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Everything you need to know about condoms

They’re effective at preventing pregnancy and the spread of STIs—but are condoms the right birth control method for you?

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It’s estimated that nearly 34 million people will use a condom in 2024—and yet, for many people, questions abound about this contraceptive method. 

If your high school sex ed class failed you, you’re not alone! After all, a CDC report found that only 23.3% of schools taught how to correctly use a condom.

Whether you’re wondering how to put on a condom, how to find the right condom, or even just understanding how effective condoms are at preventing things like pregnancy or STIs, we have answers.

What are condoms and how do they work?

Condoms are a barrier method of birth control, meaning that they stop sperm from reaching eggs and protect against the transmission of certain diseases or infections that might be passed sexually, such as herpes or HIV. A condom can either be external (goes on a penis, sometimes called a “male condom”), or internal (goes inside a vagina or rectum, sometimes called a “female condom”).

How effective are condoms?

The effectiveness of condoms depends on the type of condom, and whether they’re properly used.

The effectiveness of condoms depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Ensuring the condom hasn’t expired yet
  • Ensuring the condom was kept in a cool, dry place (such as a drawer or cabinet, and not in the sun)
  • Ensuring the condom was properly put on—that includes never double-bagging (or putting on two) condoms
  • Ensuring the condom does not tear or break
  • Ensuring the condom was used the entire time during sex
  • Ensuring the condom was not reused

How effective are condoms at preventing pregnancy?

Condoms are very effective at preventing pregnancy, especially when used properly. They prevent pregnancy by creating a physical barrier that prevents semen from reaching an egg.

For external condoms, they’re 98% effective at preventing pregnancy with perfect use, and 87% effective with typical use. Internal condoms are 95% effective at preventing pregnancy with perfect use, and 79% effective with typical use. 

How effective are condoms at preventing STIs?

Condoms are very effective at preventing the spread of many STIs. In fact, condoms are the only birth control method that provides protection against STIs; while birth control pills, patches, injections, and IUDs can prevent pregnancy, they cannot prevent the transmission of infections or diseases.

Condoms are able to block the transmission of STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and hepatitis B by creating a barrier between the condom wearer and their partner. For example, transmission of HIV is reduced 71-80% with the use of condoms. Other STIs, such as herpes, genital warts, syphilis, or mpox, may still be spread if there’s skin-to-skin contact. That said, condoms may reduce the risk of transmission; one study found that using a condom lowered the risk of herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2, also known as genital herpes) acquisition by 30% versus those who never used condoms.

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Why might condoms be a good birth control method for me?

There are many reasons why condoms might be a good method for you to try! For one thing, they are a non-hormonal birth control option, which means you may avoid some of the side effects associated with hormonal options. 

They are also a short-term method—unlike some other birth control methods, such as an IUD, you have control over when you use it. Condoms are also useful for people concerned about STI transmission, as well as for people who may be prone to getting BV.

And for some people, they may be an affordable option, since with a prescription your insurance may cover condoms (Hey Jane accepts insurance and can help you with this), or you may live near places that give out free condoms, such as community clinics, university health centers, or even local bars.

Why might condoms not be a good birth control method for me?

For some people, being able to control the use of a contraceptive method is important, and with condoms you may be relying on another partner to use it—and use it properly. Using condoms may also push you to have more intimate conversations than you (or your sexual partner) is ready for. You may also prefer a longer-term method of birth control that doesn't require use every time you have sex, such as an IUD.

Compared to some other birth control methods, condoms are less discreet. Depending on your living situation, you might not be comfortable or feel it’s safe to keep condoms on hand. Or you might be in a relationship where you prefer that your partner does not know that you are using a contraceptive method, which is more difficult with condoms.

While there are alternatives, the majority of condoms are made with latex, which could be an issue if you have allergies or sensitivities to latex. Plus, internal condoms can be expensive, which can make them less accessible for some people.

How do I choose the right condom?

While there are a lot of jokes about condom sizes, it’s important to know that the average external condom will fit the average external condom user! Generally speaking, a “regular” or “standard” sized external condom would fit a penis that is between 6.5-8 inches long and 2 inches wide.

Some condoms have lubricant, which may help increase comfort or pleasure. Condoms with spermicide, however, can be very harsh and the spermicide isn’t necessary with proper condom usage. 

If you’re not sure if you have sensitivities to latex or lubricants, do an arm test first: Cut a little piece of the condom off and secure it in place to your arm with a Band-Aid. If you have any reaction to it, you might have a sensitivity. For people with sensitive skin, there are latex-free condom options.

Make sure you check the expiration date, as with time condoms do degrade—which could lead to tears or the condom breaking during use. And once you do stock up on condoms, make sure to keep them out of the sun, as heat can also impact condoms and potentially lead to tears or breaks.

At Hey Jane, we offer Trojan latex non-lubricated external condoms, which you can use your insurance or HSA/FSA funds to purchase.

How can I talk to a partner about using condoms?

Being able to speak openly about all things sex with an intimate partner, including whether you’ll be using contraception and what method makes the most sense, is an important part of having healthy relationships.

But these conversations can sometimes be hard to have. If you’re feeling a bit nervous or uncomfortable talking about using condoms, consider having the conversation before you get hot and heavy, so that you’re not feeling rushed, pressured, or taken out of the moment when things heat up.

Here are a few ways you might be able to bring up using a condom to a partner:

  • “I know this might be awkward to bring up now, but I wanted to make sure that we were on the same page when it came to protecting each other during sex. Currently condoms are my preferred method of birth control, would you be open to using them when we have sex?”
  • “I care about you and want to make sure that we’re both protected when we have sex—because of that, I’ve got condoms for us to use! Are you okay with the type that I have?”
  • “I thought for our next date we could make a detour to the condom aisle at the pharmacy and have some fun finding an option that would work for both of us. What do you think?”

What should I do if the condom breaks?

While condoms are very effective at preventing pregnancy and the transmission of STIs, there is a small chance that the condom could tear, break, or fall off. 

If something happens to make you worried or concerned about the effectiveness of a condom, and you are not on another form of birth control, you can use emergency contraception—which can be taken up to 3-5 days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. You can get emergency contraception at any time (through providers like Hey Jane), not just when you actively need it, so it’s a good idea to stock up on it to keep in your medicine cabinet if you’re sexually active or plan on being sexually active in the future. You may also want to take a pregnancy test, although you will have to wait 14 days before the pregnancy test will accurately show whether or not you’re pregnant.

You are also at risk of STI exposure if the condom breaks. If you’re not sure of your partner’s HIV status but believe that you’ve exchanged body fluids, or know that they are HIV positive, go to the nearest clinic or ER immediately, as they can give you a rapid HIV test and determine whether you should be put on a 28-day course of medications (known as post-exposure prophylaxis therapy, or PEP) to reduce your risk of getting HIV. For other STIs, like chlamydia or gonorrhea, it can take two weeks to be detected in a blood test, so you have time to decide the best course of action with a trusted health care provider.

How can I find the best birth control method for me?

At Hey Jane, our expert clinical care team can help you find the best birth control method for you—including condoms, other non-hormonal methods, and hormonal options—all from the comfort and convenience of your phone.

With Hey Jane, birth control care includes:

  • Fast, convenient consultations
  • Delivery or fast, local pick up from your pharmacy
  • Judgment-free care and expert guidance
  • Affordable consultations with or without insurance (including HSA/FSA)
  • 100+ options, including condoms

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Written by

Alyssa Wagner (DNP, RN, APRN, WHNP-BC), Medical Director at Hey Jane

Alyssa Wagner (she/her) is a board certified women’s health nurse practitioner specializing in reproductive and sexual health care for over 14 years. She’s passionate about increasing access to health care, removing stigma, and spending time with her family.

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