The condom is one of the more popular forms of birth control, but few people are aware of its disadvantages and failure rate. Young people often believe that the condom has a 99 percent effectiveness rate in preventing pregnancy. This figure is partly based upon laboratory tests that calculate the size of a man’s sperm as compared to the pores in a latex condom. During the laboratory testing, condoms are filled with water and air and checked for leaks. However, the results of these experiments do not reflect the failure rates of actual condom use.

In fact, between 14 and 23 percent of teenage girls (and 15 percent of women in the general population) become pregnant during their first year of relying upon the condom as birth control.[1] The female condom is estimated to have an even higher failure rate. [2] That’s one reason why even Planned Parenthood’s research institute had to admit that most high school pregnancies are caused by contraceptive failure, not by the failure to use contraceptives.[3]

Safe sex advocates argue that this high number should be blamed on incorrect condom use. It can’t be denied that incorrect usage of the condom contributes to higher failure rates.[4] But considering the fact that health experts recommend up to twenty-four steps for proper condom use, it’s misleading and irresponsible to tell anyone that the condom will prevent pregnancy 99 percent of the time. Is a teenager who can’t remember to take his sack lunch out of the refrigerator supposed to follow two dozen safety precautions for optimum contraceptive use?

Some say that the solution is to educate youth about proper condom use. But after decades of sex ed in high schools, the results have been underwhelming. According to one university doctor, “the most recent study of heterosexual college students showed that less than half had used a condom during their last vaginal intercourse, and that was an all time high!”[5] Among those who did use “protection,” the numbers are also dismal. In the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, a study showed that three out of four college men did not properly use condoms, despite the fact that more than 80 percent of them received sex education.[6]

Similar results have appeared across the globe. For example, the British Medical Journal published the results of a “rigorous evaluation” of a sex ed program in Scotland. The program had been in use for three years, but the scientists discovered that it did not delay sexual intercourse, improve use of contraceptives, or reduce pregnancies or abortions. However, the government decided to continue the program. Why? One reason was that the students reported feeling less regret about the first time they slept with their most recent partner.[7]

In England sex education has also flopped. In 1999 a £15 million government drive was implemented to promote sex ed. Students were offered free condoms and morning-after pills, while being taught “safe sex” in schools. However, as of March 2004, STD rates had increased by 62 percent, while teen pregnancies were also up, with some areas experiencing a 34 percent leap. Overall the greatest increases were in areas where the government had implemented its program.[8]

Those in favor of the disastrous program countered the numbers by saying that the program will take another five years to complete, because “it takes sustained action over a long period of time to achieve the societal and behavioral changes required.” They added that the increased rate of pregnancies “highlights the importance of strengthening implementation of our Teenage Pregnancy Strategy.”[9] In other words, “Don’t bother us with the facts. We’d rather cling to our ideologies at the expense of the next generation.”

Considering the fact that a woman can get pregnant only a few days out of the month, while an STD can be transmitted at any time, it is not surprising that condom distribution has not stemmed the tide of the STD epidemic. But click here for details on that. In fact, every STD in the world can be transmitted while using a condom correctly and consistently. While the condom may reduce the risk of some infections, it eliminates the risk of none.

One reason for this may be the inadequacy of the condom itself. The FDA requirements say that no more than one condom in 250 can fail a leakage test.[10] Do the math: When the United States donated eight hundred million condoms to developing nations in 1990, the condom companies could have included 3.2 million defective condoms in the batch! But it gets worse: Globally those who promote “safe sex” say that the world needs twenty-four billion condoms every year in order to be protected.[11] If they had their wish, and each government ensured that condoms were at least as reliable as those produced in America (which they are not),[12] there could be ninety-six million defective condoms being used every year.

The reliability of the condom also depends upon the manufacturer. For example, when Consumer Reports studied the quality of twenty-three different kinds of condoms, they discovered that Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, made the worst type.[13] One of their brands received the equivalent of an “F” in the two standards measured: reliability and strength. The FDA tries to prevent defective condoms from reaching consumers. However, corporations have been caught selling them to other nations after the FDA rejected them.[14]

Even if a condom is manufactured properly, it may be damaged before it reaches the consumer. Condom companies recommend that the product should be stored at room temperature (59–86 degrees), because excessive heat or cold can weaken the latex. However, some condom manufacturers have been known to leave boxes of condoms outside in freezing temperatures or in trucks where the temperature reaches well over 100 degrees.[15] Even if the consumer receives a condom that has been stored at ideal temperatures, it still has about an 8 percent chance of breaking or slipping during intercourse. [16]

While the failure rate of condoms is a common topic of debate, few people ever hear of the condom’s harmful effects. In order to understand the problem with condom use, one must first understand the beneficial effects of semen for the woman’s body. For example, a man’s seminal fluid includes at least two dozen ingredients, including estrogens, follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, testosterone, transforming growth factor beta, and several different prostaglandins. During intercourse the female’s body absorbs these[17] and they aid the health of the woman.[18]

Scientists from the State University of New York also discovered that women whose partners don’t use condoms are less likely to be depressed. They argued that the reason for this is because several mood-altering hormones from the man, including testosterone, are absorbed into the woman’s body and can be detected in her bloodstream within hours of intercourse. The scientists added that such findings are not an excuse for unprotected sex.[19] Heaven forbid! Other researchers argue that this may be a case of correlation rather than causation, because the positive emotional results of non-contraceptive intercourse could be attributed to factors other than the presence of anti-depressive properties in seminal fluid.

Furthermore, when a man and woman have intercourse, the woman’s body becomes accustomed to the man’s sperm.[20] In medical terms, her immune system develops a gradual tolerance to the antigens on his specific type of sperm and seminal fluid. For several hours after intercourse, a woman’s immune cells will collect and transfer a man’s foreign proteins and entire sperm cells from her cervix to her lymph nodes, where her immune system learns to recognize his genes.[21]

However, if the couple decides to use a barrier method of birth control for an extended period of time before having children, the womb will not be accustomed to the sperm, and the woman’s immune system may treat them as foreign bodies. This can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones and cause the woman’s blood vessels to constrict, leading to higher blood pressure in the expectant mother.[22] This condition (preeclampsia) occurs in about 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies and can lead to premature delivery of the baby. Unfortunately, pre-term babies are more likely to experience learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, blindness, and deafness. Preeclampsia can also be dangerous for the mother: it is the third leading cause of maternal death during childbirth.[23]

It has been demonstrated that a man’s semen offers a protective effect against preeclampsia, because it makes the woman’s immune system more likely to recognize his baby. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, preeclampsia is more than twice as common in women who used barrier methods of contraception.[24] So in a certain sense, couples who use the condom are having unprotected sexual intercourse, because the man is not protecting the woman’s body with the beneficial effects of his semen.[25] As you can see, a woman’s body is created to work with a man’s in a precise way. When we tinker with God’s designs, and try to flip fertility on and off like a light switch, we create more problems for ourselves.

[1]. Haishan Fu, et al., “Contraceptive Failure Rates: New Estimates From the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth,” Family Planning Perspectives 31:2 (March/April 1999), 61; Hatcher, et al., Contraceptive Technology, Nineteenth Revised Edition.
[2]. Hatcher, et al., Contraceptive Technology, Nineteenth Revised Edition.
[3]. John Santelli, et al., “Contraceptive Use and Pregnancy Risk Among U.S. High School Students, 1991–2003,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 38:2 (June 2006), 106–111; cf. Dr. Louise Tyrer, Letter to the Editor, Wall Street Journal, 26 April 1991.
[4]. R.A. Crosby, “Men with Broken Condoms: Who and Why?” Sexually Transmitted Infections 83:1 (February 2007), 71–75.
[5]. Anonymous, M.D., Unprotected (New York: Sentinel, 2006), 18.
[6]. Richard Crosby, et al., “Condom Use Errors and Problems Among College Men,” Sexually Transmitted Diseases 29 (2002), 552–57.
[7]. M. Henderson, et al., “Impact of a Theoretically Based Sex Education Programme (SHARE) Delivered by Teachers on NHS Registered Conceptions and Terminations: Final Results of Cluster Randomised Trial,” British Medical Journal (November 21, 2006), 4.
[8]. David Bamber, “Teen Pregnancies Increase After Sex Education Classes,” Sunday Telegraph, England (March 14, 2004).
[9]. “Teen Pregnancy Rates Increase,” (March 5, 2004).
[10]. “Perspectives in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Condoms for Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 37:9 (March 11, 1988), 133–137.
[11]. Gardner, et al., “The Condom Gap: A Health Crisis,” Population Reports, Series H, No. 9 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Population Information Program, April 1999), 36.
[12]. Associated Press, “Study Finds Fewer Defects in Condoms on U.S. Market,” The New York Times, May 12, 1988.
[13]. “Condoms: Extra Protection,” Consumer Reports (February 2005).
[14]. Catherine Carey, “Holey Condoms—Marketing Defective Condoms,” FDA Consumer (February 1989).
[15]. William B. Vesey, “Condom Failure,” Human Life International Reports 9:7 (July 1991), 1–3.
[16]. R.A. Hatcher, et al., Contraceptive Technology, Seventeenth Revised Edition (New York: Ardent Media, Inc., 1998), 330; M. Steiner, et al., “Can Condom Users Likely to Experience Condom Failure be Identified?” Family Planning Perspectives 25:5 (September/October 1993), 220–223, 226.
[17]. G.G. Gallup, Jr., et al., “Does Semen Have Antidepressant Properties?” Archives of Sexual Behavior 31:3 (June 2002), 289–293; P.G. Ney, “The Intravaginal Absorption of Male Generated Hormones and Their Possible Effect on Female Behaviour,” Medical Hypotheses 20:2 (June 1986), 221–231; Herbert Ratner, “Semen and Health: The Condom Condemned,” Child and Family (1990); C. J. Thaler, “Immunological Role for Seminal Plasma in Insemination and Pregnancy,” American Journal of Reproductive Immunology 21:3–4 (November/December 1989), 147–150.
[18]. Ratner; Ney, 221–231.
[19]. Gallup et al., 289–93; “Hormones in Semen Shown to Make Women Feel Good,” Reuters (June 16, 2002).
[20]. S.A. Robertson, et al., “Transforming Growth Factor Beta—A Mediator of Immune Deviation in Seminal Plasma,” Journal of Reproductive Immunology 57:1–2 (October/November 2002), 109–128.
[21]. Douglas Fox, “Gentle Persuasion,” New Scientist (February 9, 2002); Douglas Fox, “Why Sex, Really?” U.S. News and World Report (October 21, 2002), 60–62.
[22]. S.A. Robertson, et al., “The Role of Semen in Induction of Maternal Immune Tolerance to Pregnancy,” Seminars in Immunology 13 (2001), 243; John B. Wilks, A Consumer’s Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs, 2nd ed. (Stafford, Va.: American Life League, Inc., 1997), 136.
[23]. A. Hirozawa, “Preeclampsia and Eclampsia, While Often Preventable, Are Among Top Causes of Pregnancy-Related Deaths,” Family Planning Perspectives 33:4 (July/August 2001), 182; Andrea Mackay, et al., “Pregnancy-Related Mortality From Preeclampsia and Eclampsia,” Obstetrics & Gynecology 97 (2001), 533–538.
[24]. H. S. Klonoff-Cohen, et al., “An Epidemiologic Study of Contraception and Preeclampsia,” The Journal of the American Medical Association 262:22 (December 8, 1989), 3143–3147.
[25]. S.A. Robertson, et al., “Seminal ‘Priming’ for Protection from Pre-Eclampsia: A Unifying Hypothesis,” Journal of Reproductive Immunology 59:2 (August 2003), 253–265; G.R. Verwoerd, et al., “Primipaternity and Duration of Exposure to Sperm Antigens as Risk Factors for Pre-eclampsia,” International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics78:2 (August 2002), 121–126; J. I. Einarsson, et al., “Sperm Exposure and Development of Preeclampsia,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 188:5 (May 2003), 1241–1243; M. Hernandez-Valencia, et al., “[Barrier Family Planning Methods as Risk Factors Which Predisposes to Preeclampsia],” Ginecologia y Obstetrica de Mexico 68 (August 2000), 333–338; Dekker, et al., “Immune Maladaptation in the Etiology of Preeclampsia: A Review of Corroborative Epidemiologic Studies,” Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey 53:6 (June 1998), 377–382.