How Reliable are condoms?

How Reliable are condoms?

Condoms, not something that people think about too much. They seem to fall into one of three categories – they are the butt of jokes, a necessary evil or something viewed with suspicion because it could rip or tear and therefore not to be relied on.

Condoms have been around since time immemorial and are one of the oldest forms of contraception when the only thing that was understood was the concept of a physical barrier to protect against pregnancy. These days, condoms are most commonly made of latex but there are some non-latex options like lambskin. So, how reliable are they?

Well, it depends on what you are trying to protect against. To avoid an unwanted pregnancy NHS data will tell you that a condom is 98% effective at this task so 2 out of every 100 women will become pregnant after intercourse even if the condom is used correctly. The figure is much worse if the condom rips or is used incorrectly - people aren’t perfect so the real figure for condom protection is estimated to be around 85% - but at least you might possibly be alerted to this and can take other emergency steps such as the morning-after pill to avoid a pregnancy. Using a condom correctly and taking care and then falling pregnant is news no woman wants to hear.

Condoms are also not 100% effective against protecting against STIs – it depends on the disease and how it manifests itself. The difficulty is that transmission of STIs can occur in a number of different ways, for instance, if your partner has an open sore caused by Syphilis or HPV which is not near the penis or the vagina, an infection can still be spread just by touching it – a condom is no use at all in this scenario.

Bearing all this in mind, you still want to use the best and most reliable condom possible if you are using them.

  • Never buy on price alone
  • Always buy a trusted make – with a good name, you will have the reassurance of continuous quality control testing
  • Buy from a reputable website, there are plenty of fakes about
  • Always check for the British Standards Institute kitemark (BSI) and the CE mark on the condom packet
  • Always buy the right size so go for make and size before you look at the price and then consider extras like flavouring or texture ribbed, etc
  • When the condoms arrive, examine the packaging carefully for any damage
  • Check the expiry date and the kitemark and CE mark
  • Store the condoms in a cool safe place out of direct sunlight
  • If you carry one or two around in a wallet but don’t use them then make sure to change them regularly as they can deteriorate through heat from the body or from something pressing against them in a wallet or pocket
  • Never use a condom that looks like it has anything wrong with it when you open the packet or is past its sell-by date even if it is your last one
  • How can you make condoms more effective?

    Following the guidelines above and in addition to these, always use condoms correctly.

  • Use a condom every single time you have vaginal, oral or anal sex
  • Make sure it is worn the whole time from start to finish, not just at the end
  • Ensure the condom is rolled onto the penis the correct way before there is any skin to skin contact – there are loads of online guides which show you how to put on a condom properly
  • Never open the wrapper with your teeth or by tearing at it with sharp fingernails
  • Use another form of contraception in addition to the condom to prevent unwanted pregnancy like the pill or IUD device
  • Don’t double up condoms so use two male condoms or a male condom and a female condom in the mistaken belief that you will double the protection. In fact, doubling up can actually cause damage to both condoms and may make you less safe
  • Make sure you are regularly tested for STDs – many of them are symptomless so you can’t tell if you have them or not. This is especially important if you have a new partner or multiple partners
  • Ask a new partner to get tested for STIs
  • Stuart Brown

    Stuart Brown

    I'm Stuart, senior Editor at British Condoms. I am an expert in all areas of sexual health and have a passion to drive knowledge to youth in the UK. Any questions for me or media enquiries, please feel free to tweet me @britishcondoms. Always open to engagement.

    Leave a Reply