How Often Do Condoms Fail?

  • Medical Author: Omnia M Samra, MD
  • Medical Editor: Bryan D Cowan, MD

Ask a Doctor

How often do condoms fail? What percentage of condoms break? Why are condoms not 100 percent effective? Do condoms really work to help avoid pregnancy? What are the disadvantages of male condoms?

Doctor's Response

The failure rate of condoms in couples which use them consistently and correctly is estimated to be about 3% during the first year of use. However, the true failure rate during that time period is estimated to be about 14%. This marked difference of failure rates reflects usage error. Some couples fail to use condoms with each sexual encounter. Condoms may fail (break or come off) if you use the wrong type of lubricant. Using an oil-based lubricant with a latex condom will cause it to fall apart. The condom may not be placed properly on the penis. Also, the man may not use care when withdrawing.

The condom (also called a rubber) is a thin sheath placed over an erect penis. A man would put a condom over his penis before he places the penis in a woman's vagina. A condom worn by a man prevents pregnancy by acting as a barrier to the passage of semen into the vagina. A condom can be worn only once. It is one of the most popular forms of barrier methods for birth control. Condoms may be purchased at most drugstores and grocery stores, and dispensers can be found in many public restrooms.

Condoms made from latex are the most effective at preventing pregnancy. They also protect against sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS and gonorrhea. Condoms should not be used with petroleum jelly (e.g. Vaseline), lotions, or oils. They can decrease the effectiveness of the condom and increase the chance of pregnancy, as well as sexually transmitted disease. Condoms can be used with lubricants which do not contain oil, such as K-Y Jelly.

Many women prefer the male condom because it prevents the contraction of HIV (the virus that leads to AIDS) and other STDs.

  • Advantages: Condoms are readily available and inexpensive. A prescription is not necessary. This method involves the male partner in the choice in contraception. Besides abstinence, latex condoms provide the best protection against STDs. They are the only method of birth control that is highly effective in preventing AIDS.
  • Disadvantages: Condoms possibly decrease enjoyment of sex. Some users may have a latex allergy. Condom breakage and slippage can make them less effective. Oil-based lubricants may damage the condom.
"Overview of contraception"