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Condoms Still Best Defense Against Infection, Unwanted Pregnancy

Image of Condoms Still Best Defense Against Infection, Unwanted Pregnancy. Department of Defense health surveillance data continue to reflect that sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are widespread among both men and women in the military. The STIs tracked among active-duty service members include syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia as well as the human papilloma virus, or HPV, and genital herpes simplex virus. Some evidence even suggests some STIs, such as chlamydia, may be more common among female service members than their civilian counterparts. (Graphic illustration by Steven Basso)

Department of Defense health surveillance data continue to reflect that sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are widespread among both men and women in the military.

The STIs tracked among active duty service members include syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia as well as the human papilloma virus, or HPV, and genital herpes simplex virus. Some evidence even suggests some STIs, such as chlamydia, may be more common among female service members than their civilian counterparts.

Both the military and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that STIs are most often identified in persons under 30 years of age, but anyone who is sexually active is at risk. The CDC describes STIs as an epidemic that needs to be a public health priority.

While STIs may have immediately observable effects, many individuals with STIs can be “silent carriers” who have no obvious symptoms for months or even years. These people can transmit STIs to their partners, even during a single sexual encounter. Risky behaviors, such as multiple sex partners, anonymous partners or one-night stands, can increase the odds of acquiring an STI.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

“Wearing a condom—correctly—is arguably the most effective way to protect yourself and your partner from the many STIs we see among service members,” said Magdalena Danaila, a registered public health nurse at the Defense Centers for Public Health – Aberdeen. “Properly used condoms are also 98% effective at reducing the chance of an unintended pregnancy, so they are the only contraceptive method that protects against both pregnancy and STIs.”

Danaila points to the benefits of condoms:

  • Condoms are easy to use and are available without a prescription.
  • Condoms are relatively inexpensive.
  • Condoms are available in a variety of sizes, styles, and materials from which to choose.
  • Condoms enhance sexual pleasure by providing peace of mind.

Another benefit?

Condoms are available for free to service members at all military hospitals and clinics, including pharmacies.

“We are urging sexually active service members to protect themselves from STIs and unintended pregnancies by increasing their use of condoms,” said Danaila. “By doing so they can avoid many immediate and long-term health adverse effects.”

There are condom products designed for both men and women.

  • External condoms, also known as male condoms, are the most common type of condom. They fit over the erect penis and prevent sperm from entering the vagina or anus.
  • Internal condoms, also known as female condoms, are placed inside the vagina before sex. They have a ring at the closed end that fits over the cervix and a ring at the open end that remains outside the vagina.
  • Dental dams are thin, square pieces of latex or polyurethane that can be used to cover the penis or vulva during oral sex.

Condoms and dental dams are made of materials such as latex, polyurethane and lambskin. People who have allergies to latex should use non-latex condoms.

To reduce chance of breakage, it is important to ensure that condoms are stored at proper temperatures, not expired, and worn properly, including using the right size, said Danaila. “Using a water-based lubricant can also decrease the risk of breakage.”
Heat and friction can damage a condom. So, if you carry a condom in your wallet or purse, the CDC recommends replacing it with a new one regularly.

In case service members have shied away from condom use because of misunderstandings, Danaila addressed some common myths:

  • Myth: Condoms reduce pleasure during sex.
         Fact: Condoms can actually enhance sexual pleasure for some people. Use of different product types and/or sizes should be tried if a person feels a condom is reducing sensation. The added use of a water-based lubricant may also help.
  • Myth: All condoms are the same size and type.
         Fact: Multiple product types, materials, brands and sizes are available.
  • Myth: Two condoms used together provide double protection.
         Fact: Maximum effectiveness is provided by a single, appropriately worn condom.
  • Myth: Wearing a condom most of the time is good enough.
         Fact: It only takes one time to transmit or acquire an STI or cause an unwanted pregnancy. Condoms should be worn every time to be fully       effective.
  • Myth: Condoms are only for preventing pregnancy.
         Fact: Condoms are the only contraceptive method that protects against both pregnancy and STIs.
  • Myth: Condoms are not very effective.
         Fact: Condoms can break or slip off during sex, but this is rare if the condom is used correctly. When used correctly, condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy and significantly reduce the chance of transmitting STIs.
  • Danaila reminded everyone that condom use is not just about individual protection—it’s also about protecting our fellow service members and ensuring mission readiness.

    “Sexual health is a shared responsibility, and condoms play a crucial role in that,” said Danaila. “It is important to use condoms every time you have sex, even if you are using another form of birth control.”

    For more information on sexual health and condom use, service members can check out the following resources:

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    Last Updated: February 14, 2024
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