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Condoms May not Stop AIDS

Cary, J. (1987, October 19). Condoms May not Stop AIDS. U.S. News and World Report, p. 83.

Recent research findings caution that condoms may not afford adequate protection against the transmission of AIDS. Dr. Malcolm Potts of Family Health International (FHI), a contraceptive research foundation, says the problem is "that protecting against the AIDS virus is more demanding than trying to prevent pregnancy." There are two reasons: 1) a woman is fertile approximately 36 days a year, but AIDS is contagious year-round, and 2) of the two condom types, latex and animal membrane, only latex provides (at least in preliminary studies) a barrier sufficient to stop the transmission of the virus.

These preliminary findings, by the University of Massachusetts and the University of Colorado, also reveal that spermicide nonoxynol-9 located in the condom reservoir kills the virus two-thirds of the time when the tip is torn. Doctors Nelson Gantz and Franklyn Judson say "using latex condoms lubricated with nonoxynol-9 would be prudent." Since nonoxynol-9 is an over-the-counter drug, one may purchase it from a local drug store.

The most elusive problem for condom researchers is determining whether condom failure is due to product malfunction, user misconduct, or both. The difficulty in finding a solution stems from inadequate information about how people use condoms and from conflicting data. For example, studies of prostitutes in Denmark, West Germany, Zaire, and the United States suggest that condom use has stopped the spread of AIDS. But, conversely, a study done by University of Miami physicians on the spouses of forty-seven AIDS patients indicates that of the couples who used condoms, three of the eighteen still became infected.

To better understand the effectiveness of condoms, a number of studies have been planned. Initial findings suggest that anal sex damages the condom, thereby reducing its protectiveness. However, in spite of these studies, many researchers state that definitive findings may never be available because it is unethical to set up a controlled study in which someone may be infected with AIDS.

Dr. Michael Rosenberg of the American Social Health Association, a group tracking social diseases, says that condoms prevent the contraction of AIDS about half of the time—about as well as they protect against other social diseases.



  1. While condom use does lessen susceptibility to contagious diseases, even with nonoxynol-9, condoms do not provide the fail-safe solution for safe sex.
  2. In light of the research problems, there may never be a safe way to have promiscuous sex. Teenagers need a broad moral education in addition to sex education.
Stephen Vantassel cCYS