Condoms effectively prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. However, until recently, research hadn't proved that using male condoms reduces a woman's risk of becoming infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV, which is now known to be the major cause of cervical cancer, is also the virus that causes genital warts. But a new study from researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle found that women whose sexual partners used condoms every time they had sex had a reduced risk of genital warts.
Eighty-two college-age women who'd 1) never had sexual intercourse or 2) had intercourse for the first time with one male partner in the previous 3 months participated in the study. Every 2 weeks, the women completed an online diary about their recent sexual behavior. They noted when they had intercourse, how frequently their male partners used condoms, and the number of new partners they'd had. Each woman also underwent gynecological exams every 4 months. During the exam, nurses collected samples from each woman's cervix and vagina so they could be tested for HPV and cervical cancer.
The results suggested that male condoms reduced the risk of genital HPV transmission to women. Women whose partners used condoms for every instance of vaginal intercourse during the previous 8 months were 70% less likely to get HPV infection compared with women whose partners used condoms less than 5% of the time. Even some condom use was better than none. Women whose partners used condoms more than half the time had a 50% reduction in HPV risk compared with women whose partners used condoms only 5% of the time.
Women who reported 100% condom use by their partners in the previous 8 months had no genital warts, whereas 14 cases of genital warts were reported in women whose partners used condoms less consistently or not at all.
What This Means to You. The results of this study point to the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HPV infection, especially when they are used consistently — for every instance of vaginal intercourse. Abstinence, or not having sex at all, is the only certain way to prevent STDs such as HPV. Another option to protect young women is the HPV vaccine, which was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for females between 9 and 26 years of age.
Source: Rachel L. Winer, PhD; James P. Hughes, PhD; Qinghua Feng, PhD; Sandra O'Reilly, BS; Nancy B. Kiviat, MD; King K. Holmes, MD, PhD; Laura A. Koutsky, PhD; New England Journal of Medicine, June 22, 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2006