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Condoms don't really work?
July 25, 2001 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Condoms don't really work? According to this study conducted by a panel of 10, 000 physicians, while condoms are 85 percent effective in helping prevent the spread of HIV, they offer less protection against sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and genital herpes. The worst part? They claim the CDC has known this for years.
posted by summer1971 (45 comments total)

 
I guess this justifies what my wife told me when she noted that she was abstinet because that was the only safe measure one could take.
posted by Postroad at 11:42 AM on July 25, 2001


Further into the news item -

The CDC had no comment on the doctors’ charges, but released a statement saying it welcomes "more study to better determine the exact effectiveness of condoms" and says it will continue to advise that abstinence is "the surest protection" from STDs.

This is a frightening revelation. For years we have been taught that safe sex is the best sex and that using a condom would prevent you from catching these diseases. Now we are finding out that this is not really true. Sure, we can preach abstinence all day long but there is still that part of the population that enjoys and practices casual sex. How does this affect everyone in the long run?
posted by summer1971 at 11:44 AM on July 25, 2001


Who has ever made the claim that condoms are 100% effective at anything? This is old news and really its common sense. All activities have x amount of risk, whether you think that risk is acceptable or not is your prerogative.
posted by skallas at 11:57 AM on July 25, 2001


news? bah, we've known that latex is porous...
posted by tomplus2 at 11:59 AM on July 25, 2001


I always understood that, on a microscopic level, condoms are permeable. The holes being small enough to keep sperm from passing. Given that your average virus is smaller than a sperm cell, common sense says that condoms wouldn't be even near 100% effective against preventing AIDS. Also, based on this, I figured that if a bacteria or virus was smaller than a sperm cell would have the same ability to pass. Guess I did get something out of sex ed after all. I always figured everyone could come to the same conclusion. Not really a news flash to me.
posted by srw12 at 12:00 PM on July 25, 2001


A condom's going to cover most (if not all) of the area it's intended to cover (as long as it's used/unrolled/disposed of properly), but diseases like the ones mentioned in the article can be transmitted via sores or tears in the skin of the pubic area. Vigorous activity is also a factor, but after all it's not as if they're making the things out of Firestone rubber these days. (Now that'd be a story worth hearing!)

And Fox News' take on it as a coverup? Maybe to abstinence pushers who aren't using condoms or reading condom boxes. Anyone else in the real world has been informed about the risks and rates re: exposure to venereal disease (especially that "part of the population that enjoys and practices casual sex").
posted by allaboutgeorge at 12:03 PM on July 25, 2001


condoms provide better protection against STDs than nothing at all, and i'm not sure the message was ever preached that as long as you use a condom, you will not get an STD. that said, a lot of the ineffectiveness of condoms can be traced to having been improperly put on. i didn't see whether or not improper use was listed as a factor in the study, which is too bad.
posted by moz at 12:04 PM on July 25, 2001


So who is this "Physician's Consortium"? Doing a Google search, I only came up with a few articles regarding abstinence-only groups. I can't find a solid link anywhere.

The fact that this is a Fox News article makes me very suspicious.

And this isn't news to everyone. No one's ever said that condoms were 100% effective against any disease. If a person's having sex during a herpes outbreak, for instance, the partner's likely going to contract it too, condom or no.

Smells like more far-right pablum in this bullshit abstinence push.
posted by solistrato at 12:08 PM on July 25, 2001


> Sure, we can preach abstinence all day long but there is
> still that part of the population that enjoys and practices
> casual sex. How does this affect everyone in the long
> run?

You can thank those people for providing a safe reservoir for STDs, especially AIDS, from whence it can strike out to infect, say, the blood supply, and in which it continues to have ongoing opportunity to mutate into something even more interesting than it now is.


> This is a frightening revelation. For years we have been
> taught that safe sex is the best sex and that using a
> condom would prevent you from catching these
> diseases.

Nobody swallowed this (to coin a phrase) except the people who dearly wanted and needed to believe it.
posted by jfuller at 12:11 PM on July 25, 2001


Anyone with a decent educational background will have already known this fact. It's quite clear that the organisms that spread these diseases are smaller than the microscopic holes found in latex condoms.

Casual sex frightens me to the point of not having it. A close friend of mine contracted Herpes while practicing so called "safe" sex (eg, using a condom).

My rule is to just not have casual sex. If you find someone special, go get tested together. It's relatively cheap, relatively fast, and can save you from a tragic result.
posted by physics at 12:12 PM on July 25, 2001


I'm glad most of the comments take this tone -- I too thought it was common knowledge that a condom can only do so much when it comes to most STDs.
posted by jragon at 12:16 PM on July 25, 2001


wrap in a rubber
S T Ds pass anyway
hey fox - is this news?
posted by dogmatic at 12:26 PM on July 25, 2001


You'll notice that it's been years since anyone talked about "safe" sex. Condoms provide "safer" sex, sort of like seatbelts prevent safer driving.

Even with a seatbelt, you can still drive like an idiot and hurt yourself.
posted by preguicoso at 12:44 PM on July 25, 2001


Oh yah...


abstinence????

please.
posted by preguicoso at 12:45 PM on July 25, 2001


"seatbelts prevent safer driving. "...

I know what you meant but I'm still LMAO at that one.
posted by srw12 at 12:47 PM on July 25, 2001


ughhh

too much work, not enough metafilter. That's what happens, folks...
posted by preguicoso at 12:48 PM on July 25, 2001


I probably should have fleshed my comments out a little more. No, I am not ignorant to the fact that condoms are not 100 percent safe, nor do I think any other informed adult is. My concern is with the fact that everyday my 16 year old cousin has people (counselors, Planned Parenthood, Sex Education teachers) giving her half the story. If she is not equipped with all the tools, how is she to make an informed decision? If teachers and Planned Parenthood are spreading coverup propoganda to 16 year olds who are too afraid to ask their parents and go to other adults for answers, what then?

And dogmatic - cute haiku :o)

condoms
condoms don't work y'all
there is no such thing as safe
keep it in your pants
posted by summer1971 at 12:50 PM on July 25, 2001


dogmatic (syllables 13 - 17):

> hey fox - is this news?

It is to the very loud and obnoxious group that's been yammering for years about "safe sex," as if there were such a thing.

Consider, for example, MIT's list of "don'ts." You know the only way to obey all these "don'ts"? Don't have sex, that's how. But the import of this page, and thousands like it (and tons of "safe sex" printed material, and thousands of hours of "safe sex" lectures) is that somehow, somehow, it's possible to be safe even if you can't keep your zipper zipped and your wick dry.

Anybody who picks up an STD while imagining they're practicing "safe sex" is a good candidate for a Darwin award.
posted by jfuller at 12:53 PM on July 25, 2001


For years we have been taught that safe sex is the best sex

when compared to unsafe sex, it really is the better option, isn't it? abstinence, as we relate it to sex, isn't sex (by definition), and therefore doesn't figure into that little equation at all.

that leaves abstinence vs safe(r) sex. no one has ever denied that not having sex will better protect you from more STDs than protected sex.

when we had sex ed. in high school, more than a decade ago, it wasn't called 'safe' sex. it was called 'safer than if you didn't use a condom' sex (or, just safer sex), and we were told that, even with a condom, there were significant chances of being infected by an infected partner. if the CDC is bad for sitting on this report for a year, then how much more evil is my high school zoology teacher for knowing all that 11 years ago and not reporting it?

i had the information before i was an informed adult. people give kids and teens too little credit.

the article has no news to it.
posted by tolkhan at 12:57 PM on July 25, 2001


If there's a universal truth, it is that people will always have sex. Any rational adult should know that condoms are not 100% effective against STDs, and I don't think that claim has recently been made. "Safe sex" is old news, and has been replaced in many educational facilities with "safer sex." It's a subtle shift, of course, but one worth noting.

The point is, would we rather people be educated to be "safer" or not educated at all? As far as I can tell, promoting abstinence does little to curb people's desires. And while teaching abstinence, on must of course refuse to provide alternatives for those who are going to do it anyway. If they must give in, it's better that they at least do it with a rubber on.
posted by dogmatic at 1:03 PM on July 25, 2001


damn tolkhan, beat me to it.
posted by dogmatic at 1:03 PM on July 25, 2001


woo hoo! i beat someone to something! usually, i'm still typing away twenty minutes after someone's posted what i wanted to say.
posted by tolkhan at 1:06 PM on July 25, 2001


I'm not arguing that they shouldn't be taught "something" but at least make it a little closer to the truth. And I guess I'm biased because I'm arguing based on the materials I've seen in my younger cousins' backpacks that they get at all those school health fairs and such.
posted by summer1971 at 1:09 PM on July 25, 2001


It's a scary world out there. People get killed every day. A few days ago three girls drowned in the ocean near where I live. Does that mean you should lock yourself inside, and never do anything remotely dangerous?
I'd rather live an exciting life, and risk being itchy than sit around and not do the things I enjoy because of fear.
posted by Doug at 1:14 PM on July 25, 2001


If any person is deluding himself into thinking that the great sexual landscape is a black-and-white universe, where one magical little piece of rubber placed on Mr. Johnson is going to take care of everything, then they're as sadly deluded as the Fox News editor who decided that the above article was "shocking news."

Reading the article, it would seem as if sexuality was as threatening as Agent Orange and that Jim Garrison is going to come in, smoking guns blazing, to demand the truth. I particularly like the attempts made to demonize Planned Parenthood as an "it" that is spreading the condom idea around like Communism.

Will we see another full-blown abstinence movement return in the wake of a Bush administration? If that's the case, it will give everyone a good justification to get laid. Winkee madness? No. Just more white noise from Fox News.
posted by ed at 2:11 PM on July 25, 2001


ugh. misinformation.

(1) no competent health educator in the last 20 years has claimed that condoms are 100% effective in preventing all diseases. hence the term "safer sex."

(2) the diseases mentioned in the article can be transmitted through any contact between the genitals of two people. that means the entire area surrounding the genitals, not just semen and not just the penis and the vagina interior (all of which a condom is designed to protect).

(3) i would wager that these are not cases of the diseases being transmitted through the condom, rather disease transmission resulting from broken condoms (usually a result of improper use) or other genital contact.

(4) yes, viruses, including HIV, are usually smaller than sperm and smaller than the microscopic "holes" in condoms. HOWEVER, HIV (and most sexually transmitted viruses) cannot be transmitted unless they have a carrier, such as sperm. sperm are smaller than the "holes" in condoms, therefore HIV cannot pass through a condom.

(5) HIV is sexually transmitted, not AIDS.

(6) yes, kids WILL have sex, no matter how much you scare them and regardless of whether you make them sign a "chastity pledge" or not.

(7) you know what is broken more often than a condom? a chastity pledge.
posted by conquistador at 2:25 PM on July 25, 2001


(8) and, sadly, anecdotal evidence suggests that those who break chasity pledges don't use condoms.
posted by dws at 2:54 PM on July 25, 2001


> ugh. misinformation.
>
>(1) no competent health educator in the last 20 years has
> claimed that condoms are 100% effective in preventing all
> diseases. hence the term "safer sex."

You didn't look, did you, at the link I posted earlier to the MIT Medical Health Education Service's SAFE SEX / STD INFORMATION page. It's a current page, posted by MIT for Ghod's sake, and it says "safer" down in the batteries-not-included print and SAFE in Second Coming type up at the top.


> (5) HIV is sexually transmitted, not AIDS.

Right. Also, don't worry, bubonic plague isn't contageous, all you can catch is Yersinia pestis.
posted by jfuller at 3:14 PM on July 25, 2001


Sex is dangerous. That's part of the fun, even if you're wearing wetsuits and blessed by the Pope.
posted by holgate at 3:16 PM on July 25, 2001


um - did you read the site? all it talks about after the large attention-grabbing headline is "helping" to make sex "safer," followed by a whole paragraph on the limitations of condoms.

also, the other point I made was not an attempt to deny the danger of HIV or resulting AIDS, but to correct a technical error many people make (another is saying "HIV virus" which is technically incorrect, because the "v" in HIV stands for virus).

but thanks for the pissy attitude when all i was discussing was health care facts, which too often are obscured by political/religious motivations.
posted by conquistador at 3:25 PM on July 25, 2001


Excluding HIV.. Herpes is the only disease listed that is not cureable.. although it is manageable and about 1 and 4 have it (some countries over %90).. and its just a skin rash diseases.. everything else is just a nusiance like getting poison ivy.. take some anti-bods and its gone.. so people who change around thier entire lives just to avoid these nasty stigmatized diseases could have other issues going on. I agree with Doug and Ed that life has some risks but you have to balance risk with reward. It is in the public health care interest for single-partner marriage traditional sex-only because they dont want epidemics which have to be paid for with public funds which threatens a countrys stability .. case in point Russias collapsed public health care and falling average life span... it threatens other socialized countries as well in Europe overwhelmed with public health care costs and our friends to the North.
posted by stbalbach at 3:56 PM on July 25, 2001


Great comments, conquistador. If you use a condom properly and it doesn't break, the percentage chance of you getting a girl pregnant or getting an STD is Zero. The chance of you getting any STD carried through fluids such as sperm is very, very close to zero. Condoms, when used right, are an effective form of protection. End story.
posted by Kevs at 4:07 PM on July 25, 2001


> everything else is just a nusiance like getting poison
> ivy.. take some anti-bods and its gone..

...with the caveat that this is the 21st century and in a few years we may find Treponema pallidum with the same kind of antibiotic immunity that ICU staph infections enjoy now. Of course syphilis is an even more drawn-out death than AIDS is and sometimes more interesting (or so says Thomas Mann, in Dr. Faustus.)


> Sex is dangerous. That's part of the fun

No argument. I'm merely nostalgic for the days when the most immediately lethal thing you could catch was a butt-full of buckshot as you left through the window.
posted by jfuller at 4:40 PM on July 25, 2001


I'm a bit confused about how someone could not use a condom "correctly." This ain't rocket science, folks. What, exactly, is the wrong way to use a condom? By taking it internally?
posted by kindall at 4:54 PM on July 25, 2001


Kindall: We never talk about Ol' Ten Rubber Fingered Frank around here.
posted by ed at 5:01 PM on July 25, 2001


What we are dealing with, essentially, is the misuse of a report by the National Institute of Health for purely political purposes.

A Republican former representative from Oklahoma named Tom Coburn called for this report. Just to let you know a bit about Mr Colburn, during his term in office, he held annual lectures on abstinence during pizza lunches, featuring graphic photographs of the clinical effects of sexually transmitted diseases. Mmm, tasty.

Now... what did the NIH really say? They released a review of studies looking at the effectiveness of condoms in protecting persons against diseases transmitted during heterosexual sex. The panel concluded that condoms are proven to significantly reduce the risk of HIV transmission and gonorrhea infection in men. The report did not address other diseases, period. It said that data on preventing other diseases is sparse and neither supports nor refutes condoms' effectiveness. However, I think it would be very safe to say that condoms do routinely protect us from other sexually transmitted diseases.The panel called for more in-depth research on condoms' ability to help prevent the spread of STDs. The NIH recommend further testing to determine just how good condoms are at preventing specific diseases, but as any health expert would argue, abstenance is the safest way to prevent spread of sexually transmitted diseases, but proper use of condoms is the best alternative.

Basically, nothing in the report is really news to anyone in the medical community. The only reason that this is an issue is because a Republican representative and a consortium of approximately 2,000 conservative doctors are making it an issue, and using the sensationalist, rightwing people over at Fox to depict "safe" sex as irresponsible sex. They are trying to oust the chief of the CDC, Jeffrey Koplan, for somehow lying to the American people.

Who is Mr. Koplan? Prior to being appointed to his job by Donna Shalala (a Democrat) he worked with the CDC for over 22 years and has served as both the Assistant Surgeon General and as the first director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. During his tenure at the Center, he led the effort to make chronic disease prevention and control a national public health priority. Under his leadership, the Center's staff grew from 200 to more than 700 and its budget increased from $60 million to $300 million. He established a national women's breast and cervical cancer early detection program that now reaches every state, and was instrumental in focusing attention on the global impact of the health hazards of tobacco. He's amazingly qualified for his position, but being targeted for political purposes.

Now, a bit about Tom Coburn. He is a pro-life conservative Christian who voted against abortions that were viewed as medically necessary, he is on record as opposing the "morning after" pill, being a strong proponent of legislation proposed by Jesse Helms to prevent clinics from distributing the pill... he also favored blurring the distinction between church and state, voting in favor of displaying the ten commandments in courtrooms, voting to legally bar desecration of the flag, etc. He was considered by some national ratings as the most conservative congressman in office, receiving a lifetime score of 97% from The American Conservative Union, a perfect 100% on the scorecard of the New American magazine, and achieving A-ratings from Gun Owners of America.

So, go ahead, buy into the FUD... but I'm not going to let someone like this attack the medical institution and dictate what behavior is right for me and for the people I love.
posted by insomnia_lj at 5:28 PM on July 25, 2001


If you use a condom properly and it doesn't break, the percentage chance of you getting a girl pregnant or getting an STD is Zero.

hmm... i think i read somewhere that sometimes, condoms can easily break or be "less effective" because of the way they are transported. it should state on the box that the condoms should be stored in a room temperature environment.. however, if you've ever been in the back of one of those trucks they use to distribute them (especially in the summer), it is in no way room temperature... hmm, thinking about it, maybe i shouldn't keep my emergency condoms in the glove compartment in my car... anyway, there's also those who keep condoms in their wallets.
posted by lotsofno at 5:56 PM on July 25, 2001


I'm a bit confused about how someone could not use a condom "correctly." This ain't rocket science, folks. What, exactly, is the wrong way to use a condom? By taking it internally?

Putting it on halfway, deciding it's inside out, and reversing it would be one approach to using a condom incorrectly. Putting it on at the last possible moment would be another. Using one more than once would certainly be a bad idea. Only using condoms intermittently is probably more common than any of the above.

Yes, we're talking about the far reaches of the condom-usage bell curve, but I don't think you'll find a health care professional who denies that these are just the start of a good list, or that all the items on that list happen every day.
posted by bumppo at 6:06 PM on July 25, 2001


I would bet that less than half of people use condoms in the absolute proper manner in order to minimize the risks of unprotected sex. Little things like not storing the condom properly, not pinching the end of the condom to get the air out before it is put on (doing so greatly decreases the risk of breakage), not holding on to the condom to secure it in place when it is pulled out, making sure that any semen that might get on the hands of the person removing the condom is washed off before contact with the partner commences again... little things that basically increase the effectiveness of using condoms. The added risks might only be a few percent points here or there, but would you rather play Russian Roulette with one bullet in the gun or two?! You spin the wheel, you take your chances...

Complete instructions with pictures available here, for any of you starving for details.
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:24 PM on July 25, 2001


if it weren't so late, i'd dig up the instructions on trojan boxes... those are hilarious.
posted by lotsofno at 9:37 PM on July 25, 2001


Smells like more far-right pablum in this bullshit abstinence push

-First draft lyric for 'Smells like Teen Spirit', Nirvana
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:29 PM on July 25, 2001


If you use a condom properly and it doesn't break, the percentage chance of you getting ... an STD is Zero.

No. This is not about condoms breaking, people. Viruses need hosts to multiply not to be transmitted. same with bacteria. Viruses are self-sustained they merely need the hosts materials to reproduce. Throw a ping-pong ball at a chain-link fence, sooner or later it'll pass through. this is the know of confusion I was hoping wasn't out there as much.
posted by srw12 at 6:46 AM on July 26, 2001


Viruses need hosts to multiply not to be transmitted

some still need a medium, not a host, to travel, thus, most viri are not leaping off of a person's lips to crawl to a new host. semen is an excellent medium for transmission, but condoms help to prevent the transmission of semen.
posted by tolkhan at 11:14 AM on July 26, 2001


Kevs:
If you use a condom properly and it doesn't break, the percentage chance of you getting a girl pregnant or getting an STD is Zero. The chance of you getting any STD carried through fluids such as sperm is very, very close to zero. Condoms, when used right, are an effective form of protection. End story.

Not true, unless you play games with the definition of "STD". HPV, herpes, and molluscum are incurable viruses which can be transmitted whether you use a condom or not. Condoms often fail to cover the base of the penis, and never cover the scrotum. Viruses can transfer between these areas and the outer labia.

stbalbach:
Excluding HIV.. Herpes is the only disease listed that is not cureable.. although it is manageable and about 1 and 4 have it (some countries over %90).. and its just a skin rash diseases.. everything else is just a nusiance like getting poison ivy.. take some anti-bods and its gone.. so people who change around thier entire lives just to avoid these nasty stigmatized diseases could have other issues going on.

Viruses are not curable, and herpes is not the only viral STD. Human papillomavirus causes cervical cancer and possibly also prostate cancer - that's a lot worse than "just a skin rash".

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:32 PM on July 26, 2001


>>>Human papillomavirus causes cervical cancer<<<

Only a few strains of the virus are linked to cervical cancer. Hundreds of other strains of the same virus have no link to cervical cancer and are relatively harmless. The human papillomavirus is the common cold of the reproductive system, but you'd think it was fatal pneumonia to hear social conservatives talk.

I'm glad insomnia lj pointed out the politics behind this story -- it's basically more of the same conservative Comstockery that's been spouted for years: Condemn condoms, condemn Planned Parenthood, astinence only unless you're married. This is simply getting worse because we have a conservative presidency.

By the way, before you condemn the condom's effectiveness, maybe you should look at studies that examined transmission rates between infected and noninfected long-term partners. I think you'd be surprised by the results.
posted by debrahyde at 10:02 PM on July 26, 2001


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