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Condom critics ill-informed, says NZAF

May 15, 2006

Condom critics ill-informed, says NZAF

Claims from a fringe group that condoms are unsafe are ill-informed, irresponsible, and not to be taken seriously, says the New Zealand AIDS Foundation.

The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards (SPCS) last week issued a press release claiming NZAF was “socially irresponsible, if not criminal” for advocating the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV between men who have sex with men.

The conclusions SPCS draw about HIV transmission are ill-informed and erroneous. The SPCS solution to the problem of HIV - abstinence - is unrealistic and indicative of a failed anti-sex approach to health promotion. The vast majority of adults in this country are sexually active, and sexual activity is a perfectly natural and healthy part of being human.

Research has clearly shown us that abstinence-based prevention programmes do not work. A recent study at Harvard University of adolescents who signed “virginity pledges” found that 52 percent of those surveyed had sex within a year of signing their pledge. [1]

Let’s be clear: sex is not the problem. Unsafe sex is. The chances of a man contracting HIV through receptive anal sex with another man when a condom is used is roughly 1 in 4,000 [2] (not 1 in 1,000 as SPCS claimed), and only then through condom breakage.

Over the last fifteen years, studies carried out in Europe, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (where HIV incidence is highest) financed by the European Commission have all confirmed the effectiveness of condoms as prevention against HIV. When used properly, the efficacy rate is close to 100%.

By comparison, the Ministry of Transport estimates that seat belts reduce the risk of death in a car crash by around 40%. [3] Though driving with a seatbelt still presents some risk of harm, is anyone seriously suggesting abstaining from car travel?

Condoms are, by far, still the best protection we have against transmission of HIV. Gay and bisexual men will engage in anal sex whether society approves or not - it is our job at NZAF to encourage them to do so safely.

In an age where even the Vatican is beginning to recognise the efficacy of condoms in protecting against HIV, it’s time for the hysteria and misinformation from self-appointed authorities to end - in the interests of saving lives.


[1] Harvard School of Public Health researcher Janet Rosenbaum’s analysis of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a survey conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in the United States. 14,000 survey subjects, ages 12-18, were interviewed in 1995 and re-interviewed in 1996 and 2001.

[2] Varghese, B., Maher, J., Peterman, T., Branson, B., and Steketee, R. (2002). Reducing the risk of sexual HIV transmission: Quantifying the per-act risk for HIV on the basis of choice of partner, sex act, and condom use. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 29:38-43. [as used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]

[3] Ministry of Transport - figure is an approximate based on the published results of a number of different overseas studies, and is an average over all types of crashes.


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