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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, nitrile or polyurethane) condoms—also known as “external condoms”—have been tested and retested by manufacturers and 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 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).

External 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. Internal condoms—also known as “female condoms”—prevent pregnancy about 95 percent of the time when used correctly and consistently.

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

Check out these facts:

  • 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.
  • Using condoms lowers the risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and the 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, nitrile, polyisoprene or natural skin  (lambskin). Only latex, polyisoprene, nitrile and polyurethane condoms prevent the spread of STDs. Most studies have been conducted on latex condoms, but for people who are allergic to latex, polyurethane, nitrile or polyisoprene condoms are a good choice.

Types of Condoms

  • Latex condoms are the most common and affordable. They’re durable and can be used with a water-based lubricant, such as K-Y or Astroglide. Some major brands of latex condoms are Trojan, LifeStyles and Durex.
  • Polyurethane, nitrile or polyisoprene condoms are also very durable, and some people say these condoms permit even greater sensations than those made out of latex. Polyurethane, nitrile 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 easily. The most popular brands of polyurethane condoms are Durex Avanti or Trojan Supra condoms.
  • Natural skin (lambskin) condoms do not protect against STDs because they have pores (tiny 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. 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 condoms in most drugstores or grocery stores.
  • Internal condoms (also known as “female condoms”) are soft, loose-fitting nitrile sheaths that can offer protection during vaginal sex 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. For anal sex, the smaller ring should be removed before placing the condom over the erect penis and inserting the penis into the anus.
  • Some condoms are sold as novelty items, which means they’re for fun, but maybe not for protection; the packaging will say if they are meant to protect against pregnancy and/or STDs.

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

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