5 STDs You Can Catch…Even With A Condom
It has been about one month since news broke that R&B singer Usher has allegedly been infecting a string of women (and one man) with the herpes virus. Not only did this story raise eyebrows, it also caused an influx of questions and concerns amongst my college students and young adult clients.
“How is spreading herpes possible, if using a condom,” they inquired. Here is the reality of sexually transmitted diseases, that many do not know. The basic purpose of a condom is to prevent the transmission of semen. When you interrupt this exchange, you can prevent both pregnancy and the spread of many STDs during intercourse. Now the reality many of you do not know: not all STDs are spread through semen. In other words, a condom is not the phenomenal protection you thought it was created to be. Anything that can be spread through skin-to-skin contact, can not be protected by a condom. If you are sexually active, there are five STDs you need to know can be spread even if you or your partner is wearing a condom.
The basic purpose of a condom is to prevent the transmission of semen.
Genital herpes is a very common sexually transmitted disease. In the United States, one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes. If a person has a herpes lesion that is on an area of the groin or pelvis and is not covered by the condom, transmission from that lesion can take place. You can catch herpes by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the disease. It is recommended that a person abstain from sex when an active outbreak (most infectious period) is present. Abstaining during this time decreases the risk of spreading the virus to your partner; but remember the virus can still be transmitted when there’s no visible outbreak as well. Long story short, herpes can spread from an infected sex partner who does not have a visible sore, or who may not know he or she is infected because the virus can be released through your skin and spread the infection to your sex partner(s).
The most common STD is HPV, or human papillomavirus. If you are sexually active, chances are you will be exposed to HPV at some point in your life. Some strains can cause genital warts, while other strains show no symptoms; which is why many people do not know they have HPV. With or without warts present, HPV can be passed with skin-to-skin contact. Some strains of HPV can lead to cervical cancer. Although there is evidence that condoms can reduce cervical cancer risk; there is not distinct evidence of its ability to prevent specific HPV strains.
I highly recommend everyone to get tested every three to six months, or before initiating sexual contact with a new partner.
Molluscum contagiosum is a virus that manifests as tiny little bumps on the skin. It’s not a familiar STD, because it doesn’t cause any long-term health problems and is typically asymptomatic other than the appearance of bumps. It’s a skin condition commonly transmitted between kids, but in adults it is usually transmitted sexually. Women will typically notice molluscum on the vulva. The small, round bumps can appear anywhere from two to three months after the time of infection, and may itch or feel tender to the touch.
Pubic Lice (Crabs)
Pubic lice, or crabs, is not super common anymore because people tend to groom more often. However, if you are rocking a full bush, there is a chance of catching pubic lice from an infected partner. Since lice lay eggs and live in the hair, a condom will do absolutely nothing to protect you from these micro critters.
Syphilis presents as a firm, round, and usually painless sore, called a chancre. Similar to herpes, a condom will not fully protect you. Wearing a condom only decreases the likelihood it will spread. Condoms can be effective if the chancre is covered by the condom; but if it is located on a part of the penis that’s exposed, it is likely the virus can be transmitted.
Bottom line: If you are sexually active it is important to get tested regularly, even if you practice safe sex. Getting tested regularly is not only about avoiding STDs, but it’s also important to prevent an infection from having a greater impact on your health. If left untreated for too long, some STDs can lead to infertility. If you have multiple partners, or if your partner might have multiple partners, it is absolutely crucial that you get tested regularly. This is particularly important given the fact that many individuals are asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) when they have a sexually transmitted infection.
I highly recommend everyone to get tested every three to six months, or before initiating sexual contact with a new partner. Do not hesitate or be ashamed to ask any new partners when they were last tested. You want to make sure they have a clean bill of sexual health as well.
Sandra is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), a National Certified Counselor (NCC), and a Certified Confidence & Mindset Coach.
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