There are a lot of reasons to use protection when you’re having sex, but for most of us, the most immediate concern is having babies when we’re not yet in the baby zone. Which is exactly why you should also know that a recent study found women who use injectable contraceptives are more likely to contract HIV. The results are preliminary, but the scary stats are still an important wake-up call that, regardless of your preferred type of birth control, condoms are the best way to protect against STDs.
The study, which was conducted in sub-Saharan Africa, found that out of 4,000 couples, a woman’s use of hormonal contraceptives (in the study, this consisted of mostly injected hormones like Depo-Provera) doubled the risk of HIV-transmission between partners. The study followed couples in which one partner was HIV positive at the beginning of the study, and the other was not. Based on self-reported information about contraceptive use, researchers found that couples in which the woman was using hormonal contraceptive were twice as likely to transmit HIV. Past studies have shown similar results, but this is the first to show an increase in woman-to-man transmission risk, as well as man-to-woman. The scary part of the study is that risk increased independent of condom use, suggesting that the transmission rate is based on something biological.
I know, you’re thinking: This study doesn’t apply to me; AIDS rates are way higher in Africa, and I don’t live there. Plus, the study is small, correlation does not equal causation, and you’re more likely to be on oral contraceptives than Depo. Researchers do caution that their study is only preliminary; they haven’t examined enough types of contraceptives to confirm definitive risk factors for women on birth control.
But despite study flaws, researchers hope that their findings will serve as a reminder that condom use is essential for preventing transmission of HIV. (And hey, it doesn’t hurt your odds of successful family planning, either.)