Avoid These Common Condom Mistakes

Condoms—the only available form of birth control for men except a vasectomy—are effective at preventing pregnancy 97 percent of the time. Or at least this should be the effectiveness.

The reality is that they really only work between 80 and 90 percent of the time, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The reason for this is because many men apply them incorrectly or too late; thus hampering their effectiveness. Not using a condom every time, waiting too long to put it on, and having it tear during intercourse also contribute to their failure.

Other than pregnancy prevention, a key reason to use condoms is that they can reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. "Latex condoms reduce the risk of HIV by 85 percent," says Steven Lindheim, MD, director of the UC Center for Reproductive Health at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio.

If you're relying on condoms for your birth control, how can you make sure they work?

"I tell women who inquire about contraception to trust no one and be their own best advocate," Lindheim says.  "A lot of women use birth control pills, but condoms are a good way to minimize your risk exposure for sexually transmitted diseases."

How can you avoid common condom errors?

1. Buy condoms yourself so you have them on hand, Lindheim says. Never assume that your partner will buy them.

2. Make sure your partner puts on the condom before things heat up, Lindheim advises. If your partner's penis comes in contact with your vagina before the condom is on, there is a real risk of pregnancy.

3. If you carry condoms around in your wallet, be sure to replace them with new ones occasionally. Tiny holes in a condom can occur just from the friction of you opening and closing your wallet over time. That said, it's better to use an old condom than no condom at all. Also, excessive body heat from being in the pocket can make condoms more prone to tearing.

4. Don't use sticky, brittle, or discolored condoms as they all signs of age. And older condoms are more likely to break.).

5. Opt for spermicide. Some condoms have spermicides, which could slightly increase their effectiveness, but these are not any more effective than regular condoms at reducing your risk of HIV or the various STDs.

6. Bear in mind that thin condoms are just as effective as thicker ones, Lindheim explains.

7. After placeing the condom on the penis, make sure there are no air pockets and that there is ample room on the tip of the condom, or the reservoir, for semen to collect after ejaculation.

8. If the condom should break during sex, stop and put on a new one.

9. If you discover after sex that the condom was broken or torn, putting in spermicidal jelly or foam may reduce your chances of getting pregnant. Another option in such a scenario is to use emergency contraception - the "morning after" pill.


Condoms. MedlinePlus. National Institutes of Health.