Condoms sometimes get a bad rap. Myths about them abound all over the Internet and in discussions among friends. Some criticisms about condoms suggest they’re less than perfect for pregnancy prevention. Or they don’t work well for preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Or they decrease sexual pleasure. The younger generation tends to think of AIDS as chronic and manageable, not as a deadly disease that is best prevented with condoms. So some may wonder, “Why bother using them?”
Let’s debunk some of the most common myths about condoms!
Most of these urban myths are untrue, yet they endure — probably because those spreading the rumors lack factual information about sexual health and contraception. Many American schools teach only abstinence and rarely discuss contraception except to disparage the effectiveness of the low-tech and common condom. But condoms do provide the best protection against the spread of many STDs, including HIV. And they also are really good at preventing pregnancy, especially if used properly and with another form of contraception, such as birth control pills. To top it off, they are the most easily accessible type of non-prescription contraception.
Here are a few tall tales we can debunk.
1. Condoms aren’t that effective in preventing STDs such as HIV.
Scientific studies have consistently shown latex condoms to greatly reduce the risk of contracting chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and HIV. According to the CDC, the consistent and correct use of latex condoms is “highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV,” and many studies have shown that latex condoms reduce HIV transmission for both vaginal and anal sex.
Surveys have shown that people often believe their partner does not have an STD, or if their partner did have an STD, they would know just by looking. They even believe they may not have an STD because they don’t have any symptoms. But you can have an infection without symptoms showing for quite some time (or ever!), and in that time you can spread the infection to your sexual partners. Even with infections that spread by skin-to-skin contact, like genital herpes, condoms that cover the infected area offer protection from transmission of the infection.
2. Condoms are not effective in preventing pregnancy.
Using a condom correctly every time you have sex greatly reduces your chances of becoming pregnant. In fact, perfect use can prevent pregnancy 98 percent of the time over the course of one year. Typically, however, couples using condoms are less than perfect. They may use them incorrectly or not every time. They may damage them, reuse them, or store them improperly. Or, rarely, they may even have a defective condom. But, even with a bit less than perfect use, condoms can prevent pregnancy 85 percent of the time over a year. And, when used with another form of contraception, they are even more effective.
3. Condoms have holes or are defective.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regularly conducts tests on condoms from all batches of condoms sold in the United States. They test for defects, including leaks, and use airburst tests for breakage. The FDA also inspects the factories where condoms are made to ensure safety regulations are being followed, and randomly tests the products being manufactured. Condoms break less than 2 percent of the time when used, and most of these breaks are considered to be due to user error rather than defects in the condom itself. To avoid that user error, make sure you’re putting on a condom the correct way!
4. Condoms decrease sexual pleasure, are uncomfortable, and are difficult to use.
If a condom fits improperly or feels too tight, the wearer may not want to use condoms. But websites offer measurement tools to help you find your best size, and there are many condom sizes available. Some online sites offer custom-made condoms to fit you perfectly. Once you learn how to properly fit and use a condom, there are colored, flavored, and textured condoms available to experiment with for adventurous fun. There is even a new condom — Sensis — that is so easy to use, you can put it on in the dark!
In acknowledgement that using condoms may affect the sensual pleasure of a sexual experience, which could discourage its use, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently offered a challenge to develop a new condom that does not inhibit sexual pleasure. Increasing pleasure while providing important protection would make condoms more widely accepted worldwide and thereby decrease the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
5. You need to be a certain age to purchase condoms.
Condoms are contraceptive devices that anyone can purchase in stores and pharmacies regardless of age. They are currently the only birth control available to men. As a matter of fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that condoms be made more available to teenagers, along with improved sex education in schools. And they are relatively inexpensive compared to other contraceptive methods. Additionally, female condoms, also known as internal condoms, are available in stores and can be under a woman’s control.
6. Two condoms are better than one.
Some people believe that using two condoms at once — one over the other — will give them added protection from pregnancy and STDs. But “double-bagging” does not actually add more protection. When using two condoms together, the friction caused by them rubbing together can make them more prone to breakage or small tears. The same reasoning applies when using a male condom and a female condom together: The friction created by one condom rubbing against the other would make one or both of the condoms more likely to tear.
There are many more myths about condoms on the Internet and circulating among friends. Education is key: Protect yourself, get yourself tested, and get the real facts. Talk to your Planned Parenthood health care provider for accurate information about sexually transmitted diseases and condoms.
Click here to check out other installments of “Let’s Talk Contraception”!
You might want to revise the section on using more than one condom. See the Planned Parenthood fact sheet linked below for detailed review of studies on multiple condom use which concludes:
“It seems that there is no evidence-based information to support advising against double bagging. On the other hand, the evidence to support double bagging is limited, but positive. It may be best to advise that if double bagging increases a person’s sense of comfort and security, there is no harm in using more than one condom, and there may be benefits.”