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The Flawed Condom by Edward Szymkowiak

CONDOM EFFECTIVENESS

Condoms have always posed a great use-effectiveness problem.  The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires contraceptive manufacturers to list the typical rate of pregnancy for one year of use.  For male condoms the FDA says the rate is 14 percent. [1]  In other words, over a span of a year, for every 100 typical couples using condoms, 14 will become pregnant.  But this rate is based on birth prevention, not disease prevention.

This distinction is critical when safety and protection are honestly considered and evaluated.  For example, a woman’s window of fertility is about 7 days out of an average 28-day cycle.  Infections such as HIV/AIDS, however, can occur every day.  This means that there are at least four times as many days during which disease can be transmitted compared to the amount of time for possible fertilization — the simple transmission of a sperm into an egg.

Some claim that condoms will cut down on the spread of many sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.  However, a July 20, 2001 report from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Prevention, concluded that scientific evidence does not support condom use as a means to prevent infections of genital herpes (HSV), Human Papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, syphilis, chanchroid, and trichomonas (pages 20, 26, 17, 23, 21, 18 respectively).  There is evidence of protection for men against gonorrhea, but not women (p.16). 

The NIH report did say that consistent condom use decreased the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by about 85 percent (p.14).  But that is not very good for a uniformly fatal disease.  Keep in mind that the other diseases listed above may also be fatal.  For instance, HPV can lead to cervical cancer which kills more American women each year than HIV disease.[2]  The NIH study did not address other potentially fatal diseases such as Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

The NIH study evaluated Karen Davis' and Susan Weller's 1999 study, The Effectiveness of Condoms in Reducing Heterosexual Transmission of HIV, to form conclusions about the condom regarding HIV transmission.[3]  However, more recent work by Davis and Weller, Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission, released via the Cochrane Review concluded that condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission is only 80%.[4]

CONDOM PERMEABILITY

The width of the head of a normal human sperm is 2.5 to 3.5 microns,[5] but viruses are much smaller.  In a 1998 article in Rubber & Plastics News, C. M. Roland of the Naval Research Laboratory Chemistry Division and M. J. Schroeder of the US Naval Academy Department of Chemistry stated the following:

“The defining feature of viruses is their diminutive size.  For example, the AIDS virus is only 0.15 microns, and the hepatitis B virus is even smaller.  Given the presence in rubber of intrinsic defects two orders of magnitude larger in size, the ability of a condom or surgical glove to prevent transmission of viral particles is problematic.”[6]

 Roland and Schroeder tested samples of rubber taken from two commercial latex condoms, one about 50 microns thick and the other about 90 microns thick.  In both cases, they found that more than one million particles having a diameter of 0.1 microns passed through a square centimeter of condom latex within 30 minutes and, during the same time span, ten times larger particles of 1 micron in diameter passed through at a rate of about 1000 per square centimeter.[7]

CONDOM BREAKAGE AND SLIPPAGE

In a 1999 study published in Family Planning Perspectives, Karen Davis and Susan Weller note that in several in vivo [real life] trials to measure condom failure due to slippage and breakage, rates have varied from 0.5 to 6.7 percent for breakage and 0.1 to 16.6 percent for slippage.[8]

CONDOM + SPERMICIDE

On August 4, 2000 the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a strong warning against the use of the spermicide, nonoxynol-9 (N-9), regarding HIV.  From 1996 to May, 2000 a study was conducted in Africa in which nearly 1,000 HIV-negative female prostitutes were enrolled.  All were counseled to use a condom consistently and correctly and were asked to also use a vaginal gel each time they had intercourse.  Half the women got a placebo gel and the other half got N-9.  Researchers found that those who used the N-9 gel had become infected with HIV at about a 50 percent higher rate than those who used the placebo gel. [9] Despite this CDC warning in 2000, Planned Parenthood Federation of America was advertising on its website, in 2002, that, Some Planned Parenthood condoms are coated with the spermicide nonoxynol-9.”[10]

THE CONDOM COVER UP

On the issue of condom use, however, the CDC has been less than forthright according to a national group of doctors.  Just a few days after the NIH released the study referenced above that exposed the truth about condom ineffectiveness, The Physicians Consortium, which has some 2,000 members nationwide, sent a letter, dated July 23, 2001, to President George Bush calling for the resignation of the CDC chief Dr. Jeffery Koplan.  The letter said the CDC “has misled millions of women into believing that condoms provide safety… Despite the billions of dollars used to promote a ‘safe sex’ health policy, the CDC lacks clinical research to back its claims.”[11]

The next day, a coalition representing 10,000 doctors, including the Catholic Medical Association, Congressman Dave Weldon, MD, and former Congressman Tom Coburn, MD,[12] accused the CDC of routinely breaking federal laws requiring it to dispense accurate information on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing STDs.  By improperly promoting condom use, “the CDC has failed in its primary duty to protect public health,” said Dr. John Diggs, a member of the executive committee of the Physicians Consortium.[13]  Diggs also stated, “This has all the earmarks of a good old-fashioned medical cover-up.”[14]

THE CONDOM’S BIGGEST FLAW

The condom’s biggest flaw is that those using it to prevent the conception of another human being are offending God.  God intends that sexual intercourse should take place only between a man married to a woman.  If people follow God’s plan for human sexuality there would be no problem with sexually transmitted diseases.  Furthermore, each and every act of marital intercourse must be both unitive and open to procreation.  Any action, including condom use, which has as its purpose to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.  Those married couples who, for just reasons and not by selfish motivation, wish to space the births of their children, can avail themselves of the morally acceptable natural methods of birth regulation which are based upon self-observation and the use of infertile periods. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2368-2370).

 



[1] U.S  Food and Drug Administration – Center for Devices and Radiological Health,  Guidance for Industry – Uniform Contraceptive Labeling, July 23, 1998,  p. 5.

 

[2] Center For Disease Control (CDC) webpage, www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/info-cc.htm, visited on 2/11/02, stated that about 4,100 women would die from cervical cancer in 2002. The CDC’s National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 49, No. 12, October 9, 2001, p. 14 stated that 14,370 people died from HIV disease in 2000.  The Whitehouse’s webpage, www.whitehouse.gov/onap/facts.html, visited on 2/11/02, stated that 15% of AIDS deaths were female.  Thus, about 2,156 women can be projected to die from HIV disease in 2002.

 

[3] Family Planning Perspectives, 1999, 31(6):272-279, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3127299.html

 

[4] The Cochrane Library, Issue 4, 2003, http://www.cochrane.org/cochrane/revabstr/ab003255.htm

 

[5] A micron is one millionth of a meter. Sperm width from Parastie, S., “The Importance of Sperm Morphology in the Evaluation of Male Infertility,” viewed http://www.gfmer.ch/Endo/PGC_network/Sperm_morphology.htm on 10/21/03.  Parastie is citing the World Health Organization’s 1992 WHO Laboratory Manual for the Examination of Human Semen and Sperm-Cervical Mucus Interaction.

 

[6] Roland, C.M., and Schroeder, M.J., “Intrinsic defect effects on NR permeability,” Rubber & Plastics News, Jan. 12, 1998, p. 15.

 

[7] Ibid.

 

[8] Davis, Karen R., and Weller, Susan C., “The Effectiveness of Condoms in Reducing Heterosexual Transmission of HIV,” Family Planning Perspectives, November/December 1999, pp. 272-279.

 

[9]  Gayle, H.D., CDC’s Director for National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention, in a “Dear Colleague” letter dated August 4, 2000.

 

[10] Planned Parenthood Federation of America webpage www.plannedparenthood.org/condoms/why.html visited on 2/12/02.

 

[11] Zwillich,T., “Conservative Docs, Lawmakers Attack CDC on Condoms,” Reuters, July 24, 2001.

 

[12] The Physicians Consortium, “10,000 physicians to ask for resignation of CDC director, end of cover-up,” press release of July 23, 2001.

 

[13] Zwillich, T., op. cit.

 

[14] The Physicians Consortium, op. cit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(October 2003 revision)