The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) recognizes February as National Condom Month. Condom awareness and education is always important, but it seems especially timely right now given that rates of condom use appear to have dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post, I’ve compiled a set of 10 facts and statistics worth knowing about condoms.
1.) With perfect use, condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. However, perfect use isn’t often achieved in the real world due to human error. When we consider typical use—what happens in reality—the effectiveness rate drops to 82%. What this means is that, in practice, 18 out of 100 women who use condoms regularly over the course of a year will end up pregnant.
2.) If you’re surprised by the 82% typical use rate, you’re not alone. Research suggests that most people overestimate the effectiveness of condoms at preventing pregnancy, which is why we need educational efforts like National Condom Month.
3.) One of the biggest reasons condoms aren’t as effective as people think they are is because many of us don’t always use them correctly or consistently. For instance, studies of college students have found that as many as 38% report having waited until after starting intercourse to put a condom on, and as many as 14% report having taken a condom off before intercourse was over. For more on common condom use errors, check out this infographic. To learn about proper condom use techniques, check out this handy page from the CDC.
4.) In addition to making condom use errors, another reason for the low typical use effectiveness rate is that people sometimes use condoms that don’t fit them well. Many fail to realize that condoms are not a “one-size-fits-all” device. Research has found that poor-fitting condoms are linked to a greater risk of breakage and of people with penises forgoing condoms altogether. Keep in mind that condoms come in different sizes and thicknesses, so shop around for one that fits you (or your partner) well.
5.) Buying condoms that fit well and learning how to use them correctly can reduce the risk of error; however, remember that even with perfect use, condoms aren’t 100% effective. If unintended pregnancy is a concern for you or your partner, consider using multiple methods of birth control simultaneously, such as combining condoms with the pill or another hormonal contraceptive. In doing so, you can also capitalize on the STI-preventative benefits of condoms at the same time.
6.) Although condoms are often lamented for reducing sensation, some studies suggest that they don’t necessarily have to take all of the fun out of sex. Research has found that, on average, condom users and non-users report no difference in how pleasurable their most recent sexual event was or in their likelihood of reaching orgasm. That said, if you find that condoms do reduce sensation for you, you might consider experimenting with different types of condoms and/or adding a drop of lubricant inside the condom before slipping it on.
7.) Condoms aren’t used during most acts of sexual intercourse today. In a national U.S. survey in which participants were asked to report their condom use rates during their last 10 experiences with vaginal and anal intercourse, overall usage rates were 25% for men and 22% for women during vaginal sex, and 26% for men and 13% for women during anal sex. Keep in mind that these are overall rates and that they vary somewhat across different groups. For example, rates are higher among adolescents and unmarried adults compared to older adults and those who are married.
8.) Rates of condom use have dropped in recent years. For example, among teens, the number who reported using a condom the last time they had intercourse dropped from 59% to 54% between the years 2013 and 2017. During the same time period, condom use rates also declined among adult men who have sex with men, but this group experienced an even steeper drop. What accounts for the decline? There are probably several factors at play, including increased usage of long-lasting reversible contraceptives, the rise of HIV prevention drugs like PrEP, and changes in overall sexual activity patterns. To learn more about the factors that might be contributing to lower rates of condom use, check out this article.
9.) In the past, animal intestines were the most popular material used for making condoms. Today, some condoms are still made from this (e.g., Naturalamb); however, these condoms have largely fallen out of favor because they are costlier to produce than latex. Plus, while they may be effective at preventing pregnancy, animal membranes are too porous to serve as an effective barrier to most STIs. Learn more about the history of condoms in this video.
10.) Some people don’t realize this, but in addition to the traditional condom that goes over the penis (often referred to as the “male condom”), there is also an internal condom that lines the interior of the vagina or anus. This product was formerly known as the “female condom”; however, it was recently rebranded as the “internal condom” to make it gender neutral and to reflect the fact that it can be used for both vaginal and anal sex.
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