Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions
How effective are condoms at reducing the risk of HIV?
I had sex with a prostitute two weeks ago. I used a condom, but I was wondering if there’s a chance that I’m infected with HIV? This was the first time I ever had sex. I don’t have a partner and I may have to rely on paid sex even in the future. If I use a condom every time, what are my chances of getting an STD?
Eric Christoff, MD, AAHIVM on September 23, 2011
You asked an important question about how well condoms protect against HIV and STDs…let’s talk about both.
When used properly, condoms reduce your risk of HIV by 80%. In other words, condoms do a good job of protecting you, but they aren’t foolproof. So, if you plan to have sex with high-risk partners (e.g., prostitutes) on a regular basis, getting tested for STDs every six months is a good idea. To cover your bases, STD testing should include HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B and C, herpes 1 and 2, and syphilis.
Keep in mind that intercourse isn’t the only way to get HIV and other STDs...you can also contract them from oral sex, sharing needles or syringes, or ⎼ in some cases ⎼ even deep kissing. And many STDs, including HIV, may not show any symptoms right away. That’s why it’s so important for you to get tested now, and on a regular basis moving forward.
To help prevent HIV and STDs during sexual activity, I encourage you to continue wearing a latex condom during vaginal, oral or anal sex, and using a dental dam if you perform oral sex on a woman or use your mouth on someone’s anus.
If you do get an STD, rest assured that you can still live a long, healthy life. Most STDs, when noticed early, can be cured or treated without lasting complications. Even HIV can be effectively treated and managed, by helping your immune system stay stronger, longer.
One more thing: you mentioned that you’re having sex with prostitutes to take the place of a relationship...sometimes it can take a long time to find the right person, and it can take even more time for both partners to feel comfortable having sex. But good relationships contribute a lot to our overall well-being as humans…and if you treat a woman kindly, with respect and with sincerity, you might be surprised how things can progress.
If you haven’t already, perhaps speaking with a qualified relationship counselor can help you overcome any barriers you may feel about relationships.
Thank you for writing, and I wish you good health and fulfillment.
- CDC: HIV Transmission
- University of Texas Medical Branch: Condom Effectiveness in Reducing Heterosexual HIV Transmission
Dr. Christoff is a practicing physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. His areas of expertise include the treatment of HIV and syphilis along with other STDs, the medical treatment of depression and chronic fatigue, and the specific health needs of gay and lesbian patients. Dr. Christoff was educated at the University of Toledo, College of Medicine and completed his residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.