What Do Condoms Protect You From?

colorful condoms
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It's more than just about preventing unwanted pregnancies. It's more than just protection against HIV. Condoms can protect against a lot of infections.

Infection and Disease Prevention

Effective Condom use does substantially reduce the chance of being infected with HIV or infecting someone else with HIV. Condoms are a great help in preventing pregnancy.

Condoms can also prevent a number of diseases. Condoms can be particularly effective for diseases spread by genital fluids.

This means they can protect against gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis. Women seem to be at less risk of acquiring trich and gonorrhea with condoms; men and women appear to be at less risk of acquiring chlamydia with condoms.

Condoms can help protect against infections that ulcer—like herpes, syphilis, and chancroid. But this protection isn't perfect. A condom doesn't cover anything. It can break.This protection works best when the infected area or the area at risk is protected. This reduction in risk has been seen in men and women for herpes and syphilis. 

In particular, herpes risk can be cut by using a condom. They are not totally protective, but the more they are worn, the less risk there is of catching or transmitting herpes. Protection did not vary by gender. Using condoms 100 percent of the time reduced the risk 30 percent. More use led to a steady decrease in risk.

External STDs and HPV

It can, however, reduce the chances of transmitting certain external STDs—like HPV that can cause genital warts and cervical, vaginal, and penile cancer, as well as herpes and chancroid.

The risk of HPV also appears to be reduced with condoms, in some people when consistently used, but it's not protective for everyone. There is a vaccine that helps prevent the types of HPV that worry us most—the types that can increase the chance of certain cancers. HPV is associated with cervical cancer, as well as vaginal, penile, and throat (oropharyngeal) cancers.

Condoms can be less helpful when it comes to some other STDs. Pubic lice and scabies are spread between pubic hair or from skin to skin contact. Condoms don't cover everything and so some infections can still spread from having sex with a condom. Fortunately, both of these infections are treatable and do not lead to long-lasting problems.


Condom use—or abstaining from sex—is also recommended by the CDC to prevent the transmission of Zika, if the male partner might be infected (or recently sick) with Zika. Not having sex is the best way to avoid sexually acquired Zika from a person who is infected—though mosquito protection is crucial in areas where mosquitoes are spreading Zika.

What Does It Mean to Use a Condom Correctly?

  • Use the condom for all of sex, whether vaginal, anal, or oral. This means using it from start to finish.
  • Condoms come in many sizes and thicknesses. Find one that's right for you and your partner.
  • Do keep condoms in a cool dry place for storage.
  • Carefully take the condom off at the end, making sure not to let anything slip out of the condom. It's important to take the condom off before the penis goes soft to avoid having semen leak out.
  • Throw the condom away, preferably in the trash covered with a tissue or something else.
  • If the condom breaks or slips off, stop, take off the condom, and start again with a new one
  • Make sure there is enough lubrication when using the condom. Avoid using oil based lube (body lotion, vaseline, petroleum jelly, massage oil, vegetable shortening, cooking oil, mineral oil) These oil-based lubricants can cause the condom to break or leak.
  • It is advised by the CDC not to use nonoxynol-9 (a spermicide) which can cause irritation.
  • Check the expiration date
  • Check to make sure the condom isn't damaged or torn
  • Do not reuse a condom

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