Question: Does using two condoms provide better pregnancy protection than just using one?
A common question about condom use is whether or not males should use two condoms during intercourse to decrease the chances of pregnancy. Along the same lines, many people believe using both a male condom and a female condom may provide even better pregnancy protection.
Answer: Although it may SEEM like a good idea, using two condoms at the same time, also known as "double bagging," is not recommended (for either safer sex or pregnancy protection). There is no evidence to support that two condoms work better than one condom when a condom is used correctly. It is believed that using two condoms together increases the friction between the condoms during sex, making them more likely to rip or tear. It is fine to just rely on the use of one condom as your method of birth control as condoms are 85% to 98% effective and are not only reliable in preventing pregnancy, but can successfully protect against many sexually transmitted infections.
- See: Condom Myths
Also, keep in mind that a male condom should NEVER be used at the same time as a female condom. When used as one’s only contraceptive method, female condoms are 79% to 95% effective. Like its male counterpart, the female condom reduces the risk of many sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. It functions as an extensive barrier that can protect the vagina, cervix and external genitalia.
Because of the difficulty in designing research studies to investigate this practice, there is not a lot of scientific literature that explains why double-bagging condoms is not a safe practice. The few studies that have looked at multiple condom use explain that it is probably not a good practice to double bag condoms, but the the data is too little and not compelling enough to support recommending using two condoms at the same time or not recommending this action. That being said, most members of the medical community (i.e., OB/GYN's, nurse practitioners, etc.) agree that using two condoms at the same time is likely to create an excess amount of friction and thus increase the chance that either one or both of the condoms will break. Condoms are not designed for double-bagging, so many condom manufacturers also advise against this practice. I worked as a health educator and family planning specialist at Planned Parenthood for many years; part of my education and training there was to instruct people not to use two condoms at the same time. Here are what some other reputable organizations are saying:
- The National Health Service, the world’s largest publicly funded health service, cautions that it is safer to only use one condom at a time, and that using two condoms is “a really bad idea.”
- The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services advises, "don’t use a female and a male condom at the same time, as this may cause both condoms to break or tear."
As previously mentioned, the medical research on this topic is scarce. One study in The Journal of Human Sexuality explains that using two condoms simultaneously is problematic when it comes to minimizing your exposure to bodily fluids, and this practice can lead to increased friction thereby elevating the likelihood of a condom ripping.
It is important to point out though, that the chance of one condom breaking during sex is relatively low:
- Walsh at el. reports that the rate of condom breakage is .4%
- The CDC indicates that 2 out of every 100 condoms break during use (2% breakage rate).
In one of the few studies examining multiple condom use, Rugpao et al. concluded that the probability of breakage when using two condoms at the same time was 3.4%, and when this occurs, the majority of the tears happen near the tip of the condom.
Wolitski et al. advise that the effectiveness and acceptability of double-bagging condoms is not known. The results of their research revealed that of the 83 men who had practiced double bagging condoms, 19.3% (one in five) reported that this practice caused issues of condoms breaking. The researchers also write that, "although overall breakage rates were slightly higher when two condoms were used (2.1 % of acts) compared with when a single condom was used (1.8% of acts), it was extremely rare for both condoms to break when double bagging was practiced (0.2% of acts).
The Bottom Line:
Researchers, for some reason or another, are not scientifically examining the use of double-bagging condoms. Because of this, there is a lack of reputable scientific/medical data on this topic. Just because there is not a plentiful amount of data on the subject, doesn't undermine the medical community's and condom manufacturer's general consensus that it is probably not a good idea to use two condoms at the same time. Keep in mind, there is not any sound scientific data arguing against the practice of double bagging just as there is just no scientific literature that has really tested this practice and supports the use of two condoms. The bottom line... the practice of double bagging condoms falls more under that category of "recommended practice" rather than "scientific proof." And really, if you are correctly using a condom, then there really is no reason to wear two of them -- one works just find. The reality of this practice -- double bagging condoms-- is that there is no good scientific data the backs up this practice, but there is also no great scientific data that disputes it. It is an area where doctors and health educators come up with their best recommendations based on the limited research and what we know about condom failure. And from what we know: it is reasonable to think that the rubber on rubber action that occurs when using two condoms (or plastic on rubber with male and female condoms) will cause added friction. We know that added friction has been linked to condom breakages and could therefore potentially compromise the condom's effectiveness. So even without any solid "scientific data" to back this up, common sense offers a reasonable and sound reason as to why double-bagging condoms may not be such a great practice.
Perhaps it may be better to focus your thinking on WHY you would want to use two condoms. It seems that most people want to double bag condoms because they believe this equals better protection. If you are nervous about relying only upon condoms, you could explore the use of a back-up method. For excellent protection against pregnancy and STDs, consider using a condom along with a hormonal contraceptive method like:diaphragm or cervical cap.
If hormonal birth control is not an option, condom effectiveness can also be increased by using the condom with a spermicide. Spermicides are barrier birth control methods available over the counter. Although spermicide is 71% to 85% effective when used by itself, it is more most effective when used with another method of birth control (like a condom).
Using a personal lubricant will also help decrease condom friction and, thus, increase pregnancy protection. When choosing a lubricant, pick water-soluble brand, not oil-based ones. Many couples report great satisfaction with silicone-based lubricants. These tend to stay slippery longer than those that are water-based, are safe to use with condoms, and are a great alternative for those with sensitive skin because they typically do not cause allergic reactions or skin irritations.
CDC. "Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2010: Clinical prevention guidance." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). December 17, 2010; 59(RR12):1-110. Accessed April 22, 2013.
Munoz K, Davtyan M, Brown B. "Revisiting the condom riddle: Solutions and implications." Journal of Human Sexuality. January 29, 2014; Volume 17. Accessed April 22, 2014
National Health Service. "Condoms: Know the facts." 11/10/2012. Accessed April 22, 2014
Rugpao S, Pruithithada N, Yutabootr Y, Prasertwitayakij W, Tovanabutra S. "Condom breakage during commercial sex in Chiang Mai, Thailand." Contraception. 1993 Dec; 48(6):537-47. Accessed via private subscription.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. "Female condom fact sheet." Office of Population Affairs. Accessed April 22, 2014
Wolitski RJ, Halkitis PN, Parsons JT, Gomez CT. "Awareness and use of untested barrier methods by HIV-seropositive gay and bisexual men." AIDS Education and Prevention. 2001 Aug; 13(4):291–301. Accessed via private subscription.
Walsh TL, Frezieres RG, Peacock K, Nelson AL, Clark VA, Bernstein L, Wraxall BG. "Effectiveness of the male latex condom: Combined results for three popular condom brands used as controls in randomized clinical trials." Contraception. 2004; 70:407–13. Accessed via private subscription.