Sex Advice

Dear Dr. Locker: I've heard that condoms are never 100% safe, and they protect against certain STDs better than others. What's the story, and aside from celibacy, what do I do?

Answer from Dr. Locker

When worn properly, latex condoms form a barrier that keeps semen, vaginal secretions, or blood from coming in contact with the penis, urethra, vagina, cervix or rectum. Condoms are highly effective against diseases that are transmitted that way, which are: Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis B and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). However, condoms are not as effective against the two viral STDs passed from skin-to-skin contact: genital herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV). These can be prevented only when the condom covers the affected area of skin, but not when the STD is occurring in regions outside of where the condom covers (like the labia or base of the penis)

Surely you know to abstain from sex when a partner has visible genital warts or herpes sores or if the person tells you that he or she has had a recent outbreak. But the tricky aspect of HPV and genital herpes is that people may not show any symptoms and may still be able to transmit them during vagina or anal intercourse or oral sex. When in doubt, shroud your spout. In other words, use condoms properly every time you have sex to effectively protect yourself against most diseases, and to improve your odds of avoiding the others. Or be mutually monogamous with one honest, faithful partner who has been found to have no STDs in periodic medical screenings.

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