Contraception is commonly used to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but there are also some barrier contraceptives that can help to protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

STIs can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites, depending on the type of infection, and are usually passed through skin-to-skin contact or bodily fluids. Common STIs include gonorrhoea, chlamydia, herpes, syphilis, human papillomavirus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Treatment will depend on the cause of the infection, and some have no symptoms, so it’s important that you get tested regularly.

While perhaps not always the primary reason for using contraception, using methods that can prevent such infections is exceptionally important. This is particularly the case when you or your partner are sexually active with more than one person, or you’re having sex with a new partner.


What birth control protects against STIs?

Read on to find out which birth control methods  can prevent STIs, as well as how to reduce the risk of contracting an infection.


1. Condoms

Condoms are an effective way of preventing the transmission of STIs. In fact, the NHS says that male and female condoms are the only two barrier types that can protect you from common STIs, including HIV/AIDS.  

When using contraception such as a male condom, it’s important that it is applied correctly to prevent breakages and that it is the right size. A condom that is too small, for instance, is more likely to break and this could put you at risk of an STI should your partner have one. If you’re unsure, read the manufacturer’s instructions and use a condom every time you have sex (not just intermittently).

You may also wish to consider the material the condom is made out of. Latex is the most popular material due to its durability and impermeability, but for those with a latex allergy, polyurethane can be just as effective.  Condoms that are made from other materials, like synthetic rubbers, may be more prone to breakage and this could reduce their effectiveness. 

Female condoms can be worn inside the vagina to prevent sperm from entering and reduce direct skin-to-skin contact during intercourse. They are still effective at preventing common STIs.

You may wish to combine two methods of contraception if you want to protect against both pregnancy and STIs, such as condoms and the pill.


2. Dams

Some STIs are more likely to be passed on during oral sex than others, particularly if you are receiving oral sex rather than giving it. To reduce the risk of passing STIs to your partner, you can use dams. A dam is a latex square that’s usually around six inches wide. It is applied over the genitals for use during oral sex , and acts as a barrier to prevent STIs from being passed from one person to another via skin-to-skin contact.  


3. Diaphragms and caps

Diaphragms, much like dental dams, are a barrier contraception. They sit high up in the vagina at the entrance to the cervix to prevent sperm from entering and fertilising an egg. For this reason, they are not as effective at reducing STIs because skin-to-skin contact still occurs. Therefore, should you use a diaphragm as a method of contraception to prevent pregnancy, you may also want to use a condom to reduce the risk of contracting an STI.  


Does all birth control prevent STIs?

As already established, not all birth control methods prevent STIs, but this is particularly the case for hormonal contraceptives that don’t create a physical barrier between the skin or bodily fluids. This includes contraceptives such as pills (both the progestogen-only pill and the combined pill), patches, implants, sponges, coils, spermicides and more. 

When you take hormonal contraception, you might also want to consider using condoms, especially with a new partner or if you have more than one sexual partner. You can also get tested regularly by your GP or at a sexual health clinic to ensure you don’t have an infection or to get the right treatment should the test come back positive.  


STI risk factors

The following are risk factors that might increase your chance of contracting an infection:

  • Having unprotected sex
  • Having more than one sexual partner at any one time
  • Having a partner who has more than one sexual partner
  • Using a condom inconsistently or incorrectly
  • Using oil-based lubricants that can degrade latex, increasing the risk of a broken condom
  • Being a gay or bisexual man

How to reduce the risk of getting an STI

In order to practice safe sex and reduce your risk of contracting an infection in the most effective way, you should always use barrier contraception to prevent STIs, like a condom, with a new sexual partner. If you have multiple sexual partners, you should always use a condom during intercourse to prevent passing a virus or bacteria around.