It's not enough to use a condom and assume you're protected from sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.

A new study shows that the condom has to be put on and used correctly in order to provide maximum protection.

Researchers found errors in condom usage and breakage were common and were associated with an increased risk of gonorrhea infection in men.

"The importance of proper condom use seems obvious, yet the results from this study demonstrate that it must be taught to even sexually experienced adults and that the lack of correct use can be linked to infection," write researcher Diane Grimley of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and colleagues.

"The tendency to assume that consistent condom users are using condoms correctly seriously underestimates their risk of transmitting or contracting STDs or becoming pregnant unintentionally," they write.

Nearly Half of Condom Users Do It Wrong

Condom Errors Common

In the study, researchers studied more than 1,100 men and women treated at a public STD clinic in the Southeastern U.S. who reported using a condom in the past 30 days and collected samples for STD testing.

Researchers found more than 15 percent of the patients tested positive for one or both of the two most common sexually transmitted diseases treated at the clinic, gonorrhea and chlamydia.

The survey showed that nearly one in four of the participants reported errors in condom use in the past month.

More women reported errors such as not leaving a space at the tip of the condom or not removing air from the tip of the condom. Men were more likely to report condom misuse such as putting a condom on inside out and then flipping it over to have sex or experienced a condom breaking in the last month.

Men who experienced a condom breaking in the last 30 days were nearly twice as likely to be infected with gonorrhea as those who didn't.

Other errors in condom use shown by the study include:

—Not holding the base of the condom during withdrawal

—Unrolling the condom before putting it on

—Started having sex, then put on the condom during intercourse

—Reused a condom

All of these condom errors reduce the effectiveness of condoms in protecting against STD infection and unintentional pregnancy.

Researchers say the results highlight a need to promote correct as well as consistent condom usage.

Sex Without a Safety Net

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Grimley, D. American Journal of Health Behavior, July/August 2005; vol 29: pp 324-330. News release, Health Behavior News Service.