Introduction: Most efforts at sexually transmitted disease (STD) protection center on condom use, but little is known about how condoms compare with other barrier methods, particularly those controlled by women.
Methods: To evaluate the effect of different barrier contraceptives on the prevalence of STDs and other vaginal infections, we retrospectively studied 5681 visits by women to an urban STD clinic.
Results: As compared with women using no contraceptive or with tubal ligations, women using the contraceptive sponge or diaphragm had at least 65% lower rates of infection with Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Trichomonas vaginalis, while condom users had 34% and 30% lower rates, respectively. For Chlamydia trachomatis, the reduction was 13% among sponge users, 72% among diaphragm users, and 3% among condom users, although these differences were not significant. When compared with women using condoms, women using female-dependent methods (sponge or diaphragm) had significantly lower rates of both gonorrhea and trichomoniasis. Vaginal candidiasis was more common among women using diaphragms but not other barrier methods, while rates of bacterial vaginosis were similar among all groups.
Conclusions: Women using the contraceptive sponge or diaphragm experience protection from STDs to a greater extent than those relying on condoms. Female-dependent barrier contraceptives should receive more attention in STD risk-reduction programs.