Covering It All: Don’t Neglect Condoms for Prevention

Joseph DiNorcia Jr

Condoms are affordable, easy to use with the proper instruction, and extraordinarily effective in preventing both STDs, including HIV, and pregnancy if used consistently and correctly. Why aren't more of us using them?

Throughout October 2009, young people and their allies are engaging in advocacy efforts in communities across the country to raise awareness for the need for REAL sex education.
The Sex Ed Month of Action will engage young people and their allies
across the United States in showing their support for comprehensive sex
education.

A survey out of the British Office of National Statistics
last week indicated that, for the first time since tracking began, as many
women in the U.K. were using condoms as a birth control method as were using
the birth control pill.   As I searched through the research and
news articles to try and figure out what was making condoms more popular in the
U.K., I found myself being a little jealous.

I realize that it may be unfair to compare two countries’
birth control usage statistics. 
There are myriad societal and cultural factors (different health
care delivery systems to use but one example), that affect individual
choices of contraception.  Still, in the United
States about 30 percent of the women who use contraception choose the pill and
only about 18 percent choose condoms with their partner. So not only did I start to wonder what is
making the condom more popular there but also what is inhibiting its popularity
here.

Part of the problem is obvious. The condom has always been a
favorite target of the right wing.  Its members constantly deride the effectiveness
of this method and point to lessons about the proper way to use condoms as proof
that comprehensive sexuality education programs go too far.  My best guess
as to why they hate condoms so much is that besides abstinence, this is the
only method of birth control that also offers protection against HIV/AIDS and
other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).  It allows people to have sex while greatly, greatly
reducing the risk of negative consequences and, because the Right has a
worldview that is based around consequences, it must be very upsetting.

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Those who have followed the evolution of messaging around
sexuality education over the last twenty years know that the Right has labeled
anything other than abstinence education as “condom programs.”  In response, so as not to be pigeonholed as “the condom
people,” I think that we have moved too far away from our staunch promotion of
the male condom (not to mention the female condom, which is not as widely accessible but as
effective as male condoms in preventing both STDs, including HIV/AIDS, and pregnancy).  We
are, and should be, unabashedly pro-condom.

Unfortunately, in many situations, we discuss these as if they
are just another option in the contraceptive arsenal.  Frankly, this isn’t
good enough.   Condoms deserve to be talked about in a totally
different breath from other contraceptive methods because they are simply the
best weapon we have against so many of the sexual health challenges we face
here in the United States and across the globe.

Condoms are affordable, easy to use with the proper
instruction, and extraordinarily effective in preventing both STDs, including
HIV, and pregnancy if used consistently and correctly.   It is terrifying
to think where the HIV epidemic would be in the United States (not to mention
the global pandemic) were it not for the condom.  I am convinced that our best hope in this battle is to get
the millions upon millions of necessary condoms into the hands of people who
desperately need them to protect themselves.  This is especially true in
countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, such as Zambia, where AIDS has driven life
expectancy down into the mid-30s.

I am not naïve enough to think that condoms are the answer
to all our problems, but they certainly give us the most “bang for the buck,” if
you can pardon the expression, when it comes to prevention.

Because change starts at home, we must continue to emphasize
the efficiency and effectiveness of condoms in our sex education programs.
We have an opportunity to do so right now as Congress is on track to
eliminate funding for all existing abstinence-only-until-marriage programs –
programs that have historically deliberately undermined young people’s faith in
condoms.  Both the House and the
Senate are working on funding for more comprehensive programs.  I’m concerned, however, because there
is the possibility that this funding focuses exclusively on teen pregnancy
prevention.  While this is a noble
and important goal it is not enough and I fear it will not place sufficient
emphasis on the unique importance of condoms (after all, there are other ways
for sexually active teens to prevent pregnancy but these would leave them
vulnerable to STDs).

Let’s not miss this opportunity to remind ourselves, the
world, and yes, the Right, that we are and ought to be pro-condom. Congress needs
to enact a broad initiative that addresses unintended teen pregnancy, as well
as STD and HIV prevention. This will
provide our young people with a more holistic, comprehensive approach to their
sexual health, and it will give us the opportunity to further promote that
sometimes misunderstood hero in the war for sexual health – the
condom.

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