Among all types of contraception, only condoms can do the double duty of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
When it comes to preventing pregnancies, they are pretty good. When used properly, they have a 98% effectiveness.
But when it comes to STDs, it’s a mixed bag.
On one hand, they offer great protection for most STDs but on the other they are useless against STDs that are spread by skin-to-skin contact. There are also a lot of human factors that affect their effectiveness.
One of the Best STD Protections
Using condoms during sex is one of the best ways to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases, especially now when infection rates in most states are rising.
Condoms prevent the exchange of fluids like semen and blood which might contain STD-causing pathogens.
The most common types of condoms are latex condoms. They are highly effective at preventing the spread of STDs.
For people who are allergic to latex, polyurethane and polyisoprene are good alternatives. They are just as effective.
Some other types of condoms like lambskin condoms are not as effective in preventing STDs. Doctors recommend against using them.
Health organizations like the CDC highly recommend the use of condoms to prevent STDs. This is because they offer a high level of protection.
However, they are not foolproof.
But it’s not because latex let’s some fluids through or that some viruses and bacteria cannot be stopped. The less than 100% effectiveness arises mostly from human factors.
Here are some things that can make condoms less effective at preventing STDs.
Notice what they all have in common? Hint: they all have to do with their users rather than the condoms themselves.
- Storing condoms improperly in a place that is too hot, too cold or exposed to direct sunlight. This can compromise the condom’s quality. Storing condoms near sharp objects is also dangerous.
- Using condoms that are out of date.
- Using specialty condoms that are not designed to protect against STDs. Examples include flavored, glow-in-the-dark, natural and ribbed condoms.
- Not putting on or using condoms properly. This could cause the condom to come off or tear, which increases the risk of spreading an STD.
- Using oil, Vaseline or any oil-based lubricant on latex or polyisoprene condoms.
But the biggest factor of all is that people just don’t want to use condoms.
The CDC conducted a study where they asked a bunch of 15-44 year olds (all unmarried) how often they used condoms.
More than half of the respondents said they used a condom the first time they had sex. But less than a third said they had used a condom in the last four weeks.
Another major factor that affects the effectiveness of condoms is that they cannot protect you from all types of STDs.
They’ll do a great job when it comes to STDs that are spread via sexual intercourse like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.
You’ll also be safe if you use condoms during oral and anal sex, two other ways in which STDs can be spread.
But STDs can still find other avenues into your body. The most common is skin-to-skin contact. When you are having sex, even if you use a condom, there is a lot of skin contact.
Infections like herpes and genital warts can be spread through sores on the skin. Even kissing can spread an infection if one person has an open cut or sore inside their mouth (though the risk is low).
What Should You Do?
Use condoms every time you have sex. They are still the best protection from STDs, other than abstaining that is.
Of course this does not include couples in stable monogamy relationships. But you should still get tested regularly. Use one of those anonymous home tests like STDTestExpress, STDCheck and myLAB Box.
Some companies sell rapid tests where you can quickly test for a range of STDs in 20 minutes from the comfort and privacy of your home. Others like STDTestExpress will send you to a nearby lab and then send your results confidentially online.
When you use condoms, make sure you use them properly. Here are some tips.
- When you buy a condom, always check the label. It should specify that the condom protects against STDs or STIs. Be especially careful when you buy specialty condoms.
- Learn how to properly put on and dispose a condom. Check these CDC guides for male condoms and female condoms. They also have one for using a dental dam during oral sex.
- Store condoms properly as directed on the label.
- Do not use expired condoms.
- Buy the right sized condoms. A condom that is too tight could break while one that is not snug enough could come off.