Condom Effectiveness

With nearly 1 million Americans infected with HIV, most of them through sexual transmission, and an estimated 12 million cases of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) occurring each year in the United States, effective strategies for preventing these diseases are critical.

Refraining from having sexual intercourse with an infected partner is the best way to prevent transmission of HIV and other STDs. But for those who have sexual intercourse, latex condoms are highly effective when used consistently and correctly.

The correct and consistent use of latex condoms during sexual intercourse - vaginal, anal, or oral - can greatly reduce a personís risk of acquiring or transmitting STDs, including HIV infection. In fact, recent studies provide compelling evidence that latex condoms are highly effective in protecting against HIV infection when used for every act of intercourse.

This protection is most evident from studies of couples in which one member is infected with HIV and the other is not, i.e., "discordant couples." In a 2- year study of discordant couples in Europe, among 124 couples who reported consistent use of latex condoms, none of the uninfected partners became infected. In contrast, among the 121 couples who used condoms inconsistently, 12 (10 percent) of the uninfected partners became infected.

In another study, among a group of 134 discordant couples who did not use condoms at all or did not use them consistently, 16 partners (12 percent) became infected. This contrasts markedly with infections occurring in only 3 partners (2 percent) of the 171 couples in this study who reported consistently using condoms over the 2-year period.

Condoms must be used consistently and correctly to provide maximum protection. Consistent use means using a condom with each act of intercourse. Correct condom use includes all of the following steps:

  1. Use a new condom for each act of vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse.
  2. Put on the condom as soon as erection occurs and before any vaginal, anal, or oral contact with the penis.
  3. Hold the tip of the condom and unroll it onto the erect penis, leaving space at the tip of the condom, yet ensuring that no air is trapped in the condomís tip.
  4. Withdraw from the partner immediately after ejaculation, holding the condom firmly to the base of the penis to keep it from slipping off.
Preventing HIV Infection and Other STDs
Plastic Condoms
There are now several polyurethane condoms approved by the FDA available. They are made of the same type of plastic as the FC2 also known as (The Female Condom). Lab studies show the new polyurethane condoms have the same barrier qualities as latex. Lab testing has shown that particles as small as sperm and HIV cannot pass through this polyurethane material. Polyurethane condoms offer an alternative for condom users who are allergic to latex. Also, polyurethane condoms can be made thinner than latex, have no odor, and are safe for use with oil-based lubricants.

Making Responsible Choices
In summary, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection, are preventable. The effectiveness of responsible prevention strategies depends largely on the individual. Whatever strategy one chooses, its effectiveness will depend primarily on consistent adherence to that choice.