Condoms: Life savers or killers?
"Condoms kill." Statement on a poster by pro-lifers
demonstrating in front of a Red Cross office in Salt Lake City, UT.
The real public health question is not are condoms 100%
effective, but rather, how can we more effectively use condoms to help
prevent the spread of disease." AIDS Research Institute. 1
"...don't buy the 'safe sex' lie - it can kill you. The only
'safe sex' is no sex until marriage. You?re worth it - don't let anyone
tell you you're not!" Quoted in "Condoms - Do They Really Work?,"
by AbortionFacts.com 2
"Condoms are...up to 99.9 percent effective in reducing the risk
of STD transmission when combined with spermicide." SIECUS fact
Confused? Read on!
Conflicts about condoms between public health officials and
spokespersons for some conservative Christian organizations flare up from
time to time.
In 1987, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop publicly recommended that people
use condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV, which develops in to AIDS. Some conservative Christian
organizations attacked his stance. Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum
accused him of promoting "safe fornication with condoms" as "a
cover-up for the homosexual community." Conservative anti-tobacco
advocate and a close colleague of Koop defended the Surgeon General. She
said: "I hate to be in a public debate with Phyllis Schlafly, since we
have a lot of things in common. But she is wrong about Dr. Koop....In
everything I've read in Dr. Koop's written speeches, he stresses monogamy as
the first line of defense against AIDS." 17
The same debate broke out in early 2002 about
the effectiveness of condoms in preventing the transmission of sexually
transmitted diseases (STDs).
Many of the leading Fundamentalist Christian organizations stated
or implied that condoms are almost completely useless at preventing STD
transmission. This belief was clearly expressed during a demonstration
at Red Cross office in Salt Lake City, UT, during the 2002 Winter Olympics. A
pro-life demonstrator held a poster which
said, simply: "Condoms kill."
||Most Public health officials, religious liberals, gays, lesbians, human
sexuality researchers, physicians, STD personnel, etc., strongly advocate
the use of condoms or latex dental dams during sexual activity. They
feel that, properly used, they are effective in preventing the
transmission of STDs.
The debate surfaced in the media during 2002-FEB because of
a series of events:
- The free distribution of condoms to visitors and athletes at the
2002 Winter Olympics, by a coalition of groups, including the Red Cross.
- Demonstrations by pro-life and conservative Christian groups against
these two condom distribution programs.
- The withdrawal of the Red Cross from the coalition.
A televised statement by Secretary of State Colin Powell to youths, aged 17
to 25, in which he strongly advocated that:
||Young people should remain celibate.
||That those who choose to be sexually active use condoms to prevent the
spread of HIV (which leads to AIDS) and other STDs.
- Reactions by the conservative Christian community to these events.
Diversity of opinion -- an overview:
||Religious conservatives typically recommend a multi-point
process for youth sexual behavior:|
||School sex-ed classes should only teach about abstinence. They
should not teach that students who engage in sexual activity before marriage
use safer sex techniques, because
sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral.
choice for unmarried people is celibacy.
||Persons with a heterosexual or bisexual orientation must delay their first sexual experience until
after they are
legally married to a person of the opposite gender.
Homosexuals must remain celibate for life.
If everyone met these requirements, then the STD threat to young
people would essentially end within a matter of years. Numerous biblical
texts, particularly in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)
reinforce this approach. Paul wrote extensively about remaining celibate until marriage in some of his
Adding STD and pregnancy prevention
information to school sex-ed classes sends students a double message -- that they should be celibate
and that they should use condoms during sexual activity. This results in confusion. If young people are taught that
they can take measures to avoid STDs and pregnancy, then they will
become much more sexually active. They will also initiate their first sexual activity sooner
In early 2002, some of the larger conservative Christian groups added a new component to their messages about youth sexual behavior: that
condoms are ineffective at preventing STD transmission. They feel that access to condoms and to information about condoms will
cause increased sexual activity, because young people will mistakenly believe that they are protected from pregnancy and STDs. Since they feel that condoms
are ineffective at preventing STDs, they conclude that the result will be more unwanted pregnancies, more abortions, more STDs, and more
Religious liberals, public health officials, and many others
abstinence as the only totally-reliable method of avoiding pregnancy and
STD infection through sexual behavior. But, for those youth who have decided to become sexually
active, they recommend the consistent and knowledgeable care and use of condoms. They
note that students are, on average, becoming sexually active at the
age of 15 or 16 in the United States. Some sex-ed classes have been successful in delaying
sexual behavior by many months or up to two years. However, by the time
that they reach college, almost all youths have been sexually active. By
the time of their
first marriage (at age 27 for men and 25 for women), pre-marital sex is
near universal. Over 90% of young people have become sexually active. 4 Sexually active youth need to know how to protect themselves against
pregnancy and STDs. Otherwise, pregnancy rates will remain high, and
many more young people will contract STDs. Some STDs, like AIDS, are
currently incurable and eventually fatal.|
Premarital celibacy was certainly promoted by Paul in some of his
epistles. But he was addressing a very different, pre-scientific
society. Today's situation is much different. In first century
CE Palestine, abstinence was of great importance because there
was no effective contraception techniques, no prevention methods for STDs, no
effective medical treatments for any STDs, and the time interval between
puberty and marriage was often measured in months -- not decades as in
Surveys have shown that inclusive sex-ed classes do not increase sexual behavior or encourage teens to become sexually active earlier.
But students are motivated by the knowledge that they gain in class to make their sexual behavior safer. Easy access to condoms, and
knowledge on how to use them properly, greatly reduce unwanted pregnancies and STD transmission. The result is
fewer unwanted pregnancies, fewer
abortions, fewer STDs, and fewer deaths.
It is not unusual for conservative Christians to take opposite positions
from other groups. This is seen in the conflict
between creation science and evolution, over the
nature of homosexual and bisexual orientation, and concerning the
morality of abortion, the
death penalty, physician assisted suicide,
Needless to say, groups on both sides of the condom conflict can cite studies to prove
Statements by conservative Christians about condoms:
There appears to be a consensus among conservative Christian groups
that condoms are either completely ineffective, or are nearly useless at
preventing STD transmission.
Spokespersons for many groups responded to the
2002 Winter Olympics condom giveaway, and to Colin Powell speech:
Gayle Ruzicka, spokesperson for the Utah
Eagle Forum said: "Of course, [the condom suppliers
are] not bothering to tell them that the majority of the [STDs] out there
have nothing to do with whether you do or do not use a condom."
A coalition of pro-life groups and Fundamentalist religious
organizations held a series of protests against the condom distribution in
Salt Lake City. Two demonstrations were held at the Greater Salt Lake
Area chapter of the American Red Cross. 6 One
of the pro-life posers read: "Condoms kill."
James Dobson, president and founder of the Fundamentalist Christian
group Focus on the Family severely criticized Secretary of State
Colin Powell for his recommendation to youth on an MTV program that if they
are sexually active, they should use condoms. Dobson commented: "Colin
Powell is the secretary of state, not the secretary of health. He is
talking about a subject he doesn't understand. He clearly doesn't
understand the science regarding condom efficacy... 7,8
Ken Conner, president of the Family Research Council (FRC),
stated that Powell's comments were "reckless and irresponsible."
9 In a mailing to "Friends of Family Research Council"
on 2002-FEB-15, Conner said: "Colin Powell is a respected role
model. His irresponsible remarks could lead millions of young people to
believe that condoms protect against STDs. They do not...Telling young
people they can engage in sexual conduct and avoid STDs by using condoms
is like throwing someone a life preserver in a tidal wave."
10 Two days later, Conner seems to have slightly backed away
from his earlier
statement that implied that condoms were totally useless and
ineffective. He wrote that "There are several sexually transmitted
diseases condoms don't protect against." This would imply that
condoms are effective protection against most STDs. He
continued: "Secretary Powell, is promoting the lie that condoms
'protect' young people, giving them a false sense of security when they
engage in life-threatening sexual behavior." 11
On 2002-FEB-20, Concerned Women for America (CWA) posted an
essay criticizing what they described as Colin Powell's "advocacy of
condom use by teenagers and tacit approval of pre-marital sex for
teenagers." The CWA president, Sandy Rios, commented: "Last year, an NIH study on condoms showed that condoms were not found
to provide universal protection from any of the eight sexually transmitted
diseases (STD) tested, including, HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis,
chancroid, trichomoniasis, genital herpes, and human papilloma virus (HPV)."
12 It is unclear what CWA
means by the term "universal protection." It is generally
acknowledged that condoms are not perfect; they do have a small failure
rate. In particular, HPV can be passed between sexual partners even if a
condom is worn. This is because HPV can occasionally infect areas of the skin
not covered by a condom.
Some Christian web sites have criticized the effectiveness of condoms
since long before the 2002 Winter Games and Colin Powell events:
A conservative Christian from Australia, identified only by his Email
wrote on his web site that: "Condoms are made from latex which comes from a
tree. Look at it under a microscope and you will see it has pores. These
pores are significantly larger than the AIDS virus. Have you ever heard
the saying 'You could drive a truck through it?' " 13
(This Email is in error. There is no such thing as the AIDS virus. It is
the HIV virus which is easily passed if a condom is not used; HIV leads to
Heritage House's "AbortionFacts.com" states that: "In
one test, 33% (1/3) of the latex condoms leaked HIV sized particles!"
Also, "...the breakage and slip off rate during use is so high [that]
it makes condoms ineffective for protection against HIV." 2
||Pro-Life America has an essay which includes selected
physicians' quotes about condoms, including:|
Dr. Robert Renfield, chief of retro-viral research, Walter Reed Army
Institute: "Simply put, condoms fail. And condoms fail at a rate
unacceptable for me as a physician to endorse them as a strategy to be
promoted as meaningful AIDS protection."
Dr. Andre Lafrance, Canadian physician and researcher: "Relying
on condoms for 'protection' can mean lifelong disease, suffering, and
even death for you or for someone you love."
Dr. Teresa Crenshaw, member of the U.S. Presidential AIDS Commission
and past president of the American Association of Sex Educators: "Saying
that the use of condoms is 'safe sex' is in fact playing Russian
roulette. A lot of people will die in this dangerous game."
The assault by some Christian web sites on the effectiveness of condoms
has continued, after the 2002 Winter Games and Colin Powell events:
Focus on the Family, a Fundamentalist Christian organization, reported
that Rep. Dave Weldon, MD, (R-FL) said that condoms do virtually nothing to stop the spread of the human papilloma virus.
Tim Wildmon, spokesperson for the American Family Association,
said: "We can't say 'Use condoms to prevent AIDS,' because condoms
don't work." We need to communicate to the culture and to the world that
biblical morality with respect to human sexuality is really the only true
way to go to prevent disease." 19
Statements by public health groups about condoms:
One would almost think that public health groups and conservative
Christians live in separate universes. Among the former, a consensus
exists that condoms are essential in the prevention of STD transmission,
among sexually active persons:
The Society for Human Sexuality says: "The single most
effective thing you can do to stay healthy while being sexually active is
to use latex condoms for intercourse (whether vaginal or anal)."
||Peer Health at Williams College in Williamstown
Massachusetts informs fellow students that:|
"Condoms, along with dental dams, provide the best protection, save for abstinence, against sexually transmitted
diseases including HIV."
"They are highly effective when used in conjunction with another form of contraception, such as spermicidal foam, cream,
jelly, sponge, or diaphragm."
"When used with spermicide, latex not only blocks sperm and STD transmission, it kills both sperm and, at least in
the laboratory, some STDs." 16
The AIDS Research Institute states that: "Using condoms can reduce the risk of
infection of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV, for
those people who are not abstinent....The real public health question is
not are condoms 100% effective, but rather, how can we more effectively
use condoms to help prevent the spread of disease." 1
The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United
States (SIECUS) states that: "Condoms are...up to 99.9 percent
effective in reducing the risk of STD transmission when combined with
SIECUS tells "The Truth about Condoms:"
The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)
reproduces a year 2004 fact sheet on their web site in which they promote what they believe
to be the "truth about condoms."
They say, in part:
"Condoms are a barrier method of contraception that, when
used consistently and correctly, can prevent pregnancy by blocking the
passage of semen into the vaginal canal. Condoms can also prevent the
exchange of blood, semen, and vaginal secretions, which are the primary
routes of STD transmission. In recent years, as a result of misinformation
and insufficient research, the efficacy of condoms, especially in terms of
STD prevention, has been debated in many forums. Research continues to show
that condoms are one of the best methods of preventing unwanted pregnancy
and are one of the only methods for sexually active individuals to protect
themselves against STDs, including HIV."
||"Condoms are 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy when used
consistently and correctly. The first-year effectiveness rate in preventing
pregnancy among typical condom users on average is 86 percent. This includes
pregnancies resulting from errors in condom use."
"Contraceptive Technology explains that 'only three
of 100 couples who use condoms perfectly for one year will experience an
"Using a latex condom to prevent transmission of HIV is
more than 10,000 times safer than not using a condom." 20
All information is general in nature and is not intended to be used as a
substitute for appropriate professional advice.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Do condoms work?," Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, AIDS
Research Institute, at:
"Condoms - Do They Really Work?," AbortionFacts.com at:
"Fact Sheets: The Truth About Latex Condoms," SIECUS,
1996 figures quoted in a PBS essay at:
Stuart Shepard, "Olympic Condom Giveaway Decried," Focus on the
Family, 2002-FEB-11, at:
Mary Pat Flaherty & Gilbert Gaul, "Red Cross Quits AIDS Effort:
Abortion Foes Protested Condom Distribution at Olympics," Washington Post,
2002-FEB-22, Page D12. Online at:
Pete Winn, "Powell pushes condoms to youth," Focus on the
Family, 2002-FEB-15, at:
"Dobson Addresses Condom Effectiveness," 2002-FEB-24, Focus on the
"Powell backs condom comments," Associated Press, at:
Ken Connor, "Powell's Reckless Remarks Put Young Lives at Risk,"
Family Research Council's Washington Update to "Friends of Family
Research Council." 2002-FEB-15
Ken Connor, "Safe-Sex "Pow-Wow!" Sends Mixed Messages to Public,"
Family Research Council's Washington Update to "Friends of Family
Research Council." 2002-FEB-18.
"Powell Should Retract His Comments on Condoms," Concerned Women
for America (CWA). 2002-FEB-20, at:
"Sex and Stuff: Sexually Transmitted Diseases," at:
"Condom Warnings -- Beware!!!: Doctors speak out about condom
failures!," Pro-Life America, at:
"Guide to Safer Sex (Concise)," Society for Human Sexuality,
"Sex & Sexuality: Condoms and Dental Dams," Peer Health, Williams
"Flying the Koop: A surgeon general's reputation on the line,"
Bob Kellogg, "Lawmaker Targets Cervical Cancer," Focus on the Family, 2002-MAR-20, at:
David Brody, "CDC: Many AIDS Carriers Unaware They Carry Virus," Focus
on the Family, 2002-JUL-10, at:
"The Truth About Condoms," SIECUS fact sheet, 2004, at:
Copyright © 2002 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-FEB-26
Latest update: 2006-APR-24
Author: B.A. Robinson