The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that STDs are at a record high for the fifth year in a row in the United States. In 2018 2.4 million new cases were reported. Syphilis alone has increased 71% in the last five years (CDC).
So maybe it’s time to tell the truth; the “solution” was never a fix to begin with.
Condoms Are Ineffective Blocking HPV, Herpes and Syphilis
Condoms have been marketed so effectively as an all-around “solution” for those who want to embrace sexual activity without consequences, few actually stop to question whether condoms actually work. Those who think that condom usage will prevent any STDs are sadly mistaken. Let’s go point-by-point.
If a condom works perfectly, it is not effective at preventing exposure to infections that can be transmitted through skin to skin contact, or that affect areas not covered by the condom, such as HPV, herpes, and syphilis, all of which can have very serious negative health outcomes. For STDs that should theoretically be kept under wraps by a condom, such as HIV, we need to look at condom failure rates to assess the risk factor.
Condoms in the Real World Fail … A Lot
The oft-quoted statistic that condoms are 98% effective is misleading because the tests that produced that data were conducted under laboratory conditions which do not accurately reflect the real world.
According to Contraceptive Technology, the real-world success rate of condoms in preventing pregnancy is 85% over one year for couples who use condoms 100% of the time.1 What does that mean? Every condom failure may not lead to pregnancy but it does post a risk for HIV exposure. The 15% failure rate over one year increases with time, reaching 56% at five years and 80% at 10 years.
Correct condom use is uncommon because it is complicated and involves significant attention to detail in moments when one is strongly distracted. A 2012 synthesis of 50 studies on condom use errors identified more than ten potential user errors, in addition to the issues of fit, slippage and breakage that are inherent to the condom itself.2 Several user errors were found to be extremely common, including failure to lubricate the condom (16.0%-25.8% of participants), incorrect withdrawal (43%-57% of condom use events), and incorrect storage (3.3%-19.1% of participants).3 These error rates are recorded from populations in the USA, Canada, and the British Isles, where education about correct condom use is relatively widely accessible.
In the third world, where information dissemination is limited by illiteracy, underdeveloped infrastructures, and lack of cultural awareness of condoms, these error rates are probably much higher. Even in the (highly unlikely) scenario that condom use errors could be globally eliminated, there is still the issue of condom failure, which was reported by 25%-47% of participants surveyed.4 Contraceptive Technology estimates that condoms either break or slip 8.08% of the time, which means there is an extremely high probability that a regular condom user will experience a catastrophic condom failure at some point, and with it the risk of exposure to any STD, including HIV.
Endangering the Third World
The disparity between the perception and reality of condom effectiveness has led to an unconscionable number of deaths, mostly in the third world, where government and health organizations have aggressively pushed universal condom use as a solution to the AIDS crisis.
When the first HIV infections popped up in Thailand in 1991, the government enacted a “100% Condom Use Program,” which helped lead to an HIV infection rate of 9,072 per million in 2003, according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS. The AIDS crisis reached the Philippines at the same time, but by 2003, that country had an infection rate of only 113 per million. The difference was the result of policy: in the Philippines the government and the Church successfully encouraged young people to be abstinent before marriage, and married people to remain faithful to their spouses.5 The success of this abstinence-based prevention program is much greater than what we see in the United States, where correct condom usage is an expected part of the high-school health class curriculum. Here the HIV infection rate was 3,900 per million in 2006, and has since dropped only marginally to 3,362 per million despite all our “safe” sex education, first world healthcare system, and widespread condom availability.6
Those who advocate “science” over “impractical” abstinence are in fact, the losers. Abstaining before marriage and faithfulness to one’s spouse are the best protection from STDs that exists.
The abstinence approach also proved its effectiveness by reversing one of the worst HIV outbreaks in history. The ABC plan (abstinence, being faithful to one partner, condoms) cut the HIV infection rate in Uganda from 15% in 1991 to 5% in 2001, the most positive trend in the world during that time.7 UNAIDS states that in 2018 there was a new infection rate of 1.4%. A great deal of medical progress has been made, however, and today’s culture relies heavily on medical anti-viral treatment.
Condom promoters sometimes cite this as an example of the success of condom-based responses to the AIDS crisis, but the reality is that the ABC program placed very little emphasis on condoms, and only promoted them for certain high-risk groups, such as prostitutes. Countries that emphasized condoms, such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, and Kenya, had, and still have, the highest rates of infection. The key is in behavior change; according to a 2004 synthesis of the results of third world AIDS prevention strategies, the main contributing factor reducing HIV infection rates among heterosexual couples was not condom use, but reduction in the number of sexual partners.8 In South Africa on the other hand, increases in condom availability were accompanied by increases in the number of persons who reported having more than one sexual partner,9 which raises the concern that condom promotion may lead to more risky behaviors by creating the illusion that sex with condoms is “safe.”
The illusion that a layer of latex removes all consequences from sexual activity is extremely dangerous because condoms do not provide anything close to complete protection from HIV exposure.
The Reality of HIV “Protection”
According to the CDC, an unbroken and properly used condom is 99% effective at blocking HIV. These sound like excellent odds, until we consider:
- Condoms slip or break 8.08% of the time.
- Incorrect use is common.
- The integrity of a condom may be compromised before consumer purchase, especially in the third world where manufacturing, shipping, and storage standards are lower.
- The studies that found 99% effectiveness did not simulate realistic conditions of intercourse.
Real-world analyses of condom efficacy in preventing HIV transmission are much less optimistic. A 2002 synthesis of studies focusing on heterosexual couples shows 80% protection per person-year,10 while a 2016 study shows only 70% protection.11 The outlook is no brighter for homosexual men engaging in receptive sex with HIV positive partners. Analyses of the available data show that this group has a 13.2% chance of contracting HIV in one year without condom protection, which drops to 3.8% for those who use condoms every time, and translates to 72% prevention per person-year.12
Another analysis calculated the risk factor per sexual act, and found that HIV is transmitted in 0.54% of acts unprotected by a condom, and 0.20% of acts with condom protection, translating to 63% prevention.13 The latest and most innovative analysis instead calculates condom effectiveness based on number of sexual partners, finding that for each partnership unprotected by a condom there is an 83% chance of infection, whereas for partnerships that are always protected by condoms the risk of infection is 7.3%, yielding a 91% condom effectiveness rate.14
This high percentage is creating some excitement in the condom-promotion world, perhaps due to a general misunderstanding of what it actually means. Infection rates rendered per act and per person-year compound, similarly to the pregnancy rates explained above. With every condom protected act of this type there is a 0.20% chance of infection, which sounds small, but with each additional act there is an additional 0.20% chance, which compounds to a significant risk for someone who engages frequently in sex—especially with multiple partners. There may be only a 3.8% chance of contracting HIV in one year, but who stops having sex after one year? The next year there is another 3.8% chance, and the next, and the next. The same is true of the per partner analysis; HIV exposure increases by another 7.3% with every additional partner. If the predominant practice were to have only one sexual partner, the AIDS epidemic would never have exploded the way it did.
All this latest study has shown is that increasing the number of one’s sexual partners is as dangerous as we always knew it was, and that the solution is to live a monogamous lifestyle.
The only way to embrace the anything-goes attitude toward sex that is promoted in popular culture is to eliminate all of its consequences. Proponents of condoms like to pretend (or perhaps actually believe) that we have engineered the procreative, emotional and hygienic consequences of sex into nonexistence, but that is not scientific reality. While many technologies, such as condoms, do affect the likelihood that an encounter will result in pregnancy or STD exposure, they are not nearly as effective as we are taught, leading many to form unsafe habits under a false sense of security.
How to Actually Prevent STDs
The only acceptable prevention that is 100% strategically effective is also Catholic approved! Abstain from sexual activity before marriage, and if you marry, be faithful for life to your spouse.
You care about your physical welfare. But the Catholic Church, knowing the science, isn’t just trying to spoil your fun but teach the Truth; that is, respect yourself, your spouse if you have one, for everyone is made in the image and likeness of God. Sexual intimacy is not for selfish gratification, but unifies husband and wife and is open to children. The human family is actually so beautiful, the only way to preserve it is to care for your souls as well as your bodies. On this site we have many, many articles explaining why contraception is not only unhealthy but spiritually harmful. Remember, if there is no such thing in life as a free lunch, do you honestly believe sexual gratification would come without harmful consequences?
Part of the difficulty in conveying a message of abstinence to the new generation is that due to medical progress, the younger population does not recall the scare when HIV-AIDS was causing horrendous numbers of deaths. Now that an HIV diagnosis is not equatable to a death sentence, many engage in promiscuous sexual activity that in no way honors the true purpose of sexual intimacy, that is to be held for the marital embrace, where husband and wife beautifully become one.
If you are single, or in the religious life, please care about your own human dignity; live a life of chastity and abstinence. Many today buy into the secular lie that this is impossible; it’s not. Advocates for sexual freedom often forget that humans also have the freedom and the ability not to have sex. It’s a choice. No one “dies” of abstinence. Faithful Catholics have been engaging in abstinence or chaste behavior according to their state in life for millennia. And waiting for the right spouse is not only healthier physically, it’s spiritually beneficial to your soul. Just think about that.
Dr. Brian Clowes’ research contributed to this report. For even more data on condom failure, check out this in-depth report.
 Hatcher, Robert A. Contraceptive Technology. New York: Ardent Media, Inc, 2004. Print.
 Sanders SA, Yarber WL, Kaufman EL, et al. Condom use errors and problems: a global view. Sexual Health. 2012 Feb 17;9(1):81–95.
 Trujillo, Alfonzo Cardinal Lopez and Clowes, Brian. The Case Against Condoms: the Scientific and Moral Basis for the Teaching of the Catholic Church on Preventing the Spread of Disease. Human Life International. 2006. Print
 “HIV Surveillance Report.” CDC. 6, September 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/overview/index.html
 Trujillo and Clowes.
 Hearst, Norman and Chen, Sandy. “Condom promotion for AIDS prevention in the developing world: is it working?” Studies in Family Planning. Vol 35. No 1. 2004. Available From: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1728-4465.2004
 Khangelani Zuma, Olive Shisana, Thomas M. Rehle, Leickness C. Simbayi, Sean Jooste, Nompumelelo Zungu, Demetre Labadarios, Dorina Onoya, Meredith Evans, Sizulu Moyo & Fareed Abdullah (2016) New insights into HIV epidemic in South Africa: key findings from the National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, 2012, African Journal of AIDS Research, 15:1, 67-75, DOI: 10.2989/16085906.2016.1153491
 Weller SC, Davis-Beaty K. Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2002. Available from: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/14651858.CD003255
 Giannou FK, Tsiara CG, Nikolopoulos GK, et al. Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission: a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies on HIV serodiscordant couples. Expert Review of Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research. 2016 Aug;16(4):489–499.
 Smith DK et al. Condom effectiveness for HIV prevention by consistency of use among men who have sex with men in the United States. JAIDS 68(3):337-344. 2015.
 Scott HM et al. Age, race/ethnicity and behavioural risk factors associated with per-contact risk of HIV infection among men who have sex with men in the United States. JAIDS 65(1): 115-121. 2014.
 Johnson WD et al. Per-partner condom effectiveness against HIV for men who have sex with men. AIDS 32(11):1499-1505. 2018.