Condoms, STD, Teenagers, and International Case Studies Showing Condom Ineffectiveness Against HIV/AIDS

Brian Clowes
Reproduced with Permission

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.

Table of Contents

1. Sources of Information.

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:, Web site:, telephone: (540) 635-7884 or 1-(800) 549-LIFE.

2. Introduction: Basic Concepts.

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;

  1. By far the most commonly used condoms are made from natural rubber latex. These are the most effective at preventing pregnancy and STDs, and make up about 97 percent of all condom sales in the United States.
  2. A small number of condoms are made from the intestinal caecum of lambs, and are called "natural skin," "natural membrane" or "lambskin" condoms. Experts generally agree that skin condoms are not effective as latex condoms at preventing AIDS and STDs.
  3. A third type, generally becoming more available, are the condoms made from synthetic materials including polyurethane. These are more resistant to deterioration than latex condoms and are generally believed to provide a similar level of protection against pregnancy and STDs1.

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;

  1. The "efficacy" of a birth control method refers to the protection its users receive under ideal conditions.
  2. The "effectiveness" of a method refers to the protection its users receive under actual conditions of use, and includes user error.
  3. The "method failure rate" refers to malfunctions of the method itself when a couple use it perfectly. For condoms, the method failure rate is two percent. This does not mean that two percent of condom uses will result in pregnancy. It means that, if there are one hundred couples that use a condom perfectly over an entire year of use, only two will experience pregnancy. Since the average couple in the United States has sexual intercourse 83 times a year, this means that, among one hundred perfect method users, there will be two pregnancies for every 8,300 uses of the condom.
  4. The "user failure rate" reflects not perfect use, but typical use, and includes all user errors. According to Contraceptive Technology, 15 of 100 typical condom-using couples will experience pregnancy within the first year of use.2

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;

3. The Primary Danger -- Not Pores, But Catastrophic Failure.

"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

Figure 1 is a summary of these studies.

Figure 1
A Summary of Major Studies
on Condom Breakage and Slippage Rates
Study Total
1. Nevada 353 0.0% 3.9% 0 14
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 ---
14. Denmark 385 5.0% --- 19 ---
15. New Zealand 3,685 5.3% 5.1% 195 188
Totals 25,184 1,168 636
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.

Figure 3

Figure 2
Probability of Pregnancy Over Time for Women
Whose Sexual Partners Always Use Condoms
Time Span Probability
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

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