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Condoms are the world's best known form of contraception, but only about 5 percent of couples use them, and those that do often encounter unpleasant surprises later. There are 15 common mistakes condom users make that reduce pleasure and effectiveness.

Condoms would seem to be the perfect low-tech, low-cost, easy-to-use method of contraception and protection against sexually transmitted diseases, but the actual results of condom use are disappointing. Here are some of the statistics:

  • Condoms protect against unintended pregnancy, but not every time. About 2 percent of couples who use condoms "perfectly," as one study described it, get pregnant by the end of one year's use.
  • In a study of condom use among gay men in Toronto, about 51 percent of all new cases of HIV resulted from condom failure. The couple used condoms, but the condoms failed to prevent transmission of the virus. It should be pointed out that only about 7/10 of 1 percent of gay couples that regularly used barrier protection shared HIV every year. Over a 30-year relationship, however, the rate of HIV transmission rises to about 20 percent even when couples use condoms.
  • Condoms protect against HIV very well, but not perfectly. Among heterosexual couples in which one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative, couples who use condoms every time they have sexual intercourse have an infection rate of about 1 in 600 people per year. Couples who don't use condoms every time they have sexual intercourse have an infection rate of about 1 in 10 people per year, even if the infected partner is on advanced Retroviral therapy. However, using condoms does not absolutely, positive guarantee the uninfected partner will stay HIV-negative.
  • Among consistent users of condoms who have multiple partners in heterosexual relationships, condoms fail to protect against syphilis about 2 percent of the time. They fail to protect against gonorrhea about 3 percent of the time. Hepatitis C can be transmitted about 7 percent of the time, chlamydia about 12 percent of the time, and herpes about 13 percent of the time. Condoms greatly reduce the transmission of STD's, but don't eliminate them.
Of course, condoms don't work if couples don't use them. The so-called "girl condom" is not readily available in most of the world. Men usually have to be the partner to wear the condom, and men typically don't like to wear them. The packaging is usually the most annoying feature of condoms. Men have to open the package carefully to avoid ripping the condom, and slow, careful attention to a plastic wrapper isn't really what men have on their minds when they use a condom. Condom manufacturers are hesitant to invest large amounts of money into researching new materials, and various additions to condoms to make their use more pleasurable (vibrators with tiny batteries that run for up to 20 minutes, fruit flavors ranging from tangerine to durian, and exotic delivery methods such as slingshots) fail to catch on. On the other hand, most men and women don't know these basic rules about using condoms correctly:

1. Condoms have to be put on before intercourse, not during intercourse

Studies have found that between 17 and 51 percent of men only put on condoms after intercourse has started. Small amounts of ejaculate may already lead to pregnancy, and being late to put on the condom won't prevent STDs.

2. Condoms can't be removed before intercourse is completed.

Studies also have found that between 14 and 46 percent of men remove condoms and continue intercourse. This practice also defeats the purpose of the condom.
Continue reading after recommendations

  • Giannou FK, Tsiara CG, Nikolopoulos GK, Talias M, Benetou V, Kantzanou M, Bonovas S, Hatzakis A. Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission: a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies on HIV serodiscordant couples. Expert Rev Pharmacoecon Outcomes Res. 2015 Oct 21:1-11. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 26488070.
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