A pile of different colored condoms.

Things condoms can’t always prevent

Most birth control methods come with the footnote that, no matter how effective they are at preventing pregnancy, they don’t prevent sexually transmitted infections, and the implied comparison is, not like condoms.

How effective are condoms?

While condoms are helpful and protect the user from some STDIs and getting pregnant, condoms aren’t a cure-all. There are infections that condoms don’t always protect against even when they work perfectly.

Pubic lice

Other things that fall under the heading of STIs are scarier and more dangerous, but there’s nothing that sounds worse than pubic lice. And unfortunately, they’re one of those things that using a condom won’t necessarily protect you from, since they can spread through non-genital skin-to-skin contact, and even, in rare cases, through very infested clothing and bedclothes. Mutually monogamous sexual relationships and good personal hygiene from your sexual partner along with condom use can help reduce the chances of catching them.


Genital herpes can be passed along through skin-to-skin contact outside of the genital area a condom covers, and can be caught from sexual partners who don’t have any visible sores and therefore may not know they’ve been infected. Condoms and monogamous sexual relationships are still the best way to avoid herpes, as well as open communication with sexual partners.


HPV, or the human papilloma virus, can lie dormant for years, but it can also cause genital warts or certain kinds of cancer, most often cervical cancer. It can infect and then be passed on through parts of the skin that aren’t covered by condoms, and using a condom definitely lowers risk. HPV vaccines also exist and provide a much better chance of avoiding contracting HPV than condoms alone.


Like HPV and herpes, syphilis can be caught and passed on through skin-on-skin contact either in the genital area, which condoms protect against, and in the area around it, which condoms do not. This means condoms are still a good idea, but they’re no guarantee against syphilis.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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