Here’s a not-so-sexy fact: Condoms are 98 percent effective at protecting against pregnancy—when used perfectly. In real life, thanks to human error, it drops down to 85 percent effective, according to Planned Parenthood.
While there are other types of birth control options that are highly effective with a much lower chance of human error (such as the IUD and the implant), these options cannot protect against sexually transmitted infections. That’s what makes the condom so powerful.
However, your condom is only as effective as how you use it. There are some silly yet common mistakes that can increase your risk of an unwanted pregnancy or STI.
MISTAKE: Only donning the condom for the final deed
It’s common to engage in foreplay, and only pause to slip on a condom before penetrative sex. While this will certainly help prevent pregnancy, you’ll be at risk of STIs the entire time.
That’s right: You can get STIs from oral sex, according to Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified in ob/gyn and Maternal Fetal Medicine, Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln. Dr. Gaither lists herpes, HPV, syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea of the mouth and throat (which doctors call the oropharynx) as possible STIs you can get during oral sex.
MISTAKE: Wearing two condoms at once
Double the protection? Nope. The friction between the two condoms increases the chance of breakage. Instead of doubling up on condoms, you can double up on birth control methods (e.g., using the condom in combination with the Pill).
MISTAKE: Storing condoms in your wallet for a long time
Kudos for being prepared, but unfortunately, prolonged exposure to heat and moisture can damage the condom. Condoms should be stored in a cool, dry place. If you want to keep one in your wallet, just make sure to change it out regularly with a new one.
MISTAKE: Not changing condoms between ~activities~
You’re probably trying to be economical, but it’s a good investment to swap out condoms when you change from one sexual activity to another—such as from anal sex to vaginal sex (or vice versa). Using the same condom for different types of sex can transfer infectious germs from one part of the body to another.
MISTAKE: Reusing condoms
No, no, no, no, no. You probably know that this is a bad idea, right? Not only does it reduce the effectiveness of the condom and increase the spread of STIs, but it’s simply not hygienic. Condoms can gather bodily fluids (even if there wasn’t ejaculation, there’s still sweat), which invite bacteria growth. And no—being out of condoms is not a valid excuse. Plan ahead, or plan to stay clothed. (How about a nice cuddle sesh instead?)
You’ve probably heard goofy condom mantras like “don’t be silly, protect your willie,” or “no glove, no love.” Here’s another: Before your fun night, wrap it right.
Can you use two condoms for extra protection? Jacksonville, FL: Nemours Foundation, 2017. (Accessed on January 10, 2022 at https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/2-condoms.html#catmedical-tests.)
Condoms. Jacksonville, FL: Nemours Foundation, 2017. (Accessed on January 10, 2022 at https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/contraception-condom.html?WT.ac=ctg#catcontraception.)
How effective are condoms? Planned Parenthood. (Accessed on January 10, 2022 at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/condom/how-effective-are-condoms.)
How to put a condom on. Planned Parenthood. (Accessed on January 10, 2022 at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/condom/how-to-put-a-condom-on.)
The right way to use a male condom. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on January 10, 2022 at https://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/male-condom-use.html.)