Can STIs Pass Through Condoms?

white and red plastic pack

Condoms made from latex and synthetic materials like polyurethane are highly effective in preventing HIV and most other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) when used correctly. But they don’t prevent all STIs, including genital herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV), which spread through skin-to-skin contact with parts of the body that aren’t covered by condoms.

Genital Herpes

Herpes simplex virus (HSV) can be spread when a person has an episode of herpes that includes a sore, blister or ulcer. The virus can also be spread between episodes when there are no symptoms – this is called asymptomatic herpes shedding. Condoms can protect against transmission of genital herpes by blocking the transfer of the virus to a sexual partner, but the effectiveness of condoms for herpes can depend on a number of factors.

HSV-2 can be spread from genital skin to skin or to the mouth during sexual activity, and it can also be spread by a person with herpes who is not experiencing an outbreak. Condoms can help reduce the risk of herpes transmission, but it is important to use them every time you engage in oral, anal or vaginal sex. Using dental dams during oral, anal and vaginal sex can further minimize contact between herpes sores and your partner’s body. If you have herpes, it’s also a good idea to tell your partner before each sexual encounter and to avoid having sex during an outbreak.

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A study published in June 2017 found that consistent condom use reduced the risk of acquiring genital herpes by 61% among HSV-2 susceptible men and 96% among susceptible women. The results were based on data from the Chiron Vaccine Partners Study and were adjusted for baseline characteristics, including age, sex history, the partner’s herpes serostatus and number of sex acts per week.

Syphilis

Syphilis is one of the most serious STDs and can cause significant health problems including anal, vaginal, and cervix cancers. It can also lead to sterility, heart disease, and neurologic problems. It’s primarily spread through mingling of bodily fluids and penetrative sex, but it can also be spread through skin-to-skin contact. Condoms offer varying amounts of protection against STIs like herpes, HPV, and syphilis.

Laboratory studies show that latex condoms provide an essentially impermeable barrier to viruses, but protection rates are lower in real-world studies. Condoms protect against HIV infection and many other STIs when used consistently and correctly, but they cannot completely eliminate the risk of transmission. The best way to prevent HIV infection is to abstain from sexual activity or be in a long-term, monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.

Condoms are also effective against chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. But condoms don’t always fully cover the anal or vulva area during sex, so these STIs can still be transmitted. For this reason, it’s important to use a new condom for every act of vaginal, anal, or oral sex and to make sure that the condom is placed on properly. Incorrect use diminishes condom effectiveness by leading to breakage, slippage, and leakage. It can also result in a failure to use the condom for the entire sex act or to remove it after ejaculation.

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HPV

HPV can cause genital warts and changes to the cervix that can lead to cancer. It is transmitted through intimate contact, most often during intercourse, but it can also happen during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. In rare cases, a woman may even pass it to her baby during birth. While abstinence from sex is the most effective way to protect against HPV, condom use and limiting the number of sexual partners are also good options.

Studies have shown that condoms reduce the risk of transmission of genital HPV. However, it is important to remember that the condom does not cover all parts of the body that could be exposed to HPV and so it cannot provide full protection. A condom should be put on BEFORE sex and kept on until the end of sex to get the maximum benefit from it. Vaccination is much more effective than condoms at protecting against HPV, so if possible getting the vaccine is recommended.

In addition to avoiding sex, condoms are an excellent way to help prevent chlamydia and HIV, as well as other STIs. It is always best to use a new condom each time you have sex and make sure that the condom covers the entire penis. Keeping a regular schedule of pap smears and cervical screenings is also important to detect any changes that might lead to cancer and other long term health problems.

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Genital Warts

A number of sexually transmitted diseases can lead to genital warts. These fleshy growths form on the penis, vulva and anus. They’re caused by strains of the human papilloma virus, or HPV. Some of these strains can also cause cancers of the throat and cervical areas. Condom use helps prevent the infection and its complications.

The protective effect of condoms depends on how the devices are used. Consistent and correct use of male (external) latex condoms can reduce the risk for STD transmission, including HIV. This is because these types of condoms, as well as female condoms and dental dams, provide a barrier to bodily fluids like semen and vaginal secretions. These barriers prevent STDs from reaching the genital area, or they contain them when they do reach this area.

The scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of latex condoms in preventing STDs is extensive and compelling. It has been established in both “real-life” studies of sexually active couples, as well as laboratory studies. Laboratory studies have demonstrated that latex condoms provide an essentially impermeable barrier to particles the size of STD pathogens.

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