Condoms: Little-Known Facts

Shenan J. Boquet
written by HLI Staff
February 11, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Human Life International

The use of condoms is considered normal, almost compulsory, for many people engaging in sex today, whether married or unmarried. Of course, pro-lifers and Catholics oppose this unnatural device on the moral level. It not only disrupts the mechanism of transmitting human life in the most direct way possible; it also encourages promiscuity with false promises of "preventing pregnancy" or diseases.

But even on the practical level, condoms are documented as not doing what they are meant to! The condom "failure" rate (meaning the permission of natural pregnancy) is high, and the latex balloon carries with it a host of other practical problems.

(A note: this article uses scare quotes for phrases like "prevent pregnancy," "failure," and others, because these are talking points from the contraceptive worldview that divorce sex from procreation as a natural end.)

How effective are condoms? How effective are they at "preventing pregnancy"? Do condoms prevent HIV and other diseases effectively? The answer to these three questions: not very. In this article, we'll cover the following points about the ineffectiveness of condoms:

Let's begin.

1. Condom "Failure" Rate Is High

The male condom is the most commonly used barrier method of contraception in the world. But how effective are condoms? According to mainstream scientific sources, their efficacy has been grossly overstated by condom promoters. After the use of just 10, the probability of at least one "failure" is 46.51%, according to calculations done by Human Life International based on data from the authoritative Contraceptive Technology (21st Edition, 2018) and other sources.1

Twenty-three major studies of almost 60,000 condoms used during heterosexual intercourse in five different countries have found that 4% of all the condoms broke and 2.06% of them partially or completely slipped off, for a total "failure" rate of 6.06%. That means that about 1 in 17 uses results in condom "failure." "Failure" means exposure to all the sexually transmitted diseases that the other person has and the possibility of pregnancy. Even the highest-quality condoms used in the most "effective" manner possible by educated, monogamous, adult couples "fail" at a high rate under real-world conditions. This information is available from a Human Life International meta-analysis that draws on information in Contraceptive Technology (21st Edition, 2018) and other studies.2

2. Condoms Mean Exposure to Disease

Because of the high "failure" rate of condoms, sexually active youths and adults who rely on them are, practically speaking, liable to be exposed to disease on a regular basis unless their partners are disease-free. And if they are are disease-free, there is no need to use condoms for disease "protection."

Condoms do not eliminate risk of HIV when used by those who engage in high-risk behaviors such as promiscuity or sodomy, because the cumulative probability of disease transmission increases significantly with each sexual act, and promiscuity and sodomy multiply risk by adding to the number of partners and involving contact with areas more prone to transmitting disease.

In addition, condoms cannot protect effectively against diseases spread by skin-to-skin contact, such as herpes, HPV, and syphilis, as admitted by various sources, including the CDC.3 Even other diseases against which condoms are most effective still present significant risks, due precisely to their ineffectiveness under normal conditions. For example, in monogamous, HIV serodiscordant male-female couples, only an 80% to 94% transmission risk reduction is granted.4 This sounds like a lot, but this means there is still at least 6% and up to 20% of the original risk of transmission (which is not given in the study cited here), and that risk increases cumulatively with each sexual act. Suddenly condoms don't sound very "safe."

In addition, the transmission risk reduction for chlamydia and gonorrhea is too difficult to assess statistically because of study design flaws and lack of good data, but what little data does exist is so widely varied as to give little reason to think condom use can effectively eliminate these diseases.5

3. Condoms Do Not "Prevent Pregnancy" Over Time

Within a year, 13% of sexually active women whose partners use condoms for contraception become pregnant, according to Contraceptive Technology, 21st Edition, and other top scientific sources. After two years, this means 24% have a pregnancy. After three years, it's 34%. After four years, it's 43%. After five years, it's 50%.6

The bottom line: condoms don't "prevent pregnancy" in the long run.

These figures are derived from studies of committed, adult couples using new and properly stored condoms which have not been allowed to degrade. The numbers for youth, for women with multiple partners, and for poor people and those in developing countries using expired or improperly stored condoms are likely worse.

This high "failure" rate means consistent leakage over time, inevitably making many episodes of sexual intercourse with condoms nearly equivalent to sex without condoms.

4. Condom Promoters Use Irrelevant Evidence

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other global condom promoters claim that condoms have a 98% "success" rate, instead of the 87% "success rate" documented in real-world studies.

The 98% success rate is based on ideal use every time by well-trained and highly disciplined adults under monitoring by scientists. What is relevant is the "success" rate of condoms by average people, who sometimes fail to put on condoms correctly or replace them immediately if the condom breaks in the heat of the moment, things that happen in the real world over time.

Even studies of trained, committed adult couples using new and properly stored condoms find a real-world "pregnancy prevention success" rate of 87% over a 12-month period (Contraceptive Technology, 21st Edition; same datum as above).7 Unmarried teenagers, often the targets of condom promoters, almost certainly have a far worse record.

5. Condoms Haven't Stopped AIDS Epidemics

In developing countries that have made condom use their primary AIDS prevention strategy, HIV infection rates have a history of continuing to rise or, at best, not dropping significantly.

An example is the case of Lesotho, which in 2021 had a 75.6% condom usage rate, the second highest among countries participating in the 4th HIV Research for Prevention conference hosted by the International AIDS Society in 2021.8 Despite this, Lesotho's current average HIV prevalence among adults is an enormous 25.6%--the second highest in the world.9 This has been the level since about 2005.10

Eswatini, the country with the highest condom use percentage in 2021 at 85% (!),11 also has had the world's highest HIV prevalence rate--over 25% (27.6% in 2010, 26.8% in 2020)--for a decade, despite a drop in new infections.12

In 2004, the journal Studies in Family Planning concluded, "No clear examples have emerged yet of a country that has turned back a generalized epidemic primarily by means of condom promotion." This still holds true today. In fact, the primary reason why there has been a decline in AIDS transmission in Sub-Saharan Africa, from an estimated 2.2 million new infections (2005) to an estimated 1.5 million (2013), is the expanded use of anti-retroviral technology, not condoms.13 Yet the United Nations, the European Union and its member countries, some U.S. agencies, and international organizations continue to promote condom use as the primary method of combating the spread of HIV and other STIs.

6. Abstinence and Monogamy Do Stop AIDS

Uganda, whose president and first lady chose to highlight abstinence and monogamy instead of condoms in their nation's AIDS prevention efforts, has by far the best record in combating HIV in the developing world. Uganda's ABC program--Abstinence first, Be faithful in a relationship, and use Condoms if you're not--reduced the HIV infection rate from about 15% at the start of the 1990s to about 5% in 2001.14 As of 2019, the number was at about 6.2%.15

Though it is debated whether the ABC effort's success was based on abstinence and fidelity primarily or only partly, but the fact of the matter is that the "A" and the "B" mattered a lot: the average age of "sexual debut" increased among young men and women, and the average number of sexual partners decreased, throughout the years of the ABC program.16

The Philippines also chose to emphasize abstinence and monogamy while de-emphasizing condoms to combat AIDS rates (which has always been quite low in the country),17 and the HIV prevalence rate remains a low 0.2% of adults 15-49, according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), although this percentage has notably increased since the introduction of massive quantities of birth control into the nation.18

Thailand, a country that had HIV rates similar to those of the Philippines at the beginning of the crisis in 1984, and which is in the same region of the world, has strongly emphasized condom use. In 2021, it had an adult HIV prevalence rate of 1%, or 5 times that of the Philippines.19 A decrease in new HIV infections in the last decade is likely due mostly to anti-retrovirals.

7. Ultimately, Condoms Just Don't Work

Almost everyone is aware of the massive campaign to promote condom use that has gone on for decades around the world, including the free distribution of condoms by the millions through schools and health clinics in the United States and other Western countries. Obviously, it's not working.

Teen pregnancy in the United States is still at sky-high levels (there were 171,674 births to mothers aged 15 to 19 in 2019, which of course does not count any pregnancies stopped by abortion or miscarriage, nor births to 10-to-14-year-olds20). There was a decline in teen pregnancies in recent years, probably due to a rise in either chastity or, more likely, other forms of contraception. Additionally, nearly 900,000 abortions are performed each year in the United States as of 2019 (the last year with data reported), a number that is down from previous years but still monumental.21

In 2009, about 25% of teenage girls had an STI, including almost 40% of those who had had "sexual experience."22 A decade later in 2019, estimates were about the same.23 Total STI rates have also reached record levels and are continuing to increase; nearly half of the 26 million new STIs each year in America are among 15-to-24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This is up from about 19 million a decade ago.24


The main point of this article is that abstinence is important not only from a moral standpoint, but also from a basic scientific and health standpoint. Even disregarding the immorality of condoms for a moment, the fact remains that they can't even do what they are supposed to do--especially not on the scale of a country's population. They will not save anyone from the consequences of promiscuous indulgence.

We strongly urge you to look at HLI's many resources on a wholesome, healthy approach to sexuality, which reserves sex for a fruitful, faithful marriage to one spouse for life.