Does birth control prevent STDs? While the birth control pill is a popular and highly effective form of pregnancy prevention, the notion that the pill can protect you from contracting an STD or STI is just one of the many STD myths floating around. The pill, when used correctly, is not only a very effective form of birth control, but also helps regulate periods, reduce acne, alleviate menstrual cramps and provide numerous other health benefits, including the management of PCOS. However, the pill cannot protect you from contracting an STD or STI.
Contraceptives that prevent STDs
Most forms of birth control, such as IUDs, the patch and the shot, in addition to the pill, do not help protect against STDs, because they’re not creating a necessary physical barrier between you and your partner, allowing the potential exposure and transfer of infected bodily fluids to occur between partners.
The only form of birth control that helps protect against STDs are physical prophylactics, such as condoms. External condoms (typically worn by men) and internal condoms (typically worn by women) help protect against STDs during penetrative sex by creating this important protective physical barrier between partners. Similarly, dental dams (typically used during oral sex) are another effective way to reduce the risk of contracting an STD.
Because most STDs spread from one person to another through infected blood, semen and other genital fluids, condoms and dental dams, when used correctly, greatly reduce the risk of transmission for many STDs. However, they are still not 100% effective at protecting you from every sexually transmitted disease or infection, even with perfect use.
Some STDs, such as genital herpes, syphilis and HPV, can be transmitted through skin to skin contact. In this case, condoms and dental dams are less effective in protecting against transmission, due to the fact that they, by design, leave plenty of skin exposed and vulnerable to transmission or contraction.
In the instance of HPV, a vaccine has been developed to protect against certain strains of HPV that most often lead to cervical cancer and genital warts. While getting vaccinated for HPV is an important preventative measure for all sexually active adults, as it greatly reduces the risk of contracting these more dangerous HPV strains, it’s important to remember that the vaccine does not protect against all strains of the virus. You can still contract and transmit less dangerous strains of HPV even if you are vaccinated.
How to Prevent STDs
While there are preventative and protective measures you can take to decrease your chances of contracting an STD, no measure short of abstinence is 100% effective. However, if your goal is to have safer sex, as it should be, there are still steps you can take to make sure you’re creating the safest possible experience for you and your partners.
There are certain factors that can increase your chance of contracting an STD, such as having multiple sexual partners at a time and/or having sex without any form of protection. However, whether you’re in a committed relationship or have multiple sexual partners, there will always be a risk for STD exposure if you’re not communicating honestly with your partner(s), and vice versa. It’s important to have open conversations about your sexual health and sexual health status with your partner(s). While these conversations may seem uncomfortable and awkward to initiate, they are important to have and will only lead to safer, and therefore more enjoyable, sex.
Something even more important than having honest conversations with your partners is getting tested regularly. Many STDs are often asymptomatic, meaning a person can have and actively spread an STD while presenting no symptoms and thinking that they don’t have an STD. In addition to unknowingly spreading an STD, untreated and undiagnosed STDs can sometimes lead to other more serious health problems and complications. If you suspect you may have been exposed to or contracted a STD, or even if you’re unsure, it is best to get tested. STD testing is quick, easy and pain free, and the only sure way to be sure you don’t have an STD is by getting tested.
So, does birth control protect against STDs? While the pill is an effective form of birth control, no, it does not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases and infections. It’s important to take control of your sexual health by taking measures that do reduce your STD risk (e.g. condoms and dental dams). But remember, even these measures cannot eliminate your risk entirely. For this reason, it’s always best to have fun, be safe and get tested regularly.