How Effective Are Condoms?

With their history dating back all the way to around 15,000 years ago, condoms have earned their undisputed place in our society as the most used birth control method. But how effective are they? Can we trust condoms as the sole protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?


When used correctly, condoms are a very effective birth control method. In his book Contraceptive technology, Robert Anthony Hatcher says that the pregnancy rate of a perfectly used condom is approximately 2%, but this rate rises to 18% for a typical user (when used improperly).

Condoms reduce the risk of contracting or spreading sexually transmitted diseases spread by genital secretions, such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV, chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis, and syphilis, according to data from FDA. They do this by acting as a barrier that prevents bodily fluids from reaching the other person. The only exception are natural condoms, which are often made from lambskin, contain small pores that are large enough to let many STDs pass through.

However, condoms often fail to sufficiently protect the entire area infected by genital ulcers, HPV, or chancroid, because these diseases are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. They should still be used as a way of reducing the overall risk of contracting the disease, as some studies from CDC have shown higher rates of regression of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) and clearance of HPV infection in women, and with regression of HPV-associated penile lesions in men.

A meta-analysis of 50 studies on condom usage conducted by researchers from Indiana University revealed 15 most common mistakes that people make. Among the top offenders are a late application, early removal, unrolling the condom prior to application, not leaving enough space at the tip, leaving the condom filled with air, incorrect lubrication and storage, and not checking for damage.

All of these must be address in order for the condom to be maximally effective. First of all, condoms must be used without expectation for every act of sexual intercourse. An undamaged condom is put only on the erect penis in such a manner that there is a half-inch space left at the tip for semen to collect. Adequate lubrication must be ensured during the intercourse, preferably with water- or silicon-based lubricants; oil-based lubricants, including massage oils and body lotions, weaken latex and increase the chance of breaking. After ejaculation, the condom must be withdrawn before the penis gets soft and disposed of in a sanitary manner, so that other people will not come into contact with it.

In conclusion, properly used condoms are the best method of protection against sexually transmitted diseases and a very reliable contraception. Extra care should be given to their proper application and usage to ensure maximum effectiveness and reliability.