Spotlight Center on HIV Prevention Today


How Well Do Condoms Protect Gay Men From HIV?

October 17, 2016

With all the news and research related to PrEP these days, it's almost easy for gay men to forget about condoms for HIV prevention. I'm here to offer a gentle reminder: Let's not throw condoms out with the bath water! They still have a role to play in protecting the sexual health of gay men -- since they can protect against STIs in addition to HIV.

In laboratory testing, condoms used perfectly according to directions should be 99.5% effective against HIV with only mechanical failure (i.e. breakage) resulting in infections. Since we are human and tend to not have laboratory-style sex, how well do they actually work in reality to prevent HIV for gay men? It's a question I get from time to time at the clinic -- and I can tell you, the effectiveness is different for gay men than it is for people having penis/vagina sex. Here's what the research tells us.

First -- a quick note about where the data in this article are coming from. In 2015, Dawn Smith, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., and colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control published an article in JAIDS analyzing condom effectiveness data for men who have sex with men. In their sample, they included data from two big studies: VAX 004 (4,492 men) and EXPLORE (3,233 men). These studies were conducted in the late 1990s/early 2000s (i.e., before PrEP). Both of these studies included HIV-negative men who reported having sex with an HIV-positive partner.

This excerpt was cross-posted with the permission of Read the full article.

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