Thursday, May 30, 2013

Condoms and Caution

CNN reports that condom company Sir Richard's has adopted the charitable strategy of TOMS Shoes: buy one, and one will be donated to a developing country. They're starting with Haiti, where HIV has spiked in the years since a devastating earthquake overwhelmed its healthcare system.

It's a clever idea, and there's no doubt that condoms are crucial to the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, the company does seem to be hyping this more than is warranted. The CEO is quoted as saying that "If everyone bought our condoms, we could really change the world. That's an extraordinary proposition, but it's very real." Of course, a cynic might note that the same result could be obtained if people simply donated condoms on their own, bypassing Sir Richard's coffers.

What's more, although the main focus of the article is HIV/AIDS, the company is also touting this as the great solution to unplanned pregnancy around the world. Unfortunately, as we can see in the United States, the widespread availability of cheap condoms at every pharmacy and free condoms at every college dorm does not always lead to low rates of unintended pregnancy.

In large part, that's because condoms are much better at stopping the AIDS virus than they are at stopping the little swimmers. According to the CDC, while condoms are highly effective at preventing HIV transmission, the typical use failure rate for condoms as a contraceptive is a dismal eighteen percent. People often fail to make that distinction, and therefore do not appreciate the chances of pregnancy as fully as they should. No doubt that misunderstanding will be magnified in a region that has little in the way of healthcare access and sex education.

What do you think? Is this a good idea, a problematic idea, or something in between?


m17l6s85 said...

the link about HIV effectiveness: "Latex condoms, when used
_consistently and correctly_, are highly effective in preventing the
sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS." (Emphasis

the link about pregnancy prevention effectiveness: "Effectiveness can
be measured during “perfect use,” when the method is used _correctly and
consistently_ as directed, or during “typical use,” which is how
effective the method is during actual use (including inconsistent and
incorrect use)." (Emphasis added.)

are comparing the perfect use % for HIV protection with the typical use
% for pregnancy prevention. That's a faulty comparison.

As far as pregnancy prevention, the failure rate for condoms under perfect use is 2%, under typical use is 18% (
"Typical use" basically means when people *sometimes* use condoms while
their having sex, and other times don't use the condoms. Of course
condoms are ineffective when you don't use them; abstinence is the same
way, except the "typical use" failure rate of abstinence is even higher
than the typical use failure rate of condoms.

Giving people more access to condoms is a good step, but it would be better if coupled with sex education.

Kelsey said...

Sorry, I should have been more clear. The point in the CDC-HIV link that I wanted to draw attention to was the "real-life" effectiveness studies, not the "consistently and correctly" lab studies. "Real-life" is described as "consistent," __but NOT "perfect"__ use. Even so, it was still extremely good at keeping the HIV-free partner that way. Whereas the real-life use of condoms in the contraception context has yielded disappointing results.

Perhaps the real issue here is that the "typical use" of condoms is much more likely to be *consistent* in cases where you're trying to protect yourself from a lethal disease and the menstrual cycle doesn't matter, versus less consistent "typical use" in purely contraceptive situations?

m17l6s85 said...

From the HIV link: "The ability of latex condoms to prevent transmission of HIV has been scientifically established in “real-life” studies of sexually active couples as well as in laboratory studies."

Is that what you mean by the "real life" studies? Because that doesn't clarify whether the couples in those studies used condoms consistently and correctly or not. I took it to mean that condoms work in both "real life" and the lab when they are used correctly, not that condoms are more effective at preventing HIV than pregnancy.

From what I can tell, condoms are effective when used correctly and consistently, and aren't effective when used incorrectly and inconsistently. This is true for both HIV and pregnancy prevention, and I don't see from the links anything that suggests differently.

Fix it Yourself said...

Anything that brings awareness about and reduces unwanted pregnancies is a good idea. People don't use condoms birth control as much as they could because:
1. Condoms are thought of more as protection from STDs, so if a couple believes they are not at risk for STDs then they have less reason to use condoms.
2. Condoms put more responsibility on the man, and men don't want that responsibility. Men need to step up and be proactive in preventing pregnancies themselves, not leave it up to women, especially since women's choices have more side effects and are not as readily available. Change men's thinking about BC and pregnancy rates will drop.

LynnAMurray said...

Oops giving a false impression that there is sex without consequences. Abortion rates and std rates say otherwise in countries flooded with condoms.

LifeChoices said...

It's clearly a good idea. If you had a country rampant with a particular illness, and you had a medication that was effective 82% of the time, would you say, "Well, maybe it's not a good idea to give this to them. It's hardly perfect." I hope you wouldn't!

Condoms are much better than the alternative they have now, which is nothing. People aren't going to stop having sex. It's best that they be as safe as possible while doing so.

(As m17l6s85 says, quality sex ed would be extremely helpful here, too! Tools are much more helpful when paired with the knowledge of how and when to use them.)