The Skinny on Condoms

Condoms have been around for centuries and perhaps as far back as the Middle Ages. Throughout their history, they have been used for contraception and protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Before the 19th century, they were made of chemically-treated linen or animal membranes or tissue, such as sheep intestines or bladder. Rubber condoms (hence the name “rubbers”) gained popularity around 1850, and by the 20th century, advances in processing led to the advent of latex, the most popular condom type today. For those allergic to latex, condoms also come in vinyl. Condoms were the most popular form of contraception before the advent of the birth control pill in the early 1960s.

When used for contraception, the condom has the advantage of being inexpensive, easy-to-use, having few side effects, and offering protection against almost all STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). They don’t require a prescription. Their effectiveness varies with how they’re used.


With perfect use,
condoms can be 98% effective,
but with what’s called “typical” use,
they’re only 82% effective.

Perfect Condom Use Implies:

  1. The condom in relatively new, and not carried in a wallet for months or years
  2. It’s made by a reputable manufacturer
  3. It’s applied before any penile insertion into the vagina, not just prior to orgasm
  4. It does not slip off in the vagina after the male’s erection is lost
  5. When checked after intercourse, the condom has no breaks or leaks

Condom “Don’t’s” That Can Alter Effectiveness

  1. Don’t use intentionally thick or thin condoms – these are less effective
  2. Don’t double up two condoms at once. People do this because they think it increases effectiveness but it does the opposite.
  3. Don’t use petroleum-based lubricants such as Vaseline, as these will degrade latex.

Why Condoms Fail

The main cause of failure in regular condom users is, believe it or not, is not using one.

The typical situation is one where the couple didn’t realize they were out of condoms and tried to “risk it” or “take a chance,” perhaps because they thought the woman was at a less-fertile part of her menstrual cycle.

So if using a condom, be sure to follow all of the precautions above. It’s also a good idea for the female to insert an over-the-counter spermicide (sperm killing chemical) before condom use. Just in case the condom does break or leak, the spermicide will be there to kill any leaked sperm.