The Collegian
Saturday, April 13, 2024

The real truth about condoms

Westhampton College '09

Contrary to Ms. Williams' article last week, condoms are extremely effective in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections. Here's the real low-down on condoms: condoms, when used correctly and consistently, are almost 100 percent effective at preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS. A study tracked 256 couples in which one partner was HIVpositive and one HIV-negative from 1987- 1991. Of the 124 couples who reported always using condoms, HIV/AIDS was never passed on. For 10 percent of the couples who reported sometimes using condoms, HIV was passed onto the previously-uninfected partner; 15 percent of those never using condoms passed on the virus.

Another study, using evidence from 37 studies on condom use and HIV, suggests that the rate of HIV prevention can be compared to the condom's pregnancy prevention rate.

When condoms are used consistently and correctly, the condom is 97 percent effective in preventing pregnancy; if the couple does not use condoms consistently, the percentage for preventing pregnancy drops to 85 percent. Studies suggest that, for a couple in which one partner is HIV-positive and the other HIV-negative, HIV is not transmitted 95 percent of the time. If the couple does not use condoms correctly, the rate of prevention of transmission drops to 87percent (in some cases, even to 60 percent).

It is true that there have not been any conclusive studies about the prevention of the transmission of other STIs. But this lack of concrete numbers concerns the nature of condom studies. There are a lot of ethical issues that go into studies on the transmission of diseases. Researchers cannot ask someone to run the risk of passing on a life-changing, even fatal, disease in the name of science.

Similarly, they cannot ask someone to go untreated in order to see how the disease is passed on without condoms. Retrospective studies, where researchers ask participants to remember the consistency of their condom use, run the risk of flaws and exaggerations on the participants' part.

From the studies that have been done, however, it has been shown that condoms greatly reduce the risk of STI transmission. It has been proven that pathogens the size of STIs are too big to pass through a latex condom. Condoms are most effective against discharge STIs, but less effective, though still useful, in preventing the transmission of STIs that are passed by skin-to-skin contact. I read many of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recent publications, as Ms. Williams claims she did, and in every article, it states, "Laboratory studies have demonstrated that latex condoms provide an essentially impermeable barrier to particles the size of STD pathogens," or some variation on that statement.

Nowhere was it suggested that "condom use may have some effect against STIs," as Ms. Williams put it. I contacted Ms. Williams to discover where she had gotten her statistics, and she sent me a link to "The Medical Institute." This "institute" masks the fact that it is a biased organization very well, and does a nice job of making the statistics it cites look factual. However, its sources were hard to track down. When I could find a source, the facts that the Medical Institute was quoting were taken out of context and construed to make condoms look less effective than they were.

After digging around the Medical Institute's Web site for quite some time, I finally discovered its position on sexuality. The Medical Institute is interested in promoting abstinence-only education. In its stressing of abstinence until one is in a "faithful, lifelong relationship (such as marriage)," there is no specific mention of those who currently are not allowed to get married, such as those in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community. There is no discussion of hormonal birth control, only condoms\0x14 and all of the facts presented about condoms are incorrect. Abortion is nowhere in sight; the links it provides send you to adoption-only sources. The Medical Institute, with its official-sounding name, promotes false information, thus putting young people in danger.

Lastly, Ms. Williams suggested that people on this campus aren't interested in learning about safer sex practices and their sexual health; VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood has held two big discussion programs in the springs of 2006 and 2007. We had a turnout of 20-30 people at both events, and that's without a chocolate fountain. I'd say that the demand for knowledge on how to keep oneself safe and healthy is pretty high up there.For more information or references, please e-mail

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