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Condom Failure
Jul 25, 2000

Having sex...

Rubber Bust!!!

This has happened at least once... to several men & women.

The scary thing is... ITS PRETTY COMMON!

Are there any stats conducted independent of condom mfgrs reporting condom failure/rupture rates. Also I was informed lubricated latex condom reliability has been downgraded from 99% to about 70% effectiveness in prevention of pregnancy and STD's.

Is this accurate?

Response from Mr. Kull

You're right. Condoms are not perfect. But let's try to sort out some of the confusion about condom efficacy.

First of all, if the condom is latex, does not break, tear, or slip off, and it is used correctly during the entire sex act, it should be 99.9% effective in preventing HIV transmission and many STDs. In a 1987-91 study of mixed-HIV-status couples, all 123 couples who used condoms every time for four years prevented transmission of HIV. In 122 couples who did not use condoms every time, 12 partners became infected. Another study showed that using condoms every time prevented HIV transmission for all but two of 171 women who had male partners with HIV. However eight out of 10 women whose partners didn't use condoms every time became infected.

It's a whole different story when the condom itself fails.

Studies conducted about condom failure among sexual partners have shown widely different efficacy (effectiveness) rates. In my survey of the literature, I have found condom breakage during intercourse to be estimated anywhere from 1-8%. One study of couples using condoms over a period of time showed that 62% of them experienced no condom failure (meaning breakage or slippage), 29% had one to three failures, and 9% had four or more failures. A small percentage of couples accounted for the higher number of failures. Most studies show that higher rates of condom failure happen among a small percent of the general population (some have estimated as low as 4-6%). This may point to traits in the condom users, like technical skill, experience using condoms, prior episodes of breakage, condom fit, and amount of lubrication. Commercial sex workers have demonstrated the lowest condom breakage or slippage rates. There is some speculation that condoms fail more frequently during anal sex, but why and how have not been demonstrated yet. Condom failure is more often attributed to user behavior and not flaws in the condom itself.

What does condom efficacy or condom failure mean? Well, it differs from study to study. Sometimes it simply means, "Was HIV transmitted among these couples that used condoms?" HIV infection occurring due to "condom failure" could mean the condom broke, the condom slipped off, or the couple failed to use a condom every time! Condom efficacy studies might only look at condom use for vaginal sex and never ask about anal sex.

The lesson: be careful of statistics. They don't tell the whole story by themselves. I think condoms have made a big difference in reducing HIV infection rates among many populations. If you have more questions about condoms, check out Prevention (Sexual) on The Body.

RMK

P.S. When in doubt, lubricate! (Water-based, of course)



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