Heather Corinna replies:
I'm 16 and I've been thinking about having sex with my girlfriend for awhile now: she is ready, I'm still deciding but I think I will with her eventually when I'm ready. When we do there is no doubt in my mind that I will use a condom and I already have one but I really dont know much about them because everything I hear from programs at school or whatever is don't have sex, sex is bad, you're not ready, etc. I never hear anything about having sex but with a condom really I know there is a chance of the condom breaking but exactly how big of a chance are we talking about here because a 10% chance and a 90% chance are two totally different things. Also is there a way for her to get pregnant if the condom doesn't break? I don't know how that would be possible but that's why I'm asking because I don't know, also can stds be transmitted while using a condom even if it doesn't break?
First up, good onya, J, for thinking about these things in advance, despite that fact that you've been so unprepared to do so by your community!
Here's the scoop on condoms for you.
When a condom is used perfectly, there is only a very small chance of pregnancy. If that's more of a chance than you or she are comfortable with, then you can back up your birth control with a second reliable method and make that chance as close to zero as it gets. Condoms are the only male birth control besides sterilization, so that means a backup is something she'd need to pursue by talking with her doctor or sexual healthcare provider.
Without that perfect use, condoms are more like 80 - 85% effective. So, using them right is really key. You'll also want to have more than one when you are ready for sex. It's easy for people to be tempted to go without when there aren't enough around, and you might accidentally try and unroll that one backwards -- in which case you'd need to use a new one -- or have that one start to slip off, drop it while you're putting it on, any number of things. So, people using condoms as birth control and/or safer sex really need to have a bunch handy at any given time.
If and when you do ever have a condom break, and it is the only method of birth control being used, your partner has the option of using emergency contraception, which she can get via a prescription from any doctor. If she likes, a woman can even ask to have a prescription already written to keep on hand just in case that happens. That's a great idea, since EC is only effective within the first 120 hours of a risk, and the sooner it's taken, the more effective it's likely to be.
Hopefully, that gives you a better start in understanding how they work and having the info you need to have on hand when you get closer to that point. Obviously, feel free to explore the rest of the site for all sorts of other information, and once more, kudos for thinking about this in advance!