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“You’re entering a no spin zone!”

So cautions Bill O’Reilly on Fox News channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, a program that polls indicate is the most watched cable news program in the USA. The show’s popularity indicates that people are tired of spin; they want to hear information straight, fair, and balanced. While there may be “no spin zones” on cable television and some people debate that assertion what about spin in other arenas?

What about the spin on “safe sex” and condoms?

The topic of sex ignites a controversial debate over the use and effectiveness of condoms. The STD epidemic in America elevates the intensity of the condom debate because condoms are portrayed as the “best” method to cure an epidemic that is thriving on young people. According to a 2000 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 65 million people live with an incurable STD, and in addition, 15 million more people become infected each year. Of those 15 million, young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 represent two-thirds of the total.

In 2000 the National Institutes of Health released a report titled “Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention.” In response to this study conducted by a diverse panel, Dr. Willard Cates Jr., a researcher for Family Health International, expressed concern about the possibility of misinterpretation of some of the negative aspects of condoms found by the study. In a 2002 editorial he wrote,” this negative interpretation might serve to discourage condom use and thus enhance the spread of STDs.” He went on to write, “Thus, we need a positive spin to our messages to encourage their use.”

Is it condom spin? You decide.

The back of a Durex condom box states, “Durex High Sensation Condoms set you free to enjoy the pleasure of sex while being confident that you’re protected.” (emphasis added) The next paragraph states, “If used properly, Durex latex condoms will help reduce the risk of . . . catching or spreading HIV infection (AIDS) and many other sexually transmitted diseases.” (emphasis added) Planned Parenthood claimed that the NIH study on condom effectiveness “confirmed that condoms are the best method for sexually active people to prevent STIs.” (emphasis added).

The report did conclude that condoms could reduce the risk of HIV and gonorrhea. However, concerning the other six STDs studied, the panel reported “because of limitations in study designs there was insufficient evidence from the epidemiological studies on these diseases to draw definite conclusions about the effectiveness of the latex male condom in reducing the transmission of these diseases.” The study did not say condoms prevented HIV and gonorrhea but that the risk was reduced. If a condom is used 100% of the time, one has a 50/50 chance of contracting gonorrhea and a 15% chance of contracting HIV. What happens to those individuals in the 15 %? They die; the condom did not prevent HIV. Knowing the extent of the personal risk means a lot to any person in that 15%.

The seriousness of the HIV issue drives the pro-condom debate, but what about the lack of evidence showing that condoms reduce the risk of other “hidden” STDs?

A 2000 CDC study on the trends of STDs found that of the 15 million newly infected people with STDs each year, only 1% of them are infected with HIV. The study also showed that among teenagers the most common STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and human papillomairus, HPV.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility if untreated. The Medical Institute for Sexual Health reported that 85% of women with Chlamydia show no symptoms, leaving the disease often undetected until it is too late. According to the CDC, each year one million people contract herpes, and 90% of those infected are unaware they carry the incurable disease. This disease causes reoccurring painful ulcers and increases the risk of one becoming infected with HIV. The most common viral STD is HPV, and this incurable disease infects 5.5 million people every year. The National Institutes of Health reported that HPV causes 93% of all cervical cancers. Ironically, Planned Parenthood spinned this statistic as an “anti-choice radical” myth to distort “scientific fact in order to discourage condom use.” HPV goes undetected by 70% of those with the disease. As reported by the American Cancer Society and the CDC, more deaths occurred in 1999 due to HPV than AIDS.

According to Dr. John Diggs, Jr., “[for HPV] there is evidence that condoms do not work. For [other STDs], there is insufficient evidence that [condoms] do work. In either case, it is dishonest public health policy to tell people to use them for prevention when it is not provable that they work.”

With millions of teens contracting these STDs each year, the false sense of condom protection projected by authority figures (schools) is reprehensible. According to an American Family Physician journal, the number of sexual partners is linked directly as the most important risk factor in contracting an STD. Therefore the only true “preventive” measure against STDs is abstinence until marriage. Pro-condom groups criticize this prescription arguing that it is either dangerous to repress sexual urges or people lack the self-control, especially teens. The message teens receive about sex will shape their decisions with consequences that affect the rest of their lives. Condoms endorse “safe sex,” yet when measured by the data, promiscuous sex even with condoms is still not at all “safe.”

Our founding father George Washington wisely pointed out, “Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”

How many “failures”- death, disease, emotional devastation – do we have to encounter before we quit spinning excuses for condoms and promiscuous sex?

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