According to the Centers for Disease Control, “A reliable way to avoid transmission of STDs is to abstain from oral, vaginal, and anal sex or to be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.”1
In other words, the only way to be sure you won’t get an STD is to not have sex, or to only have sex with one sexually healthy person who will only have sex with you.
But what about condoms?
Condoms cannot protect you against certain types of diseases, such as herpes, syphilis and HPV. Condom use can provide some protection from other STDs, but this protection still fails 21-40% of the time. 2 See Birth Control and STDs for more.
Additionally, a phenomenon know as “risk compensation behavior” typically applies as the availability of contraceptive methods such as condoms increases. This basically means that people who feel ‘safer’ by using a condom participate in riskier sexual behavior than those who do not use condoms. For example, analysis indicates that increasing access to condoms increases teen pregnancy rates in the long run, while reducing access to condoms reduces teen pregnancy rates. 3
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). “Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2010.” MMWR 59(RR-12):2-8.
2 Sanghvi H (1996). “Contraception and STDs.” In: JHPIEGO. “Issues in Management of STDs in Family Planning Settings.” STDs Workshop Proceedings; Apr 19-21, 1995; Baltimore, MD.
3 Arcidiacono P, Khwaja A, Ouyang L (2012). Habit persistence and teen sex: Could increased access to contraception have unintended consequences for teen pregnancies? J Bus Econ Stat, 30(2): 312-25.