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When I hear about condoms, I hear people say “when used correctly.” What does that really mean? I thought it was pretty obvious how to use one, but now I’m worried that I’m doing something wrong. Do condoms break a lot?

Condoms have a great track record. When used perfectly, they most likely won’t break. Correct use means following these steps every time.

When a condom breaks, it’s usually because one of these steps wasn’t followed. If you buy a package of condoms, first read the directions—usually included inside or printed on the back of the box. The directions should cover the same steps that we have listed in our FAQ on how to use a condom correctly.

Numerous studies have been done to test the rate of condom breakage or slippage. Many find that only two percent of condoms break or slip because the material itself is faulty. Usually a condom breaks because a person didn’t use it correctly. This explains the difference between “perfect use” and “typical use” effectiveness rates for condoms.

For preventing pregnancy, the perfect-use effectiveness rate for condoms is 98 percent. This means that if 100 couples use a condom perfectly each time they have vaginal sex for an entire year, only two pregnancies would happen. These pregnancies would most likely happen because the condom itself was faulty.

The typical-use effectiveness rate for condoms is 85 percent. This means that if 100 couples use condoms and sometimes they use them incorrectly, or they don’t use them every time they have sex for an entire year, then 15 pregnancies would happen. Most of these pregnancies that occur would be due to human error, not because the condom itself was faulty.

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