Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are preventable through the use of certain contraceptives, including internal condoms, external condoms, and dental dams.

While there are many types of birth control available, only some of them protect against STIs. These include barrier methods of protection.

Barrier methods of protection stop or significantly reduce the exchange of bodily fluids, which helps to prevent people from contracting and transmitting STIs, such as chlamydia, HIV, and gonorrhea.

However, they may not be as effective in preventing STIs that are typically contracted via skin-to-skin contact, such as herpes and genital warts.

A couple being intimate -1Share on Pinterest
Yurii Shevchenko/Stocksy

External condoms, otherwise known as male condoms, provide a physical barrier that prevents the exchange of bodily fluids during sexual intercourse, which is a primary way STIs are transmitted.

By covering the penis, condoms reduce the risk of contact with vaginal, anal, or oral secretions, as well as with sores or lesions that might be present on the genitalia.

External condoms come in several varieties, primarily distinguishable by the materials they contain. Types of condoms include:

  • latex
  • polyurethane
  • polyisoprene
  • textured
  • lubricated
  • spermicide-coated

How to use

The following steps explain how to use a condom correctly.

  1. Carefully open the packet and remove the condom, making sure to avoid tearing it.
  2. Place the condom on the tip of the penis, with the rolled side out.
  3. Pinch the tip of the condom to prevent an air bubble.
  4. Unroll the condom to the base of the erect penis while holding the tip.

After sexual intercourse, a person should grip the rim of the condom and carefully withdraw the penis.

Learn how to find the right size condom.

Internal condoms, otherwise known as female condoms, provide a barrier that lines the inside of the vagina or anus, preventing the exchange of bodily fluids during sexual intercourse.

This barrier method helps to reduce the risk of transmitting STIs, including HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and others.

By covering the vaginal or anal walls, female condoms protect against contact with infected secretions, sores, or lesions. This comprehensive coverage makes them an effective tool in STI prevention when used correctly.

Female condoms are available in various materials and designs:

  • nitrile
  • latex
  • polyurethane

How to use

Proper insertion and use are important to ensure effectiveness. Always follow the instructions carefully to avoid slippage or discomfort.

The following steps explain how to use internal condoms correctly.

  1. Carefully open the packet and remove the condom, making sure not to tear or damage it.
  2. Find a comfortable position, hold the outside of the condom at the closed end, and squeeze the sides of the inner ring with the thumb and forefinger.
  3. Insert the condom into the vagina. Push the inner ring as far as it will go using the forefinger. The inner ring should rest against the cervix, and the outer ring should remain outside the vagina.
  4. During sexual intercourse, guide the partner’s penis into the opening of the condom.
  5. After sexual intercourse, twist the outer ring and gently pull out the condom.

It is important to ensure that the condom does not twist during use, as this can reduce its protective efficacy and potentially lead to breakage. It is also important to stop intercourse if the penis slips between the walls of the condom and the vagina.

Learn more about how to use a condom safely.

A dental dam is a sheet made from latex or polyurethane. People can place these between the mouth and the vagina or anus when performing oral sex.

How to use

The following steps explain how to use a dental dam correctly.

  1. Carefully open the packet and remove the dental dam.
  2. Check the dental dam for any tears or defects.
  3. Place the dental dam flat, ensuring it covers the vaginal opening or the anus.

Learn more about oral sex and barrier contraceptive methods.

When used correctly and consistently, dental dams, internal condoms, and external condoms are highly effective in preventing STIs and pregnancy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that external condoms typically provide protection against STIs transmitted via genital fluids, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia.

However, they will not protect against STIs transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, including syphilis, genital herpes, or genital warts.

Female condoms and dental dams cover a larger area of the skin compared to male condoms, potentially offering greater protection against external genital sores and lesions.

Learn more about how to use male and female condoms safely.

Some people may have an allergy to latex, the most common material used in condoms. For those with latex allergies, polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms are suitable alternatives.

Proper storage is essential to maintaining the integrity of barrier methods of protection. Keep them in a cool, dry place away from sharp objects and direct sunlight, as heat and friction can weaken them.

It is also important to check the expiration date before use, as expired barrier methods of protection are more likely to break.

According to Planned Parenthood, using oil-based lubricants with latex condoms and dental dams can cause the material to degrade and break. As an alternative, a person can choose water-based or silicone-based lubricants.

Learn more about natural lubricants.

Alongside using barrier methods of protection, other ways to prevent STIs include:

Testing for STIs before engaging in sexual activity

Testing before engaging in sexual activity helps to identify and treat infections early, reducing the risk of transmission.

Sexually active individuals might consider undergoing routine STI screenings, especially when starting a new relationship or having multiple partners.

Learn more about STI testing.


Outercourse, which includes sexual activities that do not involve vaginal or anal penetration, is another method to reduce the risk of STI transmission.

However, it is important to note that some STIs, such as herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV), can still transmit through skin-to-skin contact.

To further reduce risk, individuals can avoid direct contact with sores or lesions and use barrier contraception, such as dental dams, during oral sex.

Learn more about outercourse.


Abstinence refers to the decision to refrain from any sexual activity. By avoiding all forms of sexual contact, individuals eliminate the risk of exposure to infections.

Comprehensive sexual education and access to other preventive measures are essential for those who choose to become sexually active in the future.

Learn more about sexual abstinence.

When discussing STI risk and testing with a partner, it can help to:

  • Be direct but sensitive: Approach the conversation with care and respect. Start by expressing the importance of mutual health and safety.
  • Share personal experiences: Sharing one’s own experiences with testing can make the topic less intimidating. For example, “I get tested regularly to make sure I’m healthy, and I’d like us both to do the same before we have sex.”
  • Provide information: Offering information about the types of tests available and where to get tested can make the process seem more manageable. Discuss the benefits of knowing each other’s STI status.
  • Set a positive tone: Frame the conversation as a positive step toward a healthy relationship rather than focusing on fear or mistrust. Emphasize that testing is a regular and responsible part of sexual health.

Learn more about where to get tested for STIs and the options.

Choosing the correct birth control is a personal choice that may vary according to several factors, including:

  • the primary goal, such as preventing pregnancy, regulating menstrual cycles, and reducing acne
  • whether protection against STIs is necessary
  • how regularly a person can take a pill or apply a birth control method
  • any medical conditions or medications that might affect the choice
  • if insurance covers the method or if it is affordable out-of-pocket

Learn more about the best options for birth control.

Questions to ask a doctor

Some questions someone might want to ask their doctor include:

  • What birth control options are available based on a person’s health history?
  • How effective is each method at preventing pregnancy and STIs?
  • What are the potential side effects of each option?
  • How often does someone need to use or apply each method?
  • Can any of these methods interfere with current medications or health conditions?
  • What are the costs of each method, and does insurance cover them?
  • How reversible is each method for getting pregnant in the future?
  • Are there any long-term health risks associated with certain birth control methods?
  • How will these methods affect the menstrual cycle?

Learn more about the side effects of birth control.

Speaking with parents or caregivers about birth control and STIs

People may find it uncomfortable to speak with their parents or caregivers about sex. However, parents and caregivers may be able to provide useful insight and education.

When discussing sex with a parent or caregiver, people may find it helpful to:

  • Prepare for the conversation.
  • Choose the right time and place.
  • Be honest and direct.
  • Express concerns.
  • Listen to their perspective.
  • Ask for support.

It is important to note that if a person feels asking their parents or caregivers about sex will put them in danger, they should avoid doing so. Instead, they can speak with another adult they trust, such as another relative or counselor.

People can also check with their local Planned Parenthood health center to find low cost or free healthcare without requiring their parent’s insurance.

Learn more about birth control for teens.

Do birth control pills protect against STIs?

No, birth control pills do not protect against STIs. They are designed solely to prevent pregnancy by regulating hormones. For STI protection, additional barrier methods such as condoms are necessary.

Do condoms prevent STIs?

Yes, condoms provide effective protection against STIs. They work by creating a physical barrier that prevents the exchange of bodily fluids, thereby reducing the risk of transmitting infections such as HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and others.

Which form of contraception protects the best against STIs?

Male and female condoms offer the best protection against STIs. They are highly effective when used correctly and consistently, providing a barrier that prevents the transmission of most STIs.

External condoms, internal condoms, and dental dams are the main contraceptives that provide effective protection against some STIs. Proper usage is crucial to ensure their effectiveness.

People should consider combining contraceptive methods with regular STI testing.

Sexual health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on sexual health.

Was this helpful?