OBJECTIVE INFORMATION ON CONDOMS
A NIH meeting to discuss condom effectiveness:
The U.S federal government's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious
Diseases, held a meeting on 2000-JUN-12 & 13 in Herndon, VA to discuss their
survey of existing studies on the effectiveness of condom usage on the
prevention of sexually transmitted disease (STD) transmission. A 27 page worship
summary, titled "Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually
Transmitted Disease (STD) Prevention" is available online. They concluded
that adequate studies have only been published for the effectiveness of condoms
in preventing pregnancies and preventing the transmission of HIV infection --
the virus that causes AIDS. They found that the design of studies of other STDs
rendered them essentially
As part of their drive to ban comprehensive sex-ed classes in public schools,
many religiously conservative and pro-life web sites have distorted the findings
of this study. They have concluded that condoms are not particularly effective in
limiting unwanted pregnancies and in preventing the transmission of STDs. In
fact, the NIH study found condoms to be quite effective at preventing pregnancy
and HIV transmissions. Unfortunately, the design of most condom effectiveness
studies is inadequate to allow precise conclusions about other STDs.
Rather than interpret the findings of this meeting, we will simply quote
passages from their online workshop summary:
||The purpose of the workshop was: "to answer the following question:
'What is the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of latex male
condom-use to prevent STD transmission during vaginal intercourse?'."
||"Focused research studies have documented the high effectiveness of
condoms for prevention of pregnancy."
||Consistent "...users of the male condom significantly reduced the risk
of HIV infection in men and women. These data provided strong evidence for
the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission in both men and
women who engage in vaginal intercourse."
||"...studies...have demonstrated that condoms provide a highly effective
barrier to the transmission of particles of similar size to those of the
smallest STD virus."
||"...the Panel found the published epidemiology literature to be
inadequate to definitively answer the question posed to the workshop
||Concerning other STDs including gonorrhea in women, chlamydial infection
and trichomoniasis: "...because of limitations in study designs there was
insufficient evidence from the epidemiological studies on these diseases to
draw definite conclusions about the effectiveness of the latex male condom
in reducing the transmission of these diseases.
||"....the absence of definitive conclusions reflected inadequacies of the
evidence available and should not be interpreted as proof of the adequacy or
inadequacy of the condom to reduce the risk of STDs other than HIV
transmission in men and women and gonorrhea in men. To definitely answer the
remaining questions about condom effectiveness for preventing STD infections
will require well-designed and ethically sound clinical studies."
||"HIV infection is the only STD for which formal meta-analyses have been
published....consistent condom use decreased the risk of HIV/AIDS
transmission by approximately 85%."
Their report does estimate condom effectiveness on the basis of the volume of
semen deposited in the woman's vagina. They note that even if the condom breaks
or is defective, the woman's exposure is very much reduced. For latex condoms:
||Volume of semen released
||Likelihood of release
|No condom used
3.3 ml (milliliters)
100 in 100
|Condom used, but it breaks
||1 in 50
|Condom used, but has a hole detectable by a water leak
||1 in 400
|Condom used with no break or holes but still passes
||1 in 43
|Condom used with no break or leaks
||about 95 in 100
Of course, a simple measure of exposure to semen does not necessarily predict
the chances of transmitting an STD. However, in the absence of adequate studies,
they may give a vague indication of condom effectiveness for some STDs.
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a special case because it is not
transmitted by genital secretions or through contact with open sores. It is
particularly of concern because it is widespread, and because a few of its 100 types can
develop into cervical cancer.
"HPV is probably transmitted through contact with infected epithelial
surfaces and/or genital fluids containing infective viruses.....An estimated
20 million Americans are currently infected with genital HPV (170). More
than 50% of sexually active adults are estimated to have once been infected
with one or more genital HPV types, significant majorities of which are
subclinical, unrecognized and benign."
There is a possibility that HPV transmission can occur by contact of two skin
surfaces not covered by a condom.
They concluded that:
"...study results did suggest that condom use might afford some reduction
in risk of HPV-associated diseases, including genital warts in men and
cervical neoplasia in women."
In Heather Boonstra's article in the 2003-MAR issue of the Guttmacher
Report on Public Policy, she wrote:
"The ideal study, a randomized controlled clinical trial, has not been
used because it would require control-group participants to be counseled not
to use condoms. Such counseling is not considered ethically
acceptableitself an implicit acknowledgement of condom effectiveness in STD
prevention within the scientific community. As a result of these standards
for study design, none of the studies reviewed by the workshop panel was
considered optimal, and any future studies will face similar challenges."
Subsequent research findings:
Family Health International reported in their annual journal
In a study published June 27, 2001 in the Journal of the American
Medical Association, scientists concluded that condom use during more
than 25 percent of coital acts was associated with protection against
genital herpes transmission to susceptible women.
Other encouraging recent studies that are nearing publication include
research in Peru that found consistent condom use protected sex workers
against gonorrhea and, to a lesser extent, against chlamydia.
And more recent follow-up data have become available from an important
study that led the panel to conclude that consistent condom use protects men
against gonorrhea. The more recent findings also suggest substantial
protection against chlamydia. 3
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.
"Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually Transmitted
Disease (STD) Prevention," National Institute of Allergy and Infectious
Diseases, 2000-JUN-12-13, at:
Heather Boonstra "Public Health Advocates Say Campaign to Disparage
Condoms Threatens STD Prevention Efforts," Guttmacher Report on Public
Policy, Vol. 6, Nbr. 1, 2003-MAR, at:
"Contraceptive Update: U.S. Study Panel Confirms Condoms Are Effective
against HIV/AIDS," Network: 2002, Vol. 21, No. 2, at:
Copyright © 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2006-APR-24
Latest update: 2006-APR-24
Author: B.A. Robinson