Many people use condoms as a way to prevent unintended pregnancies, but condoms also provide a low-cost, incredibly effective barrier against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that are exchanged by genital fluids. Some examples of such STIs include gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and HIV.
[Please note: Many people use STI and STD interchangeably, however some healthcare settings are moving toward using STI more regularly. An STI refers to the infection of a particular virus or bacteria, while STD is the same pathogen once it has progressed to a disease. They essentially refer to different phases of an infection. You can find a more detailed description of the differences here.]
In 2016, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) estimated that 45 million HIV infections have been averted through condom use globally since 1990 and hoped to avert an additional 3.4 million new infections by 2020. UNAIDS states that the cost per averted HIV infection would be approximately $450, which is significantly cheaper than providing antiretroviral treatment for a person’s lifetime.
The most effective ways to prevent STI/HIV transmission are abstinence (not having sex at all) or being in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship (meaning you are only having sex with one, uninfected partner and they are only having sex with you). However, for those who do not fall into those categories, using condoms remains one of the next best ways to prevent STI transmission. Latex condoms “provide an essentially impermeable barrier” to particles the size of STI pathogens and HIV in laboratory studies.
The key to condom effectiveness is to use them correctly and consistently. This means using a new condom for every act of vaginal, anal, or oral sex throughout the entire act (from before genital contact until after ejaculation). Here are some additional important tips to remember when using condoms:
- Before using a condom, always check the expiration date and look for any damage or defects. If you find damage, discard the condom, and use a new, damage-free condom.
- If the condom does not have a reservoir tip, pinch the tip to leave a half-inch space for semen to collect before unrolling the condom down to the base of the erect penis.
- If you feel the condom break at any point during sexual activity, stop immediately, remove the condom, and put on a new one.
- Make sure to properly lubricate condoms for vaginal or anal sex with a water-based lubricant for latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants can weaken latex and cause breakage.
If you are in need of condoms many local agencies, like Caring Communities, can help! We offer FREE condoms in a variety of sizes and types, including non-latex. Additionally, our clinics provide testing and treatment for a variety of STIs and HIV, including rapid HIV tests with results in 20 minutes and comprehensive treatment for gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and more. You can find more information about our clinic services here.