Worldwide, roughly 240,000,000 people have sex each day. About 25 to 33 percent of those couples use a condom to prevent pregnancy and disease. That means around 60,000,000 to 79,200,000 people put a lot of trust in a thin piece of material daily. It also makes one question pretty important: How effective are condoms?
Let’s take a look at the effectiveness of condoms, what can make them less effective, properly use, storage, and more.
How Effective Are Condoms?
Male condoms are 97% effective with perfect use, 86% with typical use (a failure rate of 14%). Female condom effectiveness is just below that at 95% effective with perfect use and 79% with typical use.
While both perfect and typical use offer fairly effective protection, most of us would choose 97% effective over 86%. What’s the difference between perfect use and typical use, then? Perfect use assumes that you are consistently and correctly using a condom that isn’t expired. Typical use factors in the reality that not everyone correctly uses a condom for every sexual act with a condom that fits and isn’t expired.
What Makes Condoms Less Effective?
As you might have guessed from that last paragraph, improper use is the most common reason condoms fail. Improper storage and condom age also play a role.
If used improperly, too much friction or strain may be placed on one area of the condom, causing a break or tear. However, improper use of condoms more commonly results in the condom slipping off or leakage during or shortly after intercourse.
A study in the Journal Sexual Health published in 2012 found:
- 86% of condom users fail to use proper lubrication.
- 54% of condom users don’t withdraw from intercourse while still erect and fail to hold the condom in place while doing so. 45% hold the condom while withdrawing from intercourse but fail to do so while still erect.
- 45% fail to pinch the tip of the condom while applying to leave space at the end. 15% didn’t know there should be a space at all.
- 34% put the condom on before erect.
- 29% fail to roll the condom all the way to the base of the penis. 15% believe a condom should only go 3/4 of the way down.
- 28% open the condom package incorrectly, which can result in damage.
- 21% fail to put the condom on before penetration.
- 18% unroll the condom before applying.
- 14% fail to put the condom on before ejaculation.
- 24% dispose of the condom incorrectly, and a shocking 1% save and re-use condoms.
Other improper usages not covered in this study include placing the condom on inside out, failing to use a new condom for each new sexual act, using a female and male condom at the same time, or using the wrong size condom.
An improperly sized condom has twice the chance of breaking. Worse, it’s also more likely to slip off and affects the sexual experience. Nearly 45% of condom users in the study mentioned above experienced issues from condoms that didn’t fit, including loss of erection, lack of orgasm in one or both partners, and penile irritation. Using a condom that doesn’t fit will both decrease its effectiveness and your pleasure.
Expired condoms are also more likely to break. With time, the material begins to degrade, no matter what that material may be, causing weakening, which results in breaks during intercourse. In general, roughly 2 to 12 percent of condoms break.
How to Put On a Condom Correctly
First, be sure that the condom you are using has been stored properly and isn’t damage or expired. Note the guide below applies to male condoms, as they are far more commonly used.
Find the Right Condom Size
There are two ways to find the correct condom size. The first would be to use trial and error. Simply sample various sizes and brands until you find a lucky fit. Keep in mind that it is not recommended to actually use each condom. Just try each one on. You may be able to find condom sample packs just for this purpose online.
If guess-and-check is not your style, you can also measure your penis, find the corresponding size, and try different brands within that size range to find one that fits your personal needs.
Condom width is more important than condom length, so start by measuring the girth of your erect penis with a cloth tape measure. Condom widths are listed in diameter, not circumference. For example, if you get a measurement of 6 inches, you would divide that in half and look for condoms with a 3-inch width.
Average condom widths by size are as follows:
- Snug: 1.75 inches and under
- Medium/Average/Standard: 1.75 to 2 inches
- Large and above: 2 inches plus
Next, you’ll want to measure the length of your erect penis. Most manufacturers use a fairly standard-length. There’s also quite a bit of overlap between sizes.
Average condom lengths by size are as follows:
- Snug: 7-7.8 inches
- Medium/Average/Standard: 7.25-7.8 inches
- Large and above: 7.25-8.1 inches
Hopefully, both your girth and length will fall into the same category, or trial and error may be your only choice. This condom quiz may also help.
How Will I Know if the Condom I Choose is the Wrong Size?
If the condom you have chosen is too small, it may be difficult to put on or cause pain when on. A condom should only fit snuggly and extend to the base of the penis.
If it feels loose, you may have gone with a size too large. If you experience any slipping or the condom keeps breaking during intercourse, you may want to review your condom size, check the expiration date, or verify you are using the condoms properly.
How Long are Condoms Good For? Do Condoms Expire?
Condoms vary in shelf life based on material, storage method, and whether they contain spermicide. Your average non-lubricated latex condom lasts around 3-5 years, while a lubricated or spermicidal condom has a shortened life span of 2-3 years.
This shortened lifespan is suggested to result from an interaction between chemicals used in lubricants/spermicides and latex, which accelerates material breakdown. It should be noted that while all condoms come with an expiration date printed on them, a condom may begin to weaken before this date or last well past it.
How Can I Keep My Condoms Good? Proper Condom Storage
Whether or not a condom falls on the short side of its lifespan or long side depends on storage. Condoms should not be kept in purses, wallets, pockets, glove boxes, or other hot or high impact locations for long periods.
These conditions not only aid in the breakdown of the condom but also can result in accidental punctures such as from keys in a purse. Condoms that have been stored in such locations should be checked before use for damage to the outer package. Condoms keep best in a cool but not freezing, dry location.
If the Only Condom I Have is Expired, Should I Still Use It?
While you should recognize that an expired condom or one close to its expiration date that hasn’t been well cared for carries a reduced effectiveness rate, an expired condom is better than no condom if you choose to still have sex.
If you do end up with a broken condom, be sure to use back up contraception (if you wish to prevent pregnancy) and get STD testing if necessary.
Putting a Condom On Correctly
At this point, you’ll need to determine which side is up and which side is down. The condom will look sort of like a cap. The thicker outer ring, so to speak, should be on the outside. If you are unrolling the condom the wrong way, you’ll find it harder than usual. Get a new condom and begin again.
Apply a water-based lubricant (do not use oil-based lubricants on latex condoms) inside the condom or on your penis if desired. Before any penetration, but once erect, place it on the tip of your penis, leaving about a half-inch at the end of the condom. If uncircumcised, pull back the foreskin gently before beginning.
Pinch the empty space at the end between your penis and the condom to remove any air from this space. This step is important. Otherwise, sperm has nowhere to go and can either run up the shaft of your penis and escape or cause the condom to burst.
Next, gently roll the condom all the way to the base of your penis. If the condom does not fit snugly, you have the wrong size. You may apply a water-based lubricant to the outside of the condom as well, if desired. A lack of lubrication increases the chance of a broken condom, but too much lubrication can result in the condom slipping off.
After each ejaculation, you need to remove the condom, dispose of it properly, and use a new condom. Never save condoms for later use.
To remove the condom, take hold of the rubber ring at the base of your penis before exiting your partner. Gently withdraw while still holding the ring and pull the condom from your penis. Once it’s off, hold it shut and throw it away. Do not flush condoms.
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