Condoms don’t work. Okay, how ’bout a baggie?

I shake my head. I’m startled by what I’ve just read. Condoms don’t work. At all? What!?! Game over; pack up your bags. We’re all going home to get the ol’ vasa deferentia cut which will hopefully make a vast difference in the success rate of our contraceptives. On September 4, 2011, the web site The Digital Journal published what it labelled an opt-ed piece entitled “The ugly truth about condoms and ‘safe sex’” by one Alexander Baron. Mr. Baron, the author, starts his article by making the statement, “The shocking truth about condoms though is that they don’t work.” It’s at this point I furrowed my brow trying to discern if our supposed expert was pulling my leg.

Mr. Baron goes on to refer to a web site Center for Young Women’s Health which has a chart showing the failure rate of condoms as a contraceptive is 14%. Just to confirm I consulted the Wikipedia article on condoms which took me to the web site Contraceptive Technology which confirmed the numbers fairly closely setting the failure rate at 15%.

While Mr. Baron points out that this means condoms are 86% successful he wonders if any of us would be willing to get in an airplane if we were told that 86% of the time the plane does not crash. Well, to be quite frank, I might not be so inclined to catch a flight to my favourite holiday destination if I thought there was a 14% chance I might not either get there or get home again. One point for Mr. Baron.

Having covered the condom as a contraceptive, the author goes on to speculate about the efficiency of the condom in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Syphilis? Gonorrhea? How about HIV? AIDS? You have a fourteen percent chance of contracting one of these diseases while using a condom. Is anybody still in the mood for love?

However using a condom can give a person a false sense of security. And here Mr. Baron turns to road safety for a comparison saying that campaigners in his native Great Britain were telling everyone for years how dangerous it was to ride a motorcycle without a helmet. He cites a woman who came off her bike at 40mph and claimed to have been saved by her helmet. Mr. Baron responds, “No, dummy, if you hadn’t been wearing a helmet, you wouldn’t have been riding so fast.” Ah, the author thinks the helmet gave the woman a false sense of security and so inspired her to drive faster than she normally would.

Finally, Mr. Baron turns to the Catholic News Agency for the 2001 article “Surprise: Study Finds Condoms Don’t Work” by Mary Beth Bonacci. Ms. Bonacci writes:

On July 20, a report was issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A scientific panel co-sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), developed the report. It was based on a yearlong study in which 28 researchers reviewed 138 peer-reviewed, published studies on the heterosexual transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STD).

Their findings were stunning. Basically, it boils down to this: There is no evidence to indicate that condoms prevent the heterosexual transmission of most sexually transmitted diseases. None.

Mary Beth Bonacci concludes the article by saying, “Save sex for marriage. Marry an uninfected partner. And remain faithful. That, my friends, is safe sex.”

Safe Sex: Conclusion
Where do I start? Has anybody concluded that Alexander Baron is Catholic? I looked at this and said to myself that the specious argumentation leads us once again straight back to abstinence. I can’t disagree with the idea that if I don’t stick my penis in a vagina, a woman isn’t going to get pregnant or I’m not going to get an STD or worse, AIDS. But that’s distilling the problem down to pure logic and does not in any way take into account the bigger picture of the statistics associated with human behaviour across the globe in a multitude of social environments. It certainly doesn’t take into account that as our state of horniness goes up; our capacity to rationalise might just creep up too.

In my blog Rick Perry and Sex Education: Abstinence works!, I followed the above logic by pointing out that if we all drove safely, we wouldn’t need safety belts. However the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 10,000 lives are saved every year due to safety belts. (Wikipedia: Seat belt legislation) Maybe Alexander Baron would say that because of safety belts, we all have a false sense of security and are driving recklessly. Even if that’s true, you’re not going to find me driving around not wearing one. That would be, ah, suicidal!

By the way, I found this 2001 report “Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Prevention” referenced by Mary Beth Bonacci and it does not say condoms are useless. At worst, it says the researchers don’t have enough information to make an accurate unbiased assessment one way or another since the studies at hand were not originally done properly to support such a conclusion. However it does indicate that the researchers found statistical benefits to the use of condoms in the prevention of the spreading of disease. Mary Beth Bonacci is stacking the deck in favour of her Catholic perspective on condoms.

14% failure rate
Mr. Baron is leading us all astray. The statistics he cites and the corroborating stats I found show a 14% and 15% failure rate respectively for “typical use” as opposed to “perfect use”. Typical? Perfect? The sources define these two terms as meaning:

Typical Use:
When contraception is not used every time, or it is not used according to instructions every time.

Perfect Use:
When contraception is used every time, and it is used according to instructions every time.

So, typical use means the person in question is not following procedures all the time or perfectly. Consequently, a certain rate of failure is added. When the person does follow procedures “perfectly”, the rate of failure drops to 3% and 2% respectively. What? That’s quite an area of improvement. Instead of saying that condoms are useless, it would seem that better education about their use could move the success rate from 86% to 97% or 98%.

Ah but Mr. Baron leaves out an even more startling statistic. Each of the above sources of stats clearly indicates that if no condom is used at all, the rate of failure is 85%. Hey, don’t do anything at all and your chances of pregnancy or disease are, well, pretty much guaranteed. At 85%, if somebody didn’t get pregnant or contract a disease, I’d say that is luck pure and simple.

Final Word
Alexander Baron has to be Catholic. Either that or he’s an idiot. Anybody who argues to do nothing including the doing nothing of abstinence is arguing against human nature. Yes, logically my penis not being in another human being means no pregnancy and no disease. But put a couple of drinks in me with a partner who is ready, willing and able and I’m going to be telling the Pope to take a hike. I was going to tell the Pope to go **** himself but I’ve been given to understand he’s celibate.

From my blog Abortion: My final word on unwanted pregnancy:

[The Guttmacher Report] specifically concluded that making contraception available to low income women reduces the number of abortions by nearly 40%. When birth control isn’t available unintended pregnancy increases by 2 million and the number of abortions spikes by more than 800,000 each year. Researchers noted that providing contraception saves taxpayers 4 times as much as not providing it.

Some 91% of Americans favor contraception and so were startled to discover that groups which claim to be against abortion oppose the very strategy that results in significant declines in abortion. Instead, in a further shock, they support policies that researchers show lead to sharp increases in unintended pregnancy and abortion rate.

I sit here absolutely stunned. Instead of making seat belts mandatory, Alexander Baron, Mary Beth Bonacci and even GOP candidate Rick Perry persist with the idea that if you drive safely, you won’t need a safety belt. Instead of improving education about condoms to get their failure rate from 14% (typical use) to 3% (perfect use), they say condoms are useless suggesting we shouldn’t use them at all which means a failure rate of 86%.

That’s it. Alexander Baron is a Catholic and an idiot.

References

DigitalJournal – Sep 4/2011
Op-Ed: The ugly truth about condoms and ‘safe sex’ by Alexander Baron
Condoms are back in the news again, this time for a novel reason; one campaigning organisation is calling for them to be made compulsory for porn stars. The shocking truth about condoms though is that they don’t work.

Wikipedia: Condom
A condom is a barrier device most commonly used during sexual intercourse to reduce the probability of pregnancy and spreading sexually transmitted diseases (STDs—such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV).

However, according to a study in the Sexually Transmitted Diseases Journal of the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association condoms have a breakage rate of 2.3% and a slippage rate of 1.3% which “may translate into a high risk for individuals who are very sexually active.” With proper knowledge and application technique—and use at every act of intercourse—women whose partners use male condoms experience a 2% per-year pregnancy rate with perfect use and a 15% per-year pregnancy rate with typical use.

Summary Table of Contraceptive Efficacy
Percentage of women experiencing an unintended pregnancy during the first year of typical use and the first year of perfect use of contraception and the percentage continuing use at the end of the first year. United States.

Typical Use
Among typical couples who initiate use of a method (not necessarily for the first time), the percentage who experience an accidental pregnancy during the first year if they do not stop use for any other reason. Estimates of the probability of pregnancy during the first year of typical use for spermicides, withdrawal, periodic abstinence, the diaphragm, the male condom, the pill, and Depo-Provera are taken from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth corrected for underreporting of abortion; see the text for the derivation of estimates for the other methods.

Perfect Use
Among couples who initiate use of a method (not necessarily for the first time) and who use it perfectly (both consistently and correctly), the percentage who experience an accidental pregnancy during the first year if they do not stop use for any other reason. See the text for the derivation of the estimate for each method.

Center for Young Women’s Health: Success and Failure Rates of Contraceptives
Typical use of male condom: 14 out of a hundred women become pregnant
Perfect use of male condom: 3 out of a hundred women become pregnant

Typical Use:
When contraception is not used every time, or it is not used according to instructions every time.
Perfect Use:
When contraception is used every time, and it is used according to instructions every time.

Wikipedia: Vasectomy
Vasectomy is a surgical procedure for male sterilization and/or permanent birth control. During the procedure, the vasa deferentia of a man are severed, and then tied/sealed in a manner such to prevent sperm from entering into the seminal stream (ejaculate). Vasectomies are usually performed in a physician’s office or medical clinic.

DigitalJournal: Bio of Alexander Baron
Semi-retired, writing mostly music stuff at the moment for an on-line database. Researching and writing are about the only things I’ve ever been any good at. Apart from chess, but at 55 I’m too old to play games.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services
July 20, 2001
Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Prevention
Recently, a number of Federal agencies sponsored a workshop 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?” This workshop was attended by 180 persons, and the data from numerous peer-reviewed published studies were discussed. Following the workshop, a panel of 28 experts worked to develop this report.

In general, the Panel found the published epidemiology literature to be inadequate to definitively answer the question posed to the workshop participants.

The published data documenting effectiveness of the male condom were strongest for HIV.

four epidemiological studies of gonorrhea indicated that the latex male condom could reduce the risk of gonorrhea for men.

my blog: Abortion: My final word on unwanted pregnancy

my blog Rick Perry and Sex Education: Abstinence works!

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