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Do condoms work? What’s the best brand and which type of condom is most effective?

Absolutely, yes, they work! Latex and synthetic (polyisoprene or polyurethane) condoms have been tested and retested by manufacturers, researchers and are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make sure people are getting great protection. When a condom is used correctly and consistently every time of you have oral, anal or vaginal sex, you are getting a lot of help at preventing pregnancy and/or the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Condoms—when used correctly and consistently—prevent pregnancy about 98 percent of the time. The typical effectiveness rate—where mistakes are made or condoms break—is about 82 percent.

Condoms also protect against STDs that are spread through bodily fluids (pre-cum, semen, vaginal fluids and blood). Those STDs include HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis. Some STDs, like herpes and genital warts, are spread through skin-to-skin contact. A condom may not cover areas of the skin that are infected, such as the scrotum, labia or even the inside of the thigh. So, condoms may not protect against the skin-to-skin transmission of these specific infections.

Just check out these facts (and, for you skeptics, the research behind them):

  • In a two-year study of couples in which one person was already infected with HIV and the other person wasn’t, not one uninfected partner contracted HIV when the couple used condoms correctly each time they had sex.
  • Have you ever heard that condoms are porous, meaning that they have pores or tiny holes? This is partially true. Natural skin, natural membrane or lambskin condoms do contain small pores that may permit the passage of viruses, including HIV, hepatitis B, and herpes. However, more than 80% of male condoms commercially made in the United States are made of latex or synthetic latex and do not contain pores. Latex works to completely block small viruses and bacteria that cause STDs. This means that even though viruses and bacteria are very small, they cannot pass through latex or synthetic condoms. Sperm can’t pass through latex or synthetic latex condoms either.
  • Using condoms lowers the risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and women’s and girls’ risk of developing cervical cancer, a disease associated with HPV.

It can be overwhelming to look at rows of condom boxes and not know if they all work equally well. The most important distinction to make between condoms is the material they’re made out of. Condoms can be made of latex, polyurethane, polyisoprene or natural skin (or “lambskin”). Only latex, polyisoprene and polyurethane condoms prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Most studies have been conducted on latex condoms, but for people who are allergic to latex, polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms are also a good choice. Some condoms are sold as novelty items which means they’re for fun, not protection; the packaging will say if they are meant for protection as well.

Types of Condoms

  • Latex condoms are the most common and affordable. They’re durable and usually won’t rip if they are used with a water-based lubricant, such as K-Y or Astroglide. Some major brands of latex condoms are Trojan, LifeStyles and Durex.
  • Polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms can be harder to find. They’re also very durable, and some people say these condoms provide even greater sensations than those made out of latex. Polyurethane and polyisoprene condoms are a great alternative for people with latex allergies and can be used with any kind of lubricant because this material does not break down as easily. The most popular brands of polyurethane condoms are Durex Avanti or Trojan Supra condoms.
  • Natural skin condoms do not protect against STDs because they have tiny pores (holes) that can allow STDs to pass through. They do protect against pregnancy, and some people use them only for that purpose.
  • There are also flavored condoms. These are designed to be used during oral sex. STDs can be spread through unprotected oral sex or skin-to-skin contact if semen or vaginal fluid gets into a partner’s mouth or if a partner touches an infected area that is not covered by the condom. The flavored latex condoms help reduce the risk of getting an STD through oral sex. Flavored condoms shouldn’t be used for vaginal or anal sex. The sugary substances that make them taste good can also cause infections. You can find flavored or polyurethane condoms in most drugstores or grocery stores.
  • Female condoms are a soft, loose-fitting polyurethane or nitrile sheath and offer protection during vaginal and anal sex as well. This device has two flexible rings to hold it in place. The smaller ring goes inside the vagina and holds it in place. The wider ring remains outside the vagina during vaginal sex or the anus during anal sex.

No matter what type or brand of condom you choose, it’s important to learn how to use them.