely eliminates the risk of catching STIs. There is always a chance.
Manufacturers, however, rely on their product packaging that using appropriately every time gives you the most protection. That's a general statement so what does this mean in reality when it comes to their performance?
Due to the nature of STIs and the privacy factors that go along with any medical issue, it’s challenging to establish an effectiveness rate. Using condoms helps you stay out of harm’s way when in contact with a potentially infected person. Once again, what it boils down to is your discipline, awareness and common sense.
Think of it this way…
Doctors need to protect themselves in the operating room and even when dealing with minor issues. So they wear rubber gloves ALL the time. Latex is good enough to shield a medical professional from anything iffy in the blood and guts of even the most hardcore surgeries. Likewise is true when it comes to the exchange of bodily fluids during sexual intercourse. Condoms act as a really good buffer against STDs.
Can condoms be 100% effective?
There are people who use condoms all their lives and never get pregnant or catch something in their nether regions. For these individuals, yes, condoms are 100% effective. A variety of factors contribute to this— one of which might be just pure luck.
Tips to Increase Condom Effectiveness
You’ve used them so many times you start taking them lightly. “Wow, these things just work, it's amazing!” You are literally cruising along so why would you even think about tips to increase condom effectiveness?
Yep. They do work. But you never want to be caught off guard because you got lax. Helpful reminders never hurt.
To ensure you get that 98% reliability, or even better, follow the few simple guidelines below.
Note: There are also spermicide condoms for extra pregnancy protection.
Store and handle properly
Store condoms in a cool, dry place. Storing them in a pocket or wallet (or someplace hot in your home) may reduce their effectiveness because of the potentially elevated temperatures.
Open the wrapper with care. Don’t use any sharp objects such as scissors, knives, fingernails, etc.
Make sure to use the right condom size
A condom that is too large could slip off or allow secretions to seep out, and one that is too small might break.
When putting the condom on, remove any excess air by squeezing its tip then unroll it from the top of your erect penis all the way down its shaft. After ejaculating, withdraw the penis immediately, holding the condom’s base to avoid any semen dribble. Discard the condom in the trash and wash your private parts before any further contact with your partner.
Using lube not only makes the sexual experience more enjoyable for both partners, but it also helps ensure condom effectiveness because proper lubrication helps prevent breakage.
Check the expiration date
If you buy condoms from a reputable seller, they usually have an extended expiration date. It’s important to check, especially if you’ve had them for a while. Expired condoms reduce reliability because they could be dry or brittle, increasing their chance of breaking.
Use from start to finish
Put on a condom before you actually start having sex, and we mean before any intimate activity that includes genitals-to-skin contact. Don’t wait till midway through and especially don’t wait till the end, right before you cum. That is not perfect use or even typical use. It's only a matter of time before you see "results" of your less than stellar use.
Always use a condom
Just as a reminder, it doesn't matter how correctly you use a condom if you don’t use a new one every time you engage in sexual activity (vaginal, oral and anal). Not using one even once puts you at risk.
If you’re a girl and don’t want the agony of dealing with a missed period, which turns into an unintended pregnancy, insist your guy always wears a condom.
On the flip side, you don’t want to worry every time you have sex that a month later, you might get a call, or text, with the dreaded “I’m carrying your baby” news. So make sure you always have plenty of condoms available to you at all times.
You don’t want the answer to “how effective are condoms?” to be “OH, crap.”
Condom effectiveness rises and falls, depending on the quality of your use. Let's be honest with ourselves, in the majority of cases, it's not a condom that fails it's us.
Inexpensive, easy-to-use and available without a medical prescription, condoms are the no-brainer choice if you are a sexually active person.
If you follow these guidelines as well as the directions that come with the product, condoms do more than just prevent the baby-on-board bit. They keep your private parts untainted, and that’s something that we all want.