Safe Sex: The Science of the Matter

In case you don’t know it, the US is experiencing unparalleled increases in sexually transmitted diseases:

— STDs accounted for 87 percent of all cases among the top ten most frequently reported infections in the U.S. during 1997. Five of the top 10 reportable infectious disease in 1997 were either exclusively or largely transmitted during sex, including the top four (chlamydia, gonorrhea, AIDS and syphilis).
— It is estimated that there are more than 68 million current STD infections among Americans. Each year, 15.3 million new STD infections occur, including over 3 million infections in teens. The two most common STDs, herpes and human papilloma virus (HPV), account for 65 of the 68 million current infections.
— Adolescents and young adults (15-24) are the age groups at the greatest risk for acquiring an STD. Approximately two-thirds of all people who acquire STDs are under 25.
— Compared to older women, teen girls have a higher rate of chlamydia, a disease that is a common cause of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to infertility. At least 10 percent of all sexually active teens are infected with this disease. Among women, gonorrhea rates are highest among teen girls ages 15-19.
— The risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is as much as 10 times greater for 15-year-old females than for 24-year-old females. PID can cause sterility.

So what is our society doing to inform and protect today’s youth? Does the phrase ‘safe sex’ ring a bell? Most euphemisms are not life threatening but the phrase ‘safe sex,’ so often associated with condom use, is a profoundly disturbing exception. Our public schools teach as scientifically proven fact, something known not to be true by our own CDC and National Institute of Health (NIH), and then these same schools threaten to eliminate or de-emphasize abstinence education. How’s that for life in a scientific age?

If I seem transparently cranky on this issue it is because I am! Here’s the deal according to Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., M.D., President/CEO of the Austin-based Medical Institute for Sexual Health,, (reported in full at his web site).

In June 2000, the National Institutes for Health co-sponsored a meeting of scientists, researchers and clinicians to examine, review and summarize the available scientific evidence for condom effectiveness in reducing the risk of transmission (or acquisition) of sexually transmitted diseases.

The report was important because until now a thorough review of the scientific research on condom effectiveness has never been published. Despite the lack of data proving condom effectiveness, public health agencies, sexuality education programs, the media, condom manufacturers and others have routinely promoted the latex condom as being highly effective for the prevention of all STDs. We now have evidence that questions the validity of these condom promotion efforts and should prompt the many governmental agencies that have funded these programs to reconsider their necessity.

Among their findings? The report’s findings are summarized in general terms in the Executive Summary, accessible from this web site. The panel’s review of the literature found:

— Consistent condom use reduces the yearly risk of contracting HIV from an infected sexual partner via vaginal sex by approximately 87percent.
— Consistent condom use also reduces the risk of gonorrhea transmission from women to men.
— Consistent condom use may or may not reduce the risk of chlamydia transmission from women to men.
— Consistent condom use does not appear to reduce the risk of transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection from men to women. (HPV accounts for 91% of cervical cancer among women). Some evidence exists that condoms may reduce the risk of genital warts, but the results of studies to determine whether condoms reduce the risk of cervical dysplasia (‘pre-cancer’) and cervical cancer in women are equivocal (some show protection while others do not).
— There was insufficient evidence to make statements about condom effectiveness for any other STDs, including gonorrhea or chlamydia transmission from men to women and transmission of genital herpes, trichomoniasis, chancroid or syphilis.

In short? The available scientific evidence shows that condoms appear to reduce one’s risk of contracting or transmitting only two STDs: HIV and gonorrhea (in men). While the panel stopped short of concluding that condoms do not reduce HPV infection risk, the report states that all the articles reviewed indicated that condoms did not reduce the risk of HPV infection. And for the other STDs — there simply was not enough evidence to make any conclusions about condom effectiveness.

All of these findings were based on ‘consistent’ condom use, which means the condom will be properly used 100% of the time, a practice we know not to be true! In addition to the recklessness induced by hormones and the passion of the moment, a recent report on alcohol use and teen sexual activity concluded frighteningly high numbers of teens, who not only engage in sexual activity while drunk, but confess to reduced precautions while in this situation. Add to this the news that 2.8 million teens have used ecstasy and the related story of increased incidences of date-rape and you have our current permissive society’s prescription for disaster.

The rates of STD’s alone tell the story-safe sex is a myth.

Here’s the real exciting news-The NIH report, which I’m sure you would agree should be distributed widely, has essentially been shelved, placed on the web for any who take the time to find it. And so. Instead of ridding ourselves of the mythological ‘use a condom and enjoy safe sex’ crowd, we will continue to hear them deride abstinence, promote condom use and then, once again, ignore the facts when the annual STD report is issued by the CDC.

Posted in Staublog, Thoughts in February 26, 2002 by | No Comments »

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