In an attempt to curb the rise in teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, schools across the country have implemented sex education programs. The curricula these courses employ are designed to provide instruction in “safe sex” procedures to protect teens from transmission of HIV/AIDS.
Asked whether they are concerned about contracting HIV, most teens feel they are protected through use of a condom.
But just how safe is “safe”?
In-use failure rates
According to an article by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, published in Planned Parenthood’s Family Planning Perspectives May/June 1989, condoms have an 11.4 to 22.3 percent failure rate among teens. Studies of five brands of condoms, reported in the British Journal of Medicine July 11, 1987, showed a failure rate of 26 percent due to rupture and slippage alone. And the New England Journal of Medicine Mar. 23, 1989 showed condoms have a failure rate of 10 to 33 percent for preventing pregnancies in women 25 years and younger.
These figures represent rates of pregnancy. However, a woman is fertile only certain times of the month; diseases can be transmitted at any time. And condoms cannot provide adequate protection, industry officials admit.
Industry admits naturally occurring defects
Even intact condoms have naturally occurring defects (tiny holes penetrating the entire thickness) measuring five to 50 microns in diameter — 50 to 500 times the size of the HIV virus, writes C. Michael Roland, head of the Polymer Properties Section at the Naval Research laboratory in Washington, D.C. and editor of Rubber Chemistry and Technology, in a published letter to the Washington Times. [In other words, just as rubber tires, over time, lose air, condoms (manufactured of the same product, rubber) also are porous.]
“… the rubber comprising latex condoms has intrinsic voids about 5 microns (0.0002 inches) in size,” Roland states. “Contrarily, the AIDS virus is only 0.1 micron (4 millionths of an inch) in size. Since this is a factor of 50 smaller than the voids inherent in rubber, the virus can readily pass through the condom.”
In addition, condom manufacturers allow 0.4 percent of any given batch to be defective, before a recall is ordered.
Latex glove specifications
Studies done by Georgetown Medical University and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., published in Nature, Sept. 1, 1988, show that latex gloves, made to much higher specifications than the condom, have pores 50 times larger than the 0.1 micron HIV virus.
Even if there were no pores in latex, in-use breakage and slip-off rates are “so high as to make condoms ineffective for protection against HIV,” says biochemist and molecular biologist Dr. David G. Collart, Ph.D., of Stone Mountain, Ga.
In fact, “the U.S. government has withdrawn a $2.6 million grant to study condoms because ‘an unacceptably high number of condom users probably would have been infected in such a study,'” he says, citing a 1989 article published in Infection.
However, teens say their sex education classes are not informing them of these facts. Condoms have been presented as a “safe and effective” means of avoiding both pregnancy and HIV/AIDS, they say.
Teens’ knowledge of the facts, in and of itself, however, often does not lead to behavior change anyway, according to a study by Harvard Medical School and Washington University.
“Information alone is not a potent factor in risk change,” the study showed. In the study, 436 of the youths scored “80 percent or greater on the knowledge quiz and were still engaging in at least one high-risk behavior. Yet 69 percent of them said they were at no risk, and 30 percent at low risk …”
“The findings reinforce the results of other studies that find no association between knowledge and risk behaviors,” the study, published in Pediatrics May 1992, found.
Sex education and contraceptive instruction aside, some teens appear to be learning their lessons the hard way.