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What Factors Affect Condom Effectiveness?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Several factors affect condom effectiveness, especially how a both a male and female condom is worn and used. The age and condition of the condom can also limit its ability to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. These factors can significantly increase the chances of an unintended pregnancy.

Studies have found that many men do not put a condom on or wear it properly. Putting on a male condom too roughly or inside out can tear or weaken it, reducing condom effectiveness. Using a condom that is too small or too large can also limit its ability of preventing pregnancy and STDs. A condom that is too tight or put on without enough room at the tip can heighten the risk of tearing or breaking; a condom that is too large is more likely to fall off or spill. For this reason, men should purchase and use condoms of the proper size and use them exactly as the packaging says.

Female condoms can have similar problems. Using an ill-fitting female condom can cause it to move during intercourse, increasing the possibility of pregnancy and the chances of contracting an STD. Female condoms are typically considered less effective than male condoms by 5 to 10 percent.

Possibly one of the biggest factors affecting condom effectiveness is when the item is used. In order for this type of birth control to provide optimal protection, it should be worn prior to any penetration and during the entire act. Putting on a condom after intercourse has already begun can greatly increase the risk of passing on or contracting an STD and the chances of pregnancy.

With both male and female varieties, condom effectiveness is greatly determined by the quality of the condom. Every condom comes with an expiration date, printed on the box and packaging of each individual condom. Using an old condom can increase the chance of it breaking or developing tears or holes in it. Checking the date on the packaging before every use can help to eliminate this problem.

Even before a condom reaches its expiration date, it can become damaged. Condoms should be kept in a cool, dry area inside the packaging until right before use. Keeping it in a wallet, purse or car can expose it to high levels of heat and possible damage from other items, reducing condom effectiveness. Condoms should never be exposed to direct sunlight or kept near heat sources, as these can damage their integrity.

A condom should be inspected before use and should only be used once. If the condom is yellow, cracking or dry, it should not be used. Studies have found that when a male condom is used perfectly, two out of every 100 women become pregnant. When it is used incorrectly, this number jumps to every 15 out of 100 women. A female condom, when used correctly, results in pregnancy in five out of 100 women; when used incorrectly, pregnancy results in 21 out of every 100 women.

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