Condom effectiveness

How effective are condoms in preventing HIV transmission?

When correctly and consistently used, the female condom and the male condom are the most effective available tools to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections for people having sexual intercourse. At the same time condoms are a very safe means of contraception.

Condoms are most likely to fail when they are not used as directed. Opening a condom packet with your teeth, a knife or scissors, for example, can cause the condom to puncture or tear. It is important to use condoms from the beginning of a sexual act, rather than immediately before ejaculation, to prevent exposure to potentially infectious pre-ejaculate or vaginal fluids. The more you use a condom, the easier it will be and the more comfortable it will feel for you and your partner. Because sexual intercourse is often unplanned, it is a good idea to always have a condom with you.

Condoms that are out of date, poorly manufactured, or inappropriately stored at high temperatures are especially susceptible to breakage. Oil-based products (such as hand lotion, body lotion, massage oil, petroleum jelly, or cooking oils) will damage latex condoms and make them unsafe, so use only water-based lubricants with a latex condom. Condoms do occasionally slip or break.

If you have a steady partner, discuss how you as a couple intend to avoid the risk of HIV transmission. Ideally, a couple's decision to use a male or female condom results from a process of negotiation. The couple discusses the benefits of using a condom, addresses any concerns or resistance, and agrees on a mutually satisfactory approach.

Sometimes one member of the couple may lack the power to negotiate condom use. Many women, for example, report having difficulty asking their husband or partner to use a condom. Therefore, it is important that the men advocate for consistent condom use among their (male) peers, become proactive models for their sons, nephews, etc. and advocate for it in their community. Tips on condom negotiation can be found on this website. As a member of the UN system that has in its mandate to reduce HIV transmission, it is important that we act accordingly when it comes to our own lives and those we come into contact with professionally and socially.