Anatomy/Physiology / contraception / safer sex

How Good Are Condoms, Anyway?

Hey friends, it’s Throwback Thursday, time for a vintage piece. This originally ran in June of 2012. 

timaree headshotQuestion to Sex with Timaree:

“My wife and I got married almost a year ago and we had been having lots of great sex until recently. My wife started having lots of really bad migraines, so her doctor suggested she try changing birth control. Her new birth control is progestogen-only, with no estrogen. Her headaches have gone away but now she has been having her period for almost two months now straight. Her doctor said that this is normal. This new birth control is super effective as we are not having sex at all. 😦 Neither of us are ready for kids so we have been using both pills and condoms. My wife suggested we use just condoms but I am afraid of the effectiveness. Do you have anything that can help calm my fears of using condoms only?”

I’ll use my real soothing voice, light some votives and suggest you open this in a new tab. You should feel better quickly. Plus it sounds like you have several options here, more than you might realize.

For one thing, condoms ARE quite effective: up to 97% if used correctly. That is more than several other common contraceptive forms. And obviously they’re also a crucial component of STI prevention. The key to that level of effectiveness, of course, is correct use. Many people make small errors that they don’t realize can compromise the latex.

What are some of the most common errors that might reduce condom effectiveness?

  • Using expired condoms. You wouldn’t drink milk if was only supposed to be good until 2010, would you? Latex still degrades with time, even if the storage locale is ideal.
  • Leaving them in hot place. The glove compartment is an awful spot, or on a shelf with direct sunlight. If they stay in your wallet, pressed against your body heat for months on end, they’re degrading quickly.
  • Storing them in a place where they can be punctured. Bouncing around in a purse is dangerous for condoms, as are random drawers that might also contain things with tools, pins or other things with sharp edges. You want them to be convenient, obviously, but be thoughtful about location.
  • Putting them on improperly. For instance, some folks, in their enthusiasm, have accidently applied condoms inside-out. That can make it more likely to slip off or break during use. Here’s a quick reminder video on proper application:
  • Applying after the penis has already been inside the vagina (this is more about HIV prevention than pregnancy, unless you’ve got rounds still in the chamber from a recent ejaculation) or removing the condom too early.
  • Not leaving room at the tip for ejaculate.
  • Not using enough lube. Again, this is about reducing breakage. Besides, lube makes sex feel even better and reduces the likelihood of tearing and pain in the vagina. And of course, you need to use lube that works with condoms– avoid lotion, Vaseline and anything else with oil in it will break down the latex!
  • Reusing a condom. Even if you didn’t come, they’re one-time use only, kiddos!

So if you can make sure you’re storing and using the condoms properly, they will be as effective as any oral contraceptive pill, although not QUITE as effective as the combination of both.

Other Birth Control Options

Beyond that, you can more options in terms of the contraception that she’s taking. Yes, it is often the case that with progestogen-only pills, some women have heavy bleeding. Others only have slight spotting. And if the heavy bleeding doesn’t let up soon, I’d recommend your wife look into something else. Some other hormonal methods like the Nuva-Ring or Mirena IUD use much smaller doses of hormones and they work more locally, instead of having to be consumed by mouth and go through the entire system. They also release a steady state of hormones, instead of spiking at the time the pill is taken, which can be helpful and maybe, possibly avoid the terrible headaches she was suffering before. The Mirena, by the way, is exceptionally effective– on par with surgical methods of pregnancy prevention.

Earning Your Red Wings

And while it’s certainly up to you when you feel like being sexually intimate, there’s no medical reason not to have sex during menstruation. So if the bleeding continues (which I hope it doesn’t, since that’s gotta be really annoying for both of you), you could consider laying down a towel and still going ahead.
Questions? Comments? Violent reactions? Email See more at and

4 thoughts on “How Good Are Condoms, Anyway?

    • Two – three years is exactly how long my wife and I were planning on waiting till we have kids. After talking about it we both decided that we are going to use condoms only. We had discussed the IUD but she is afraid of having something stuck up there.

  1. Despite what the Catholic church claims about the failure rate of condoms and other birth control, this article is pretty spot on with regards to how effective condoms are. It’s surprising to me how some people can still be uneducated about birth control, but then I see the political forces surrounding this issue and on the conservative Republicans and I realize it’s not so hard to imagine. Thanks for sharing this mirena intrauterine device

    • I agree with you! Contraceptives without a doubt really helped us! Without them, I cant imagine what will be the world like. Though some of them have undesired side effects especially on IUDs like Mirena. In fact, From November 1997 to August 2012, the FDA received more than 46,000 reports of serious side effects among women with the Mirena IUD.

      Visit my blog for more information.

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