10 Things You Should Know About Condoms for #NationalCondomMonth

The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) recognizes February as National Condom Month. For my part in helping to increase awareness of and education about condoms, I’ve put together the following set of 10 interesting facts and statistics. To learn more about National Condom Month, check out this page created by the ASHA. 

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 men sometimes use condoms that don’t fit well. Many people 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 guys 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. To further reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy, consider using multiple methods of birth control simultaneously, such as combining condoms with the pill or another hormonal contraceptive (this way, you can also capitalize on the STI-preventative benefits of condoms as well).

6.) Although condoms are often criticized for reducing sensation, some studies suggest that they don’t necessarily have to take 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.) It turns out that many of the guys who claim that condoms make it harder for them to stay aroused during sex have erectile difficulties to begin with. In other words, many of these men will have erectile difficulties regardless of whether they use condoms. Therefore, some men may be incorrectly attributing the true source of their erectile problems to condoms.

8.) Condoms aren’t used during most acts of sexual intercourse today. In fact, a national survey in the United States in which participants were asked to report their condom use rates during their last 10 experiences with vaginal and anal intercourse revealed the following: 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 varied across different groups (for example, they were a little higher among adolescents and unmarried adults).

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 male condom that goes over the penis, there is also an internal condom that lines the interior of the vagina or anus. Note that this product was formerly known as the “female condom”—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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