HIV And Condoms
Religious leaders of various faiths have voiced their opposition to the use of contraception and condoms. In the age of HIV and AIDS, this stance creates a moral dilemma for religious people seeking to protect themselves against HIV infection or other STDS (sexually transmitted diseases). In March 2009, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, sparked controversy by stating his belief that distributing condoms to people in Africa was not an effective method of combating the spread of HIV across the continent. Indeed, the Pope said that widespread availability of condoms may even encourage more promiscuous sex and thereby exacerbate the problem. It’s not our job to decide here whether someone’s religious beliefs are correct or incorrect. Rather, we aim to provide information to you, our readers, about sexual health and allow you to make a decision in accordance with your own beliefs and values.
HIV In The West
HIV and AIDS are not just a problem in the developing world. Over one million people in the United States are thought to be HIV positive. In the UK in 2005, approximately 63,500 adults over the age of 15 were infected with HIV. Medical experts believe that as much as 32 % of these people were unaware that they had the virus (that’s practically one third of all the UK’s HIV carriers). This ought to drive home the importance of protecting yourself in all sexual encounters. Deliberately infecting someone with HIV is a criminal offence, but given that so many people may be having sex without knowing they are HIV positive, it is clearly the responsibility of each individual to protect him or herself. We cannot rely on someone else’s knowledge of his or her own sexual health. Since 2005, the number of people in the UK with HIV has increased year upon year. This is, however, due in part to an increased number of diagnoses and better treatment for HIV, allowing HIV carriers to live longer.
Do Condoms Prevent HIV?
Yes. Aside from total abstinence from sex, condoms are the best method of HIV prevention. Numerous studies have found that condoms, when used correctly and consistently, provide significant, reliable protection against infection with HIV and many other STDs. Various scare stories have been circulated about condoms. For example, rumors that condoms are permeable and allow the HIV virus to pass through them or that they break easily and don’t really provide any protection have spread throughout the community. We can only speculate as to the motivation of the individuals who spread this disinformation, but we can take comfort in the fact that such stories are based on rumor and not on fact.
Protection – although some types of membrane condoms may be somewhat permeable, research has shown that latex condoms, when used correctly, completely block the transfer of sperm, viruses and other unpleasant things between the condom wearer and his partner.
Breakage – studies have found that condom breakage is rare, and when it does happen, it usually results from incorrect usage of the condom. Condoms should not be exposed to sunlight or oil-based lubricants and should be handled with care to avoid tearing.
Correct Condom Usage
When you meet a new partner, whether your relationship lasts one night, several months or indeed a life time, the only way to protect yourself fully against HIV is to use condoms in every sexual encounter until both of you have gone for HIV testing and been given the all-clear. This means using a condom every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex. (A dental dam, an alternative to the condom, is a rectangular piece of latex which fits into the mouth and provides protection during oral sex.) It is just as important to use condoms correctly as it is to use them consistently:
When to put in on – A latex condom should be used from start to finish of each sexual act. This means putting the condom on as soon as the male partner has an erection and definitely before any contact takes place between his penis and his partner’s body.
Leave space – make sure that there is some space left at the top of the condom for condom wearer’s sperm after he ejaculates. Ensure no air is trapped in the condom creating bubbles where they shouldn’t be. If you find air bubbles or you haven’t left enough space at the top, take off the condom and start with a new one.
Lubricant – oil-based lubricants such as baby oil and Vaseline should not be used during sex as they can weaken condoms. Use a water-based lubricant such as K-Y jelly.
Afterwards – the condom wearer should withdraw carefully, immediately after ejaculation.
Once only – a condom can only ever be used once. Never, ever, use a condom a second time.
One study monitored couples in which one partner was HIV positive. The study found that 123 of these couples used condoms consistently and correctly, and among these couples, not one non-infected partner caught the HIV virus. Among the 122 couples who were not consistent in their use of condoms, 12 non-infected partners did contract HIV. The facts speak for themselves. Condoms protect against HIV, as do abstinence; limiting your number of sexual partners; and avoiding risky sexual activity.