Condom Fact Sheet in Brief
Consistent and correct use of the male latex condom reduces the risk of sexually transmitted disease (STD) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission. However, condom use cannot provide absolute protection against any STD. The most reliable ways to avoid transmission of STDs are to abstain from sexual activity, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. However, many infected persons may be unaware of their infection because STDs often are asymptomatic and unrecognized.
Condom effectiveness for STD and HIV prevention has been demonstrated by both laboratory and epidemiologic studies. Evidence of condom effectiveness is also based on theoretical and empirical data regarding the transmission of different STDs, the physical properties of condoms, and the anatomic coverage or protection provided by condoms.
Laboratory studies have shown that latex condoms provide an effective barrier against even the smallest STD pathogens.
Epidemiologic studies that compare rates of HIV infection between condom users and nonusers who have HIV-infected sex partners demonstrate that consistent condom use is highly effective in preventing transmission of HIV. Similarly, epidemiologic studies have shown that condom use reduces the risk of many other STDs. However, the exact magnitude of protection has been difficult to quantify because of numerous methodological challenges inherent in studying private behaviors that cannot be directly observed or measured.
Theoretical and empirical basis for protection: Condoms can be expected to provide different levels of protection for various STDs, depending on differences in how the diseases or infections are transmitted. Male condoms may not cover all infected areas or areas that could become infected. Thus, they are likely to provide greater protection against STDs that are transmitted only by genital fluids (STDs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and HIV infection) than against infections that are transmitted primarily by skin-to-skin contact, which may or may not infect areas covered by a condom (STDs such as genital herpes, human papillomavirus [HPV] infection, syphilis, and chancroid).
Other STDs and Associated Conditions
To achieve maximum protection by using condoms, they must be used consistently and correctly.
The failure of condoms to protect against STD/HIV transmission usually results from inconsistent or incorrect use, rather than product failure.
- Inconsistent or nonuse can lead to STD acquisition because transmission can occur with a single sex act with an infected partner.
- Incorrect use diminishes the protective effect of condoms by leading to condom breakage, slippage, or leakage. Incorrect use more commonly entails a failure to use condoms throughout the entire sex act, from start (of sexual contact) to finish (after ejaculation).
- Carey, Lytle, & Cyr (1999). Implications of laboratory tests of condom integrity. Sex Transm Dis, 26(4): 216-20.
- Lytle, Routson, Seaborn, Dixon, Bushar, & Cyr (1997). An in vitro evaluation of condoms as barriers to a small virus. Sex Transm Dis, 24(3):161-164.
- CDC (2006). Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2006. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 55(RR-11).
- Steiner, Cates, & Warner (1999). The real problem with male condoms is non-use. Sex Transm Dis, 26(8): 459-62.
- Warner, Stone, Macaluso, Buehler, & Austin (2006). Condom use and risk of gonorrhea and Chlamydia: A systematic review of design and measurement factors assessed in epidemiologic studies. Sex Transm Dis, 33(1): 36-51.
- Weller & Davis (2001). Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission. Cochrane Database Syst Rev; 3:CD003255.