Condoms, HIV/AIDS And You!

by Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

It should be realized that the initial use for condoms was to prevent pregnancy. Still, couples who depend on this method as their only way of preventing pregnancy report some unintended pregnancy within one year of use. This can be as high as 14% during “typical” use. Some studies have found condom failure rates in protecting against pregnancies for teenagers to be as high as 22.5 %. If one remembers that a woman can only get pregnant within some days in the month, and that the HIV virus is much smaller than the human sperm cell, it boggles the imagination on what may be the case with HIV transmission when compared with the pregnancy rate.  The HIV virus is about 0.1 micron in size (compared with up the head of a spermatozoon which measures 5 x 3 microns).  Latex has some naturally occurring flaws (pores) which are of the order of 5 microns (Source: C.M. Roland, Ph.D., Editor, Rubber Chemistry and Technology and Head of the Polymer Properties Section, Naval Research Laboratory, in a Letter entitled “Do You Want to Stake Your Life On A Condom?”  published in Washington Times, April 22, 1992). The HIV virus does not easily pass through because the effects of surface tension (the virus doesn’t usually move in isolation but suspended in fluids) can make it impermeable even in the presence of holes bigger than it when friction, corrosion or pressure forces are not in play. Also, condoms are usually “double-dipped”, i.e. most or all of the voids of one layer are covered by the second layer, making it impossible to see holes in the condoms when they are stretched and viewed under the electron microscope. Unfortunately, the various stresses which affect a condom when in use viz – lateral stress, pressure stress, shear stress, friction and corrosion – cannot be simulated while using the electron microscope.

Condoms are usually subjected to air-burst and water leak tests. Curiously enough, they are not subjected to FRICTION tests. Even the medication for vaginal candidiasis which is common in women can also cause deterioration of the condom. Exposure to petroleum jelly, body creams and other oils can also affect the condom. They can also be snagged at by fingernails or rings.  

The main possibility, however, with transmission even with condom use lies in the failure rate from bursting, tearing or slipping off. Based on the results from 15 studies involving the use of 25,184 condoms, “Contraceptive Technology”  found out that 5.36 % of all of the condoms broke and 3.67% of them partially or completely slipped off, a total of 9.13 %. (Robert A. Hatcher, et. al. Contraceptive Technology (17th Revised Edition) [New York: Ardent Media, Inc., 1998]. Table 16-3, “Prospective Studies of Condom Breakage and Slippage,” pages 330 to 332.)

Condoms, we are told, should be kept in a cool, dry place. This is due to the fact that they are sensitive to heat and cold. For such a fragile “life-saver”, one would expect that condoms should be transported under conditions that portray their importance. Instead, some samples taken of up to 72,000 trucks used for distributing condoms showed that the back sections of some of those trucks were so hot that eggs could be fried in them. (Collart, D. Ph.D., Clark Atlanta University: “Condoms: A Users Right To Know”, Impact, Issue 3, 1-2 (1993)) I am unsure if the situation has changed favourably since then. How certain are those who buy condoms that they are not purchasing an already-spoilt product. 

And by the way, some tests administered for strength and leaks are used to spot-check a batch of condoms as opposed to testing the condoms individually. If you just happen to be unlucky to use a condom from a batch that had fewer amount of defective condoms noticed from those selected, you may also place yourself in a vulnerable position to contract HIV if there are more defective ones. When all these facts are put into consideration, the fact of condoms offering “safe-sex” begins to look suspect. It would really be interesting to know the number of people who will continue using condoms if the information above related to its effectiveness were to be put on condom packets. If cigarette packs have a warning label attached to them, why shouldn’t condoms share a similar fate?  

Listen To Some Doctors 

Doctors are expected to give patients the best possible form of advice to help safeguard their lives. Some doctors are beginning to do just that with regards to condom use. One of my professors in Medical School once told us that if he had to operate on HIV patients, he normally asked for 3-5 pairs of gloves!!! (he would be wearing goggles to protect his eyes too) Yet, we are told to take off all our clothes and place all our trust in a piece of latex rubber.  

According to Dr Harold Jaffee, Chief of Epidemiology at the National Centres for Disease Control (in America), “You just can’t tell people it’s all right to do whatever you want so long as you wear a condom. It (AIDS) is too dangerous a disease to say that”.

Dr. Teresa Crenshaw, member of the US Presidential AIDS commission and former president of American Association of Sex Education, Counselors and Therapists once mentioned that “saying that the use of condoms is “safe sex” is in fact playing Russian roulette. A lot of people will die in this dangerous game”. She recounts speaking to over 800 of her colleagues who teach sex education (including the use of condoms as “safe sex”). She said, “I asked them if they had available the partner of their dreams and knew that person carried the (AIDS) virus, would they have sex, depending on a condom for protection? No one raised their hand!” If those who are advocating condoms are not willing to stick out their own necks, then why should you? Remember, AIDS no dey show for face. 

Just one more viewpoint: Dr Robert Renfield, Chief of Retroviral Research at the Walter Reed Army Institute says “Simply put, condoms fail. And condoms fail at a rate unacceptable for me as a physician to endorse them as a strategy to be promoted as meaningful AIDS protection”. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to ponder deeply on the above pronouncements. 

The Condom Message and You 

Beyond the elusive hope that condoms will definitely prevent HIV/AIDS, there lies something much deeper. It is that the condom approach gradually but surely erodes the meaning and value of love and sex. It leads people to lose their ability to exercise self-control, thus urging them to behave in an unrestrained sensual manner which is proper only to animals. This actually goes against our dignity as beings that can use their reasoning powers well. Sex is then seen primarily as a tool for pleasure with complete disregard for any form of responsibility for our actions. The use of condoms can pave the way to seeing others as objects of pleasure and thus needed only for our own selfish interests.  

Moreover, if one has a false sense of security with the condom, self-restraint will definitely be lost, paving the way to promiscuity. According to an article published some years ago, “Promoting condoms as a sure-fire way to prevent AIDS has led many people to engage in riskier sexual behaviours than they otherwise might have” (“Condoms And Seat Belts: The Parallels And The Lessons”, The Lancet, vol. 355, Jan. 29, 2000).  What training will we be giving the younger ones in order to prepare them for a life-long commitment in marriage? At their age in life, they are prone to experimentation. What guarantees are there that someone who was promiscuous before marriage will, overnight, become faithful to his/her spouse. Even within marriage, its use can lead to mutual distrust amongst the spouses.  

I felt really sad on hearing of a seminar in which the participants lodging in a hotel were given condoms along with the usual seminar bags and jotters! Knowing that the men who were there for the seminar were not accompanied by their wives, what did the organize

rs have in mind by giving them condoms? The same occurs when some NGOs give money to some students’ organizations in the university in order to take care of some of their functions with the caveat that they must distribute condoms during those occasions. Do not these activities lead to an even more-widespread decay and decline in morality? 

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