Are Condoms Effective?

By Virginia G. Guzman-Manzo. MD

Are condoms effective? In particular, are they effective in preventing the spread of AIDS?

Why is AIDS spreading? Is it because those having sex are not using condoms? No, the reason is because of the loss of the sense of sin which, sad to say, is the problem today of many of our sexually-active population especially the youth.

How do you contact AIDS? It is through sexual intercourse with multiple partners and with prostitutes, premarital and extramarital sex, intimate homosexual contacts, and contact with needles used by drug addicts. And how many are guilty of such illicit and immoral acts today? Such acts are indulged in as if it was the most natural thing in the world. No wonder, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in one of the locutions of Fr. Stefano Gobbi in 1989 had warned that AIDS is part of the First Plague that would hit mankind. Today, that plague is already taking its toll.

Condom failure

There is no such thing as a 100% protection from HIV/AIDS or other STDs through condom use today. Condom users, especially the youth, should not be misled into thinking that condoms provide total protection.

In scientific circles, it is openly admitted that condoms are in fact not 100% safe. On an average, it is said that there is a 10-15% inefficacy, since the AIDS viruses are much more ‘filtrating’ (able to pass through) than the sperm (100 Questions and Answers on AIDS and the Attitude of Catholics, Feb. 2002).According to studies in the U.S. Naval research Laboratory in Washington D.C. reported some years ago, the latex condoms are made of materials that have “pores” that range from 5 to 70 microns depending on the latex materials used.

The HIV virus is about 0.1 micron in size, which is 60 times smaller than a syphilis bacterium and 450 times smaller than a single human sperm. This is confirmed by several other electron microscopic studies that the AIDS virus is about 25 times smaller than the sperm cell’s head, 450 times smaller than the sperm cell’s length and 60 times smaller than the syphilis bacterium.

An article in the Los Angeles Times in 1989 written by reporter Allan Parachini stated: “Four of the nation’s most popular condom brands permitted the AIDS virus to escape in laboratory tests conducted for UCLA… Overall, among the thousands of condoms tested, the study found that one of every 200 failed, either allowing water or air to escape, breaking the tensile strength tests or leaking the AIDS virus.”

A comparative study between Thailand and the Philippines is an interesting eye opener. In 1987, the Philippines had more HIV/AIDS cases (135) than Thailand (112). Thailand then launched a 100% Condom Use Program. In 1991, the WHO AIDS Program forecasted that by 1999, Thailand would have 60,000 to 80,000 cases and the Philippines would experience between 80,000 to 90,000 cases of HIV/AIDS. In 1999, there were 755,000 cases in Thailand (65,000 deaths) and 1,005 in the Philippines with 225 deaths. So the “condomization” of Thailand was a trap.

Why take the risk?

Dr. Esperanza Cabral, past Secretary of Health of the Philippines, admits that there is no 100% guarantee but she says that the risk is reduced. But why take the risk? Once you get AIDS, there is no turning back. Even if we say that the failure rate is only 10-15%, that number is relatively high when one deals with a potentially mortal disease with no known cure such as AIDS.

Besides there are many other factors that increase this risk: incorrect or inconsistent use, possible manufacturing defects, deterioration during shipping, handling and storage, exposure of the condom to sunlight or heat (including body heat when placed in pockets or wallets), expiration date, humidity, pressure, even atmospheric ozone, contact with pointed articles including fingernails, materials used other than latex such as polyurethane or lambskin, etc.

Furthermore, without going into details, the sexual act, because of its passionate and instinctive aspects, and sometimes the absence of minimum of self-control, brings along many other risks before, during or after the use of condoms.

Risk prevention vs. Risk reduction

We have already mentioned above the great risk the condom user is faced with. So rather than risk reduction, the best is to practice risk prevention which provides absolute and total protection. As mentioned earlier why be content with reducing the risk and gambling with your life especially when there is an alternative that provides absolute protection against the sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS, STDs and unwanted pregnancies? Absolute and total protection can only be obtained with abstinence from pre-marital sex and fidelity in marriage.

The aim of the Church

The Catholic Church has been criticized and blamed for supposedly contributing to the death of people by not allowing the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS. But the Church has repeatedly criticized programs promoting condoms as a totally effective and sufficient means to AIDS prevention.

The different Catholic Bishops’ Conferences all over the world have expressed concern regarding this problem. They regard the widespread and indiscriminate promotion of condoms as immoral and a misguided weapon in the battle against HIV/AIDS for the following reasons:

  1. The use of condoms goes against human dignity. Men and women, especially women, are considered as instruments of pleasure and become objects to be used.
  2. It promotes inordinate sex and promiscuity fuelled by permissive political measures and certain means of communication.
  3. Condoms change the beautiful act of love into a selfish search for pleasure – while rejecting responsibility.
  4. Condoms may even be one of the main reasons for the spread HIV/AIDS. Apart from the possibility of condoms being faulty or wrongly used, they contribute to the breaking down of self-control and mutual respect. The bishops of the United States of America affirmed in their 1987 statement… “abstinence outside marriage and fidelity within marriage as well as the avoidance of intravenous drug abuse are the only morally correct and medically sure ways to prevent the spread of AIDS.”

Political and economic agenda

Why the aggressive insistence of the Department of Health on condom use? One can only surmise that there is a covert political and economic agenda. The UN has been accused of blowing up the AIDS pandemic in order to create a market for AIDS prevention that benefits the pharmaceutical companies in billions of dollars. And what other entities or personalities materially benefit from the manufacturing to the sales hype to the promotional blitz down to the distribution of condoms to the consumers?

Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Statement on the Government’s Revitalized Condom Promotion

The Church reiterates that formation in authentic sexual values, more concretely expressed in premarital chastity and fidelity to spouse is the only effective way to curb the spread of AIDS. Given its high failure rate, the condom cannot really put a stop to AIDS. Moreover, in creating a false sense of security, it condones and encourages promiscuity, and hence contributes to the further spread of AIDS.

Given their medical, social and moral implications, questions related with condom promotion and failure have to be seriously studied:

  1. The funding effort involved in promoting condoms should rather be used to fight diseases that afflict millions of people such as diarrhea, bronchitis, pneumonia, TB, cancer, hypertension and influenza. Furthermore, it is unjust that the taxes of the people including Catholics who compose 85-90% of Filipinos be used for purposes against their moral beliefs.
  2. The condom business is a multimillion dollar industry that heavily targets the adolescent market, at the expense of morality and family life. Condom advertisements should be banned in the tri-media as they desensitize the youth’s delicate conscience and weaken their moral fibers as future parents.
  3. Rich countries with ageing and imminently dwindling population spend huge amounts to encourage their citizens to have more children. Why should they be allowed to also spend huge amounts to discourage Filipinos who want to have more children from doing so?
  4. In the same way that the government requires warnings for certain substances (“Cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health” for tobacco, “Drink moderately” for alcoholic beverages, and “No approved therapeutic claims” for herbal medicines), the Department of Health should require a Government Warning that states, “Condoms may fail to protect you from AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases”.

The need to strengthen Marriage and the Family

His Eminence, Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, former President, Pontifical Council for the Family, presented in a conference in Chile the detrimental effects of going against human dignity, of trivializing the true meaning of sex and of making instrumental and commercial the use of sex. In general, cultures have always distinguished between sex without responsibility and sex that is protected by marriage in favor of the family.

Marriage has to be presented as something precious, something that will help bring happiness and fulfillment to a person, as couples undertake a life-long project of mutual, exclusive, total, irrevocable and sincere self giving. Some might say that this is an excessive demand but let us be confident that the Lord “will not let you be tempted beyond your strength” (1 Cor 10:13).

AIDS is a typical behaviorally-spread epidemic… If those behaviors are removed, AIDS could be stopped without any specific prophylactic intervention. With or without the threat of HIV/AIDS and STD’s, the Church has always called for education in chastity, premarital abstinence and marital fidelity, which are authentic expressions of human sexuality (Documentation Service, vol. XXIII, no. 4).

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