Lots of couples play it safe by doubling up on birth control during intercourse, like using condoms plus a super-reliable method like the Pill or the ring. Often, this happens when you already take hormonal birth control but you aren’t comfortable going condom-free with a guy just yet. It makes sense, and it’s a smart choice. But remember, this only helps if you’re using both methods the right way.
According to a new study in the journal Contraception, 12 percent of people used a condom along with another method of birth control the last time they had sex. But among those who used both, only 59 percent of them actually had the condom on during the entire sex session, which pretty much defeats the purpose and puts you at risk for STDs and unintended pregnancy.
Up until now, very little data exists on what researchers dubbed “dual use” couples, which are sexual partners who use both a condom and another highly effective birth control method. So researchers enrolled over 800 participants to see who chose this double method and what else their habits might reveal. The sample was almost evenly split between men and women, and all participants were within the ages of 18-44. The people were surveyed about the methods they used, if condoms were one of them, and if so, when the condom was put on and taken off.
Get this: Only 50 percent of dual users reported using a condom in all of the previous times they had intercourse with their partner. And when they did use a condom, 41 percent didn’t wear it correctly. A whopping 35 percent put it on after intercourse had started, and six percent took it off mid-sex.
And as every woman who remembers high school sex ed knows, having sex even for a few condom-free, skin-on-skin moments potentially exposes you to STDs. It also puts you at risk of a partner who doesn’t pull out in time.
Clearly the takeaway is that there’s really no point in doubling up with a condom if you aren’t going to use it correctly. That said, not every couple needs to use two methods. If you’re monogamous and have both been recently tested for STDs, you can likely skip the backup.
For other women, two methods may be a smart choice. “Women on the Pill or other hormonal contraception should always be using condoms with new partners, with partners who they think may have cheated on them, and with partners who haven’t yet been tested since they started having sex,” says study coauthor Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., sexual health educator at the Kinsey Institute. And if you’re really serious about pregnancy protection but don’t always take the Pill perfectly, doubling up with condoms can increase your protection, says Herbenick. That’s because the Pill has a nine percent failure rate with typical use (like if you happen to forget a few pills most months).
Sure, it sounds crazy-cautious, but when it comes to STDs and unintended pregnancy, extreme caution sounds like a good thing. Plus, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself way more when you aren’t worried about whether or not your birth control is going to pull through for you. So if you’re using condoms—even with a second method on deck—make sure you’re using them properly. For a crash course on condoms and other contraceptive methods, check out our birth control center.