We’re all told time and time again to use condoms to reduce the chance of pregnancy and STIs. But it’s not very often we’re told how they work.
Body fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions, anal fluid, and saliva are where common STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea live on our bodies. These infections are easily passed on when infected body fluid mixes with our own.
We can’t see infections by just looking.
The only way you can tell if these body fluids are infected is to get them tested. But sex can happen when you least expect it, so it’s not always realistic to get tested before we have sex with someone!
They’re a physical barrier stopping the fluids from mixing. This is very effective if you put a condom on an erect penis (or sex toy) before any genital contact. Genital contact before a condom is used means infected fluid could be transferred to your partner directly, or on to the condom via genital fluids on your hands. This means the STI could still get passed on!
Some STIs are actually transmitted through the rubbing of genital skin rather than through body fluids. These include herpes, warts, and syphilis. Condoms reduce the amount of genital skin contact and significantly decrease your risk of getting or passing on these infections. But they’re not 100% effective.
Condoms actually rarely break. But if they do, it’s usually because they’re very old (check the expiry!) or weakened by being stored in bright sun or high heat. They may also be damaged by some oils and lotions or if space isn’t left at the tip to collect the semen.
If a condom does break, the best thing to do is get an STI test. Don’t panic! Most STIs are treatable! If you were using condoms to prevent pregnancy, it’s a good idea to get the emergency contraception pill (ECP) within 72 hours (you don’t need a script for this, just ask for it from your pharmacist).
If you want to know more you can ring 1800 451 624 between 9:00am and 5:30pm Monday to Friday to talk with a sexual health nurse. It’s confidential and free if you call from a landline.