According to United Nations estimates, two-thirds of the people in the world have ready and easy access to condoms. In the U.N.'s definition, "ready and easy" means that it takes less than two hours a month to buy condoms, and it costs less than 1 percent of a person's monthly take-home pay [source: Schellstede]. But how and by whom these condoms are used varies dramatically from country to country based on a number of factors.
In general, the number of sexually active people using condoms has increased since the 1980s due to the spread of HIV. It's hard to tell exactly how the statistics have changed, though, since many studies before the '80s, especially those involving women, focused only on married people. British surveys report that in 1950, about 30 percent of men and women used a condom during their first intercourse. By 1990, that number had more than doubled. Here are some other general trends in Europe and the United States:
- Living arrangements: People who live with their partners typically use condoms less often than people who don't.
- Number of partners: In surveys conducted in the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Britain, the more partners a person had, the more likely he or she was to use condoms.
- Age: Fewer people who have their first intercourse before the age of 16 use condoms during that experience. In general, the older people get, the less likely they are to use condoms, in part because of entry into long-term, monogamous relationships [source: Grunseit and Johnson].
People with latex allergies often choose not to use condoms or to use condoms made from natural membrane or a polymer. People who seek contraception sometimes choose other birth control methods because they are more convenient than condoms, do not require interrupting sexual activity for use, and do not decrease sensation. These are among the reasons for some new condom developments, which we'll look at next.