How effective are condoms and how do I use one?
If you are at all familiar with the TV show Friends, then you know about Ross and Rachel. You may recall when Rachel accidentally got pregnant after they hooked up. I have such a distinct memory of Ross finding out and freaking tf out. He thought that using a condom meant that it was impossible to get pregnant (lol). He called the condom company in a moment of panic to relay the opinion that they should not put the “97% effective” in small print on the back of the box.
Ross was a 30-something year old fictional character– surely in real life people, especially grown adults, are aware that condoms aren’t foolproof, right? Wrong.
How effective are condoms? The stigma surrounding sex talk and the gaps in sex education mean that there are plenty of people – adults and teenagers alike– who are simply unaware of what should be common knowledge surrounding condoms: they are not 100% effective, they expire, and female condoms exist! So, let’s talk about condoms and unpack all the facts.
Put simply, condoms are glove-like barriers that slip over the penis (male condom), or pouches that are inserted into the vagina (female condoms) to prevent pregnancy and STDs.
How protective are condoms?
If a male condom is the only form of contraception used, it is 98% effective if used perfectly. With typical use, they are 87% effective.
How do I use a condom?
They are the most protective when put on correctly. It’s important to leave space (about a half inch) between the top of the condom and the tip of the penis. It is also key to hold the ring of the condom down when exiting the vagina or anus. This is to prevent any secretions from leaking out of the condom during intercourse and once intercourse is over.
Why do condoms break?
- If not enough lube is used.
- If the condom is rolled backwards instead of towards the base of the penis.
- If put on with long or sharp fingernails.
These mistakes can cause tears (some microscopic) that can lead to sperm leaking out of the condom.
Female condoms, or internal condoms, are 95% effective. Female condoms have two rings to help with the insertion process. Using your fingers, you push the top ring until it reaches the cervix, and the bottom ring is on the outside of the vulva. To maximize their effectiveness, it’s important to be careful if inserting with sharp or long fingernails to not push it too far up the vagina.
Condoms come in a variety of options: ribbed condoms, thin condoms, flavored condoms, non-latex condoms, etc. Depending on the number of condoms in a pack, both female and male condoms usually range from about $8-20. Remember, when using and shopping for condoms look at expiry dates! While male condoms have a shelf life 1-5 years, female condoms tend to last longer and have a shelf life of 5 years. After purchasing, it is crucial to store condoms in places that are not too hot, humid, or where they can be prodded by sharp objects (try to avoid the typical places of a wallet or pocket.)
Even if you use other birth control methods, condoms are the only contraception device that prevent STIs. And conveniently, they are available at almost any pharmacy and do not affect your hormones! Make sure to have condoms ready when thinking about having sex with a new partner. Most importantly, make sure that you are having sex with a partner who respects your desire to use one.