A study conducted at Emory and Indiana universities
and published in the September issue of Sexually Transmitted
Diseases found that various condom use errors were frequent
among a small sample of sexually active heterosexual college men.
The purpose of the study was to evaluate errors and problems in
the use of male latex condoms. Although the findings cannot be generalized
to a broader population and assume all of the limitations that come
with self-reported data, researchers believe they are significant
because they point to a clear need for better condom education and
“We have known for quite some time that it is vital to get
the message out to sexually active young people about the importance
of consistent condom use,” said lead author Richard Crosby,
assistant professor of behavioral sciences and health education
in the Rollins School of Public Health. “This research suggests
that promoting consistent condom use may not be enough. It is important
to provide adequate condom use education and skills-building instruction
so that sexually active young men know how to use condoms correctly.”
Previous studies have shown that consistent and correct use of male
latex condoms will provide highly effective protection against HIV
and many other sexually transmitted diseases. Although previous
studies have focused on the consistency of condom use, relatively
few have assessed condom use errors and problems.
Crosby’s study, conducted from November 2000 through January
2001, explored condom use errors and problems among college men
at Indiana. Of 362 men, 158 met the study inclusion criteria (never
married and reporting having used a condom for sex at least once
in the previous three months). Forty-two percent of young men participating
in the study reported that they wanted to use a condom but did not
have one available.
Some of the other basic problems highlighted by the study included
not checking the condom for visible damage (74 percent), not checking
the expiration date (61 percent) and not discussing condom use with
their partner before sex (60 percent). In addition, various technical
errors were found, including putting on the condom after starting
sex (43 percent), taking off the condom before sex was over (15
percent), not leaving a space at the tip of the condom (40 percent),
and placing the condom upside down on the penis and then having
to flip it over (30 percent).
In addition, 29 percent of study participants reported condom breakage,
and 13 percent reported that the condom slipped off during sex.
Crosby stressed that this is not surprising since those who reported
slippage or breakage also had significantly higher error scores.
“These problems are likely the result of condom use errors
rather than defects in the condom itself, which, again, highlights
the need for better condom education and instruction,” Crosby
The study was sponsored by the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention
at Indiana University and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex,
Gender and Reproduction.
Study co-authors included Stephanie Sanders and Cynthia Graham (of
gender studies at Indiana and the Kinsey Institute for Research)
and William Yarber (of applied health science at Indiana and senior
director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention).