Having sex without a condom can increase a person’s chance of an unplanned pregnancy or contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, other factors, such as type of sex, can also affect a person’s chances of acquiring an STI.

People can transmit HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during different types of sex, including anal, vaginal, and oral sex.

Barrier methods like male condoms, female condoms, and dental dams help prevent the transmission of STIs from one person to another.

Having sex without a condom can carry certain risks depending on a person’s sexual activities and the type of sex they’re engaging in.

Read on for key information everyone who has sex without condoms should know.

Millions of people in the United States contract STIs each year.

Using condoms during sex helps reduce the transmission of most STIs, including:

Preventing transmission is especially important as increased antibiotic resistance renders some STI medications less effective.

The degree of health issues STIs pose varies greatly.

Many of the most common STIs, including human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes, and trichomoniasis, rarely cause serious illness.

It’s also possible to contract an STI and not have symptoms for days, months, or even years. What’s more, a person can pass on an STI even if they’re asymptomatic.

However, not all STIs are mild. If left untreated, some STIs can lead to significant health issues. This can include damage to major organs, infertility, complications during pregnancy, and even death.

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Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as syphilis, can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. In these cases, using a condom on its own is not enough to prevent a person from passing on an STI to their sexual partners.

HIV can enter the body via the mucous membranes of the anus, vagina, and penis. It can also potentially be transmitted through cuts or sores on the mouth or other areas of the body.

The chance of contracting HIV is higher for people already living with an STI, particularly gonorrhea, syphilis, or herpes.

STIs cause inflammation that can activate the same immune cells HIV targets, allowing the virus to replicate more quickly if it enters the body. STIs can also cause sores that enable HIV or other fluid-transmitted infections to enter the bloodstream. This raises the chance of HIV transmission.

HIV transmission and different types of sex

The likelihood of HIV being transmitted during sex varies based on the type of sex.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV is most likely to be transmitted during anal sex without a condom. This is because the lining of the anus is more prone to rips and tears than the mucous membranes found in the vagina and mouth.

HIV can also be transmitted during vaginal sex. The lining of the vaginal wall is stronger than the lining of the anus, but vaginal sex can still provide a pathway for HIV transmission.

Oral sex without a condom or dental dam carries a relatively low chance of HIV transmission. If the person giving oral sex has mouth sores or bleeding gums, HIV transmission is more likely.

For people who can become pregnant and engage in penis-in-vagina sex, having sex without a condom increases their chance of an unplanned pregnancy.

According to Planned Parenthood, condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy when used perfectly and around 87% effective when used in the typical manner. Male condoms are slightly more effective at preventing pregnancy than female condoms, according to the Office on Women’s Health.

For condoms to be effective, they must be used consistently.

Couples who are capable of conceiving, who have sex without condoms, and who are not planning a pregnancy can consider alternative forms of contraception like birth control pills or an intrauterine device (IUD).

On other birth control methods

Condoms and abstinence are the only forms of birth control that protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like HIV.

Birth control methods such as the pill, the morning-after pill, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and spermicide do not prevent the transmission of viruses or bacteria. This is because they do not create a physical barrier between sexual partners.

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The possibility of contracting an STI is higher for people with multiple sexual partners. Individuals can lower their chances of acquiring an STI by using condoms consistently and getting tested for STIs before having sex with each new partner.

When people decide to have sex without a condom — or “barrier-free” sex — exclusively with each other, their sexual decision is called “fluid bonding.”

Some people who plan to engage in barrier-free sex may choose to get screened for STIs beforehand. If sexually exclusive partners have been tested, and the test results show no STIs, then engaging in sex without barriers is considered to carry little to no chance of contracting STIs.

Getting tested via a trustworthy source, such as a healthcare professional, is important. Remember that some STIs, such as HPV, are not always included in a standard STI test.

A doctor or other healthcare professional can provide more guidance about how often it’s recommended that an individual get tested for STIs. Planned Parenthood suggests that people who are fluid-bonded still get tested regularly for STIs.

Window period for HIV testing

When a person contracts HIV, there’s a window from the moment of HIV exposure until the point at which the virus has replicated enough that it will show up on an HIV test. This is known as the window period.

Someone with an HIV test during the window period may receive results that say they’re HIV-negative even though they’ve contracted the virus.

The duration of the window period varies depending on biological factors and the type of test being used. It generally ranges from 10 to 90 days. During this time, a person contracting HIV can still transmit it to others.

A person might consider asking a doctor about preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily medication that prevents a person from contracting HIV.

PrEP is even effective for serodiscordant (mixed-status) couples, where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative.

People who may benefit from PrEP include those who:

  • use barrier methods inconsistently
  • are unaware of the HIV status of their sexual partners
  • use injectable drugs or share needles

Condoms are highly effective at preventing the transmission of HIV and other STIs — but they only work if they’re used correctly.

The CDC states that condoms are highly effective at preventing HIV transmission as long as they’re used during each sexual encounter.

Latex condoms offer the most protection against the transmission of HIV. Polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms also reduce HIV transmission and are an option for people with latex allergies. However, these condoms should be used carefully as they break more easily than latex.

To use a condom effectively, it’s important to put it on prior to any sexual contact rather than just before penetration. Viruses and bacteria can be transmitted through pre-ejaculate and vaginal fluid.

Using incorrect lubrication can also render a condom ineffective. Make sure to only use water-based lubricants with a condom. Oil-based lubricants can weaken latex and cause a condom to break.

If a person is engaging in different types of sex — such as anal, vaginal, and oral sex — it’s important that they use a new condom for each activity to prevent the transmission of viruses and bacteria.

Sex without condoms increases the chances of STI transmission between partners. For some couples, pregnancy is also possible when having condomless sex.

People can reduce their possible exposure to STIs by using condoms consistently during all sexual encounters.

It also helps to get tested for STIs before sex with each new partner. A doctor or other healthcare professional can provide guidance about how often to get tested for STIs.