Healthy Body

The One Ingredient To Avoid When Buying Condoms for Truly Safe Sex, According to an OB/GYN

Allie Flinn

Photo: Getty Images / Halfpoint Images
When buying condoms, you might just make your purchase with price or comfort in mind. (To rib or not to rib, that is the question.) Because all condoms are condoms, and as long as you're using compatible lube (read: the kind that doesn't make a latex condom melt), they're all equally effective, right? Apparently no, according to sex educator Chase Cramer. In a recent TikTok video, Cramer revealed that there are certain ingredients common in condoms and other contraceptive products that can potentially increase your risk of STI infection, including spermicide.
@chaseinsexedReply to @gracielea.b #fyp #spermicide #HIV #STI #condoms #vcf♬ original sound - Chase Cramer

This was understandably mind-boggling, especially given that the whole point of condoms is to protect you and your partner from pregnancy and STIs. So we reached out to Alyssa Dweck, MD, a New York Magazine and Westchester Magazine top gynecologist, to get some more clarity. While condoms are generally an excellent way to prevent STIs, she says, using spermicide condoms can actually increase your risk for HIV and other STIs.

Here's how it works. Spermicide is a type of birth control that helps prevent pregnancy by blocking the entrance to your cervix and slowing down sperm so they cannot successfully fertilize an egg. The issue is that many spermicide condoms are made with nonoxynol-9, a specific type of spermicide chemical that has an irritating nature and can cause small micro-abrasions in the vagina, anus, and vulva, Dr. Dweck says. These tears increase your risk of infection because they make it easier for viruses and bacteria to enter the body. (The risk applies to other spermicidal products made with nonoxynol-9 as well, like gels and foams.) This is a known-enough concern that the World Health Organization (WHO) explicitly warns that products with nonoxynol-9 are not effective at preventing HIV, and in fact may even increase your risk of contracting HIV. (The organization also says products with nonoxynol-9 also are not effective against cervical gonorrhea or chlamydia.)

This isn't to say that spermicidal products are outright bad—they're just not universally suitable for STI prevention. "Some [people] are comfortable using spermicide with condoms, diaphragm, sponges, or as a stand-alone contraception and have no issues with this; it can be an individual preference," Dr. Dweck says.

Thankfully, condoms sans spermicide, when used correctly, help prevent both pregnancy and STIs. Dr. Dweck says that any reputable condom brand will make variations without spermicide. (These nine brands are sex writer-approved.)

Dr. Dweck also recommends using lube if you experience any dryness, as vaginal dryness can also cause micro-tears that can lead to infection even if you use a condom that doesn't have spermicide. (Also, lube is hella fun.) Routine STI testing is also important; if you are unable to go into your OB/GYN's office, these STI tests can be done at-home. Stay safe out there, folks!

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