Hi Yana!

So, my partner and I have started dabbling in threesomes and it looks like it may become sort of a trend. Specifically, we’re looking at having threesomes with cis dudes, and I just need a little assurance that condoms are a good form of contraception.

I don’t want to go on hormonal birth control just for the occasional dick party, but I also don’t want to be freaking out every single month until I get my period.

Thanks for any help,

Damsel in Dickstress


Dear Dickstress,

Are condoms good? Well, according to the CDC’s ranking of the effectiveness of contraceptive options, condoms are… good when we’re good at using them. On the hierarchy of solid birth control methods, condoms are found near the bottom at 82% effectiveness, with hormonal methods like the pill, patch, ring, and shot rated at 91% effective. The top dogs of contraception are the implant, IUD (hormonal or copper), and vasectomy/tubes-tying which, all result in less than 1 pregnancy per 100 people per year.

Though condoms are advertised at 98% effective on most packaging, their rating dips to 82% primarily due to user error.

In 2012, writer Stephanie Pappas wrote a piece for NBC News about just how common incorrect condom use is. Combing a few different research studies, she found a long list of common condom-use snafus amongst condom-users including 17-52% of people putting on condoms after intercourse had already started, 74-82% of people not checking the condom for damage before use, 16-25% of people not using lube with condoms (increasing risk of condom-breakage), and 13-44% of people taking the condom off before intercourse was actually over.

As many as 40% of people reported having the experience of the condom breaking which, is made increasingly possible for reasons like using the wrong lube (oil-based lubes break down latex), unrolling the condom only half-way down the penis (increasing risk of slippage, leakage, or breakage), or storing condoms in hot, cold, or damaging environments (like your squishy, sat-on wallet). Also, many people forget to simply check the expiration date on their condoms.

So, what can you do, Dickstress, to ease your mind without the hormones so you can kick back and enjoy your dick party? First, use your condoms correctly! Turns out, condom use is trickier than sex ed’s darling the humble condom-on-banana race would have you believe. Add in trying to negotiate condom use while negotiating sex with not one but two partners, and things can get hurried, increasing chance of error. Take a breath, take your time and, when possible, talk about your contraceptive plans with your partners before sex starts.

If you’re someone with a regular cycle, track your cycle — I use the handy app “Period Tracker!” — and abstain from sex on and around ovulation (as a back-up to correct condom use, not as a primary method). While adding on a layer of swimmer-killing spermicide may be tempting, certain ingredients (fiberglass, anyone??) can increase irritation and tissue-tearing for you which, actually might increase chances of infection, tearing of the condom, and downright non-pleasurable sex.

Emergency contraception aka the morning-after pill like Plan B is also an option if something happens like the condom breaks or you have reason to suspect that your contraception has failed you. However, Plan B shouldn’t become plan A. Meaning, I wouldn’t take Plan B every single time you have intercourse nor would I make it your only contraceptive option. Plan B (which can be easily ordered online or gotten in drug stores, no prescription needed, no minimum age required) is a great tool to utilize but the mega amounts of hormones designed to stop ovulation can be tough on your body and isn’t a sustainable solution. Instead, use it like you might use your car’s E-brake — not at every stop light, but for when you really need to prevent a crash.

Finally, feeling (more) sure that unwanted results of sex like an accidental pregnancy or a bothersome STI is a foundational part of pleasure-based sex; a worried brain has a tougher time focusing on feeling good. So, continue to take steps to put your mind at ease and if the fret outweighs the fun, it might be time to rethink your options.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.