Like most other STIs, chlamydia is a preventable condition. Taking certain precautions before and during sex can lower your risk of contracting the infection or passing it on to others.
Chlamydia prevention methods include:
- Using barrier contraception (such as a condom)
- Taking care when using sex toys
- Refraining from having sex, if no barrier contraception is available
If you suspect that you or your partner may have chlamydia, or have come into contact with the infection, then you should refrain from having sex and get tested as soon as possible.
However, many people who have chlamydia will not necessarily know that they are carrying the infection, due to its tendency to be symptomless. Testing is the only way to be sure.
For those who are sexually active, there are measures you can take to lower your risk of contracting the infection, which we'll discuss here.
Some involve more practical means, while others involve precautionary measures, such as not having sex, or making sure you discuss your sexual history with each other beforehand.
Using barrier contraception
Barrier contraception is that which prevents the transmission of fluids between sexual partners. It is designed to prevent male semen or vaginal fluid from coming into contact with their partner.
Several STIs, including chlamydia, are carried in sperm or vaginal fluid; so by stopping the transfer of these fluids, the use of barrier contraception helps to limit the spread of the infection.
Examples of barrier contraception include:
- Male condoms
- Female condoms
- Dental dams
Some other forms, such as the contraceptive cap or cervical diaphragm, offer protection against pregnancy but not against STIs.
These are applied to the penis before sexual intercourse. They are typically made from latex, and work by preventing sperm from entering the vagina (during vaginal intercourse), anus (during anal intercourse) or mouth (during oral intercourse). They also prevent vaginal fluid from coming into contact with the penis during vaginal intercourse.
Because chlamydia can be spread through genital to genital contact, using a condom doesn’t completely eradicate the risk of infection; but it does drastically reduce it. One study from 2005 found that condom use reduced infection prevalence by 90 percent among ‘those with known exposure to an infected partner’.
You can get them for free in some primary care settings, such as sexual health clinics or from your GP.
You can also buy condoms commercially from pharmacies and supermarkets. The leading brands usually price at around 80p to £1 per condom.
These are usually made from a flexible plastic material, known as polyurethane. The woman places one inside her vagina, and it works in much the same way as the male condom, by preventing sperm or vaginal fluid exchange between partners.
Again, they aren’t completely guaranteed to prevent chlamydia or the transmission of other STIs, but they are very effective. One study comparing the efficacy of the female condom with the male version found that the two, where used correctly and where no administration problems were experienced, carried a ‘similar risk of semen exposure’.
Much like male condoms, female condoms can be obtained for free from many health centres such as GUM clinics and doctor’s surgeries, but might not be as widely available as male condoms.
They’re available to buy commercially too, but may be slightly more expensive than male condoms.
This form of barrier contraception is a small rubber (latex or polyurethane) sheet, intended for use during oral contact with the anus or vagina. They help to prevent vaginal fluids from coming into contact with the mouth, and prevent saliva from transferring the other way.
They are not thought to be very widely used, and little research exists into their effectiveness at preventing STIs. But they are thought to be a good method of protection for those performing mouth-to-vagina or mouth-to-anus activities, and guidelines on their use can be found on the CDC website.
Dental dams are available through some NHS services, such as from GUM clinics and your GP, as well as commercially.
Taking care with sex toys
It is possible for chlamydia to be passed on through the use of sex toys. However enlisting certain precautionary measures, such as the following, can help to reduce the likelihood of this happening:
- Not sharing sex toys
- Cleaning sex toys between uses
- Using a condom
The best way to limit the risk of infection through sex toys is to observe all three.
Not sharing between uses
Where two people share a penetrative sex toy, there is a risk that vaginal fluid can be transferred from one person to the other. Where lesions are present in the anus or vagina, there may also be a risk of transmitting blood-borne infections.
Having a group of sex toys which are dedicated to just one particular partner, and using a different group for another partner for example, can help to reduce (but not completely eliminate) the risk of chlamydia transmission.
Cleaning between uses
Washing sex toys between uses (and that includes between uses by two different people and between uses in different areas of the body when used on one person) can rid them of bacteria and lower the likelihood of passing on harmful infections, such as chlamydia.
The instructions provided with the device should contain instructions on how to clean it safely. If your toy can be washed, then do so following each use.
If your device contains no cleaning instructions, then it may only be intended for a single use. If you are unsure, contact the manufacturer.
Using a condom
Covering sex toys with a condom before use, and changing this between uses, can also help to limit the spread of infection. This helps to ensure that vaginal fluid and other secretions do not come into contact with the other person using it.
Not having sex
While the measures listed above can help to reduce the chances of chlamydia transmission, the only way to make completely certain that you do not get chlamydia, or that you do not pass it on to someone else, is to refrain from having sex.
If you and your partner are not certain of your infection status, and no form of barrier contraception is available, then not engaging in sexual activities that present a risk is the most advisable course of action.
For this reason, discussing your recent sexual history with your partner before having sex is crucial.
You can read more about how chlamydia is diagnosed and treated on our information pages.