How effective are condoms?

Condoms are one of the best ways of preventing pregnancy or the spread of STIs. In fact, if you always use them when you have any type of sex (vaginal, anal or oral) then there is very little risk. But statistically speaking, how effective are condoms?

The Statistics

Condoms are usually reported to be 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. However, this is only if they’re used perfectly every time you have sex.

“I know how to use a condom!”, you’re probably thinking.

But the truth is, if we take human error into account, condoms are only 82% effective. (Source: NHS)

That means a whopping 18% of people who use condoms as their only contraception will get pregnant every year.

“18% of people who use condoms as their only contraception will get pregnant every year.”

How can I make sure I’m in the 98%?

You might think you know it all already – but it’s worth reading up and making sure you are using condoms correctly, to ensure you’re in the 98%.

Read on for the full instructions on the proper use of condoms.

Important! The condom should be rolled on when the penis is erect, and before it touches your partner’s mouth or genital area.

1. Check the expiry date

They do last a long time (usually at least a few years from manufacture), but we would always recommend checking the expiry date before use. Expired condoms are more likely to tear during sex.

Open the packet carefully to avoid damage. Sorry tiger – that means no teeth.

2. prepare the hat

Practice makes perfect here. Make sure it’s ready to roll onto the penis straight away. The rim should be on the outside so it looks like a cute little hat.

If you try to put it on the wrong way and it has already touched the penis, do not just flip it over and carry on. Just get a new one (and turn the lights on).

3. pinch ‘n’ roll

Pinch the tip of the condom before placing it onto the head of your penis. The pinching is very important, as this gives a bit of room to collect semen and helps avoid bursting the condom.

If uncircumcised, you’ll probably want to pull back the foreskin first.

Now just roll it – alllllll the way down.

4. Have fun

Do what you came to do.

5. Make a careful exit

Soon after ejaculating, hold onto the end of the condom and pull out of your partner. This needs to be before the penis goes soft, as this would cause the condom to become loose and risk semen escaping.

6. Throw it away

Carefully take the condom off. Do this away from your partner, in case there are any accidental spillages. You don’t want to fail at the last hurdle!

Throw the condom away in a bin. Don’t flush it down the toilet as this will likely cause a blockage.

 

HOT TIPS

So, that’s the basic process. If you really want to boost the effectiveness, try following these hot tips.

Store them in a cool, dry place.
Keep them away from anything sharp and out of direct sunlight. A bedside table drawer is an ideal location. Too much heat or moisture can damage them over time, so avoiding your pockets, your car or your bathroom is wise.

Check the packaging before use.
Obviously, check the expiry date, but also check the packet for any damage such as holes. If it’s torn in any way, or if it’s a little sticky, it’s best to be safe and throw it away.

Keep a supply. Plus backups.
As you’ll need a new one everytime you have sex, it’s best to always have some handy. The last thing you want is to be needing to run to the shop last minute – and then a temptation to go without can creep in!

Add water-based or silicone lube.
Most condoms are pre-lubricated, but adding extra can help make it even more comfortable and can also help prevent the condom breaking. Double win!

Don’t use anything oil-based.
This won’t mix well with latex condoms as it can damage them and cause them to break. That means no Vaseline and no massage oils.

Consider combining with another form of contraception

Using condoms together with another form of contraception is the best way to limit the chances of pregnancy. Just look at the maths.

If, with perfect use, a condom is 98% effective, and the contraceptive pill is more than 99% effective, the chance of them both failing together is:

0.02 x 0.01 = 0.0002

That’s just a 0.02% chance – one in every 5,000 people!

Even if we take human error into account, the chances are still very low. Assuming the condom is 82% effective and the contraceptive pill is 91% effective:

0.18 x 0.09 = 0.0162

That means there is a 1.62% chance of failure. Equivalent to 1 or 2 people for every hundred.

This is just looking at one example. The key takeaway is, if you combine any two forms of contraception, the chances of failure are vastly reduced.

“If you combine any two forms of contraception, the chances of failure are vastly reduced.”

And that’s it! To summarise:

  • Technically condoms are 98% effective and you can get close to this by ensuring you are following all the instructions and tips outlined in this article
  • In practice, many people don’t. So the reality is that condoms are only 82% effective
  • Combine contraceptives and achieve probabilities of close to 99.98% effective!