Sex Education Series : Condoms and Pregnancy Prevention

Workshop Summary: Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Prevention

Source: Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Description: Published in 2001, this report presents the findings of a workshop to evaluate the effectiveness of latex male condoms. The effort was led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Key Statistics:

  • In a recent well-controlled randomized clinical trial of monogamous couples using latex male condoms for contraception over six months, the pregnancy rate during “typical use” was reported at 6.3%, with a 1.1% pregnancy rate during “consistent use.”
  • As condom experience and facility in use of condoms increases in couples using condoms as their primary method of birth control, unintended pregnancies decrease.
  • The combined method failure rate (slippage plus breakage) of condoms is estimated at 1.6%–3.6%.

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Male Condoms

Source: R. A. Hatcher, et al., Contraceptive Technology, 17th revised Edition (New York: Ardent Media, Inc., 1998).

Description: This article contains all of the basic information about male condoms as a method of contraception that health care practitioners, educators, and users will need

Key Statistics:

  • To fully understand research on condom effectiveness, one must understand the difference between method failure and user failure. Method failure is failure that results from a defect in the product. User failure refers to failure that results from incorrect or inconsistent use.
  • The first-year effectiveness rate in preventing pregnancy among typical condom users on average is 86%. This includes pregnancies resulting from errors in condom use.
  • Method failure of male condoms (failure that is a direct result of a flaw in the condom) is uncommon. In fact, it is estimated to occur among only 3% of couples using condoms consistently and correctly during the first year of use. To help individuals understand this estimate, Contraceptive Technology explains that “only three of 100 couples who use condoms perfectly for one year will experience an unintended pregnancy.”
  • If each of these 100 couples had intercourse at the average coital frequency of 83 acts per year, then 100 couples would have intercourse a combined 8,300 times a year. Three pregnancies resulting from 8,300 acts of condom use is a remarkably low pregnancy rate (.04 %) when calculated on a per-condom basis.
  • Among couples using condoms as their primary method of contraception, approximately 14% experience an unintended pregnancy each year. It is important to remember that they may not have been using a condom correctly or at all when they became pregnant.
  • In comparison, 85% of women using no birth control will become pregnancy in the first year, as will 25% of women using periodic abstinence.

To View this Resource: This book may be obtained online for a fee. For more information:

See the Contraceptive Technology online at:, or Contact your local librarian.

If you have difficulty finding this book, you may contact SIECUS

Contraceptive Failure in the United States: An Update

Source: J. Trussel, et al., “Contraceptive Failure in the United States: An Update,” Studies in Family Planning 21.1 (January/February 1990).

Description: Studies in Family Planning is a peer-reviewed journal published on behalf of the Population Council. This article contains the results of research on contraceptive effectiveness.

Key Statistics:

  • Condoms are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy when used consistently and correctly.

To View this Resource: The full text of this article may be obtained online for a fee. For more information:

See the Studies in Family Planning online at:, or Contact your local librarian.

If you have difficulty finding this article, you may contact SIECUS at

l Pregnancy Rates for Birth Control Methods

Source: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Consumer-Friendly Birth Control Information,” Consumer Magazine (April 1997).

Description: This table compares the effectiveness of different birth control methods in preventing pregnancy. The methods studied include male and female sterilization, implants (Norplant), hormone shots (Depo-Provera), oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices (IUDs), male and female condoms, vaginal sponges, cervical caps, diaphragms, spermicides, withdrawal, and natural family planning methods (calendar, temperature, cervical mucus).

Key Statistics:

  • With consistent and correct use, male condoms have a 3% failure rate, the diaphragm has a 6% failure rate, the pill (estrogen/progestin) has a 0.1% failure rate, and withdrawal has a 4% failure rate.
  • With “typical use”—which the FDA defines as not always using the method correctly, not using the method during every act of sexual intercourse, sometimes forgetting to take the birth control pill, or using the method correctly but having it fail— the failure rate for condoms is 14%, the failure rate for the diaphragm is 20%, the failure rate for the pill is 5%, and the failure rate for withdrawal is 19%.

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