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How well do condoms prevent HIV?

If you use them the right way every time you have sex, condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV infection. But it’s important to educate yourself about how to use them the right way.

Condoms can also help prevent other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) you can get through body fluids, like gonorrhea and chlamydia. However, they provide less protection against STDs spread through skin-to-skin contact, like human papillomavirus or HPV (genital warts), genital herpes, and syphilis.

There are two main types of condoms: male and female.

Male Condoms

  • A male condom is a thin layer of latex, polyurethane, polyisoprene, or natural membrane worn over the penis during sex.
  • Latex condoms provide the best protection against HIV. Polyurethane (plastic) or polyisoprene (synthetic rubber) condoms are good options for people with latex allergies, but plastic ones break more often than latex ones. Natural membrane (such as lambskin) condoms have small holes in them, so they don’t block HIV and other STDs.
  • Use water- or silicone-based lubricants to lower the chances that a condom will break or slip during sex. Don’t use oil-based lubricants (for example, Vaseline, shortening, mineral oil, massage oils, body lotions, and cooking oil) with latex condoms because they can weaken the condom and cause it to break. Don’t use lubricants containing nonoxynol-9. It irritates the lining of the vagina and anus and increases the risk of getting HIV.

Female Condoms

  • A female condom is a thin pouch made of a synthetic latex product called nitrile. It’s designed to be worn by a woman in her vagina during sex.
  • When worn in the vagina, female condoms are comparable to male condoms at preventing HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy. Some people use female condoms for anal sex.
  • One of the benefits of using a female condom is that it allows women shared responsibility to prevent infections.
  • It is safe to use any kind of lubricant with nitrile female condoms.

Even if you use condoms the right way every time you have sex, there’s still a chance of getting HIV. For some individuals at high risk of getting or transmitting HIV, adding other prevention methods, like taking medicines to prevent and treat HIV, can further reduce their risk.

Can a lubricant help reduce my HIV risk?

Yes, because lubricants can help prevent condoms from breaking or slipping.

Water-based and silicon-based lubricants are safe to use with all condoms. Oil-based lubricants and products containing oil, such as hand lotion, Vaseline, or Crisco, should not be used with latex condoms because they can weaken the condom and cause it to break. It is safe to use any kind of lubricant with nitrile female condoms. But lubricants containing nonoxynol-9 should not be used because nonoxynol-9 irritates the lining of the vagina and anus and increases the risk of getting HIV.

Can male circumcision prevent HIV?

Circumcised men are less likely than uncircumcised men to get HIV from HIV-positive female partners.

Circumcision is a surgical procedure in which the foreskin surrounding the penis is partially or completely removed, exposing the glans.

Studies have shown that male circumcision is one of the most effective ways to prevent HIV advance. When the foreskin is retracted, the glans is covered by a fine, mucous surface that is not as resistant as normal body skin, and prone to suffering microscopic lesions imperceptible to the human eye. These lesions are an easy access for the virus. When the foreskin is removed, the glans surface becomes more resistant.

Aside from diminishing risk of HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea and human papilloma virus transmission in men, the circumcision can diminish risk in developing cervical cancer in women who have sex with circumcised men.

Can I get vaccinated to prevent HIV?

No. There is currently no vaccine that will prevent HIV infection or treat those who have it.