Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
Ross: We, we used a condom! Rachel: I know, I know. But you know, condoms only work like 97% of the time. Ross: Wha-what? WHAT? Well they should put that on the box! Rachel: They do! Ross: No they don't! (storms off to his bedroom; pause; returns with a box of condoms in hand) WELL THEY SHOULD PUT IT IN HUGE BLOCK LETTERS!!!
A standard feature of just about any modern, socially conscious show. Sometimes used after sex as An Aesop, or to provide a pregnancy/STD scare which turns out to be nothing.
Could be considered a Broken Aesop, particularly in a country where abstinence-only education is being heavily promoted. While recent studies did show that about 10% of the condoms produced are faulty, there are elaborate techniques to discover those before they're shipped, leaving only 1 defective condom in 14,000 undiscovered. And it's worth noting that even without any protection whatsoever, even in a perfectly fertile couple at optimum fertility times, a pregnancy is still not 100% guaranteed (in fact, by narrative rules, such a couple have the worst chances of anyone).
Most plots (as in the Friends example from the quote) don't even bother to explain that most of the "3%" failure rate comes from misuse, not from production errors or fate. And that the "failure rate" quoted for contraceptives isn't the chance of failure in a single sex act, but the percentage of women who get pregnant during a year using the method. See also Law of Inverse Fertility. The number one cause of Surprise Pregnancy.
Further, there are other methods that can be used along with a condom. Contraceptive Film is supposedly good enough to use alone and is a reasonable substitute for the pill. It is inserted into the vagina near the cervix 15 minutes before sex and provides protection for three hours, and is undetectable by either party when in use. IUDs provide a very good protection from unwanted pregnancy as well, as does the symptothermal method of menstrual cycle observation.
If either of those methods are used in addition to a condom, the possibility of failure drops even closer to zero.
In a great deal of media, the "But We Used A Condom" line is used to promote abstinence by insisting that condoms don't work, so you're better off not engaging in any sexual activities at all, which admittedly IS the only 100% successful method of birth control. Not surprisingly, it seems to be having the adverse affect of making the viewers believe there's no point in using any protection at all.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Nana: Hachi and her boyfriend used a condom. Hachi's other boyfriend didn't....
In Midnight Secretary, both Kyouhei and Kaya are very careful on not getting Kaya pregnant. When Kaya thinks she is pregnant because she was missing her periods, she thinks this. First time, she isn't. Second time, however, they forgot the condom.
A Chick Tract on the dangers of premarital sex had a character use birth control and a condom, which she obtained from a neighbour (prescription? what prescription?) but worry nevertheless that she was pregnant. She turned out not to be, but she managed to pick up both a case of the clap and HIV. Also a case of Artistic License – Biology, since it pushes the spurious claim that HIV can pass right through latex. note It also conflates AIDS and HIV (AIDS is caused by HIV but does not set in until some time, often years, after the infection has wreaked havoc on the patient's immune system) and gives the impression that either one can be diagnosed within a month of infection (a person cannot be confirmed HIV-positive until at least three months after infection, with a follow-up recommended six months after potential exposure to the virus).
Invoked with Rose Walker in The Sandman. While in England, she has a one-night stand with her family's new solicitor. She mentions a few issues later that she's pregnant, and when her friend asks if she didn't use a condom, Rose says they did; actually, they used several, but she didn't use any spermicide and one of them broke.
In the Total Drama story, Legacy, Lindsay had an unexpected pregnancy with a longtime boyfriend despite presumably using some form of contraception on a regular basis.
It's a spoiler to list it here, but in the EvaFan FicThe Second Try, Asuka gets pregnant with Shinji's child despite being on The Pill. Granted, the pills were past their expiration date (what else could she use in a post Third-Impact world?). Shinji, however, privately suspects that Asuka forgot to be consistent in taking them. Of course, the character also notes that there are rare cases where the contraceptives don't work, and Lampshades it with a weary "we've beaten worse odds before".
In Fools Rush In, the two protagonists get married as a result of this trope.
Nine Months had a variation where birth control failed, mentioning it being only 98% effective. Followed by Hugh Grant's character remarking that this would mean that they are 2% entirely ineffective.
Justified in Killers - Spencer protests that she was on The Pill but Jen explains that the antibiotic she took at the time canceled out The Pill.
Look Who's Talking Too: Mollie and James conceive their daughter and Mikey's half-sister, Julie, despite the fact that Mollie wore her diaphragm. This being Look Who's Talking, we actually get to see one lucky sperm find a gap juuust big enough to squeeze through.
The Icelandlic movie 101 Reykjavík features a scene, where protagonist Hlynur writes that sentence on a mirror at his pregnant girlfriend's parents' house. He is obviously not excited about the pregnancy (the parents had invited him over out of friendliness unbeknownst that their daughter is pregnant). He and the girl split very soon and it turns out that he might not have been the father. She also aborts and ends up with his best friend.
Parenthood has one of the mothers attempting to invoke this by poking holes in her diaphragm. She gets caught.
Cabin Fever: Inverted. In the midst of a deadly disease outbreak, one of the main characters flees into the forest alone, abandoning his girlfriend, leaving her and his best friend as the last two healthy people left in the cabin. Within minutes, the aforementioned sexpot girlfriend is locked in an unbridled sexual fling with the friend. Mid-coitus, he makes a point of expressing his unease that they aren't using a condom and the woman dismissively claims that it's okay because she's healthy. Meanwhile, as the man embraces her, his hands bring out telltale rashes on her back, revealing that she is indeed infected with the disease. Sure enough, we later discover she passed it on to her bareback lover.
In Grease Rizzo and Kenicki are having sex in his car, and the condom breaks. Kenicki says it's because he bought it when he was in 7th grade (they are now seniors in high school). They continue to have sex. Shortly afterwards, they break up, and Rizzo suspects she's pregnant. It turns out to be a false alarm, likely a result of the stress related to the breakup.
There's a joke that goes like this: Your birth certificate is a letter of apology from a condom factory.
There's another story about the couple that complained that their doctor gave them defective condoms. They blew up the balloons before they had sex but somehow conceived anyway.
Another joke begins when a man and his mistress are about to have sex. The woman sternly instructs her lover to put on his condom because she doesn't want to get pregnant. Just as they're about to begin, the woman's cell phone rings. It's her best friend: her lover's wife. The wife tells her friend that she really needs to talk about a personal problem. The friend tells the wife that she's busy at the moment and asks her to call back later. The man and the mistress have sex. After they're done and the man leaves her apartment, the mistress calls the wife up and asks her what she wanted to talk about. The wife tells the mistress that she's upset because her husband is cheating on her. She knows this because she found the condom in the husband's pocket and she knows he never uses them with her because she's on the pill. Then the wife tells her best friend, "But I got my revenge on my husband's whore, I poked a hole in the condom!"
Some nuns in a convent are talking one day. The first nun says "I was in Father O'Malley's room today, and I found a pornographic magazine!" The other nuns are shocked and ask her what she did with it. "I tore it up and threw it in the trash!" The second nun says "Oh, that's nothing, I was in Father O'Malley's room the other day and I found condoms!" The other nuns ask her what she did with them. "I poked holes in them!" The third nun faints.
There is also a joke about the abbess gathering all the nuns:
Abbess: Nuns, I have terrible news. Our monastery was visited by a man!
Single voice: Giggle
Abbess: In our garden, we discovered... a condom!
Single voice: Giggle
Abbess: In the condom, we discovered... a hole!
Single voice: Gasp
A young Native American lad came home from school one day in tears. When his father asked what was wrong, the young lad lashed out against his father for giving him such a horrible name. His father explained that it was the tradition of their tribe to name ones children after the circumstances in which they were conceived. "For example, your sister was conceived during an autumn sunrise, so we named her Autumn Sunrise. Your brother was conceived during a raging thunderstorm, so we named him Raging Thunderstorm. "Ah," said the young lad, "So that's how it's done." His father replied, "Yes, Broken Rubber, that's how it's done."
The Andromeda Nebula by I. Efremow, one of the protagonists was conceived on board of a spaceship, because the hormonal contraceptive has lost its effectiveness due to long storage (a typical spaceship's journey took 5-20 years at that time).
Honor Harrington: A high tech variant of the concept is what causes the conception of Raoul Alexander-Harrington. Female members of the Royal Manticoran Navy have contraceptive implants since health and safety laws preclude pregnant woman serving in orbital and space based positions. They're supposed to be replaced regularly but Honor's wasn't due to a paperwork error caused when she was presumed dead for a period.
In the New Jedi Order, these are Mara Jade's first thoughts upon discovering her pregnancy.
The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett: The trope is subverted; Reg Shoe investigates the murder of a man who made condoms and while talking with one of the employees, the employee says, "The Watch gets free ones, Mr Sonky was happy to have less coppers." (paraphrase). What happens to Sam Vimes towards the end of this very book makes this sub-plot even more amusing in retrospect.
The Stand does this with Frannie. A "But I used the pill" variant. Possibly an act of God kind of thing, given the nature of the book.
Played with in the first Starship Troupers novel by Christopher Stasheff. The main character is escaping a Shotgun Wedding, and notes that the would-be-bride must not only have deliberately not taken a guaranteed birth-control pill (or taken the I Changed My Mind Pill), but must have been taking something that counteracted his pill as well.
In the Adrian Mole books, Mr Lucas, Adrian's mother's lover, reveals that Rosie Mole is his child, and Mrs Mole protests that she was wearing a diaphragm (in between trying to deny the whole thing).
Humans in The Color Of Distance are expected to have gotten contraceptive shots as children; these shots can be reversed later to make them fertile when they're ready. Unfortunately, Juna's shot was reversed by a well-meaning alien healer, and Bruce's father filed a religious exemption, fearing the shot would permanently damage his son's fertility - after all as long as any women he slept with were sterile it wouldn't matter, would it?
The British soap Eastenders between Martin and Sonya. Result: Rebecca.
Rachel: Right, honey, but they are only 97% effective.
Ross: WHAT? They should put that on the box!
Rachel: They do!
Ross: NO THEY DON'T! (Storms off to his bedroom. Pause. Returns with a box of condoms in hand) WELL THEY SHOULD PUT IT IN HUGE BLOCK LETTERS!!!
Ross tells Joey about this issue, and he tries to do some quick math about how many girls he's slept with, given 97% effectiveness each time... panic attack! And then he pulls a huge roll of condoms out of his pocket to check.
The soap opera ran a 2006 storyline based on this trope — in this case, the characters really did use condoms, manufactured by a company owned by the featured Quartermaine family. Unfortunately, the condoms were defective, leading to several unexpected pregnancies.
In an effort to have a child that would save her life, Claudia Zacchara poked holes through condoms so that Sonny would believe they worked while she knew they didn't. The result? She is now pregnant.
The trope name is quoted verbatim by Casualty character Jude Kocarnik on getting pregnant by on-off love interest Matt Hawley. Unusually, she proceeds to have an abortion and declare she'll go on the pill.
Step by Step. "The only surefire way is abstinence... and we can never seem to manage that."
Liberty mentions them using a "king-size" condom that slipped off and led to a pregnancy storyline, suggesting that JT is of average/normal size, and that those who tease him are exaggerating or heard the details incorrectly and believe him to be small. JT himself seems to believe it as well, resulting in a lot of Compensating for Something.
Snake and Spike were "taking precautions" while they dated and Spike still ended up pregnant (her second unplanned pregnancy to boot). In this one there was no explanation beyond "well, birth control isn't 100% effective."
In the Degrassi High TV movie School's Out...leading to the famous "fucking Tessa" line. Earlier in the movie, Tessa has an abortion because the condoms didn't work.
Frasier: Roz had one of the funnier reactions to finding herself in this predicament:
Subverted when JD's new girlfriend gets pregnant without any actual penetration, which they avoided because they didn't have any condoms.
Overplayed for laughs in another situation with Elliot wanting to roleplay that they were trying to get a baby. Unfortunately for her, her boyfriend isn't into the idea at all, and uses three condoms Played for Laughs. In reality, using multiple condoms actually reduces the safety!
Taken to the logical extreme with Dr. Cox. He managed to get Jordan pregnant with their second child even though he'd had a vasectomy. Twice. (Done once, then undone, then done again). This resulted in some Cool and Unusual Punishment for the doctor that had performed them.
An episode of Earth 2 featured a young couple believing they were expecting despite using some technological birth control method.
Do condoms in One Tree Hill have any use AT ALL? (Hint: Every female character except the infertile one would say no.)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had a futuristic equivalent, where Kasidy Yates' conception was blamed on Sisko "forgetting to get his injection", though technically they both forgot despite the doctor reminding Sisko about it. It leads to some Fridge Logic that there wouldn't be a more sure-fire reliably method of birth-control in the 24th Century...
This trope led to the births of both Bud and Kelly on.
In one episode, It's credited with letting Al and Peg buy their house from the resulting lawsuit.
On Boy Meets World, Topanga was Mistaken for Pregnant in one episode because she was gaining weight (a case of Real Life Writes the Plot because the actress became a case of Hollywood Pudgy that the writers turned into a pregnancy scare for laughs). Cory confirmed to Shawn that they used a condom, and she was on the pill, and other measures were also taken. After a moment's thought he says, "I'm not even sure we HAD sex!"
Hilariously used in a season 3 episode of Queer as Folk, in which Hunter, a teenaged former prostitute, has sex with a former police officer to get his DNA and prove that he killed another prostitute.
Michael:You fucked a murderer?!
Hunter: What's the big deal? I used a condom!
Brian: Well, I see your safe sex lecture paid off.
The statistic is quoted by Gene Hunt in Life On Mars when Sam Tyler snaps that 5% of the people in jail are innocent and he retorts that that's a better success rate than most rubber johnnies.
According to Everybody Hates Chris, this was how Chris was conceived in an episode due to Julius buying a condom from his friend Risky, who apparently has a history of selling defective items.
Lois got pregnant while she and Hal were using a condom in Malcolm in the Middle. They've also had a kid while she was on the pill and two while "giving abstinence a shot".
On My Name Is Earl, Dodge's birth is the result of failed birth control. Joy keeps changing her story throughout the series: one episode she says it's because of a broken condom, another she says it's because she hadn't quite gotten the hang of using her diaphragm properly, yet another says it's because she didn't use any protection at all. She was a bit hazy on the details because she was drunk when it happened, and also because she's afraid of the father. She thinks the father of her child is Li'l Chubby, because he was wearing a skeleton costume at a Halloween party, as was the man she slept with that night...who turns out to be Earl.
In another episode, Earl (then about 12-14 years old) had a crush on his babysitter, and then found out she had a boyfriend. While the babysitter and the boyfriend had sex on the couch, Earl reached into the boyfriend's discarded pants to steal money...and then found a condom and poked several holes in it. The babysitter became pregnant, had a Shotgun Wedding to her boyfriend, and gave birth right at the wedding reception. Surprisingly, they were still together some 20-odd years later, and Earl helped their Man Child son grow up. Or rather, Randy did.
A rare justified use on Peep Show, where Sophie gets pregnant after having sex with Mark. Turns out, that particular condom had been in Mark's wallet so long it'd actually expired.
Next To Normal features a flashback scene where Diana and Dan discuss her unplanned pregnancy. Dan (who's implied to have just proposed) suggests that it's a sign they're meant to be together. Diana sardonically replies that it could just be a sign to buy better condoms.
While Survival of the Fittest has its fair share of pregnant characters, only one actually invokes this trope. Elsie Darroch was shocked to discover she was pregnant after having had sex with her boyfriend, Matt Vreeland, because they had used a condom, both of them unaware that it had broken. When she brought it up to Matt, he had the cliché response of denying it, calling her a whore, and breaking up with her. She's also a rare "pregnant" character in that she's the only one so far that's been abducted early in the pregnancy, before they've started "showing".
The Max Gilardi cartoon Jerry seems to hint at this; the main character used a condom during a one-night stand with a Latino woman, and some time later, she returns to his house with their infant son.
Subverted in Dragon Ball Z Abridged. Bulma and Vegeta had sex at the end of episode 34, and Vegeta doesn't even know what a condom is. Turns out he thought "protection" meant keeping his armor on.
Vegeta: Dafuq's a condom?
Family Guy once mentioned that Chris was the result of an unplanned pregnancy due to a condom breaking. The lawsuit against the manufacturer gave them money to buy a house. Then again, this is Family Guy. Just to top it off, the broken condom is in Chris's baby book.
"Meg, did anyone tell you that if you take antibiotics it means the pill doesn't work? Cause nobody told me!"
In King of the Hill, Cotton got Didi pregnant and said he had used four layers of protection and his men still got through. This is why you should only use one condom.
Former Hello! Project and Morning Musume member Tsuji Nozomi invoked this trope when announcing her pregnancy and subsequent engagement to Sugiura Taiyo (a.k.a. the actor who played Haruno Musashi/Ultraman Cosmos in Ultraman Cosmos).
You know it just had to be Freakier Than Fiction in order to be Inverted. In the case of 1997's State of Louisiana v. Frisard, a hospital visitor met a nurse's aide and used a condom while she performed fellatio on him. He didn't know she would artificially inseminate herself with the used condom. In a legal precedent, the court ordered him to pay child support. So when it comes to pregnancy, oral sex is an inversion as it takes a condom to get pregnant.