In light of yesterday’s assertion by Pope Benedict XVI that condoms were not the solution to Africa’s fight against HIV and AIDS (I know of no one who says that, alone, they are!), and his statement that “the distribution of condoms” only “increase[s] the problem” of HIV/AIDS, I share the following excerpts from an article entitled Do Condoms Prevent AIDS?, originally published in the Summer 2002 issue of Conscience.
Important Roman Catholic leaders . . . have frequently claimed that condoms are not effective in preventing AIDS. In addition, anti-family planning organizations such as the American Life League and Human Life International have aggressively questioned the efficacy of condoms. They argue that condoms should not be promoted as a way to fight AIDS because the virus that causes AIDS is small enough to pass through latex condoms, or that condoms have an unacceptably high “failure rate” (the frequency which condoms break or slip off), or that condoms are not reliable because they don’t prevent all sexually transmitted diseases.
Such claims that condoms should not play an important role in halting the spread of HIV are unfounded, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and leading AIDS researchers. Condoms opponents have seized on the fact that condoms are not 100% perfect in preventing AIDS to further their arguments that abstinence and sex within marriage are the only ways to prevent AIDS.
Condoms, like all contraceptives, are not 100% foolproof. Most condom failure is due to human factors such as the failure to use condoms consistently or incorrect use of the prophylactic. (1) Many of these problems can be corrected through safe sex education, which opponents of condoms also oppose. Poorly manufactured condoms, which are sometimes found in the developing world, or those stored at excessive heats for long periods of time, can also fail. Non-latex condoms, such as those made of sheepskin, are not adequate protect against AIDS because HIV can pass through the larger pores of these condoms.
Claims that latex condoms allow HIV to pass through are unfounded. The pores of latex condoms are too small to allow HIV to pass through. Condoms have been shown to be effective barriers not only to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but also to herpes simplex, CMV, hepatitis B, chlamydia and gonorrhea. (2)
While condoms are not foolproof, they are highly effective in preventing HIV infection. According to the CDC, studies examining sexually active people at high risk for contracting HIV have found that “even with repeated sexual contact, 98-100% of those people who used latex condoms correctly and consistently did not become infected. (3)
(1) Do Condoms Work?, Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, Feb. 1995.
(2) “Condoms for Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 1998; 37:133-137.
(3) How Effective Are Latex Condoms in Preventing HIV?, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Postscript 1 (7:57 a.m.): I appreciate the perspective of the editors of the New York Times who write:
Pope Benedict XVI has every right to express his opposition to the use of condoms on moral grounds, in accordance with the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church. But he deserves no credence when he distorts scientific findings about the value of condoms in slowing the spread of the AIDS virus. . . . There is no evidence that condom use is aggravating the epidemic and considerable evidence that condoms, though no panacea, can be helpful in many circumstances.
. . . [H]ealth authorities consider condoms a valuable component of any well-rounded program to prevent the spread of AIDS. It seems irresponsible to blame condoms for making the epidemic worse.
Postscript 2 (12:50 p.m.): Here is what blogger Colleen Kochivar-Baker has to say about the Pope’s statements on condoms and AIDS:
There is no spin that can address this stupidity. It’s heartless, and that’s the whole problem with the Institutional Church. It lacks any heart, any compassion, any sense of reasonableness. It favors cold logic based on unsupported assumptions and takes these to absurd conclusions, almost exclusively to the detriment of women and children. This is really all about a “culture of life” for some at the expense of others, whether that’s a nine year old rape victim in Brazil or the preventable HIV infection of a mother in Cameroon. Somewhere Jesus weeps.
Kochivar-Baker calls the Pope’s assertion that the use of condoms only aggravates the AIDS crisis an “outright lie,” as there are “reams and reams of evidence to the contrary.”
My sense is that it’s a “lie” that’s quite popular among many of those who uncritically support the sexual theology of the Vatican. Just last October, for instance, the visiting “scholar in residence” at the St. Paul Seminary, Janet Smith, stated that condoms don’t prevent the spread of the AIDS-causing HIV virus. She made this statement during a public presentation given at the University of St. Thomas. Can you imagine it: a statement like that being made at a university of the caliber of St. Thomas? I recall how my friend Mary Lynn objected from the audience to Smith’s comment. She was dismissed and belittled by Smith – a cowardly response that, I’m sorry to report, elicited cheers and applause from many in the audience. (For Mary Lynn, this experience was the last straw in terms of her relationship with the institutional church.)
See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Vatican Considers the “Lesser of Two Evils”
Recommended Off-site Links:
When the Culture of Life is Really the Culture of Death - Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, March 18, 2009).
Pope Benedict XVI is a Global Health Nightmare - Michael A. Jones (Gay Rights, March 18, 2009).
Should Choosing Condoms Mean Choosing Life? - USA Today, March 17, 2009.
Just Say No? - Rocco Palmo (Whispers in the Loggia, March 17, 2009).
Catholics, Conscience, and Condoms
Statements and Actions by Catholic Bishops Supporting Condom Use as Part of an HIV Prevention Strategy
Vatican Intervenes to Calm Storm Over Pope’s Comments - Riazat Butt and John Hooper (The Guardian, March 18, 2009).
Condom Sense - Editorial (Washington Post, March 19, 2009).