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But We Used a Condom

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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!!!

But We Used a Condom is 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. See also Law of Inverse Fertility. The number one cause of Surprise Pregnancy.


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); the probability per-encounter is about 5%.

Every so often, as in the page quote, someone will throw around the failure rate of various forms of contraception, without distinguishing between "perfect use" (the aforementioned 3%) and "typical use" (somewhere between 15 and 20%). Some people are freaked out by the latter because nobody's perfect, right?! However, condoms are in fact very user-friendly and using them "perfectly" isn't hard at all; health authorities are now pushing for this to be called "correct and consistent" rather than "perfect" use for this reason. What it mostly means is that a new condom is used every time and applied before any penetration occursnote . "Typical use" factors in all outcomes, including those when the couple didn't pull it on all the way, put it on after penetration had begun, or even forgot or chose not to wear it "just this once" (that's right, "method failure" statistics can include times when the method wasn't used at all). And the "failure rate" quoted for contraceptives isn't the chance of failure in a single sex act, but the percentage of couples who get pregnant during a year on the method.


In other words: condoms are very safe and highly effective for the majority of people (though less so if you don't actually put them on).

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. Unfortunately, it often accidentally conveys the Family-Unfriendly Aesop that there's no point in using any protection at all.


See also Pregnancy Scare, Can't Get Away with Nuthin', and But I Can't Be Pregnant!


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    Anime & 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.

    Comic Books 
  • A Chick Tract on the dangers of premarital sex had a character use birth control and a condom, which she obtained from a neighbor (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 
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Total Drama story, Legacy (Total Drama), Lindsay had an unexpected pregnancy with a longtime boyfriend despite presumably using some form of contraception on a regular basis.
  • Ghosts of Evangelion: When Asuka is told she is pregnant she argues that it's impossible because she is on control birth. Her doctor reminds her that nothing is hundred percent effective.
  • It's a spoiler to list it here, but in the Eva fanfic The 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 MGLN Crisis: Amy mentioned that she was on birth control when she got pregnant. She suspects that Lindy might have swapped it out with sugar pills, since Midchildan birth control is explicitly magical and has 100% effectiveness.
  • 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: The fuck's a condom?
  • In Unexpected Surprise, Chat Noir and Ladybug have used a condom... from his mother's room, which means it was probably well past the expiration date.
  • In A Prize For Three Empires, Carol Danvers can't believe it when she is said she is pregnant. She had been on the pill, her lover had used protection, and he has been dead for longer than she had been pregnant.
    Wanda took her to the doctor and they found out she was three months pregnant.
    She'd been on the Pill when she was with Michael. He'd used protection.
  • Exaggerated in Path Of Needles. Kakashi's wife Manako was on the pill, had been fitted with a diaphragm, and the two were using condoms when they got pregnant with their twins.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 Kenickie are having sex in his car, and the condom breaks. Kenickie 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!
    Everyone: Gasp
    Single voice: Giggle
    Abbess: In our garden, we discovered... a condom!
    Everyone: Gasp
    Single voice: Giggle
    Abbess: In the condom, we discovered... a hole!
    Everyone: Giggle
    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."
    • Another version has the kid asking where their names come from, he explains what he saw when they were born, e.j. "Car Going By", "Wet Cat" etc. Then the man says, "Why did you ask, Two Dogs Fucking?"

  • The Cider House Rules: Wally and Candy used a condom that later turned out to be sabotaged.
  • 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. In her case, it was because she'd been among those infected with deadly coomb spores, and the only one to survive more than a few weeks from the initial infection, due to her use of the Force to fight the disease. She had also felt the spores attacking her womb at one point, leading to her believing she was now barren. Her son's conception nearly two years later proved her wrong.
  • 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.
  • Almost Alice has Pamela reveal to her friends that she might be pregnant, due to her period being two weeks late. Funnily enough, it's Elizabeth who spouts the "But you said you were using condoms!" lines. Turns out that Pamela, being very busy with practices for their highschool performance, had appeased her feeling-left-out boyfriend by sleeping with him without any protection, but says that it was 'still five days before the middle of her period'. She ends up having a Convenient Miscarriage a few weeks later, before she could really decide what to do.
  • 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).
    Mr Mole: Adulteress!
    Mrs Mole: I'm not an adulteress!
    Mr Mole: If the cap fits, wear it.
    Mrs Mole: But I did wear it!
  • 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?
  • As a means of poking fun at Moral Guardians, there's a Demotivational Poster mockup of the Virgin Mary captioned with "Abstinence: 99.999999% effective".
  • 1632: Julie used her diaphragm... but since she'd run out of the spermicidal jelly you're supposed to put on them, she wound up pregnant anyway.
  • In The Suicide Shop, it is mentioned that Mishima and and Lucrèce Tuvache's third child Alan was conceived because they tested a condom with a hole in it that was meant for customers that intended to commit suicide by contracting a venereal disease.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The British soap Eastenders between Martin and Sonya. Result: Rebecca.
  • Friends
    • In one episode, Ross gets Rachel pregnant and they provide the page quotes at the top.
    • 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.
  • General Hospital
    • 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."
  • Degrassi: The Next Generation:
    • 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:
    Roz: The best birth control in the world's only effective 99 times out of 100... I can't beat those odds!
  • Scrubs
    • 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.
  • Lost: Aaron is conceived despite Claire being on the pill, leading the father to accuse her of getting pregnant on purpose.
  • 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...
  • Married... with Children:
    • This trope led to the births of both Bud and Kelly. No surprise in Kelly's case, as Al's lack of intelligence and hygiene led to him using the same condom several times.
    • 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".
  • In The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Adrian switching Birth Control pills and Ben's condom breaking lead to the conception of their daughter Mercy.
  • Hannah from Girls has an STD scare. "But what about the stuff that gets up around the sides of condoms? What about that stuff?"
  • 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 Manchild son grow up. Or rather, Randy did.
    • An unusual version occurred on "Faked My Own Death," where Dirk uses ersatz prophylactics in the form of shower caps provided by the motel. It works about as well as any moderately-intelligent person would expect.
    Natalie: Hey Dirk. Still getting your mail. It's from the clinic: Somebody got themselves an STD.
    Dirk: I can deal with that.
    Natalie: Turn the page.
    Dirk: Aww crap... Damn shower caps.

  • 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.
  • Catastrophe: Subverted. According to Sharon they had sex around twenty five times, while only using a condom maybe twice. Sharon chides Rob for thinking this wouldn't happen.
  • Supernatural. In "The Slice Girls", Dean insists that he used a condom when it's revealed that his one-night stand is a demon with a now rapidly aging child. "Accidents happen!" However as he was deliberately selected for a Conceive and Kill, the condoms were likely sabotaged.
  • In the Brazilian soap opera ''Um Anjo Caiu do Céu", an angel named Rafael has sex with three girls and all of them became pregnant as a result. When he complains that he used condoms, his superiors berate him for forgetting angel sperm is too powerful for them.

  • 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.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • Played for laughs in a SpongeBob sketch in Robot Chicken, where he gets Sandy pregnant offscreen.
    SpongeBob: But HOW can you be pregnant!? You said you had a sponge in your- Oh, you meant me.

    Real Life 
  • 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.
  • One of the reasons why you should never reuse a condom comes from a story of two couples who only had one condom. So Mr. "A" uses it on Girlfriend 1, while Mr. B turns it inside-out and uses it on Girlfriend 2. The end result is Girlfriend 2 gets pregnant, by Mr. A.


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