Top 10 Condom Myths

Cave paintings from 12,000 years ago are claimed to show the first evidence of condom use, while the oldest condom ever found dates back to 1642. So, it’s safe to say that condoms have been around for a long time.

Condom myths have been around for nearly as long. Excuses to not wear condoms and myths about condom use stop many people from using this important birth control method.

Dispelling some of these myths may not only encourage consistent condom use but help reduce both the incidence of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like HIV.

Here are the top 10 condom myths that need debunking:

1

Condom quality can vary a lot.

Cropped shot view of young woman sitting on the bed and she holding and tearing condom packaging in her hands.
Boy_Anupong / Getty Images

Condom types can vary, but in order for a condom to be sold in the United States, it needs to meet strict quality standards.

Condoms are Class II Medical Devices. Manufacturing requirements are strictly regulated, so condoms must meet industry standards designated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to be sold.

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 and performs its own random testing to ensure consistent quality.

2

Condoms can't stop most STDs.

Chlamydia screening smear test paperwork with lap sample

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Condoms are one of the most effective means for preventing STDs. The only better method of STD avoidance is abstinence.

STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis are spread through genital secretions, including semen. Condoms provide excellent protection against these STDs because they act as a barrier.

The current body of research shows that consistent condom use translates to an overall reduction in the rate of the following STDs:

  • Gonorrhea: 90%
  • Hepatitis B: 90%
  • Chlamydia: 50% to 90%
  • Trichomoniasis: 90%
  • Syphilis: 50% to 90%
  • HIV: 85%
  • Syphilis: 50% to 71%
3

Latex condoms are the only effective condom.

Close up of young man's hand holding a condom from wallet
Karl Tapales / Getty Images

This depends on how you define effective and what your intended aims are. There are four types of male condoms you can choose from:

The FDA has approved latex, polyurethane, and polyisoprene condoms as effective means to reduce the risk of pregnancy and STDs.

Studies have shown that polyurethane condoms are just as effective in preventing pregnancy and STDs as latex condoms. However, they may be more likely to slip and break due to their reduced elasticity (particularly if they are too tight or too loose).

Polyisoprene condoms are also as effective as latex condoms for barrier protection. They gave more elasticity than polyurethane condoms and are less likely to slip or break.

Lambskin condoms contain tiny pores that too small for sperm to get through, so they are effective at preventing pregnancy. However, bacteria or viruses can pass through the pores, so they offer no protection against STDs.

4

Two condoms are better than one.

2 yellow condom packets on a bedsheet

Suparat Malipoom / EyeEm / Getty Images

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 them to 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.

5

The choice of lubricant doesn't matter.

personal-lubricant.jpg

Ulrich Baumgarten / Getty Images

This is simply not true. With latex condoms particularly, oil-based lubricants can quickly break down the structure of latex and increase the risk of breakage.

Never use a lubricant that contains oils, fats, or grease with a latex condom. These include such as petroleum-based products like Vaseline, baby oil, hand lotions, cold cream, vegetable shortening, or cooking oil.

Only water-based lubricants, available online and in many drugstores, should be used with latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants are perfectly fine with polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms.

6

Condoms cause allergy.

pile of colorful condoms

CatLane / Getty Images

This myth is based on the very real risk of a latex allergy in people who use latex condoms. Studies suggest that around 4% of the general population has a latex allergy. This group of people should definitely avoid latex condoms—but only latex condoms, not condom in general.

People with latex allergy can safely use polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms (or lambskin condoms if the aim is to prevent pregnancy).

Other additives in condoms may also cause allergy or irritation, such as spermicides and lubricating agents like parabens or glycerin.

If such a reaction occurs, don't ditch condoms. Instead, try other brands or types of condom, or speak with your healthcare provider to pinpoint which specific ingredient you are allergic or sensitive to.

7

Condoms can't stop HPV or herpes.

A man and a woman's feet intertwined in bed

Alexander Nicholson / Getty Images

STDs like genital herpes or human papillomavirus (HPV) are spread via skin-to-skin contact. Despite what some people might tell you, condoms can reduce the risk of these infections if the condom covers the infected skin.

While condoms may not have the same level of efficacy in preventing herpes or HPV compared to, say, HIV or gonorrhea, they can still greatly reduce the risk of infection compared to people who don't use condoms.

With genital herpes, studies suggest that the consistent use of condoms can reduce the risk of infection by 30%.

While the benefits of condoms appear to be lower with HPV among people in the general population, they offer significant protection in those at increased risk of HPV-associated cancers.

According to some of the more recently published studies:

  • Young women are 50% less likely to get HPV if the partner uses a condom at least 50% of the time. If condom use is perfect, the risk is reduced by 70%. The majority of cervical cancers today are linked to high-risk HPV strains, the infection of which is typically acquired when one is younger.
  • The consistent use of condoms in high-risk men who have sex with men (MSM) translates to an 87% decreased risk of infection compared to a matched set of MSM who do condoms consistently. MSM have the highest risk of getting anal cancer due to HPV infection.
8

Condoms are one-size-fits-all.

young couple looking at condoms in store

 Fancy / Veer / Corbis / Getty Images

When it comes to using condoms, size does matter. Since penis size can vary, using the correctly sized condom is important to ensuring both comfort and protection.

Condom malfunction can occur if you use a poorly sized condom. Condoms that are too tight may be more likely to break, whereas condoms that are too loose may be more likely to slip off.

If a condom breaks, it may not the size that is at issue. It may that you are using the wrong lubricant, using an expired condom, or storing the condom are high temperatures (such as in the glove compartment). All of these things can undermine the integrity of a condom and increase the risk of bursting.

Check the expiry date before using a condom, and throw away any condom that is torn or looks damaged. Never reuse a condom.

9

Condoms aren't as good as the pill.

Woman pregnant sitting on chair with hands on belly

Sot / Getty Images

This depends on how consistent you are when using condoms. When used correctly and consistently, condoms are 98% effective. This means that 2 out of every 100 women whose partners consistently use condoms will become pregnant during the first year of condom use.

With typical (real-world) use, condom efficacy drops to around 85%. Typical use is the term used to describe inconsistent condom use.

By comparison, the birth control pill ("the pill") is 99% effective with perfect use. Taking a pill every day can be difficult, however, which is why 9 out of every 10 women on the pill experience unintended pregnancy each year.

For women who find it difficult to adhere to daily birth control pills, the consistent, on-demand use of condoms provides an effective means of preventing pregnancy—either on their own or with other forms of birth control.

10

Condoms are uncomfortable and dfficult to use.

smiling man opening condom with blurry woman in the background

moodboard / Getty Images

Many people claim to avoid condoms because they are either uncomfortable, burdensome, reduce sensitivity, or "interrupt passion." In many cases, these concerns can be overcome by learning how to use condoms correctly.

A 2011 study in Texas Medicine reported that 67% of the 180 college students included in the study failed to apply a condom correctly on both a questionnaire and condom demonstration.

When used and sized correctly, condoms are not only easy and quick to apply but can maintain high levels of sensitivity.

If a condom is uncomfortable for you, there are different types of condoms you can try. Many condoms have even extra features (like special tingling lubrication or bumps and bridges) that may actually enhance sexual pleasure.

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