Do You Still Need To Use Condoms If You Are Taking PrEP?

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication that can help prevent a person from getting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) — a virus that attacks a person's immune system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PrEP is highly effective, and when taken as prescribed, reduces a person's likelihood of getting HIV from sexual activity by about 99%. Since it is a preventative measure, PrEP is only intended for people who are HIV-negative, notes the CDC. PrEP is typically recommended for people with a higher risk of exposure to HIV.

Some people who may benefit from taking PrEP include those who have unprotected sex, those who have a sexual partner with HIV and an unknown or detectable viral load, those who have recently been diagnosed with an STD, and those who share needles or syringes, notes the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

According to the NIH, there are currently two types of PrEP pills that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Truvada and Descovy. 

Can PrEP fail?

When taken as a daily medication as intended, PrEP is 99% effective at preventing the spread of HIV. However, this is not foolproof and not everyone on PrEP takes it on a daily basis. According to Verywell Health, one study found that PrEP is still very effective even if you miss about six doses per month.

However, it's still not clear how much adherence is enough to provide near-total protection against the virus. Not to mention, there have been some cases in which people who took the pill every day still contracted HIV. That's why there's no way to definitively say that having unprotected sex on PrEP will be completely safe.

In addition, PrEP cannot prevent the spread of other STDs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, whereas condom use can. STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea can not only pose serious health risks on their own, but Verywell Health warns that they can also increase your risk of contracting HIV, even if you take PrEP.

At the end of the day, whether or not you use condoms while taking PrEP is a personal choice between you and your sexual partner, but the CDC's advice is to play it safe. In particular, experts recommend using condoms when having sex with someone who is HIV-positive and has a detectable viral load (via The Conversation).