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The 6 Most Common STDs in Men

You can prevent STDs. Here’s how.

How Well Do Condoms Prevent STDs?

That question has been devilishly hard for scientists to answer, says Markus Steiner, PhD, senior epidemiologist with Family Health International, a nonprofit group that focuses on STDs. “People aren’t lab animals that can be carefully manipulated,” Steiner says. “When it comes to asking people what they do in their bedrooms, they’re often likely to tell you what they think you want to hear“ -- a problem called “social desirability bias.”

What’s more, people who use condoms are typically people having "high-risk" sex, meaning with a variety of partners, for instance, or in settings where the risk of encountering an infected person is higher, such as in sex clubs. Those who don’t use condoms are more likely to be in monogamous relationships. “So if you simply ask about condom use and then measure rates of sexually transmitted diseases, these two problems can lead condoms to appear less effective than they really are.”

New Evidence on Condom Effectiveness

Until recently, in fact, there was little evidence one way or the other on how well condoms lowered the risk for specific STDs. Anti-condom forces used that fact to argue that condoms don’t protect. But lately, important new findings show that condom use can lower the risk of infection -- not only of HIV/AIDS, but of many other STDs. A 2006 study by University of Washington researchers found that women whose partners consistently used condoms were half as likely to be infected with human papillomavirus. For HIV/AIDS, consistent and careful condom use can lower risk of infection by a whopping 90%. When researchers from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention reviewed results from 45 studies looking at gonorrhea and chlamydia infection, they found solid evidence that condoms reduce the risk of these two STDs as well.

Do pro-condom messages promote risky sex? For years, that’s been the worry of groups that promote abstinence. But a review of 174 programs that encouraged condom use found no increase in unsafe sexual behavior.

The bottom line: Condoms don’t offer 100% protection, but they can certainly lower your risk -- and the risk of your partner.

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Reviewed on December 16, 2009

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