Condom Use Errors Common Among College Men

Richard J. Fehring
Reprint from Current Medical Research
Vol 15, No 1-2, Winter/Spring 2004
Washington, DC
Reproduced with Permission

There have been numerous studies on the consistent and correct use of condoms, but none have investigated a comprehensive range of condom use errors and problems. Correct use of condoms is essential for their efficacy in preventing both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In order to investigate the prevalence of a comprehensive range of condom use errors, researchers at Indiana University conducted a cross-sectional survey, with a 3-month recall period among 158 heterosexual male students.1 The male students were selected (by convenience) from introductory health science classes at Indiana University. Three hundred sixty-one students filled out the questionnaire but only 158 men met the study criteria of being heterosexual, never been married, sexually active and reported putting condoms on themselves within the last 3 months. The students were provided a questionnaire that evaluated 24 condom use errors and 4 potential condom related problems. The questionnaire had a section on technical errors, availability errors, communication error, and another section on "other problems."

The four highest ranked technical errors in condom use (based on percentage of the sample reporting the events) were: 1) did not check condom for visible damage (74.5%); 2) did not check expiration date (61.4%); 3) put condom on after starting sex (42.8%); and 4) did not hold tip and leave space (40.4%). Under the availability error section, 42.4% reported that they "wanted a condom but did not have one." Almost 60% reported that they did not discuss condom use before initiating sex. Under the "condom problems" section, 29% reported that the condom broke, 13.1% reported that the condom slipped off during sex, 21.6% lost their erection before the condom was put on, and 19.6% reported that they lost their erection after the condom was on and sex had begun.

The authors admit that the findings are limited since the male student participants were mostly white, educated and heterosexual, and used retrospective recall to provide the information requested by the questionnaire. The authors concluded that a substantial proportion of college men reported a variety of errors and problems that could contribute to condom failure. Their answer to this problem (besides more research) is further or more education on correct condom use as a public health strategy.


I find it fascinating that correct condom use entails more than 24 behaviors. In fact some of the behaviors recommended in government literature were not even listed in the questionnaire, such as removal and disposal of the used condom. I am not sure how providing more education on the use of condoms will increase the ability to properly use condoms during intimacy and the emotional intensity involved with human sexual intercourse. I also find it fascinating that the use of abstinence is not a viable option among unmarried male college students. (RJF)


1 Crosby, R.A., Sanders, S.A., & Yarber, W.L., et al., Condom use errors and problems among college men. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 2002;29:552-57. [Back]