November 27, 2002
Arts and Entertainment
DEAR ANDREA: What is the deal with "the condom broke, so I'm getting the morning-after pill," or "the condom broke, so that's how your brother came to be"? I've used condoms for 15 or so years and never had one break. It seems like it would break, you know, in the middle of the action. And if that was the case, pregnancy wouldn't be very likely, would it? From the anecdotes you hear, it seems that the condom broke at, er, the moment of truth. Now why would it do that? Does "the condom broke" really mean "we had sex without protection and regret it"?
Dear Skep: You mean the way "I don't know how this _____ got up my butt; I must have sat on it" really means what it really means? Sure. Some of the "it broke!" people are flat-out lying. More of them are probably telling the truth, but the breakage can be blamed on human (not manufacturing) error. They put it on wrong or lubed up with hand cream, or it was the owner's lucky condom, saved for years 'til he finally got a chance to put it to use. The ubiquity of human error explains the columns for "perfect use" and "typical use" on the birth control efficacy charts you see. If you've had any experience with humans, you will have noticed that the typical human is far from perfect.
Reliable sources rate the condom's efficacy at about 88 percent (typical use) to 97 percent (perfect). That's compared to, say, 99-plus percent for sterilization and 15 for absolutely nothing. Not bad. Various studies find that something like 2 percent of condoms will break or slip off no matter how careful the user. Put another way, even with perfect use, about 2 to 3 women out of 100 will get pregnant within a year. A hundred couples using them sloppily can expect to see 12 to 15 positive pee sticks.
Whether by pure accident or improper use, let's say the condom breaks. What makes you think it's breaking at the "moment of truth," as you put it? That certainly happens, especially if the wearer has not left enough space at the tip or has managed to trap a great deal of air inside. But isn't it just as likely that the thing shredded at some point during the proceedings and nobody noticed until the actual moment of truth (call it "extromission"), which is likely to be the first time anyone has had cause to inspect the device in quite a while? It isn't going to go ka-boom! like a clapped paper bag, after all, so who would know?
It's just like any other situation involving (typical, imperfect) humans: some fucked up, some are lying, and some are hapless pawns of fate.
Dear Andrea: I recently had the unexpected pleasure of hooking up with a man who not only had the body of an African warrior prince but also had the sort of, er, man part I never expected to see outside of one of those magazines that may or may not be discreetly stashed under my bed. Unfortunately, he only brought one Magnum XL condom, so after a failed attempt to slip a king-size package into a regular wrapper, he was off to the store for a box of Trojan Larges. Which, believe it or not, were still kind of small, but worked in a, well, pinch.
This man isn't going to be a steady presence in my life. So my question is really for future reference. What exactly are the specifications for large versus regular condoms? I mean, flattery aside, how big is big enough for the big boys? And is there any condom-size etiquette I should be careful to employ? I know men are very sensitive about such things.
Dear Stretch: Glad you had fun, but damn "African warrior prince"? What have you been reading, Mandingo?
There are, as far as I know, no standardized specifications. The conventional wisdom (we try to avoid that stuff around here) has it that all condoms are about the same, which you know firsthand cannot be true. Some are simply too tight, but I worry more about the too loose ones, which can cause far worse than a momentary pinching sensation. Buy a box of regulars and keep the supersize ones, too. Next time, discreetly size up the gentleman before passing the appropriate box.
E-mail Andrea Nemerson at firstname.lastname@example.org.