November 29, 2006

Q&A: Can You Get Pregnant Even If You Use A Condom During Sex?

A male reader asks about the risk of pregnancy even when using a condom while having sex with his girlfriend

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Question: My girlfriend and I are both virgins. I want to have sex with my girlfriend but she is afraid of getting pregnant. I told her that I will use condoms during sex. My question is, if I am using condoms and if I ejaculate in the condom when my penis is in my girlfriend’s vagina, is there any chance of getting her pregnant? Thanks for your time.

The short answer is: yes. There is a chance of pregnancy.

“Correct and Consistent” vs. “Typical”

With correct and consistent (read: every single time you have sex) condom use, condoms are about 97% effective in preventing pregnancy. However, their effectiveness drops considerably (to about 84% effective) when one considers actual, typical use of condoms. One reason for the difference in effectiveness rates is that people who say they are condom users don’t always use condoms; sometimes they forget or choose not to use one.  Incomplete condom use (e.g., when two people start having sex without a condom and then add one mid-intercourse; or when two people remove a condom part way through intercourse) also contributes to a lower effectiveness rate – not because there is anything wrong with the condom, but because people sometimes use condoms incorrectly. [See these two research studies for more information.]

To learn how to use condoms correctly, visit or read the package insert enclosed in boxes of condoms. And if you two both decide together, without any pressure at all (feeling pressured into having sex is associated with a greater likelihood of regretting it later), that you are interested in and ready to have sex together, you might consider using hormonal contraception (such as the IUD, implant, birth control pill, shot, or ring) in addition to condoms to further reduce your pregnancy risk.

Readiness To Have Sex

The longer answer is this: your sex dilemma may be about more than meets the eye. Often when people say that they do not want to have sex because of fill-in-the-blank (e.g., fear of pregnancy, fear of infection, etc), there may be other reasons that they do not yet want to have sex either at that point in their life, or with a specific partner, or at that time in a relationship.

If your girlfriend does not want to be sexual in this way with you, it may have nothing to do with you. If you feel like you two need to have sex in order to be in the relationship, then that is your issue (not hers) and you need to be able to find another way to deal with it other than to try and convince a hesitant partner to have sex with you.

Fear of pregnancy may be a very real reason why your girlfriend does not want to have sex yet. But considering that there are a range of highly effective birth control options available (including birth control pills, patches, rings, and shots, as well as correct and consistent condom use), technically the two of you could work together to figure out a safe, reliable and effective means of contraception.

It may be that there are other reasons that she does not yet want to have intercourse, and it is worth exploring how you feel about each other, your expectations for commitment and exclusivity, and your feelings about the relationship and what you mean to each other.

Don’t Pressure Her

It is important not to pressure your girlfriend into having sex with you if she is not yet ready to. Sex can be fantastic, pleasurable and relationship-building when it is shared with a partner who not only agrees to have sex with you, but who very much wants and desires to have sex with you.

On the other hand, sex can feel empty, meaningless or even scary (emotionally scary and, in terms of pregnancy or infection risk, physically scary) when one or both partners is uncertain about having sex.

As you probably realize, many women and men get mixed messages about sexuality in our culture. Some family, cultural and religious messages suggest that sex is dirty or sinful or only open to certain people (e.g., married adults interested in procreation) whereas others construct sexuality as being intimate, beautiful and open to any adults (regardless of sexual orientation, interest in having children or marital status).

Women often get a sense from popular culture that they should dress and act sexy and available, yet at the same time they may run the risk of being labeled sluts or whores if they act in sexual ways of which others (like their parents, friends or fellow students) disapprove.

Men are often encouraged to go out and have sex with anyone who will have sex with them, even at the expense of their own values or feelings about relationships or how to treat partners.

Given the range of messages that we get from different sources, it is no wonder that sexual decision making can be challenging for individuals and couples. Therefore, we would encourage you to take time with each other, and to be careful with each other’s feelings, when making this big decision.

Recommended Reading

You may find The Guide to Getting It On to be a useful book as you explore more about your sexuality alone and with your girlfriend.

Reviewed and updated with links to newer research, not available at the time of original post, on May 2, 2017. 

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