Do you remember when you were younger and a parent, loved one or maybe even a teacher would tell you “better safe than sorry” as they handed you an umbrella for the rain or a napkin with your lunch? As frustrating as that may have been back then, the same general rule of thumb applies to condom use, as far as preventing pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections or STIs (though it’s a little more nuanced).
The reality is that while sex may be enjoyable, fun, good for your health and empowering, it can also come with a number of risk factors, especially for penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI). Nowadays, there are dozens of proven, safe and highly effective ways to prevent pregnancy, many of them developed in the last twenty to sixty years. However, whatever your method of contraception, experts still recommend that you use a condom to provide protection from sexually transmitted infections, which are often not covered (sometimes quite literally) by other contraceptive options.
Here are some of the most common contraceptive methods and why they pair well with condoms for the ultimate safer sex experience. With all contraceptive methods, there's a typical use effectiveness rate (accounts for human error, all of which are preventable with proper use) and consistent & correct use. Learn more about those here.
Birth Control Pill (99% Effective with Consistent & Correct Use)
The birth control pill is arguably the most well known contraceptive option, originally becoming available to consumers in the 1960’s. Over the years, this contraception has expanded into two distinct medications: 1) combination pills with both estrogen and progestin, and 2) progestin only pills. The combined pills are the most common.
Generally speaking, these pills operate by blocking fertilization (the sperm implanting in the egg) and ovulation (the egg leaving the ovaries). Please note, this is different from emergency contraceptive pills, which temporarily block ovulation, and can be used in the case of an emergency up to five days after unprotected sex.
While this method is a great option for millions of people, it does not as of yet protect against STIs and a condom should always be used for that added layer (or barrier) of protection. The hormones in these pills are not designed to protect against any infections, just to stimulate the body to undergo natural processes.
Birth Control Implant (99% Effective), Shot (99%) and Patch (99%)
This category of contraception represents some of the newer contraceptive options on the market, made available to consumers in the last 20 years. These products work in two key ways: 1) by thickening the mucus in the cervix to interfere with sperm swimming through to meet the egg and 2) by stopping the egg from leaving the ovaries (ovulation) to be fertilized.
The birth control implant is a small, thin bar or rod inserted into the upper arm by a doctor (close to the underarm) that continually releases the hormone progestin that prevents pregnancy. These products can be inserted for a number of years to reliably prevent pregnancy over a longer time.
The birth control shot is an injection administered every three months, also containing the hormone progestin, but with the same results: effective protection from pregnancy.
The birth control patch is a small patch worn on the belly, back, butt or upper arm, with progestin entering the body through the skin. The patch will need to be changed on a semi-regular basis and this should be strictly adhered to. This product contains both estrogen and progestin, similar to hormones your own body naturally creates.
These all sound great, right? The one kryptonite of birth control implants, shots and patches is that they unfortunately do not prevent the transmission of STIs, as they do not protect partners from direct contact with skin or bodily fluids. Experts say: pair with a condom for enhanced protection.
Intrauterine Devices or IUDs (99% Effective) and Vaginal Ring (99%)
There are a wide variety of different brands and types of IUDs but for the sake of simplicity, we will discuss them here as one category. One feature that they all share is that IUDs are a t-shaped object (about the size of a small paper clip) inserted into the uterus by a health care professional to prevent pregnancy. Beyond that is where the differences begin to emerge.
There are both copper and hormonal IUDs: copper IUDs ward off hopeful sperm because sperm avoids copper, and hormonal IUDs function similarly to the birth control implant (thickening the mucus of the cervix and sometimes blocking ovulation). These are also longer term contraceptive options, and can even work as emergency contraception within 5 days of unprotected intercourse.
Vaginal rings also block ovulation and thicken the mucus of the cervix using hormones built into the ring itself. Once inserted, these rings can last up to 5 weeks, providing protection from unwanted pregnancy.
All great features, but these devices cannot prevent the transmission of STIs, as partners are still likely exposed to direct skin-to-skin contact and bodily fluids, which is how most STIs are transmitted. IUDs <3 Condoms, too!
Diaphragm (84% Effective) and Cervical Cap (71-86%)
When we think of barrier methods, we often think of different types of condoms, but in their own way diaphragms and cervical caps also serve as barriers. Both of these products are inserted into the vagina to block the cervix, and therefore any sperm looking to implant into the egg. Both made of silicone, the main difference between these two contraceptive options is that diaphragms are shaped more like saucers and cervical caps are shaped almost like a sailor’s cap.
Diaphragms and cervical caps are non-hormonal options for birth control, but unfortunately, neither provides protection from STIs, as both still allow for direct skin-to-skin-contact and the transmission of bodily fluids from one partner. This risk can easily be avoided with the use of a condom.
Fertility Awareness or Natural Family Planning (76-85%)
This category of methods may seem a little mysterious, but it’s actually quite simple once you determine the best system for you and your body. Essentially, this boils down to tracking your ovulation so you can prevent pregnancy based on your body and its natural cycles.
The most popular methods of tracking include: charting your menstrual cycle on a calendar (the calendar or standard days method), taking a daily temperature every morning (the temperature method) and checking your “cervical mucus” or vaginal discharge daily (the cervical mucus method). For best results, experts encourage all three methods.
This method of contraception can be easily supplemented by the use of condoms to ensure protection from any STIs and pregnancy protection on the days where you are most fertile.
Why Pair Contraceptives with Condoms
Contraceptives and condoms, sitting in a tree! All humor aside, the host of contraceptive options represent incredible medical and scientific achievements and offer reliable and safe pregnancy prevention to millions of people every day. However, these products and brands do not offer reliable protection against the transmission of STIs via skin-to-skin contact and the exchange of bodily fluids. By adding a condom to the mix, you will ensure that you and your partner(s) are doing everything possible to ensure a pleasurable and protected encounter, every time!
And this doesn’t just apply to standard condoms (what you might have heard described as a “male condom”)! Internal condoms, previously referred to as a female condom, are also very effective at preventing pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted infections.
Browse our selection of condoms here, and find the perfect pairing between your contraceptives and our condoms!