Top 10 Condom Myths

Cave paintings from 12,000 years ago are claimed to show the first evidence of condom use. The oldest condom ever found dates back to 1642. So, it’s safe to say that condoms have been around for a long time. Unfortunately, condom myths have been around for just as long. Excuses to not wear condoms and myths about condom use stop many people from using this important birth control method.

According to Bill Smith, Executive Director of the National Coalition of STD Directors,

“Education on proper condom use, as well as increased use, are key factors in decreasing condom errors and increasing their effectiveness. But we still have a great deal of work ahead of us. To ensure a more sexually healthy nation, we need to arm people with the facts they need to make smart choices to protect themselves and their partners.”

So, how knowledgeable are YOU about condoms? Here is a list of commonly believed condom myths as well as the truth about this contraceptive.

1
Condom Myth: Condoms usually have holes or other manufacturing defects.

Condom Myths Holes
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FACT: Condoms are considered to be Class II Medical Devices. This means that the manufacturing of condoms is strictly regulated, so condoms must meet FDA and FDA-recognized industry standards. American and imported condom manufacturers electronically test every condom for holes and other defects. They also conduct additional testing on random condoms from each batch (usually involving a water leak test to detect holes and an air burst test to check the strength of the condom). The FDA inspects condom manufacturing facilities on a periodic basis as well as performs their own testing to ensure condom quality.

2
Condom Myth: Condoms don’t protect against STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Condom Myth: Chlamydia and Gonorrhea Protection
Photo © 2014 Dawn Stacey

FACT: STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis are spread through genital secretions. Condoms provide excellent protection against these diseases because they act as a barrier, blocking the secretions that cause these STIs. Research conducted to analyze studies on condom use supports this claim:

  • Condoms have been shown to be significantly effective in preventing chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis; compared to women who didn’t use condoms, women who consistently used condoms showed a 62% reduction in the risk of contracting gonorrhea and a 26% reduction in the risk of acquiring chlamydia.
  • Consistent and correct use of latex condoms or female condoms is associated with a significant reduction in the combined incidence of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis in women considered to be at high-risk for contracting STIs.
  • An evaluation of 45 research studies investigating condom use and gonorrhea and/or chlamydia infection revealed that using condoms lowers the risk for contracting both of these diseases in men and women.
It is believed that the effectiveness of condoms to protect against these STIs is actually underestimated due to limitations in the way research on this topic has been conducted.

3
Condom Myth: Using two condoms provide better protection than just one.

Condom Myths: Double-bagging condoms
Photo © 2014 Dawn Stacey

FACT: Though it might seem to make sense, “double-bagging” condoms does not equal more protection. In fact, this practice may actually make condoms less effective. When two condoms are used together, more friction can occur between them; this makes it more likely that one or both of the condoms can tear. Not only should you only use one condom at a time, but a male condom should also not be used with a female condom (for the same reasons).

4
Condom Myth: Latex condoms are the only truly effective condoms.

Condom Myths Latex vs Plolyurethane
Photo © 2014 Dawn Stacey

FACT: This myth is a bit tricky as it depends on how you define effective. There are four types of male condoms: latex, polyurethane, polyisoprene, and natural/lambskin. The FDA has approved latex, polyurethane, and polyisoprene condoms to be effective at preventing pregnancy as well as protecting against STIs. In lab tests, polyurethane condoms have been shown to be just as effective barriers against sperm and STIs as latex condoms. But, there is some concern that with typical, “real” use, polyurethane condoms may not offer the same amount of effectiveness as latex condoms. This is because polyurethane condoms are not as elastic and looser-fitting than latex condoms, so these condoms may be more likely to break or slip off during intercourse. Research indicates that when compared to latex condoms, polyurethane condoms are 3-5 times more likely to break during sex.

Lambskin condoms contain tiny pores. The pores are too small for sperm to get through, so these condoms are effective at preventing pregnancy; however, the bacteria/viruses that cause STIs can pass through these pores. So, lambskin condoms do not offer protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

5
Condom Myth: Condom sizes don’t matter.

Condom Myths Size Matters
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FACT: When it comes to using condoms, size does make a difference. Since penis size can vary, using the correct size condom is important. In order to be most effective, a condom has to fit properly. Condom malfunction can occur if you use the wrong-size condom -- condoms that are too small/tight may be more likely to break whereas condoms that are too big/loose may be more likely to slip off.

6
Condom Myth: Condoms may offer some protection against STIs, but not HIV.

Condom Myths HIV AIDs Prevention
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FACT: Research consistently and conclusively shows that condoms provide an effective barrier against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The effectiveness of latex condoms to prevent HIV transmission has been scientifically established in laboratory studies as well as in real-life studies of sexually active couples. It has been found that among heterosexual couples in which one partner is infected with HIV, consistent condom use lowers the risk of HIV transmission from men to women as well as from women to men. A review of condom effectiveness research studies found that compared to no condom use, reliable condom use reduces the overall risk of HIV transmission by 80-87%.

7
Condom Myth: Condoms can cause more harm than good.

Condom Myths Harm Your Health
Photo Courtesy of J. Plinkert

FACT: As with any contraceptive decision, it is always important to weigh the benefits of a birth control method against its risks. In general, condoms should not cause you harm or negatively affect your health. This myth speaks more to people who may have certain health issues with the ingredients in condoms or the condom’s lubrication. Latex condoms may not be the best choice if you have a latex allergy. Along the same line, some of the materials used in condom lubricants (such as parabens, glycerin, or spermicide) have been shown to cause specific health problems in some people. If you are sensitive to these ingredients, you may have to do some of your own research to determine if they are being used in your favorite condom brand.

8
Condom Myth: Condoms aren’t effective at preventing pregnancy.

Condom Myths Storing Condoms
Photo © 2014 Dawn Stacey

FACT: When used properly and every time you have sex, condoms are 98% effective. This means that 2 out of every 100 women whose partners correctly use condoms will become pregnant during the first year of condom use. With typical condom use, condoms are 85% effective (so 15 out of every 100 women whose partners correctly use condoms will become pregnant during the first year).

These numbers may make you believe that condoms are not very effective. Keep in mind though, that besides condom breaks or tears, typical use includes common condom errors. These include:

  • Not using a condom every time you have sex.
  • Not correctly using a condom (putting it on wrong/inside out, not wearing a condom the entire time – putting it on too late/taking it off to soon, not wearing the proper size condom).
  • Using expired condoms.
  • Opening a condom package with a sharp object or puncturing a condom with fingernails or jewelry.
  • Using condoms that were not stored properly.
  • Not using a water-based or silicone-based lubricant.
  • Reusing condoms.

9
Condom Myth: Condoms offer no protection against skin-to-skin contact STIs.

Condoms Myths Herpes HPV
Photo © 2014 Dawn Stacey

FACT: STIs like herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital warts are spread via skin-to-skin contact. Condoms have been shown to protect against these infections if the condom covers the infected skin.

Herpes/HSV-2

  • In research studies of couples where one person is infected with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), condom use partially protected men and women against new HSV-2 infections.
  • Growing evidence indicates that condoms offer moderate protection against HSV-2. Data suggests that there is a 3.6% increase in the odds of contracting herpes (HSV-2) with each unprotected act of sexual intercourse, a 2.7% increase in the odds of catching herpes when condoms were sometimes used, and no increase in herpes risk when condoms were always during intercourse.

HPV

  • Studies also show that condom use is associated with quicker healing of cervical and penile HPV-associated lesions as well as a shorter duration of HPV infection in women.
  • Research also reveals that a woman's chances of acquiring HPV significantly decreases as the frequency of condom use increases. When compared to women whose partners used condoms for less than 5% of sexual encounters, women whose partners used condoms at least half of the time had a 50% lower risk of HPV infection, and women whose partners used condoms 100% of the time had a 70% lower risk.
Genital warts are caused by HPV. Condoms can help lower risk of genital wart infection as well as reduce the risks of cervical cancer linked to HPV if the infected area is covered by a condom. Condoms can’t fully protect against HPV or HSV-2 because there may still be skin-to-skin contact with an infected area.

10
Condom Myth: Condoms are uncomfortable and difficult to use.

Condom Myths Condom Types
Photo Courtesy of E. Scott

FACT: Many condoms actually have extra features (like special warming/tingling lubrication and bumps/ridges) that can actually make sex more pleasurable for both men and women. If a condom is uncomfortable because it’s too tight, there are different sizes and types of condoms that can offer a better and more comfortable fit. As with any new behavior, at first, you may need to practice putting on a condom correctly.

Usually, the trickiest part is knowing which way to roll on a condom. A good rule of thumb is that a condom should go on like a hat (not like a shower cap); you should be able to easily roll it down -- without having to stick your fingers inside of it to unroll. However, with a little practice, condoms are very easy to use, and couples may incorporate sexy ways of putting a condom on into their sex play. There are even condoms that are specifically designed to make sure that you put them on the correct way (like Sensis condoms).

Sources:

Holmes KK, Levine R, Weaver M. "Effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted infections." Bull World Health Organ 2004; 82:454–461. Accessed February 26, 2013.

"Nonlatex vs Latex Condoms: An Update." The Contraception Report (Contraception Online) 2003 September;14(2):10-13. Accessed February 26, 2013.

Sanchez J, Campos PE, Courtois B, Gutierrez L, Carrillo C, Alarcon J, Gotuzzo E, Hughes J, Watts D, Hillier SL, Buchanan K, Holmes KK. "Prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in female sex workers: Prospective evaluation of condom promotion and strengthened STD services." Sex Transm Dis 2003 April;30(4):273-279. Accessed via private subscription.

Stanaway JD, Wald A, Martin ET, Gottlieb SL, Magaret AS. "Case-crossover analysis of condom use and herpes simplex virus type 2 acquisition." Sex Transm Dis 2012 May; 39(5):388-393. Accessed February 26, 2013.

Warner L, Stone KM, Macaluso M, Buehler JW, Austin HD. "Condom use and risk of gonorrhea and chlamydia: A systematic review of design and measurement factors assessed in epidemiologic studies." Sex Transm Dis 2006; 33:36–51. Accessed via private subscription.

Weller SC, Davis-Beaty K. "Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD003255. Accessed February 26, 2013.

Winer RL, Hughes JP, Feng Q, O'Reilly S, Kiviat NB, Holmes KK, Koutsky LA. "Condom use and the risk of genital human papillomavirus infection in young women." New England Journal of Medicine, 2006, 354(25):2645–2654. Accessed February 26, 2013.

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