STIs and Birth Control
In 2018, the CDC released an estimate that approximately half of all new STIs diagnosed in the U.S. are among those aged 15-24. It’s important that young women empower themselves with the knowledge and information needed to protect themselves, not only from unplanned pregnancy but STIs as well. The purpose of birth control or contraception is to help prevent unwanted pregnancy and, in some cases, STIs. It’s crucial to note that even the most effective forms of birth control can only prevent pregnancy and STIs a percentage of the time.
The CDC says, “the most reliable way to prevent STDs is not to have, vaginal, anal, or oral sex” (1). In other words, the only way to completely prevent STI’s or unplanned pregnancy is to not have any form of sexual intercourse. While abstinence is the most effective way to prevent STIs, there are forms of birth control that provide some protection against STIs.
There are many different types of contraception or birth control. Most of them don’t protect against STIs. After permanent contraception (i.e. tubal ligation or vasectomy), oral contraceptives (the pill) is the most common method of birth control used among women. The pill is followed by condoms, which will be talked about in the next paragraphs. Other options for birth control methods include IUD, implant, injection, withdrawal method, NFP, patch, ring, and emergency contraceptive (2). All of these methods provide no protection against STIs, so using these methods as a single form of protection will help the prevention of pregnancy but not STIs.
Condoms (both male and female) are the only method of contraception that are advertised as helping prevent pregnancy and STIs. While condoms can increase your protection against certain STIs, they don’t offer protection against STIs 100% of the time. There’s no guarantee that because you used a condom, even if used properly, you aren’t at risk for getting an STI. Many STIs have no symptoms, so if you’ve had sex (even with a condom) it’s important to get tested.
Condoms work primarily by preventing exposure to a partner’s bodily fluids and/or skin around the genitals. Even with perfect, use they’re only effective in preventing pregnancy and STI’s about 79-82% of the time (1). Condoms are particularly less effective in preventing STIs that are transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, meaning there’s a risk of contracting an STI from an area of skin on or near the genitals that is not covered by the condom. The STIs that are transmitted via skin-to-skin contact include HPV, herpes, trichomoniasis, HIV, syphilis, and molluscum contagiosum.
While birth control can reduce the risk of an unplanned pregnancy, it offers no guarantees. Only condoms provide some protection against STIs. The most effective way to prevent both is to not have vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
1. CDC. 2019.
2. Guttmacher. 2021.