General Articles

Recent Research Finds Condoms Are Effective In Reducing the Risk of Herpes


Source: Emily T. Martin, Elizabeth Krantz, Sami L. Gottlieb, Amalia S. Magaret,
Andria Langenberg, Lawrence Stanberry, Mary Kamb, Anna Wald, “A Pooled Analysis of the Effect of Condoms in Preventing HSV-2 Acquisition,” Archives of Internal Medicine (July 2009): 1233-1240.
In a comprehensive analysis of herpes research and condom use, the authors reviewed and synthesized the results of six recent studies on PubMed that provided information on the relationship between condom-use and the diagnosis of the herpes simplex virus, HSV-2. (HSV-2 is the sexually transmitted disease (STD) commonly known as genital herpes.) In total, the authors assessed data on 5,384 individuals; the mean age was 29 years, 66.2% were male, 60.4% were white, and 94.1% were heterosexual.
The goal of the research was to assess the efficacy of condoms in protecting people against the transmission of HSV-2. By pooling the data of several studies, the researchers aimed to discover a more precise measurement of condom efficacy than had existed in any previous individual study. Researchers were able to draw conclusions about the efficacy of condoms by comparing the relationship between condom use and HSV-2 diagnosis, as well as the relationship between unprotected sexual acts and HSV-2 diagnosis.
Key Findings:
  • Participants who used condoms consistently had a 30% lower risk of acquiring HSV-2 compared to those who never used condoms.
  • The risk of acquiring HSV-2 decreased significantly when participants increased the frequency of condom use during anal or vaginal intercourse.
  • The risk of acquiring HSV-2 rose steadily and significantly with increased frequency of unprotected sexual acts.
SIECUS Analysis:
Affecting one in five adolescents and adults, genital herpes is one of the most common STDs in America.[1] Past research was inconclusive on the relationship between condom use and the transmission of HSV-2. The authors of this research suggest, “condom use moderately, albeit significantly, protected against HSV-2 acquisition” in the participants studied. 
This study provides important information for sexually active individuals and suggests, yet again, that condoms are vital in the prevention of STDs. Despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has already stated that the “correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of genital herpes,”[2] numerous abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula suggest that condoms provide no protection against Herpes. Moreover, Far Right organizations have longed used the lack of definitive data as a key argument in their war against condoms and condom education. 
SIECUS hopes that this research will help bring about the end of the war on condoms and that, moving forward, young people and adults will learn about this important prevention tool.

[1] Centers of Disease Control, Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet, (4 Jan. 2008) accessed 23 July 2009,

[2] Ibid.