Are There STDs You Can Get While Wearing a Condom or Dental Dam?
Condoms act as a barrier to STDs that are found in bodily fluids like semen, vaginal fluids and blood by either containing the fluids if the individual wearing the condom is infected, or protecting the individual who is wearing the condom from an infected partner. This goes for whether or not a male or female condom is being used. Same goes for dental dams that are used for oral sex. Their purpose is to prevent the spread of STDs.
Only condoms and other barrier devices that are manufactured for STD prevention are considered suitable for prevention in the FDA’s eyes. Natural condoms, like those made of lambskin, are not safe for preventing STDs; their pores are too small to allow sperm cells to pass through, but viruses and bacteria can permeate the pores and spread. Learn more about the different types of condoms.
Do Condoms Prevent STDs?
Do Condoms and Dental Dams Prevent STDs?
Genital STDs that can be contracted while using a condom include:
HPV (human papillomavirus)
- HPV is the most common STI; there are over 100 strains of the virus. Some strains of HPV go unnoticed and seem to cause no symptoms at all, while others can cause genital warts or various cancers. Because genital warts can be on parts of the genitals that are not covered by a condom, especially female condoms, HPV can be spread via skin-to-skin contact. What’s worse– there is no male STD test for HPV and many cases show no symptoms, so it is often passed on unknowingly to partners.
- Genital herpes is a viral STD that typically results in sores or lesions on the genitals, anus or upper thighs. A case of either HSV-1 or HSV-2 is called genital herpes when it affects the genitals or the genital area. Since lesions or sores can occur on parts of the genital region that is exposed during condom use, it can be spread from partner to partner.
- Syphilis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that spreads through sexual contact, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Syphilis sores occur at the infection site, and can be contracted by a partner via skin-to-skin contact regardless of condom use.
- Pubic lice, also known as crabs, are Pthirus pubis that infect the genitals. These lice are most common among teens and are typically spread during sexual, skin-to-skin contact. Pubic lice can live among pubic hair and can spread whether a condom is used or not.
- Molluscum contagiosum causes small red or pink raised bumps to form on the body. These firm bumps are typically painless and can sometimes appear as small dimples. When they occur on the genitals from skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual, and they are considered an STI.
Do Condoms Protect Against STDs
Oral or genital STDs you can get whether using a dental dam or condom are:
- Oral herpes can be spread to the genitals as well. So, even if the genitals do not look infected or no herpes is present, herpes can still spread if there are lesions inside and outside the mouth if oral sex is performed. Herpes can be on the skin around the mouth, lips, and even gums. If you kiss someone with a sore on the inside or outside of the lips, then you are opening yourself up to an infection.
- If the mouth is touching the pubic area outside of the condom or dental dam, there is a risk of contracting genital warts. HPV, which is found in both men and women, can cause these warts. They can be located on the genitals, but also the area where pubic hair may grow. There is also the HPV vaccine that prevents the spread of certain HPV strains that cause cancer. It has a 90% effective rate at preventing genital warts.
- Chlamydia can spread to the throat from oral sex if proper barriers are not in place. For men and women, chlamydia can only live in tissue, like the inside of the vagina (cervix), penis (urethra), and anus, or in the cornea of the eye. The bacteria cannot survive on the outside of the body. It can also be transmitted through bodily fluids. That’s why there is a risk of it spreading to the throat during oral sex.
- Like chlamydia, gonorrhea can also spread to the throat during oral sex with the genitals or rectum.
- Syphilis can be spread to the inside and outside of the mouth. It may appear as small red sores that get bigger. They can also appear as gray, yellow, or red if they are open sores. They can appear around 21 days after a sexual encounter with an infected person.
- There is a lower risk of contracting HIV from oral sex as opposed to vaginal or anal sex, but there is still a risk nonetheless. If you are giving oral to an infected person you may contract HIV if you have a sore or cut inside or around your mouth. Same applies if you are receiving oral sex from an infected person and there is a cut or open sore on your genitals or rectum. Only an undetectable viral load in bodily fluids or blood can completely negate the risk of contracting HIV from oral sex.
Pubic lice (crabs)
- Pubic lice can live not only in genital hair but other coarse hair, like mustaches, beards, chest and armpit hair, brows, and eyelashes. You can also get them by using an infected person’s clothing, bed, or towel. Pubic lice are pretty easy to spot with the naked eye. Just like head lice, you’ll see little bugs that look like crabs crawling around near the base of the pubic hair (near the roots). All sexual and physical contact should be avoided until the lice clears up. This lice gets treated just like head lice as well, with over-the-counter creams and lotions that kill lice on the spot.
From the above, we can deduce that even with condoms and dental dams properly used, there is still a risk of getting an STD if there is contact with exposed skin. That’s why it is so important to abstain from skin-on-skin contact. If skin-on-skin contact cannot be avoided, then carefully examine the pubic and genital area to check for any of the STDs discussed above. You and your sexual partner(s) can also be tested for STDs prior to any sexual act. No matter what stage you’re at in the relationship, it’s always good to have honest discussions about wanting to get tested or when everyone’s last test was. STD condom awareness is an important part of any sexual relationship.
Medically Reviewed by Joshua Hwang, MD on April 1, 2022
Author: STD Check Editorial Team
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