Condoms are the most effective way of preventing unplanned pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Of course, the primary reason for condom failure is condom breaking and, thus, the loss of physical barrier. But can condoms fail without breaking?
Well, yes, theoretically, they can also fail due to other reasons. Of course, breaking remains the prime reason for their failure, but not the sole cause. It may slip off when having sex, one may use it improperly, and there could be many other reasons for its failure.
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Condom Failure Does Happen
There is no doubt that condoms are the most successful of all contraception methods. It is the only contraception method that is highly effective in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, too. Thus, when we talk about its failure, we need to consider both factors, which are unplanned pregnancy and contracting some infection.
Studies suggest that if used correctly, condoms can be effective in more than 90% of cases. In fact, with knowledge and certain precautions, they can be close to 99% effective. However, there is no method that is 100% effective. That is why knowledge about using condoms and other precautions is also vital.
Just take an example from one of the studies. It found that the two leading causes of condom failure were condom breaking and slipping off. Together, these events were present in about 7-8% of the cases. 
However, the above study was regarding single condom use. It means that this percentage will rise when condoms are used persistently.
In fact, most men would experience either condom breaking or slipping off in their lifetime. Of course, this does not mean that every time a condom slips off or breaks, something terrible happens. Nonetheless, these stats show that condoms are not 100% reliable. Additionally, studies show that condom slipping off is one of the significant causes of their failure.
If Condom Slips, You Will Feel It
There could be many reasons for condoms slipping off. One of the most common reasons is choosing the wrong-sized condom, but not only. Poor-quality condoms are also more likely to slip off.
Additionally, condoms may slip off due to a loss of erection to a certain degree. This is especially true for older male adults who frequently face the problem of erectile dysfunction.
Many men can achieve erection, but they struggle to maintain it for long enough, resulting in condom failure.
Whatever the cause of condom failure, be it breaking or slipping, you will feel it. Thus, it is also vital to use condoms mindfully. There would be an immediate change in sensation.
Modern condoms are quite good and thin. They do not interfere much with the sensation. Nonetheless, all condoms do alter sensation. Hence, if any condom breaks or slips, one would feel it quickly, if not immediately.
In many instances, your partner may feel that the condom has slipped or broken. So, if one of the partners is unable to identify the issue, another partner may identify it. Hence, if both sex partners are mindful, chances are pretty low that anything unplanned would occur.
Timely Identification of The Issue Is Vital
If a man has not ejaculated, chances are slim that issues like a broken condom or condom slipping off would lead to unplanned pregnancies. Moreover, pregnancies do not occur so easily, as it depends on many other factors. There are just a few days in a month when any woman can get pregnant.
However, things are different if you use condoms primarily to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. In such cases, condom breakage or slipping off puts you at a greater risk of contracting infection.
Nonetheless, stay calm and remember that a single event of condom failure may not increase your risk of contracting an infection significantly.
There Are Other Issues Worth Knowing
Remember that there are other less common reasons for condom failure. Condoms might have microtears that are difficult to identify. These issues are more likely to occur in poor-quality condoms or if condoms are improperly stored.
Using the wrong kind of lubricants may also weaken or even cause microtears in condoms. Condoms are already lubricated; therefore, it is best to avoid using any kind of lubrication with condoms. Even if you use any lubricant, make sure that it is safe to use with that particular kind of condom.
What Else to Know?
There are a few other things to understand for using condoms safely. If you use condoms to stay safe from sexually transmitted diseases, remember that such transmission may occur for other reasons, like during foreplay or while relaxing after having sex.
If you use condoms mainly for contraception, another vital thing to do is keep track of the cycles. Remember that there are just a few days when females can get pregnant, and higher precaution is needed during those specific days. For the rest of the days, you can enjoy sex without worrying much about condoms breaking or slipping, as the risk during those days is barely minimal.
Finally, even if condom breaks or slips, remember that there are other ways to reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.
For example, if you did not realize that the condom broke down or slipped during sex, emergency contraception is still an option. These pills work quite well when taken early enough and are safe when used sparingly.
Similarly, one can even minimize the risk of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV by opting for post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). These medications are especially good for preventing HIV when used within 24 hours. However, their effectiveness is not much 72 hours post-exposure.
In the end, remember that if you have multiple sex partners and you are concerned about the risk of STDs, then it is good to get tested from time to time. Many STDs do not produce symptoms immediately; thus, regular testing may help.
The Bottom Line
Condoms are highly effective at preventing unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases when used correctly. However, like any method, they are still prone to failures, though this failure rate is relatively low.
Knowing a few things about condoms can help prevent other failures than breaking, like condom slipping or microtears.
- Richters J, Donovan B, Gerofi J. How often do condoms break or slip off in use? Int J STD AIDS. 1993;4:90–94.