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How Effective Are Condoms?

Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Reviewed by Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Written by Erica Garza

Published 05/03/2024

Wearing a condom is a great way to prevent pregnancy and the only option for protecting against STIs and STDs (besides abstinence).

But they’re not foolproof.

Just how effective are condoms? According to Planned Parenthood, with perfect and consistent use, condoms are around 98 percent effective. But perfection is a big ask — condoms can and do fail. In real life, with regular use, condoms are closer to 87 percent effective.

If condoms are your go-to contraception and STD prevention method, you’re definitely on the right track. But you should know some factors can undermine your efforts.

Keep reading to learn how effective condoms are at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, how to make condoms even more effective and what else you can do to make safe sex fun sex.

In the simplest terms, condoms are designed to provide a barrier between your body and your partner’s body. Condoms prevent pregnancy by blocking sperm from entering the vagina and protect against STIs and STDs by blocking the exchange of bodily fluids.

There are a few steps you should follow to use a condom correctly:

  • Only use condoms that aren’t expired.

  • When placed on an erect penis, leave a little room at the tip of the condom to catch the semen.

  • Make sure the condom is rolled back all the way to the base of the penis.

Keep in mind the above directions are for external condoms (sometimes called male condoms), which are the most popular type.

Different types of condoms:

From silk paper to sheep intestines, condoms have been fashioned out of various materials throughout history. They now include the following:

  • External condoms (male condoms): Many external condoms are latex condoms, although they can also be made out of lambskin, polyurethane, or other synthetic materials and are worn over the penis.

  • Internal condoms (female condoms): Internal condoms are made of either non-latex polyurethane or nitrile. They’re worn inside the vagina or anus and have a ring on the end to remove after sex.

  • Dental dams: Typically used for oral sex, dental dams are thin sheets of latex or polyurethane that are placed flat over the vagina or anus before sex.

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One minute you’re having fun in the bedroom, the next you’re nervously waiting for test results — what happened? When not used properly, condoms can tear or break, opening the floodgates for family planning mishaps and compromised health. If male condoms are only 87 percent effective with typical use, and you don’t use a backup birth control method, you have a 13 percent risk of pregnancy.

The risk of getting pregnant is even higher if you use a female condom. Used perfectly and consistently, they’re 95 percent effective. With typical use, they’re just 79 percent effective.

Other Types of Birth Control Methods to Consider

Condoms are just one form of birth control. Other family planning options to consider include:

  • Hormonal birth control

  • IUDs

  • Spermicide

  • Emergency contraception

To prevent STDs and pregnancy, it’s best to combine condoms and birth control for full coverage.

When used for protection against sexually transmitted diseases and sexually transmitted infections, male condoms offer 90 percent protection against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B, and gonorrhea, making them crucial for STI and HIV prevention.

They also provide protection against herpes simplex virus (oral, genital and anal herpes), as well as human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis and chlamydia, though the effectiveness is not as significant.

According to the CDC, male condoms can also provide protection against other not-so-common diseases that can be transmitted through sex, such as Zika and Ebola.

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Along with breaking, tearing or slipping off, risks include latex allergies and potential infections if the condom is lubricated with spermicide or another irritating solution.

It’s not clear how often condoms break, but some older research shows there’s a one to 12 percent chance. The research also shows that couples who had not used condoms in the past year were almost twice as likely to have condom failure as couples who had used a condom at least once during that same period — a perfect example of practice makes perfect.

While you may be aiming for the perfect use of condoms every time you have sex, there are a number of factors that can get in the way. Condom failure can happen due to a number of reasons like coming into contact with jewelry or sharp objects, being past their expiration date and not using enough lube.

To attain perfect condom use, try the following:

  • Choose the right condom: Condoms made from latex, polyisoprene, and polyurethane offer the most protection against STIs and STDs as well as pregnancy. Natural membrane condoms, like lambskin, contain small holes and should not be used for HIV or STD prevention, though they do offer protection against pregnancy. If you want a more natural feel, opt for a luxury latex condom like Hims Ultra Thin Condoms. They are made up of a network of small hexagons, which maximize sensitivity and flex to offer a comfortable and snug fit without compromising strength.

  • Use them correctly: Be sure you’re using the condom correctly — placing on an erect penis, leaving a little room at the tip and pulling down to the base of the penis. If you ever feel like your condom has torn or slipped off during sex, remove immediately and use another. Never reuse the same condom.

  • Make sure they’re not expired: Condoms that are past their expiration date are not as strong or effective. Always check the date on the package before using a condom.

  • Use lubrication, especially during anal sex: Water-based lubricants are preferred over silicone-based or oil-based lubricants because they’re more resistant to tearing (and gentler on the body). Never use petroleum jelly or lotion. Hims offers a Premium Condoms and Lubricant Kit, which uses an aloe-based lubricant along with our ultra thin (and ultra strong!) luxury condoms.

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Though abstinence is the only 100 percent effective option for pregnancy and STI prevention, condoms can be a great ally when used consistently and correctly. But remember:

  • Condoms aren’t perfect: Nobody’s perfect — not you or your condom. When preventing pregnancy, condoms are 98 percent effective when used perfectly. With typical use, they’re more like 87 percent effective. You can have more protection if you combine condoms and other forms of birth control.

  • Condom effectiveness varies for STI and STD prevention: Though condoms are around 90 percent effective when protecting against HIV, hepatitis B and gonorrhea, they’re a little less effective at preventing HSV, HPV, syphilis and chlamydia.

  • Condom breaks can and do happen: A number of factors can lead to condom failure, like not using lube, using an expired condom or not using the condom properly.

Condoms are a great tool for birth control and STI prevention, but they can also help improve your sexual health if you struggle with a problem like premature ejaculation. Learn more about using condoms this way in this blog, Premature Ejaculation Condoms: Types & How to Use Them, and find out how Hims Climax Control Condoms can help.

5 Sources

  1. Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). What Is the Effectiveness of Condoms? Planned Parenthood. Retrieved April 16, 2024, from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/condom/how-effective-are-condoms
  2. Marfatia, Y. S., Pandya, I., & Mehta, K. (2015). Condoms: Past, present, and future. Indian journal of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS, 36(2), 133–139. https://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7184.167135
  3. Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). How effective are internal condoms? Planned Parenthood. Retrieved April 16, 2024, from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/internal-condom/how-effective-are-internal-condoms
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Condom Effectiveness | CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 16, 2024, from https://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/index.html
  5. Steiner, M., Piedrahita, C., Glover, L., & Joanis, C. (1993). Can condom users likely to experience condom failure be identified?. Family planning perspectives, 25(5), 220–226.
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kelly Brown MD, MBA
Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Dr. Kelly Brown is a board certified Urologist and fellowship trained in Andrology. She is an accomplished men’s health expert with a robust background in healthcare innovation, clinical medicine, and academic research. Dr. Brown is a founding member of Posterity Health where she is Medical Director and leads strategy and design of their Digital Health Platform, an innovative education and telehealth model for delivering expert male fertility care.

She completed her undergraduate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (go Heels!) with a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Science and a Minor in Chemistry. She took a position at University of California Los Angeles as a radiologic technologist in the department of Interventional Cardiology, further solidifying her passion for medicine. She also pursued the unique opportunity to lead departmental design and operational development at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, sparking her passion for the business of healthcare.

Dr. Brown then went on to obtain her doctorate in medicine from the prestigious Northwestern University - Feinberg School of Medicine and Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management, with a concentration in Healthcare Management. During her surgical residency in Urology at University of California San Francisco, she utilized her research year to focus on innovations in telemedicine and then served as chief resident with significant contributions to clinical quality improvement. Dr. Brown then completed her Andrology Fellowship at Medical College of Wisconsin, furthering her expertise in male fertility, microsurgery, and sexual function.

Her dedication to caring for patients with compassion, understanding, as well as a unique ability to make guys instantly comfortable discussing anything from sex to sperm makes her a renowned clinician. In addition, her passion for innovation in healthcare combined with her business acumen makes her a formidable leader in the field of men’s health.

Dr. Brown is an avid adventurer; summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (twice!) and hiking the incredible Torres del Paine Trek in Patagonia, Chile. She deeply appreciates new challenges and diverse cultures on her travels. She lives in Denver with her husband, two children, and beloved Bernese Mountain Dog. You can find Dr. Brown on LinkedIn for more information.

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