What are the actual protection rates while using condoms?

condomsIf you’ve ever read the back of a condom box, you may have noticed a statement that says condoms are “highly effective against pregnancy” and “may help reduce the risk of catching or spreading many STDs.”

What does “highly effective” mean, and how much risk do condoms take away?

According to a 2004 World Health Organization bulletin and a 2001 report from the National Institutes of Health, individual studies have demonstrated that condom use reduces the risk of sexually transmitted infection by the following amounts:1

STD Risk Reduction in Women Risk Reduction in Men
HIV 85% 85%
Gonorrhea 39%-62% 49%-75%
Chlamydia 26%-90% 33%
Genital Herpes 30%-92% (numbers unavailable)
Trichomoniasis 30% (numbers unavailable)
Syphilis 40%-60% 40%-60%
Chancroid 18%-23% 18%-23%

In 2002 the Medical Institute for Sexual Health published a document entitled, “Sex, Condoms and STDs: What We Now Know.”  It was a comprehensive scientific review of the science on condom effectiveness.  The Medical Institute estimated that consistent condom use for vaginal sex reduces a person’s risk of infection as follows:2

STDs Risk Reduction
HIV 85%
Gonorrhea about 50%
Chlamydia about 50%
Genital Herpes about 50%
Syphilis about 50%
HPV less than 50%

The question people have to ask themselves is: “Is that safe enough?”  People who consistently use condoms still have a high relative risk of infection.

In contrast, abstinence is 100% safe.  It guarantees protection against STDs and unwanted pregnancy.  It encourages couples to develop healthy relationships that are not simply based on sex.  And it promotes faithful lifelong relationships (marriage), because sex is viewed as an expression of enduring love and commitment.

How often do condoms break ?

According to the most recent studies performed in the U.S., the breakage rate of condoms is about 2.3%.3 That means approximately 2 out of every 100 condoms break during intercourse.

Other factors that contribute to condom failure are:

  • Condom slipping off the penis (about 1% of the time)4
  • Use of oil-based lubricants with latex condoms
  • Inadequate lubrication
  • Inadequate space at the tip of the condom
  • Exposure to heat
  • Improper storage conditions
  • Failure to observe expiration date
  • Incorrect condom size
  • Failure to put condom on prior to all sexual contact
  • Failure to use condom during each act of intercourse
  • Semen spilling from condom during withdrawal
  • Skin-to-skin contact in areas not covered by a condom

Related topics:

Read more about the benefits of abstinence
Read more about STDs



  1. Kaiser Network, “Condoms’ Effectiveness in Preventing STDs, Including HIV, at Center of Debate on Revising Package Labels,” June 30, 2005.
  2. The Medical Institute, “The Facts About Sexually Transmitted Infections,” n.d.
  3. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, July 20, 2001.
  4. Ibid.