Sexual Health Q&A

Q&A
Female Sexual Health
Does condom use have benefits for women beyond protection from STIs and unwanted pregnancy?

Probably. Research suggests that in addition to reducing the risk of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy, condoms might also keep a woman’s vagina healthy.

The benefit isn’t in the condoms themselves, but in the protection they provide from a man’s semen, which has a high pH and can disrupt the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in a woman’s vagina.

Typically, two types of bacteria are present in a woman’s vagina: lactobacilli and anaerobes. Lactobacilli are considered beneficial, while anaerobes are harmful. The two types usually coexist without problems. However, when the levels of anaerobes are higher than those of lactobacilli, the result is an infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV).

The exact cause of BV is unknown. However, a 2013 study found that women who used condoms consistently might be better protected from it.

The study involved 164 women who ranged in age from 18 to 45. About 44% used condoms as their main form of birth control; 35% used intrauterine devices (IUDs), and 21% used the rhythm method.

After analyzing vaginal swabs taken at the same point in the women’s menstrual cycles, the scientists discovered that the women who regularly used condoms had the highest amounts of lactobacilli, especially a strain called Lactobacillus crispatus, one of the strongest forms of “good” bacteria found in the vagina.

Based on this finding, the researchers concluded that using condoms can help maintain healthy levels of “good” bacteria and, in turn, protect against BV.

For the best protection, it is important to know how to use condoms correctly. These tips can help.

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