WARNING: In order to completely and accurately describe the subject matter, this document contains explicit information about human sexuality which is not appropriate for minors or for persons who are morally vulnerable to such material.
This document is a compendium and summary of the latest scientific information about the most widely-used contraceptive device in the world today -- the male condom. This summary draws from many sources, but focuses primarily on medical journals.
This summary is intended to be a resource for those who need straightforward, simple and concise facts about condoms.
Further pro-life sources of information on condoms, readily available on the Internet, are listed at the end of this document.
For further information, please contact Human Life International, 4 Family Life, Front Royal, Virginia 22630, U.S.A., e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web site: http://www.hli.org, telephone: (540) 635-7884 or 1-(800) 549-LIFE.
The Underlying Problem. It is common knowledge among health professionals that sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), some of which are incurable and/or fatal, have found fertile ground to multiply in societies that permit and even celebrate all forms of permissive sex. Unfortunately, most people, for fear of appearing "backwards" or "repressive," treat this glaringly obvious fact like a basilisk -- they dare not look at it or even speak about it.
The response of most 'developed' world governments at every level, and the reaction of various social service agencies to this explosion of STDs, was as predictable as it was pitiful: They took the inherently Humanistic position that Americans (not just teenagers) are mere animals. Since they can't be trusted to control their sexual urges, we might as well make it as safe for them as possible to have sex with whomever they please.
The government's weapons of choice were not chastity and monogamy, but 'education' and condoms. Even Bill Clinton's Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, sported a "rubber tree" on her desk -- festooned, of course, with condoms.
And so, with intriguing names like "Arouse," "Embrace," "Excita," and "Pleaser," condoms crowd pharmacy shelves and restroom walls, leering at potential users and proclaiming the merits of "family planning" and "safe sex" on their vividly-colored packages.
Unfortunately, members of the public uncritically accept the government -- and the condom manufacturers -- at their word. And nobody (except a few pro-lifers, who are universally ignored) seems to be asking the most vital question of all.
If condoms are so effective at preventing pregnancy and AIDS transmission, why do nations that stress their use continue to experience a rapidly-escalating rate of teen pregnancy and an exploding AIDS epidemic?
Due to the highly charged aspects of the issues related to contraception (i.e., school-based clinics, the teen pregnancy "epidemic," and the spread of AIDS), there is much conflicting information on the effectiveness of the most commonly-used nonpermanent true contraceptive method in the world -- the male condom -- at preventing pregnancy, AIDS, and sexually transmitted diseases.
In order to conduct an intelligent conversation on this topic, we must first review a few basic facts.
Types of Condoms. Three types of male condoms are commonly available today;
Definition of Terms. The book Contraceptive Technology is the most authoritative source of information on all methods of birth control in the world today. This two-inch thick book is often referred to as the "family planner's bible," and is revised every few years in order to include updated information. The latest edition was published in 2004, and it is considered by family planners to be the "last word" on all matters contraceptive.
Family planners use four terms when referring to the failure rate of a contraceptive or abortifacient method;
The basic problem is as follows. No matter how much 'safe(r) sex' education is taught, no matter how many bowls of free condoms are left in plain view, and no matter how much contraceptive marketing is propagated, there are a number of mechanical and human factors that simply cannot be controlled3;
Condoms break and slip off;
"Counting on condoms is flirting with death." -- Dr. Helen Singer-Kaplan, founder of the Human Sexuality Program at the New York Weill Cornell Medical Center, Cornell University.7
Overview. Although latex condoms appear to occasionally be permeable to the AIDS virus, by far the greatest danger of infection lies in their propensity to burst, tear and slip off. Even if only a few HIV viruses did pass through a porous condom, the risk of infection would still be extremely small; but in those cases where condoms fail catastrophically, massive exposure to the HIV virus is inevitable. In cases of failure during intercourse with an HIV-infected person, there is the distinct possibility of a protracted and extremely unpleasant death.
The Studies. The frequency of condom breakage depends upon many factors, including the type of lubricant used and the brand of condom. Contraceptive Technology tallied the results of fifteen studies involving a total of 25,184 condoms used during heterosexual intercourse and found that 4.64 percent of all of the condoms broke and 3.44 percent of them partially or completely slipped off, for a total of 8.08 percent, or about one in twelve.8
A Summary of Major Studies
on Condom Breakage and Slippage Rates
|2. United States #1||4,632||0.4%||0.6%||19||28|
|3. United States #2||147||0.7%||7.4%||1||11|
|4. Sydney, Australia||605||0.5%||---||3||---|
|5. Atlanta, Georgia #1||478||3.7%||13.1%||18||63|
|6. Atlanta, Georgia #2||405||2.4%||13.1%||10||53|
|7. California #1||3,717||3.0%||2.9%||112||108|
|8. California #2||2,059||4.3%||2.2%||89||45|
|9. North Carolina #1||1.072||3.3%||5.4%||35||58|
|10. North Carolina #2||4,589||11.1%||---||509||---|
|11. North Carolina #3||1,947||5,3%||3.5%||103||68|
|12. North Carolina #4||752||4.1%||---||31||---|
|13. North Carolina #5||358||6.7%||---||24||---|
|15. New Zealand||3,685||5.3%||5.1%||195||188|
|Summary of Studies|
|Average breakage rate of all condoms: 1,168/25,184 = 4.64%|
|Average slippage rate of all condoms: 636/18,495 = 3.44%|
|Total failure rate of all condoms: 8.08%|
According to Contraceptive Technology, the condom's user effectiveness rate is 85 percent9. This means that, under real-world conditions, a woman whose sexual partners use condoms for every act of sexual intercourse has a 15 percent chance of becoming pregnant in a year.
Figure 2 shows the chances of pregnancy for a woman whose sexual partners faithfully use condoms for 83 average annual instances of sexual intercourse.10
Keep in mind that these are the lowest rates that can generally be expected, since they assume 100% condom usage.
Probability of Pregnancy Over Time for Women
Whose Sexual Partners Always Use Condoms
|1 year||15 percent|
|2 years||28 percent|
|3 years||39 percent|
|4 years||48 percent|
|5 years||56 percent|
|10 years||80 percent|
According to United States Census Bureau sources, about 6.8 million couples use condoms as their primary means of contraception in the USA.11 15 percent of this number means that about one million unwanted pregnancies occur every year due to condoms breaking -- a number equivalent to half of the unintended pregnancies in the United States annually!
This experience is mirrored in many other surveys of people who use condoms under real-world conditions;
Figure 3 includes many quotes from leading experts who have shown in studies that condoms are dismal failures at preventing pregnancies.
Understandably, for practical and ethical reasons, few studies have actually used live couples to test HIV transmission rates. A University of Miami Medical School study showed that three out of 10 women whose HIV-infected husbands faithfully used condoms contracted AIDS-Related Complex (ARC) in an 18-month period.18
This translates into an infection rate of 21 percent per year, 38 percent in two years, 51 percent in three years, 70 percent in five years, and 91 percent in 10 years. One article in The Lancet concluded that
The possible consequences of condom failure when one partner is HIV infected are serious enough and the likelihood of failure sufficiently high that condom use by risk groups should not be described as 'safe sex.'... Condoms have a substantial failure rate: 13-15% of women whose male partners use condoms as the sole method of contraception become pregnant within one year.19