What is the only guaranteed method of preventing pregnancy or contracting an sti?

Condoms are great at preventing both pregnancy and STDs. If you follow the instructions and use them every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex, there’s very little chance of pregnancy, or getting or giving an STD.

If you use condoms perfectly every single time you have sex, they’re 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. But people aren’t perfect, so in real life condoms are about 85% effective — that means about 15 out of 100 people who use condoms as their only birth control method will get pregnant each year.

The better you are about using condoms correctly every time you have sex, the better they’ll work. But there’s a small chance that you will get pregnant even if you always use them the right way.

Want even more protection from pregnancy? Check out IUDs and implants, or take this quiz to find the birth control method that’s best for you.

How can I make condoms more effective?

The best way to make condoms work as well as possible is to use them correctly every single time you have vaginal, oral, and anal sex. That means wearing it the whole time, from start to finish. Make sure the condom is rolled on your penis the right way before there’s any skin-to-skin genital contact. Read more about how to use condoms correctly.

Using condoms + another form of birth control (like the pill, IUD, or shot) is a great way to get extra pregnancy prevention AND protection against STDs. Using withdrawal (“pulling out”) while also wearing a condom can help keep sperm out of the vagina and lower the risk for pregnancy.

You shouldn’t use a condom worn on the penis together with a internal condom. Condoms are designed to be used on their own, and doubling up won’t necessarily give you extra protection. One condom used correctly is all the protection you need. Also make sure your condoms aren't expired — check the date on the wrapper or box.

More questions from patients:

How effective are spermicide condoms?

Some condoms come pre-lubricated with a little bit of spermicide (a chemical that helps stop sperm from swimming to an egg). These are called spermicidal condoms. It seems like spermicidal condoms would be more effective than regular condoms, but that’s not true. Spermicidal condoms and regular condoms both work equally well to prevent pregnancy.

In order for spermicide to be effective at preventing pregnancy, you need to put a lot of it deep in your vagina. That’s why most types of spermicide come with applicators or in pre-measured doses that help you use the right amount. Spermicidal condoms only have a thin layer of spermicide on them, and it’s not enough to give you any extra protection from pregnancy.

Using spermicidal condoms is definitely better than using no condoms at all. And using a separate spermicide plus a condom can give you some extra protection from pregnancy. But when it comes to using condoms alone, regular condoms are just as effective as spermicidal condoms. And when used correctly, condoms are really good at preventing both pregnancy and STDs.

If you have sex, using birth control + a condom is the best way to prevent pregnancy. Bonus: condoms help protect you from STDs, too!

The only 100% certain way to avoid pregnancy is to not have penis-in-vagina sex, or do any sexual stuff where sperm can get on a vulva or in a vagina (this is called abstinence).

But if you’re going to have vaginal sex, the best way to prevent pregnancy is to use a very effective birth control method (like the IUD or implant) plus a condom.

Some types of birth control work better than others. The kinds of birth control that work the best to prevent pregnancy are the implant and IUDs — they’re also the most convenient to use, and the most foolproof.

Other birth control methods, like the pill, ring, patch, and shot, are also really good at preventing pregnancy if you use them perfectly. But people aren’t perfect, and these methods are easier to mess up than implants and IUDs.

It’s super important to make sure you use your birth control the right way. This means you can’t forget to take your pill, change your ring, or get your shot on time — or you’ll be at risk for pregnancy. So the best method of birth control for you is the one you’ll always use correctly. Take our birth control quiz to find out which methods might be best for you.

No matter what method you choose, you can get extra pregnancy prevention power by using birth control and a condom together.

Condoms + Birth Control = Extra Protection

Condoms are your safer sex superhero: they’re the only way to get protection from pregnancy and STDs during vaginal sex.

No birth control method is perfect. So using condoms with another type of birth control (like the implant, IUD, or pill) gives you backup protection in case either method fails. And condoms seriously lower your chances of getting all kinds of sexually transmitted infections, like HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes.

Another great thing about condoms is that you can get them almost anywhere, like drugstores, grocery stores, convenience stores, and gas stations. Condoms don’t cost a lot of money, and sometimes they’re even free at community clinics, school health centers, or Planned Parenthood health centers.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on April 13, 2021

  • Abstinence
  • Outercourse
  • Condoms

When it comes to preventing pregnancy, you have tons of great birth control options. The catch: Some of the most effective ones, like IUDs and implants, don’t do anything to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Contraceptive pills, patches, rings, and shots won’t protect you from STIs, either.

That matters a lot because STIs are more common than you might think. More than half of all sexually active people will contract one at some point. STIs range from the human papillomavirus (HPV) -- which you can dodge with a vaccine -- to gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, and HIV, to name just a few.

If your goal is to prevent both pregnancy and STIs, there are only a few ways to make that happen.

Not having sex is the only surefire way to avoid getting pregnant or contracting an STI. Abstaining from sex means different things to different people. For avoiding pregnancy, it means skipping vaginal intercourse. To prevent STIs, it means avoiding oral and anal sex as well.

Outercourse refers to any kind of sexual activity that’s not intercourse. Kissing, touching each other, and dry humping are all forms of outercourse. If semen doesn’t get into the vagina, you won’t get pregnant. But keep in mind that it’s still possible to pick up an STI if you have skin-on-skin genital contact (even if you don’t actually have sex). That’s also true if any of your partner’s fluids get into your mouth or genitals.

The only way to be sexually active and prevent both pregnancy and STIs is with a latex or plastic (polyurethane, nitrile, or polyisoprene) condom. You have to use one every time you have sex. Condoms place a physical barrier between you and your partner, which prevents the spread of germs and semen.

Few people use condoms perfectly all the time, but they’re still highly effective. After figuring in breaks and user error, male condoms (worn over the penis) are about 85% effective in preventing pregnancy.

Note that condoms made of animal materials, such as lambskin, will reduce the risk of pregnancy but don’t stop the spread of STIs.

Female condoms, or internal condoms, are also effective at preventing pregnancy and keeping STIs at bay. They’re about 79% effective at preventing pregnancy after accounting for misuse. Just don’t use them at the same time as a male condom or they could break.

A condom is most likely to work properly if you:

  • Make sure it isn’t expired.
  • Keep it on the entire time you’re having sex.
  • Use it with a water-based lubricant, which reduces friction and decreases the chances of it breaking.

To further protect against pregnancy without leaving yourself vulnerable to STDs, you can combine condoms with another birth control method, such as the pill or an IUD.

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Abstinence is choosing not to have sex. 

How Does Abstinence Work?

Abstinence (AB-stih-nints) is the most effective form of birth control. If two people don't have sex, sperm can't fertilize an egg and there's no possibility of pregnancy. Other forms of birth control:

With abstinence, no barriers or pills are needed.

Even people who have previously had sex can and do practice abstinence. A person who has been having sex can still choose abstinence to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the future.

How Well Does Abstinence Work?

Abstinence is the only form of birth control that always prevents pregnancy. Practicing abstinence ensures that a girl will not become pregnant because there is no chance for sperm to fertilize an egg.

Many other birth control methods have high rates of success if used properly, but they can fail occasionally.

Does Abstinence Help Prevent STDs?

Abstinence protects people against STDs from vaginal sex. But STDs can also spread through oral-genital sex, anal sex, or even intimate skin-to-skin contact (for example, genital warts and herpes can spread this way).

Complete abstinence is the only way to guarantee protection against STDs. This means avoiding all types of intimate genital contact. Someone practicing complete abstinence does not have any type of intimate sexual contact, including oral sex. So there is no risk of getting an STD.

Abstinence does not prevent HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C infections that can spread through nonsexual activities, like using contaminated needles for tattooing or injecting drugs or steroids.

Who Practices Abstinence?

Peer pressure and other things sometimes can make it hard for someone to decide to practice abstinence. But the truth is, many teens don't have sex. Abstinence also can give someone time to think about and grow an emotional connection. Having sex can change a relationship, and it's completely normal to not feel ready for that or the complicated feelings it can bring.

So don't let teasing or pressure from friends, a girlfriend, or a boyfriend push you into something that's not right for you.

Choosing abstinence is an important decision — and yours to make.

What Else Should I Know?

If you have questions about making this choice or about other birth control methods, talk to a trusted adult. If you feel you can't talk to a parent, reach out to a teacher, a counselor, a doctor, or a school nurse who can provide answers.