Condom Mishaps Spell Trouble for Men

A Fisking. Or, a commentary, depends upon your viewpoint. You have been warned.

Yahoo! News – Condom Mishaps Spell Trouble for Men

Silly title. Whenever do men use condoms as a solo act?

FRIDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDayNews) — A new study of people who visited a Colorado sexually transmitted disease clinic found that about half of those who regularly used condoms reported mishaps ranging from breakage to slippage.

The condom problems spelled trouble, at least for men. The risk of gonorrhea and chlamydia grew by several times among the heterosexual men who reported condom “errors.” For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, condom problems didn’t translate into higher risks for heterosexual women or gay men.

Think about that one for a second, while reading on.

“This shows that errors do undermine consistent condom use,” said study co-author Dr. Judith Shlay, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. “It’s not just consistent use, it’s consistent and correct use that’s important.”

The effectiveness of condoms has long been a topic of debate in medical circles, with some arguing that they’re too failure-prone to be reliable and others saying they do an adequate job of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Earlier this year, Shlay and colleagues found that people who consistently used condoms got fewer cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia than those who used them only occasionally. Condoms also prevented transmission of genital herpes in men and possibly in women, too.

The new study, which appears in the September issue of the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, looked at surveys filled out by 26,291 homosexual men and heterosexual men and women who visited the clinic between January 2001 and January 2003. Only 13 percent said they used condoms consistently.

Of those people, nearly 2,000 answered questions about their experience with condoms. They reported an average of seven lifetime sexual partners for women, 13 for heterosexual men, and 30 for gay men.

OK, so right off the bat we’ve got a problem with this study. 26K+ “filled out surveys” and of those 2K answered questions about their condom experience. 13% is not a great response to any survey, and frankly if I were (hypothetically) in an STD clinic I woudn’t be filling out any more than I had to, either – especially if I figured ‘education’ would result from my answers.

Among women, 57 percent reported condom mishaps, compared to 48 percent of heterosexual men and 33 percent of gay men. Condom breakage was the most commonly reported problem. The next most common mishaps were slippage and failing to put on a condom before intercourse; other problems included leakage and putting the condom on inside-out.

Well: lies, damn lies, and statistics. So, either the homosexual males are crossing over, or the heterosexual males are not involved in monogamous relationships. Or both. Or, the females are more prevalently non-monogamous. Statistics make my head hurt.

Now, “Failing to put on a condom“, and “putting on a condom inside out” are signs of dereliction of duty and cheapness, in that order, but do NOT represent condom failures. Leakage I’ll leave to the imagination, but doubt that samples were made available for testing (interesting alibi, not good science).

For heterosexual men, condom mishaps increased their chances of having gonorrhea by 5.5 times and chlamydia by 3.2 times. Their risk of having urethritis, a urinary tract infection, more than doubled.

Among women and gay men, however, condom mishaps didn’t boost the risks of the STDs studied. In women, this may be because there are more condom mishaps than they realize, Shlay said. “There have been other studies that have found men don’t always report to women that they had a [condom] error. We assume the difference is probably related to that.”

See above.

So what should condom users do to reduce the risk of problems? Experts advise users to avoid oil-based lubricants, make sure to put on a condom before intercourse starts, and hold the base of the condom during removal to prevent spillage.

“Practice makes perfect. The more you use condoms, the less likely you are to encounter problems,” said Markus Steiner, a senior epidemiologist at Family Health International, which advocates the prevention of STDs.

Practice makes perfect. Excellent advice for nearly everything, and if it’s your health, especially your sexual health, take care of yourself.


  1. Does “I forgot to put one on” count as a condom error?

  2. Statistics are perfectly useful, you just have to make sure you have the list of questions to the purported answers before you interpret them. However, self-reports are always a little suspect. I know, I do this stuff for a living.

    More women complain about mishaps than men? No surprise there: they are more likely to remember and more likely to count a “little” spillage as a spill, since the consequences of unprotected sex are more likely to affect them than men, in more ways than one. Gay men are also probably more aware based on their risk for contracting HIV. So why more disease reported in hetero men? That group probably glosses over small errors more than the other two, so anyone reporting errors from the hetero male group is likely to be a colossal screw up (no pun intended).

    This is analogous to what they teach in international business school. If you ask Germans and Italians to find faults in something and then rate the same thing on a 1 to 10 scale, they’ll pick out the same faults, but the Germans will always give you a lower numeric score.

  3. CK,
    Yes, for the purposes of this study. In the real world, it’s just a stupid decision, not a condom failure.