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Letters to the Editor: Science proves condoms effective

Published: April 3, 2009
Section: Opinions

Dear Editor,

I couldn’t help but feel outrage upon reading the Letter to the Editor: Condoms not the answer to HIV in Africa in the March 27th edition of The Hoot. The other spurious claims and conspiracy theories in the letter are not worth responding to (the notion that contraceptives are designed to fail and increase pregnancies so that Planned Parenthood can get rich off of abortions is laughable, and about as likely as the Illuminati’s campaign to establish a New World Order), but one that does need addressing is the question of the effectiveness of condoms at preventing HIV transmission.

The author’s “scientific claims” are the same type of pseudoscience that asserts that HIV does not cause AIDS, and that the world was created 6,000 years ago and people lived with the dinosaurs. In fact, to those who believe these claims, I recommend a trip to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, (conveniently only 5 hours away from the author’s hometown of Wilmette, Illinois) where the author can examine scale models of dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden and chilling on a scale model of Noah’s Ark.

Although condoms do not offer foolproof protection against HIV/AIDS, when they fail, it is usually due to either poor manufacturing or incorrect and inconsistent use. The majority of studies show that condoms drastically reduce the risk of transmission. In one study of couples in which one partner had HIV and the other did not, among those who used condoms consistently there was not a single case of transmission, and among those who used them inconsistently there was a transmission rate of 10%.

The Center for Disease Control and the United Nations both have stated that condoms are extremely effective at preventing HIV transmission. UNAIDS cites not only laboratory studies which indicate the virus cannot pass through latex, but also theoretical reasons (that the semen and vaginal fluids which carry the virus cannot pass through), epidemiological studies which compare infection rates, and empirical evidence based on reduced transmission in Brazil, Thailand, and the US, all attributable to increased condom use.

The author’s claim that the virus can pass through condom material is based on the notion that pores in the latex are larger than the AIDS virus. Although numerous empirical and laboratory studies disprove the conclusion of this theory, which has not a single laboratory test supporting it, the theory also operates on several flawed scientific assumptions. First, it is based upon an analysis of latex glove material, not condom material. Condoms are dipped in latex twice and held to much higher standards; the number of leaky latex gloves permissible in a batch is ten times that of condoms. An actual analysis of condom material (not glove material) by the National Institutes of Health using an electron microscope found no holes. Second, the HIV virus requires a host cell. In order for transmission to occur, the entire cell would have to squeeze through these theoretical microscopic holes in the condoms, not just some free ranging virus.

There is no “scientific research” that supports the author’s claims, and it is telling that the Lancet, one of the most respected medical journals in the world, issued a statement condemning the Pope’s statements as hostile to science.

The Catholic Church does not have a unified stance against condoms; many within the Church’s own ranks condemned the Pope’s remarks, a Cardinal who was a candidate for the papacy four years ago has supported condom use to fight HIV transmission, and the United States Catholics Bishops, who the author encourages us to google, released a statement in support of condom education, acknowledging that not everyone will avoid intravenous drugs and adhere to policies of abstinence and the more realistic solution is a compromise between moral teachings and prevention though condoms. It is sad to see the Pope’s regression to policies less reasonable than those of the Church 21 years ago, when there was much less scientific knowledge or empirical evidence on the matter.

Josh Waizer ’11