What happens when a condom breaks? (Part 1)

Condoms are supposed to be 98 to 99 percent effective when used correctly. Mine broke — so what happened?

I continued to kiss Don while I put on the condom, mindful of the mood we’d created over the last 20 minutes. I pushed him back and lifted his legs up onto my shoulders, and slowly, at the same pace of his moan, got inside him. Once he had a moment to relax, he encouraged me to go harder, so I did, while muttering porn-like slurs.

He refused let me do all the work as we thrust our hips in unison. Not only was he a genuinely nice guy, but he was very talented too.

There’s nothing like that sort of sexual chemistry when there’s so much rhythm yet it’s effortless. I listened to his moans, felt the heat of his body and allowed my lips to hover over his own — there was something kinetic about it. With such moments, I often think to myself, just for a split second, I love being gay.

I coordinated it so that I came just as he did; I wanted to feel whatever he was feeling at the exact same moment.

“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” I said.

Then silence.

“That was amazing,” I added, shivering one last time as I carefully removed myself from him. I held the base of the condom so that it wouldn’t slip off inside. Then I did a double take and just stared at my crotch.

I looked so stunned that Don asked me what was wrong.

“Um . . . The condom broke,” I said, stuttering a bit.

This wasn’t the first time it had happened, which is why I’d been so wary of fucking strangers even with a condom on — I’d become paranoid. I had been dating Don for a few weeks so I at least had a basic idea of his sexual history and habits. It felt safer — at least in my mind — despite the condom failure.

It’s true that condoms are 98 to 99 percent effective, but that’s in a lab setting. And I did everything correctly: I pinched the tip of it as I rolled it on, I held it as I pulled out, I’d stored it in a cool and dry place. It wasn’t expired either; I’m still not certain why that condom broke.

The thing is, I thought condoms were supposed to be 98 to 99 percent effective. According to research, the rate of condom breakage or slippage during sex is low — only 0.4 to two percent.


Since pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) was first approved in the United States, we’ve heard PrEP detractors suggest that men should just wear condoms instead and forget about PrEP. Although I’m a huge advocate of condom use and have had wonderful experiences with them, they’re obviously not perfect.

In terms of my encounter with Don, I was the top and circumcised, so the chances of me contracting the virus, if he was HIV-positive with a detectable viral load was 1 in 909. That’s only a 0.11 percent chance, to put that into perspective.

Don, on the other hand, kept asking me questions like how safe I was in general and when I’d been tested last. His chances, if I were HIV-positive with a detectable viral load, were 1 in 70, or 1.43 percent, which was still very low — but obviously possible. However, during the acute phase — the 12 weeks following HIV infection, the rate of transmission is 26 times higher when having anal sex.

It had been over six months since I’d been tested and I was negative to the best of my knowledge. I don’t wear condoms with blowjobs and I like giving blowjobs, so I mean, you never really know. I hadn’t knowingly had condomless sex though and since I’d experienced a broken condom before, I was pretty careful.

Dawn Smith of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had reported only one in six men who have sex with men actually wear condoms 100 percent of the time. Don claimed that he was one of those people though, always using a condom. He’d never had a condom break either but he was still very nervous about the whole thing.

In any case, we decided to we would get tested together on the Monday after the weekend. We both understood that results from the incident wouldn’t show for another three months, but we figured if we got tested right away it would at least ease some nerves. We would then get tested in another three months after that just to be sure.

That was on the Friday and we spent that weekend together. We had more sex but it was lousy. We were both having trouble relaxing, and Don, in general, was distant. I hated how such a great sexual experience on the Friday had been erased by the scare of a broken condom.

Condoms are still one of our best resources against STIs and HIV, and are 98 to 99 percent effective in a lab setting. But how effective are they for men who have sex with men in the real world? And are they more effective than PrEP?

PrEP School runs every other Monday on Daily Xtra. Columnist Mike Miksche explores and navigates the world of sex and PrEP.

>Read more PrEP School columns here.

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