Condoms are one of the oldest and most effective methods of contraception. Unlike other common forms of contraception like oral contraceptive pills, coitus interruptus (withdrawal or pull-out method), condoms offer protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), consistent and correct use of a condom can reduce the risk of STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, etc and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission.
The most reliable way to avoid getting an STD is to abstain from unsafe sex or to be in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. However, in most cases, people who are infected are unaware of the condition as STDs may be asymptomatic and unrecognizable. Here’s more on the use of condoms to prevent STDs.
How effective are condoms against STDs?
Condoms act as a protective shield against STDs that can be transmitted via bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids, and blood. Using either a male or female condom potentially prevents the spread of the infection from an infected person to his/her partner. They are basically more effective in preventing STDs that spread from the male urethral orifice such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomonas, hepatitis B, and HIV. They can also aid in the prevention of STDs like herpes, syphilis, and human papillomavirus, which are transmitted through the skin or mucosal membrane.
According to the CDC, the correct and consistent use of a condom is around 97% efficient in offering protection against certain STDs. If a condom is used incorrectly or inconsistently, the efficacy is only 86%. The male condom, when used correctly and consistently, offers more than 90% protection against Hepatitis B virus, Neisseria gonorrhea, Trichomonas vaginalis, and HIV.
What STDs are not protected by condoms?
Condoms greatly lower the risk of STDs, but they do not completely rule out the risk of getting STDs. Some STDs can be transmitted or contracted even after using a condom during sex. STDS can also spread through skin-to-skin contact. So if an infected part of the skin, which is not covered by a condom, comes in close contact with your partner’s exposed skin during the act, then there is a high chance of transmission of the virus/bacteria. This is because the part not covered by a condom can act as a portal of entry or exit for microorganisms.
Condoms are less protective against some of the most prevalent infections seen in the recent times such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes simplex virus (HSV). Here’s more on the STDs that can be transmitted even after using a condom.
1. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
The HPV infection is one of the common STDs which has more than 100 different strains of the virus. Certain strains cause no symptoms while some can cause genital warts. As genital warts can be present on the parts of the genitals that are not covered by a condom, there is a high chance of viral transmission through skin-to-skin contact. Moreover, HPV in men can be asymptomatic, which makes it easy to unknowingly pass the virus to their partners during sexual activity.
2. Genital herpes
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection which is usually caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV type 2). However, HSV type 1 which causes cold sores around the mouth can also be spread to the genitals during oral sex. Genital herpes typically results in lesions or sores on the genitals, anus and upper thighs. Hence, if the lesions are present in areas not covered by a condom, there is a high possibility that the virus can be spread from one partner to another.
It is a highly contagious bacterial infection that can spread primarily through sexual contact, including oral and anal sex. Syphilis starts off as a painless sore on the genitals, rectum or mouth, which is followed by a skin rash. This is the reason why the infection gets unnoticed and the risk of spreading the bacteria through close skin contact is high.
4. Pubic lice
Also known as crabs, pubic lice are parasites that attach to the skin and hair near the genitals. This infection is characterized by red bumps, sores, and itching near the genital area. The lice can spread during sex and through skin-to-skin contact. Moreover, the risk of transmission is high as pubic lice can spread despite using a condom.
Chancroid is a type of sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacteria known as Haemophilus ducreyi. It causes ulcers or open sores on and around the genital area in both men and women. It is a highly contagious disease that causes painful sores and can easily spread through sexual contact. The use of a condom doesn’t provide any protection against chancroid.
How to use condoms to prevent STDs?
In order to achieve maximum protection against STDs with the use of condoms, it must be used correctly and consistently. This is because with an inconsistent use or not using a condom even for a single sexual encounter can up the risk of transmission with an infected partner. The incorrect use indicates breakage, slippage or leakage of a condom which lowers the protective effect. Moreover, not using a condom throughout the sexual act, right from the start to finish can also lead to failure of the condom to protect against STDs.
Also, it is important to use a fresh condom every time and not reuse it. If the condom tears midway during the act, stop and change the condom to lower the risk of transmission of the infection. Handle the condom with care to avoid damaging it with fingernails, teeth, or any other sharp objects. Condoms are not 100% safe and effective to prevent STDs but using it the right way is the key to prevent STDs.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)
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