With more than 13 million Americans infected with sexually transmitted diseases each year in the United States, and many unplanned pregnancies, effective strategies for preventing these serious and life threatening diseases and unplanned pregnancies in teens and women are necessary. The use of latex condoms when engaging in sexual intercourse, whether vaginal, anal, or oral, is said to reduce a person’s risk of getting an STD infection and to reduce risk of unplanned pregnancy. But how effective is this strategy and are there other strategies for Christian teens and women that are more effective? Though latex condoms are somewhat effective when used consistently and correctly, how many people actually use them incorrectly and don’t use them every time they have sex? There are many reasons condom effectiveness in preventing STDs and pregnancy may be compromised. For instance, condom breakage, using natural skin (lambskin) rather than latex or polyurethane condoms, using an oil based rather than water based type of lubricant (oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, cold cream, hand lotion, or baby oil, can weaken the condom). Also not using the condom for the whole sex act and for every sex act (some people put them on just before ejaculating or only when there’s a risk of pregnancy) can lead to STDs and pregnancy. Other problems compromise the usability of the condom such as high heat in the glove compartment of a car, tearing the condom when opening the package, using condoms after their expiration date, and many other things. With all these “real life” limitations of not using a condom “properly,” condoms are actually only about 80-85% effective in reducing the risk of an STD infection, and only if used consistently every time. That leaves about 15% to 20% of the teens and women who depend on them virtually unprotected.
The protection that proper use of latex condoms provides against HIV transmission can best be determined from studies of couples in which one member is infected with HIV and the other is not. These are called “discordant couples.” In a European study of discordant couples, it was claimed that none of the uninfected partners became infected. In contrast, among the couples who used condoms inconsistently, 12 of the uninfected partners became infected. Consistent use means using a condom from start to finish with each act of intercourse and for every act of intercourse. As these studies indicate, condoms must be used consistently and correctly to provide protection against STDs, but even then there may be risks. The fact is, in studies with discordant couples, there were always some that got infected with HIV, even with condom use, which implies that the risk is still great. Christian teens and women should never knowingly enter discordant relationships, but should marry an uninfected partner who will remain faithful for a lifetime.
There continues to be questions about condom effectiveness by many people in the Christian community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) addresses some common concerns about condoms. Their information is based on findings from epidemiologic, laboratory, and clinical studies. They state that some persons have expressed concern about studies that report failure rates among couples using condoms for pregnancy prevention. These studies indicate that condom efficiency is related to incorrect or inconsistent use, with a small percentage of condom failure otherwise. The fact is that latex condoms are effective for pregnancy prevention, but only when they are used properly and every time. But the CDC states that research actually indicates that only 30 to 60 percent of men who claim to use condoms for prevention actually use them for every act of intercourse. But even couples who use condoms every time may not use them correctly all the time. Incorrect use can make the condom leak from the base or even break, leaving one or both partners unprotected against either an unplanned pregnancy or an STD, or possibly both.
The CDC also states that a commonly held misperception is that latex condoms contain tiny holes that allow passage of HIV. These holes are claimed by some researchers to be many times larger than the STD viruses. The CDC claims that although this may be true for natural membrane condoms like lambskin condoms, laboratory studies show that “intact” latex condoms provide a barrier to microorganisms, including HIV, as well as sperm. They state nothing about condoms that are “not intact” after a failure, and those who are left unprotected when this occurs. This area of concern is expressed by some who question the quality of latex condoms. Every latex condom manufactured in the United States is tested for defects before it is packaged, but several studies clearly show that condom breakage rates in this country are still somewhere around 2 percent, not counting the other breakage that is due to incorrect usage.
Using oil-based lubricants can weaken latex condoms, causing it to break and they can also be weakened by exposure to heat or sunlight or by age, and they can be torn by teeth or fingernails. For young unmarried teens, and some adult women, gambling with condoms, with even a 2% failure rate, is simply not enough protection from getting an STD or from getting pregnant out of wedlock. The FDA recently approved a female condom, but a study of this condom as a contraceptive indicates a failure rate of about 26 percent. Although laboratory studies indicate that the device serves as a barrier to some viruses, further research is necessary to determine its effectiveness in preventing transmission of HIV. Abstaining from sexual activity with a non-monogamous or infected partner is the most effective prevention strategy for Christian teens and women. Individuals who choose to be sexually active, should only engage in sexual activities with one uninfected monogamous lifetime partner. Having intercourse with only one uninfected and faithfully monogamous partner for life is the only 100% effective safe sex strategy to prevent STDs. Unplanned pregnancies do happen, even in faithful marriages, but even if it is not planned by human beings, it is planned by God.
In summary, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection, are preventable, and individuals have several prevention strategies to choose from, some more effective that others. But the most responsible prevention strategy for Christian teens and women is God’s chosen plan for marriage. Having a mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner for life, is the best plan for 100 % safe sex. Those Christian teens and women who practice abstinence as a prevention strategy will find it effective only if they remain totally abstinent, not having vaginal, anal, or oral sex until marrying their lifetime partner. Similarly, those who choose any of the other prevention strategies, including condom use, will find them effective only if used correctly and consistently 100% of the time, and even then, it still may be a gamble.