Why Condoms Alone Aren’t a Good Pregnancy-Prevention Tactic

Updated on December 9, 2019

If you went to a middle school or high school that focused on sexual health, you might have heard about the dangers of unprotected sex. STIs aren’t pretty, and unwanted pregnancy can be life-altering. Most health professionals during that time frame advocated for condoms, and many passed them out.

However, condoms, by themselves, aren’t fool-proof. The most effective contraceptive method is combining a hormonal birth control with a condom.

What is the failure rate?

So how effective are condoms, really? According to Planned Parenthood, they’re about 85% effective. That means that 15 in every 100 couples who are using condoms as their only source of birth control, are getting pregnant.

You can compare that to the failure rates of other birth control methods:

  • Vasectomy: .15%
  • Tubal ligation a.k.a tube tying: .5%
  • Copper IUD: .8%
  • LNG IUD: .1 – .4%
  • Implant: .01%
  • Shot: 4%
  • Oral contraceptives a.k.a the pill: 7%
  • Progestin-only pill: 7%
  • Patch: 7%
  • The ring: 7%
  • Male condom: 13%
  • Diaphragm or cervical cap: 17%
  • Sponge: 14% for women who have never given birth, 24% for those who have
  • Female condom: 21%
  • Spermicides: 21%
  • Fertility awareness-based methods: 2 – 23%

Condoms are, however, one of the most effective forms of protection against STDs, STIs, and HIV.

Correctly using the male and female condom, the first time, can reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and viral hepatitis.

Why Do Condoms Fail?

Most instances of condom failure come from simple human error, as the FDA has a stringent set of tests they use to test condoms. During their control tests, the FDA takes quite a few samples from warehouses, fill them with water, and see if anything leaks. To be sold for public use, 996 out of 1,000 condoms must pass the test.

The best way to bolster the effect of condoms would be to combine it with a hormonal birth control method, like the pill, ring, or shot. This is becuse of the number of human mistakes that cause condom failure. Some of those errors include:

  • Late condom application (putting on the condom once intercourse has already begun)
  • Early condom removal
  • Putting the condom on inside-out
  • Unrolling the condom completely before putting it on
  • Failing to remove all of the excess air before use
  • Not leaving space at the tip
  • Expose to sharp objects (or otherwise tearing it before use)
  • Not checking for damage before use
  • Failing to unroll it completely or correctly on the penis
  • Using the wrong kind of lubrication for condoms, or not using any
  • Not withdrawing after ejaculation
  • Reusing condoms
  • Incorrectly storing condoms (too hot, too cold, with sharp objects, etc.)

If that seems like many ways to make a mistake, don’t worry. Below are some tips to help you use a condom correctly.

Tips to Help You Avoid Condom Failure

  • Avoid condoms made for stimulation vs. protection
  • Always check that the package says the condoms prevent STIs and pregnancy
  • Be sure to purchase the right condom size
  • Unless there’s a medical reason, such as an allergy to latex, avoid all-natural condoms. Polyurethane is an excellent alternative to latex
  • Avoid oil-based lubes. Oils can cause condoms to break down, making them less effective
  • Store your condoms correctly (no extreme hot or cold, no wallets, no friction)
  • Check the expiration date. Old condoms can dry out and become brittle, leaving you or your partner vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies or STIs
  • Never, ever, ever, reuse a condom. If you want to get frisky again, use a new, fresh condom, every time

Remember: Condoms are not 100% effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies. Combining condoms with another form of birth control is a smart and affordable option. 

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