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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Condoms

Can condoms provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV?

Yes. Whether you use latex male condoms or female condoms, they are both very effective in preventing HIV and many other STDs when used the right way every time. Condoms may prevent the spread of other STDs, like the Human Papillomavirus (HPV, genital or venereal warts) or genital herpes, only when the condom covers the infected areas or sores. To find out if you might have an STD, visit your doctor or clinic as soon as you can.

Is there a 100% effective way to prevent sexual transmission of HIV and STDs?

The only 100% effective way to prevent sexual transmission of HIV and STDs is through abstinence - avoiding all vaginal, anal and oral sex. Using a latex male condom or a female condom can greatly reduce, but not entirely eliminate, the risk of HIV and STD transmission. Abstinence is the only method to completely eliminate the possibility of sexual transmission of HIV or STDs.

Do birth control methods other than condoms reduce the risk of STDs including HIV?

No. Only condoms reduce the risk of pregnancy, STDs and HIV. Birth control pills, the birth control patch, contraceptive injections such as Depo-Provera, intrauterine devices (IUDs), diaphragms, and any birth control methods other than condoms do not provide protection against STDs and HIV. You should use a latex male condom or a female condom for STD and HIV prevention along with any other method you use to prevent pregnancy. Condoms can prevent the spread of other STDs, like HPV or genital herpes, only when the condom covers all of the infected area or sores.

What is the correct way to use a condom?

  • Store condoms in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. Check the expiration date on the condom wrapper or box. Condoms that are past their expiration date may break.
  • Open the package carefully. Teeth or fingernails can rip the condom.

For latex male condoms:

  • Put on the condom after the penis is hard. If the penis is not circumcised, pull back the foreskin before putting on the condom.
  • Pinch the tip of the condom to leave a little space (about a half inch) at the top to catch semen. Unroll the condom all the way down the penis. Add a little bit of water-based lubricant (like K-Y®, ID Glide® and Wet®) to the outside of the condom.
  • After ejaculation, hold the rim of the condom and pull out the penis while it is still hard, so that no semen spills out.
  • Use a new condom every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex.

For female condoms:

  • You may insert the female condom up to eight hours before sexual intercourse.
  • You should add a few drops of extra lubricant to the inside of the female condom before putting it in the vagina. Lubricant may also be added to the penis before having sex.
  • Hold the female condom with the open end hanging down. Holding the outside of the condom, squeeze the inner ring with your thumb and middle finger. Put your index finger between your thumb and middle finger.
  • Still squeezing the inner ring, insert the condom into the vagina. Once the condom is inside the vagina, put your index finger inside the condom and push the inner ring up as high as it will go.
  • The inner ring sits above your pubic bone and holds the condom in place. The outer ring should be outside the vagina. Make sure the condom is not twisted.
  • Be sure the penis enters inside the female condom and stays inside the female condom during sex. If the penis enters under or outside the condom, stop right away. Take out the condom and reinsert it.
  • If the condom moves, sticks to the penis or makes noise, add more lubricant.
  • After sex, just twist the outer ring to keep semen inside the condom and pull it out gently.
  • Use a new condom every time you have sex.

Do male and female condoms provide the same protection against HIV?

Yes. Studies show that female condoms are as effective at protecting against HIV as male condoms. Female condoms are made of nitrile, which is an effective barrier to HIV. Male and female condoms should not be used at the same time. Female condoms, like latex male condoms, are available in some drug stores, community health centers, and AIDS service organizations.

Does spermicide provide additional protection against HIV?

You should not use additional or separate applications of spermicide for HIV prevention during vaginal or anal sex. Women who use spermicidal cream or jelly for pregnancy prevention should also use a condom to protect against HIV and to provide better protection against pregnancy than spermicide alone.

Spermicides contain the chemical nonoxynol-9 (N-9). Although N-9 kills HIV in test tubes, one study showed that N-9 inserted into the vagina may irritate the vagina and actually increase the risk of HIV infection during vaginal sex. N-9 may also irritate the lining of the rectum and should not be used for anal sex.

Some condoms are pre-lubricated with a lubricant containing N-9. These condoms still provide greater protection against HIV than not using a condom. However, a lubricated condom without N-9 may be the best for HIV prevention.

How can I prevent HIV transmission and STDs during oral sex?

Although oral sex presents less of a risk for HIV and some STDs than vaginal or anal sex, the risk still exists. Herpes is commonly passed between genitals and the mouth, and you can get a bacterial infection in your mouth or throat from an STD. The risk of HIV transmission through oral sex is low, but people have been infected this way. Oral sex can be made safer by using a latex barrier. For oral sex performed on a man, a non-lubricated condom is recommended. For oral sex performed on a woman, a dental dam (a thin square of latex), a non-lubricated condom that is cut open or a plastic wrap can be used to cover the vagina. Oral-anal sex (rimming) is a high-risk activity that may be made safer by using a dental dam.

How can I prevent HIV transmission and STDs during anal sex?

Unprotected anal sex with a person who has HIV or another STD, or whose HIV or STD status you do not know, is the highest-risk sexual activity for both men and women. The walls of the anus and rectum are thin and have many blood vessels than can be injured during anal sex. Injured tissue in the anus and rectum can expose you to HIV and other STDs. Male latex condoms used with a water-based lubricant reduces the chance of tissue and skin tearing and lowers the risk of transmitting disease during anal sex. However, even with lubrication, male condoms fail more often during anal sex than during vaginal or oral sex. Female condoms should not be used for anal sex, as they do not provide adequate protection. Because use of the female condom during anal sex requires removal of the inner ring, the female condom is unlikely to stay in place during anal intercourse.

How can I prevent HIV transmission and STDs during vaginal sex?

HIV is spread during vaginal sex when HIV-infected semen, vaginal fluid or menstrual blood comes into contact with the mucous membranes of the vagina or penis. Some STDs (e.g., gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis) are spread the same way as HIV. Other STDs (e.g., herpes, syphilis, chancroid) are transmitted through contact with infected skin or mucous membranes. In general, since there is more mucous membrane area in the vagina, and a greater possibility of small cuts in the vagina, women are more likely than men to get infected with HIV and some STDs through unprotected vaginal sex. Teenagers and women entering menopause are at especially high risk for getting HIV and other STDs because the tissue lining the vagina is more fragile at these ages. Cuts or sores on the penis or vagina raise the risk of HIV infection and STDs during vaginal sex for both men and women. Using a latex male condom or a female condom lowers your risk of getting HIV and STDs through vaginal sex.

Do sex partners who both have HIV need to use condoms?

Yes. People who have HIV still need protection from STDs and may want to prevent pregnancy. Condoms also protect against exposure to different types, or strains, of HIV. Re-infection or superinfection with a new strain of HIV may make the disease progress more quickly and may require the use of medicines different from the ones used to treat the original strain.