When used correctly condoms are effective against the majority of sexually transmitted infections. They can prevent the spread of the most common infections, including chlamydia and gonorrhoea, and the most dangerous in HIV. However, one thing that many people probably don’t realise is that there are a number of STIs that can still be caught regardless of whether you wear a condom or not. In this article we identify which conditions you’re still at risk of.
OK, first things first…
As we’ve already mentioned, condoms are incredibly important when it comes to practising safe sex. That said, they are still only 98% effective against the prevention of all STIs, including those that didn’t make our list below. That is to say that if you have sex, condom or not, there is always a small chance that you may catch something. For this reason it’s important that you get tested regularly, particularly if you’ve had sex with multiple people since your last test or you’ve recently started a new relationship.
Which STIs don’t condoms prevent?
Whether you practice safe sex or not, you’re still at risk of catching these infections.
Herpes is a virus that presents on the skin as lesions. It can never be cured, only managed. During outbreaks of genital herpes there may be a number of lesions that appear around your genitals that are highly contagious.
“If you have sex with someone who has herpes and has an outbreak you can catch the disease,” says Dr Bani. “If you use a condom and it doesn’t cover the lesions then you’re still at risk of catching genital herpes. You’re also at risk if you perform oral sex on someone with lesions or they perform oral sex on you if their mouth is infected.”
It’s advisable that you abstain from sex during an outbreak if you have genital herpes. This is the only sure fire way to avoid of transmitting the virus. However, even when symptoms aren’t present there is always a risk that you can transmit the infections as the virus may come to the surface of the skin from time to time without showing symptoms.
During the primary stages of syphilis, a firm, round and usually painless sore, known as a chancre, may be present. If you make skin on skin contact with the sore then you’re at risk of catching the disease. Similarly to Herpes, if the condom doesn’t cover the sore then you’re obviously at a greater risk.
“Condoms can be effective at preventing the spread of syphilis but the risk is still there if the condom doesn’t cover the chancre,” says Dr Bani. “You should abstain from sex until the syphilis is treated, but another complicating factor is the painless nature of the sore can mean that it goes unnoticed.”
HPV & Genital Warts
HPV (human papillomavirus) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. There are around 200 strains of the virus and about 40 of them affect the genital region. Some strains of the virus can cause genital warts, but many don’t show any symptoms at all and you can be completely fine. There is no cure for HPV, but your body will usually fight the virus successfully.
“If you’re sexually active, even if you used a condom, it’s probable that you’ll have caught HPV at some stage in your life,” says Dr Bani. “This rarely has any symptoms and there is no cure for the virus itself. Luckily your body will fight the infection in the majority of cases and most of the time you won’t even know about it.”
Because your body fights the virus itself, there’s not actually any need to test for HPV routinely. If genital warts are present you can catch them through skin on skin contact. These will usually go on their own overtime, but they can be removed using a procedure or topical creams. Certain HPV strains are implicated in the development of cervical cancer, which is why regular cervical screening (smear test) is important. There is also a HPV vaccine available and is now part of the NHS children’s vaccination programme.
Testing is the most effective way to prevent STDs causing harm
As you’ve probably gathered from this article, although they certainly help, condoms are never certain to prevent sexually transmitted infections. The only way to limit the damage the sexually transmitted diseases can do is through regular STI testing. Many STDs can harm fertility, whilst others can be fatal without treatment. Luckily, testing is readily available through services such as Your Sexual Health or by visiting your local NHS clinic.
To find out more about our tests or for help choosing the most useful test for you requirements, contact our team today on 0161 660 2599.