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!!!

A standard feature of just about any modern, socially conscious show. Sometimes used after sex as a cautionary tale, 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. Could also be seen as Did Not Do the Research as recent studies DID show that about 10% of the condoms produced are faulty, BUT there are elaborate techniques to discover those, leaving only 1 defective condom in 14,000 undiscovered. Most plots (as in the Friends example from the quote) don't even bother to explain 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, leading to But I Can't Be Pregnant.

Examples of But We Used a Condom include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • 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.


Comics[edit | hide]

  • 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 You Fail Biology Forever, since it pushes the spurious claim that HIV can pass right through latex.[1]
  • Stuck Rubber Baby: Averted with Toland and Ginger.

Film[edit | hide]

  • 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.
  • 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 obiously 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.


Jokes[edit | hide]

  • 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.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • 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.
  • 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.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The British soap Eastenders between Martin and Sonya. Result: Rebecca.
  • Friends
    • Ross is aghast to find Rachel pregnant and shouts the trope name. He's also very angry with condom manufacturers, despite it saying on the box they are only 97% effective.
    • When Joey finds out condoms are not 100% effective he tries to do some quick math about how many girls he's slept with, given 97% effectiveness each time... panic attack!
  • 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 on 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 had this as a Justified Trope, since 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.
    • Also from Degrassi, 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."
  • 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 odds like that!

  • Scrubs
    • Subverted in when JD's new girlfriend gets pregnant without any actual penetration, which they avoided because they didn't have any condoms. And 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 for safety.
    • Also 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).
  • 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...
  • This trope led to the births of both Bud and Kelly on Married... with Children.
  • 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.

Oral Tradition[edit | hide]

  • A joke told among American schoolchildren goes as follows: 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."


Web Comics[edit | hide]


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • 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".

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • 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.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Truth in Television for certain STDs. Herpes and HPV spread via skin-to-skin contact, and condoms do not cover all of the skin that can transmit it (and herpes can be spread through oral sex as well). Which is why you should disclose your STD status to all sexual partners so that they may take the appropriate extra steps to protect themselves. (Soap and water immediately after sex usually does it.)
  • Some instances of condom failure can often be attributed to users simply not using them properly or ignoring instructions.
    • And with the pill" as well--birth control pills have to be taken on a regular daily basis (except every fourth week for menstruation) so missing a day or two for whatever reason increases the risk of failure.
  • Former Hello! Project and Morning Musume member Tsuji Nozomi invoked this trope when announcing her pregnancy and subsequent engagement to Sugiura Taiyo (AKA the actor who played Haruno Musashi/Ultraman Cosmos in Ultraman Cosmos).
    • This unintended-pregnancy-followed-by-immediate-engagement seems to be standard procedure among Japanese celebrities. The latest such individual is Koda Kumi, but she is far from alone; the very fact that Ayumi Hamasaki wasn't pregnant when she married an Austrian model/actor out of the blue was itself a shock. Someone should really show them how condoms are supposed to work.
  • You know it just had to be Freakier Than Fiction in order to be Subverted. 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 a subversion as it takes a condom to get pregnant.
  • Apparently this trope is more common in reality than people think. Perfect-use pregnancy rate is about 2% per year, and typical-use failures range from 10-18% per year.
    • Interesting tidbit there: non-use, when intending to use a condom, counts as 'typical use'. "Typical" only means that people list condoms as their primary method of birth control, whether they ever put one on or not, hence the absurdly high failure rate.
  1. 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.)