Sex (Re)Education: Do Condoms Really Protect You?

Fear mongering is pretty common in high school sex education, but the whole “Don’t have sex, you’ll get pregnant and die” thing isn’t really our style here at Galore. That’s part of the reason we started this series, so you could get honest answers and accurate information about sex. That being said, there is always some risk when you have sex, and so today we’ll be talking about how much condoms actually protect you from those risks.

When it comes to protecting you from pregnancy, condoms are a pretty safe bet–provided they don’t break and are used correctly. According to Planned Parenthood, when used correctly 100% of the time, 2 out of every 100 women who use condoms with a partner will become pregnant. If used incorrectly, that number jumps to 18 out of every 100 women.

Condoms are also a great way to protect you from contracting a number of STIs. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, and trichomoniasis are some of the infections that condoms help protect you from when used. However, even though they greatly reduce your likelihood of contracting these infections and viruses, condoms aren’t as foolproof as you may have thought.

Recent studies have revealed that condoms aren’t as effective at preventing the spread of herpes and human papilloma virus, also known as HPV. But, before you start freaking out, you should know that while they aren’t AS effective, they still reduce your risk of transmission. So why don’t condoms work for these diseases if they’ve proven to be such a great barrier method  of protection for so many others?

Remember that episode of Girls when Hannah is freaking out about “all of the stuff that gets around the bottom of the condom”. Well, turns out there is some validity to her argument. HPV can be present on the skin of those who carry it with absolutely no symptoms whatsoever, the same is true for herpes, unfortunately. Another tricky part about these viruses is that its viral particles can shed from a part of the genitals not covered by a condom–say, a man’s scrotum or a part of his shaft that isn’t completely covered by the condom. These can then be transferred onto the condom, and onto your lady parts.

So what’s the best way to prevent the spread of these diseases? Use condoms. They still greatly reduce your risk of infection, even if it isn’t 100%. Getting tested regularly, and making sure your partner does too, is a great way to stay safer when you’re having sex. And, lucky for us, most strains if HPV resolve themselves–only a few are cancer causing. You may want to look into getting vaccinated with Gardisil. Both women and men are now advised to be vaccinated. And what about when it comes to herpes? Well, there’s a reason 1 out of every 6 people aged 14-49 (peak years of sexual activity) has the virus. It’s easy to transmit. Stay as safe as possible, and take comfort in knowing that if you do contract herpes, there’s some great antiviral medicines out there that are making living with it a lot easier than it ever has been in the past.

Sex (Re)Education is a weekly series in which we debunk myths you learned during sex education back in grade school and high school.

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