Family Values Versus Safe Sex

Condom Failure and Its Latex Material

10. The above considerations on studies pointing towards condom failure are not limited to theoretical arguments. That condoms may be defective is not mere theory, but a fact confirmed by real-life experiences in the real world. One may perhaps assume that in the condom's ideal or perfect state, that is, with a surface with no defects whatsoever, the latex material theoretically might provide a high degree of protection against the passage of HIV-sized particles. However, when it comes to the actual or real state of latex materials, in distributed items such as condoms, the situation could be quite different.

For instance, some permeability and electric tests indicate that latex may allow passage of particles bigger than the HIV.43 Likewise, holes and weak spots in condoms may be detected by tests, as can be seen in a 1998 article on the US Food and Drug Administration website. "Condom manufacturers in the United States electronically test all condoms for holes and weak spots. In addition, FDA requires manufacturers to use a water test to examine samples from each batch of condoms for leakage. If the test detects a defect rate of more than 4 per 1,000, the entire lot is discarded. The agency also encourages manufacturers to test samples of their products for breakage by using an air burst test in accordance with specifications of the International Standards Organization."44 If four leaking condoms are allowed in every batch of 1,000, there could be hundreds of thousands or even millions of leaking condoms circulating all over the world, either sold or distributed for free, and most probably contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS and STD's. Does the public know this? Does the public know that the risks increase the more often and the more promiscuously one is exposed, considering the cumulative risk factor, as explained earlier?

Cardinal Eugenio De Araujo Sales, who was for many years Archbishop (and now Emeritus) of the immense Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, recently stated in a newspaper article that several lots of condoms (some from leading brands) were recalled from the market in Brazil in 1999, 2000 and 2003, due to failure in different tests and to the discovery of counterfeit products.45 According to Cardinal Sales, the 1999 recall, for example, involved 1,036,800 units of the condom Prudence, the third leading brand in Brazil, because it failed the test done by Inmetro, the government's Ministry for Development, Industry and Exterior Commerce. Even prior to these comments made by the Cardinal, the consumer group Civitas International stated that, "In 1991, IDEC [Instituto Brasileiro de Defesa do Consumidor] published a study that reported that five out of the seven top condom brands in Brazil, including the nation's number one brand, Jontex, manufactured by Johnson and Johnson, flunked international safety tests."46

11. Condoms, in addition to having possible manufacturing defects, could undergo deterioration during shipping, handling and storage, and even further degradation after purchase by the end user. To a greater or lesser degree, factors such as the following have been proposed as possibly contributing to the degradation of latex (and thus to condom failure): exposure to sunlight, heat (including body heat when placed in pockets or wallets), humidity, pressure, certain spermicides and even to atmospheric ozone.47 Besides, the condom may still suffer last-minute physical damage immediately prior to or during actual use, such as contact with pointed or sharp objects including fingernails.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website warns that, "[c]onsumers should make sure the condom package is undamaged, and check each condom for damage as it is unrolled to be used. The condom should not be used if it is gummy or brittle, discolored, or has a hole. Condoms also should not be used after their expiration date or, if they don't have an expiration date, more than five years after the date of manufacture. Only water-based lubricants (for instance, glycerine or K-Y jelly) should be used with latex condoms, because oil-based lubricants such as petroleum jelly weaken natural rubber."48 If such precautions exist, it must be because real dangers also exist -- in this case, a life-threatening danger, that would be irresponsible to simply take lightly.

There are also condoms made from other materials such as polyurethane, which are "comparable to latex condoms as a barrier to sperm and HIV virus", and natural membrane (lambskin) condoms, "which are useful in preventing pregnancy, [but] are not effective protection against HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. Although sperm cannot pass through the lambskin material, small microorganisms, including HIV, can penetrate these condoms".49

Even in the case of serodiscordant couples, from the medical perspective, the condom does not seem to be the real answer: among consistent condom users, there is still the possible transmission of the HIV.50 The Workshop Summary discussed earlier also says that "[t]here is demonstrated exposure to HIV/AIDS through sexual intercourse with a regular partner (with an absence of other HIV/AIDS risk factors). Longitudinal studies of HIV- [negative] sexual partners of HIV+ [positive] infected cases allow for the estimation of HIV/AIDS incidence among condom users and condom non-users. From the two incidence estimates, consistent condom use decreased the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85%."51 To further promote "safe sex", some have advised the use of a double condom, the efficiency of which remains questionable, taking into account the different factors presented above.52

User-Related Condom Failures

12. Aside from the above considerations on the physical integrity of the condom, one must also remember that condoms are often used improperly. For instance, one might flip the condom over after starting to apply it on the wrong side, allowing sperm, if already present, to be introduced directly into the vagina. Starting intercourse without a condom or taking it off during intercourse, not holding on to the condom during withdrawal, not withdrawing while the penis is erect, reuse of condom, etc., are some other examples of incorrect condom use, which could easily take place. One study shows that in vivo, slipping and rupture of the condom account for 0.1-16.6% and 0.5-6.7% of condom failure, respectively.53

The typical, real-life use of condoms is far from perfect; it is rather frequently used inconsistently and incorrectly. This is not difficult to understand, given that consistent use requires an enormous amount of self-discipline (and memory), and correct use requires a relatively meticulous 7-step process, if one follows the guidelines laid down by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.54 In one of their brochures, the Medical Institute (Texas) says, "When given a basic list of procedures for correct condom use, less than half of sexually active adolescents report they use condoms correctly".55 Without going into detail, suffice it to say that the sexual act, because of its instinctive and passionate aspects, and at times the absence of a minimum of self-control, brings along with it the above-mentioned risks before, during and after the use of the condom.

The Medical Institute (Texas) explains the results of inconsistent condom use in the most simple terms: "What if I use them most of the time? You're at risk. In fact, the CDC says, ‘Used inconsistently (less than 100 percent of the time), condoms offer little more protection than when they are not used at all.'"56

HIV/AIDS Increase and Decrease with Condoms and Chastity, Respectively

13. That condoms do not provide total protection against the transmission of HIV and STD's is compounded by the fact that the "safe sex" campaigns have led not to an increase in prudence, but to an increase in sexual promiscuity and condom use.57 In fact, there are studies showing that HIV/AIDS cases increase as the number of condoms distributed also increases.58 Human behaviour is an important factor in the transmission of AIDS. Without adequate education aimed at abandoning certain risky sexual behaviour in favour of well-balanced sexuality, as in pre-marital abstinence and marital fidelity, one risks perpetuating the pandemic's disastrous results.

There are reports supporting the idea that where abstinence before marriage and fidelity to one's spouse have been successfully promoted, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has dramatically decreased. For instance, Uganda has pushed for a chastity-based program, and there the incidence of HIV/AIDS is managed relatively better than in other countries. "As AIDS sweeps across Africa, Uganda remains a lone success story, as millions of Ugandans have embraced traditional sexual morality, including sexual abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage, in order to avoid infection. But the international AIDS community has been reluctant to promote this strategy elsewhere, continuing, instead, to place its faith in condoms."59

In connection with this, the U.S. Agency for International Development, in its case study, Declining HIV Prevalence, Behavior Change, and the National Response. What Happened in Uganda?, states in a table showing HIV trend and behavioural data in Uganda, Kenya and Zambia, that, "prevalence declines in Uganda relate more to reduction in sex partners than condom use".60 Similarly, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) AIDS epidemic update of December 2003 states: "HIV prevalence continues to recede in Uganda, where it fell to 8% in Kampala in 2002 -- a remarkable feat, considering that HIV prevalence among pregnant women in two urban antenatal clinics in the city stood at 30% a decade ago. Similar declines echo this accomplishment across Uganda, where double-digit prevalence rates have now become rare… To date, no other country has matched this achievement -- at least, not nationally".61

In Thailand and in the Philippines, the first HIV/AIDS cases were reported in 1984; by 1987, Thailand had 112 cases, while the Philippines had more, with 135 cases. Today, in the year 2003, there are around 750,000 cases in Thailand, where the 100% Condom Use Program had relatively great success. On the other hand, there are only 1,935 cases in the Philippines62 -- and this, considering that the Philippines' population is around 30% greater than Thailand's! Relatively low rates of condom use by the people in general, and staunch opposition from the Church63 and a good number of government leaders against the condom program and sexual promiscuity, are well-known facts in the Philippines.

Commenting on some of these reports, Jokin de Irala, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Navarre, Spain, said: "That which is being done in many countries is simply irresponsible. To trust condoms blindly without anything else in the preventive strategy, when it has been seen that such method has not been sufficient to stop the epidemic in groups that are a priori very concerned, such as homosexuals, is an error that can end up having to be paid dearly… The people could demand from their authorities greater seriousness and originality when it comes to resolving these problems. They should ask at least for the same courage that has been shown, for example, when the fight against tobacco was started seriously. We cannot remain passive, naively believing that such a complex problem could be solved by a ‘patch' such as the condom."64

14. As to the transmission of HIV in general, even though the WHO affirmed in 2002 that 99% of HIV infections in Africa were due to non-protected intercourse, one should also consider what some authors have recently put expressed, that is, the possibility that the majority of new HIV/AIDS cases in Africa are not due to sexual relationships, but rather to the reuse of needles for injections, given the inadequate sanitary infrastructure in the continent.65 In this sense, the present orientation of the anti-AIDS efforts focusing exclusively or heavily on condom distribution is obviously insufficient and questionable.

The Right to Correct and Complete Information

15. AIDS represents a serious danger for which there is still no cure. Condom users should be guaranteed their ethical and juridical rights to be correctly and completely informed of the risks involved in the sexual transmission of this disease, and of the true effectiveness of the prophylactic. Given the AIDS pandemic proportion, what the Church aims for is not mere risk reduction (which is actually transformed into risk augmentation if the real risks of transmission are not explained to the public), but rather risk elimination; not partial protection, but total protection; not relative protection, but absolute protection. It is truly misleading to say that one promotes "safe sex", when in fact one is actually promoting "safer sex", that is, sex that is safer than not using a condom at all; but it is still far from being total protection. To claim that it is "technically correct" to say that the condom "provides protection" (leading people to think they are fully protected), when in fact one actually means that it "provides partial protection", or "85-90% protection", or "relative protection", is to lead many to their death. To emphasize that the condom "reduces risks", but hiding the fact that it "does not eliminate risks", leads to confusion.

To advertise that the condom is "effective in preventing transmission of HIV and many other STD's", or "will help reduce the risk of their transmission" (perhaps claiming that in some countries its production has already been perfected), when one actually means that it is "up to a certain degree effective in preventing HIV and some STD's but not totally, and that there is no evidence that it reduces the risk of HPV infection", then this is not only a lack of respect for women's rights; it is outright anti-woman, and anti-man as well. To encourage "behaviour change" among adolescents in sex education programs, when one actually means "to encourage them to use a condom when they engage in pre-marital sex", while at the same time encouraging pre-marital sex itself, is to destroy not only adolescent reproductive health, but also their emotional, mental, health, and spiritual health, and indeed their future and entire lives.

16. The false security generated by the "safe sex" campaigns are hindrances to this right to correct, complete information. Appeals from true, sincere consumer and health advocates, especially authentic women's health advocates, to fully and clearly reveal available information on condom effectiveness (or rather, ineffectiveness), have been frequently falling on deaf ears, for one reason or another. Such appeal is based on the right of the consumer to know the true characteristics of the product he or she is using -- even more if such characteristics have a bearing on the consumer's health and life. The public has to be informed that the condom does not guarantee total protection against AIDS and other STD's. In the same way that cigarettes carry the warning that the smoke they produce is dangerous to the health of the smoker and those nearby, perhaps condoms should also be required to carry warning labels, on their packaging and on the shelves and apparatus where they are displayed, stating that they do not guarantee total protection against HIV/AIDS and STD's, or that they are not safe.

Dr. Luis Fernández Cuervo of El Salvador even goes a step further, alluding to the possibility of taking legal action against those who promote "safe sex", similar to the legal action taken against tobacco companies. "If a habitual smoker contracts cancer he or she can legally sue the tobacco company, making it liable. This way, in the United States, they have obtained juicy millions in compensation (?!). As if a smoker did not know, for more than fifty years now, that tobacco could lead him or her to cancer! But if a person who is sexually promiscuous and uses the condom becomes sick with AIDS, this person has no right to sue the laboratory that manufactured the condom, nor the many groups that promote the condom as ‘safe sex'. This is odd, very odd."66

17. The HIV/AIDS and STD pandemics continue to grow, in spite of the great efforts to curb their growth. Taking into account the data presented in different studies and experiences on the field, the idea of "safe sex", as it has been presented in condom campaigns, seems false, or at least dubious, and thus has to be submitted to scrutiny. What is more, since there is a certain level of risk, it is also a grave responsibility of national and international institutions, both public and private, as well as of the mass media, to contribute to providing correct, complete information about the existence of these risks, which could lead people to their death. Formal protests have been and should continue to be made by those who think that certain groups hinder such efforts to bring the whole truth into light.67

It is true that even medicines cannot be expected to be 100% effective or safe all the time for all users, but it is still acceptable to use them in spite of the risks. In these cases, it is also the patient's right to be informed not only of the medication's intended effects, but also of the possible risks, side effects and other complications, as well as, very importantly, the alternatives. In the case of HIV/AIDS and STD prevention, "safe sex" campaigners should fully reveal the condom's risks, and perhaps even describe the diseases the users might contract as a consequence of condom failure. And also very importantly, they should present the "alternative" solution (which is actually the "primary" solution), that is 100% effective against the sexual transmission of these diseases; it involves no expense, and even strengthens the person's character and freedom: abstinence before marriage, and fidelity to one's spouse.

The Church Promotes Life, Through a Real Protection from HIV/AIDS and STDs

18. The statements reflecting the hard fact of condom failure by no less than international and national agencies, along with the scientific studies and real-life experiences, go totally against the accusations made against the Church: namely, that the Church contributes to the death of millions by not promoting or allowing the use of condoms in the fight against the pandemic. Indeed, shouldn't it be the opposite: that is, that those promoting the condom without properly informing the public of its failure rates (both in its perfect use and in its typical use, and the cumulative risks), have led to, lead to, and will continue to lead to the death of many? Are there not many who fall victim to a false sense of security generated by campaigns promoting "safe sex", oblivious to the fact there are multiple factors that lead to condom failure?

Victims of the "safe sex" fallacy tell us, in the numerous centres caring for HIV/AIDS patients promoted by the Catholic Church, that if they had only known the real risks beforehand, if only they had been properly informed, they would not have engaged in promiscuous sexual behaviour, they would not have entered into sexual relationships outside of marriage, and they would have remained very faithful to their families. The Catholic Church is very close to the AIDS patients, and welcomes them with charity, defending their human dignity, and recognizes the drama they undergo, with the mercy shown by the Good Samaritan. Cardinal John O'Connor, the late Archbishop of New York and great pro-life leader, used to visit clinics for AIDS patients once a week. The Catholic Church can surely claim expertise in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, providing 25 percent of all the care worldwide, having committed professionals and volunteers, religious and lay alike, to care not only for the individuals but also for their families, in the most holistic manner, respecting the dignity of the human person and the family through the proper use of sex and promoting the life-long commitment of spouses.68

19. For those who have already exposed themselves to the risks outlined above, a responsible mode of action would be to determine whether or not one might have already been infected, considering that a real danger exists. Each person has the obligation to take care of his or her health and that of others, and to do so, each person has the right to be aided by society as far as possible. Moral as well as epidemiological considerations urge those who have repeatedly exposed themselves to potential contamination to undergo tests to determine whether they in fact might have already been infected with the HIV or other microorganisms causing STD.69 Not to do so would mean not to take necessary precautions to preserve one's health and life, and that of others. Not to take the tests could mean to unknowingly contribute to the spread of the debilitating, deadly disease to one's own family and society at large. These persons should be encouraged and helped to approach international and local institutions offering voluntary counselling and testing services for those who may need them.

The Church is ready to help. Through the generosity of millions of people, including persons of other faiths who collaborate in our apostolate, the Catholic Church is able to provide 25% of services for HIV/AIDS patients, and to run a great number of hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities worldwide. The Church continues to undertake the promotion of authentic reproductive health and women's health, which includes complete information using unambiguous terminology, and a truly safe sexual practice based on authentic human sexuality.

The Need to Rediscover Truly Responsible Sexual Behaviour

20. It is obvious that this article can only be limited to a few but serious investigations, focusing on the sexual transmission70 of HIV/AIDS and STD's. There are many more studies explaining that condoms do not provide total protection against these diseases, many of which could be easily found on the internet. One has to seriously distinguish between the proper use of the condom and the failures of the same due to different causes. Regarding the latter, the user can not be safe, just as in the case of other accidents with regrettable consequences. The greatest force of these considerations is the call to avoid the various consequences of disordered sexual behaviour, and even worse, the risk of promiscuity, even prior to considering the use of the condom itself. Rather than focusing merely on the aspects dealt with by the expert investigators, one has to keep in mind above all the integral good of the person, in line with the proper moral orientation, which will be necessary to provide total protection against the spread of the pandemic. 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.71

Moreover, the Church does not propose the development of condoms with better quality that would assure 100% effectiveness against the transmission of HIV and STD's.72 What is being proposed is to live one's sexuality in a way that is consistent with one's human nature and the nature of the family. It has to be mentioned too that the WHO admits that abstinence and marital fidelity is a strategy capable of completely eliminating the risk of infection from HIV and other STD's; condoms, on the other hand, reduce the risk of infection.73

21. It is important, by way of synthesis, to transcribe the recommendation made by Luc Montagnier, who is credited with having discovered the HIV: "Medical means are not enough… In particular, it is necessary to educate the youth against the risk of sexual promiscuity and wandering".74 The CDC has likewise informed that, "the only strategies of prevention that are truly effective consist in (sexual) abstinence and sexual relations with a non-infected partner, while respecting reciprocal fidelity".75 This is why one of the most important Italian infectious diseases experts, Prof. Mauro Moroni, affirms that, "AIDS is a typical behaviourally spread epidemic… If those behaviours are removed, AIDS could be stopped without any specific prophyllactic intervention".76

Prof. Lino Ciccone adds: "Therefore a true and effective prevention is above all the set of initiatives that aim at putting an end to whatever promotes sexual laxity, presented as a triumph of liberty and civilization -- similar to what is being done to help youth not to fall into the slavery of drugs or to free them from them. In other words: true prevention takes place only through a serious educational effort. An education free from equivocations and widespread reductive concepts, which leads to the discovery, or rediscovery, of the values of sexuality and a correct scale of values in human life.

"Any other option that excludes such ways, or worse, that implies an ulterior push towards sexual promiscuity and/or the use of drugs, is anything but prevention, and to promote the same is tragically deceitful. A typical example of this mystification are all the campaigns that promise victory over AIDS only if the use of the condom is generalized. In this way sexual promiscuity is encouraged, which is the first cause of the epidemic."77

Ciccone's observations coincide fully with the serious problem that I have wanted to delve into. "It has to be noted moreover that it becomes an authentic crime, when one endorses as guaranteed the defense against infection when the condom is used. This is the message that is also launched with the slogan related to the condom of ‘safe sex'. As a contraceptive the condom already registers a notable margin of failure, but, as a defense against sexually transmissible diseases, the failure is decidedly much higher. The following is a very recent and authoritative confirmation coming from a scientific source: ‘In general terms the barrier methods […] protect against sexually transmitted diseases (risk reduction of around 50%). […] This protection takes place with regards to many pathogenic agents: Papilloma virus […], HIV.'"78

Conclusion: The Need to Strengthen Marriage and the Family

22. I have 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.79 A lifestyle that is disordered and corresponds neither to the totality of the human person nor to the will of God, cannot be a true good. We have seen how different peoples have been wounded by such trivialization of sex. In general, cultures have always distinguished between sex without responsibility and sex that is protected by marriage, in favour of the family.

Some might say that this is an excessive demand. But we have to be confident that the Lord, "will not let you be tempted beyond your strength".80 In several places there is an emergence of youth movements whose members publicly promise to maintain a responsible attitude towards sex, and to remain chaste, abstaining before marriage, and to be faithful to their spouses. For what reason then should this model not be presented to youth, especially at a time when there are many problems in a society that seems to be confused? The fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic also has to tackle disordered sexual behaviour.

23. 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. "In the 'unity of the two', man and woman are called from the beginning not only to exist 'side by side' or 'together', but they are also called to exist mutually 'one for the other'… This mutual gift of the person in marriage opens to the gift of a new life, a new human being, who is also a person in the likeness of his parents."81

Prof. Livio Melina, a moral theologian, reminds us that a culture of the family is essential for the family to be strengthened in two evidently fragile, central points: fidelity in love, and parenthood. Regarding the crisis of fidelity, he says that it is manifested "as an incapacity to maintain continuity in time to the delightful event of affection: it is becoming more rare for love to Āehave a story', to be prolonged in time, to be constructed and thus become a habitable home.82 The romantic conception of love, which dominates today, perceives love as a spontaneous event, outside the control of freedom, disengaged from the ethical responsibilities of providing care and diligent work, dissenting from institutionalization."83

The Holy Father Pope John Paul II said, "A pastoral proposal for the family in crisis presupposes, as a preliminary requirement, doctrinal clarity, effectively taught in moral theology about sexuality and the respect for life… At the root of the crisis one can perceive the rupture between anthropology and ethics, marked by a moral relativism according to which the human act is not evaluated with reference to the permanent, objective principles proper to nature created by God, but in conformity with a merely subjective reflection on what is the greatest benefit for the individual's life project. Thus a semantic evolution is produced in which homicide is called Āeinduced death', infanticide, Āetherapeutic abortion', and adultery becomes a mere Āeextra-marital adventure'. No longer possessing absolute certainty in moral matters, the divine law becomes an option among the latest variety of opinions in vogue."84 Chesterton with his pleasant irony said that what is lacking, as with the birds, is to construct a "stable nest", if they are truly mature.

Prof. Melina further comments that a culture of the family will also help solve the crisis of parenthood, "manifested as a refusal to assume the burdens, perceived as too heavy, to give life to children".85 Such crisis has given rise to what we have oftentimes described as the "demographic winter". The crisis of fidelity and the crisis of parenthood are but dimensions of the crisis of the moral subject, that is, of the person. Melina proposes two paths or ways to reconstruct the moral subject: the way of virtues, and the way of interpersonal relationships.86

24. It is true that where there has been no education towards a serious responsibility in love; where the dignity especially of women is not given sufficient importance; where a faithful monogamous relationship is ridiculed; where condoms are distributed to the youth in parties and to children in schools; where immoral lifestyles are diffused and all forms of sexual experience are regarded as positive; and where parents are not allowed to give adequate formation to their children: such "impossibility" turns into a serious, limiting condition. The end result is not only alarming in terms of the spread of HIV/AIDS, but in that man and woman can no longer have full confidence in each other. What will become of these children's future, without the proper information and the necessary parental guidance?

But the greatest help that the Church, and perhaps all people of good will, could offer to curb this terrible pandemic, relying on Divine Providence, is to strengthen the family.87 The different groups, movements, associations, institutes and centres that work in favour of family and life have special roles to play. The family is the Domestic Church and the basic unit of society, the school of virtues the first environment where children receive their education from their first educators, their parents. Catholic families should become examples of holiness, letting their close relationship with God in their life of prayer and in the sacraments overflow into a genuine concern for others. The Holy Father has repeatedly insisted, "Family, become what you are!". May the family truly become what it really is, after the example of the Holy Family, the model for all families.

Main Points

Next Page: Endnotes
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