Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on October 13, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Since its invention a century ago, the latex condom has proven effective at reducing the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs/STDs) by blocking contact with bodily fluids that can spread sexually transmitted infections.
But can you get an STD with condom use during sex—and if so, how does it happen?
That’s the question we tackle here—so read on to learn how condoms help prevent STDs, what kind of infections condoms are especially well-suited for prevention, techniques for using condoms effectively, and more.
Though they can’t guarantee 100% protection from sexually transmitted infections, condoms—when used consistently and correctly—can dramatically reduce the risk of getting or transmitting STDs. (Related content: How to Prevent STDs)
Here’s how it works:
First, a condom must be used correctly to provide protection. When it’s used incorrectly, slippage or breakage can occur.
STD transmission is a risk any time you engage in sexual activity—so to offer effective protection, a condom needs to be used every time you have sex (whether vaginal, oral, or anal).
In laboratory settings, the latex condom has been shown to provide a nearly “impermeable barrier” to particles that are the size of STD-causing pathogens. This means that it prevents the infectious agent from passing through the barrier, significantly reducing the risk of contracting or transmitting an STD.
To understand what condoms protect against, it’s first helpful to understand how STDs are spread. Infections like HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis are commonly spread when infected secretions of the urethra or vagina contact mucosal surfaces, which include the male urethra, the vagina, or the cervix.
Infections typically associated with genital ulcers—such as genital herpes, syphilis, and human papillomavirus (HPV)—are often passed on through contact of one’s skin with the mucosal surfaces or infected skin (such as sores) of a partner who has the infection.
Condoms are estimated to be 98% effective at protecting against most STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea. In addition, proper condom usage is highly effective in preventing HIV (the virus that causes AIDS).
Latex condoms also reduce the risk of other sexually transmitted infections, including those associated with genital ulcers such as herpes and syphilis. Frequent condom usage may also lower the risk of HPV infection—which is the most significant risk factor for cervical cancer.
“Can you get an STD with a condom?” It’s a key question for people who are looking to protect their sexual health while still enjoying an active sex life. Condoms provide varying amounts of protection depending on the STD under consideration. In particular, condoms are somewhat less effective at protecting against infections like herpes, HPV, and syphilis. That’s because these STDs can spread through skin-to-skin contact (versus only being transmitted via bodily fluids like semen or blood), and condoms don’t always cover all areas of potentially infected skin.
For example, HPV and the herpes virus “shed” infectious virus particles beyond the area typically covered by condoms, which means condoms don’t always provide complete protection against STDs that can be transmitted in this way.
That being said, although condoms aren’t totally foolproof (after all, no protective method is), they remain one of the most effective—and convenient—ways to stop the spread of STDs. And with routine STD testing in addition to consistent condom use, you can not only lower the risk of getting an STD, but also stay in the know about your status—so if you do happen to get an infection, you can find out about it and seek treatment sooner rather than later. (Related: How often you should get tested for STDs)
According to the CDC:
Unprotected sex may result in the spread of STDs and put the health of yourself and others at risk. Thankfully, though, using condoms consistently and correctly is one of the most effective safe sex practices and is also one of the easiest ways to help prevent STDs.
1. Condoms. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed November 13, 2020.
2. Condom Fact Sheet In Brief. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed November 13, 2020.
3. It’s your future. You can protect it. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed November 13, 2020.
4. How You Can Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed November 13, 2020.