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Nearly Half of Condom Users Do It Wrong

Poor Condom Practices Put Women at Risk of Pregnancy, STDs
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WebMD Health News

Dec. 26, 2002 -- Nearly half of women who use condoms aren't getting the protection they need. That's the word from a study that finds high rates of ineffective condom use.

The main problem: 44% of heterosexual couples wait too long to use condoms. They use condoms only after sex with penetration, report Diane Civic, PhD, of the Group Health Cooperative (GHC), and colleagues. Their study appears in the December 2002 issue of AIDS Care.

Another big issue: 19% of couples report recent condom slippage or breakage. Nearly all such condom failures happen because the condoms aren't put on right. When used properly, condoms break only 2% of the time.

"If condoms are not used correctly, people are not protected from STDs and unintended pregnancies," Civic says in a news release.

Civic and colleagues surveyed 779 women, age 18-24, who reported recent condom use. The women -- from Washington state and North Carolina -- were members of GHC, a nonprofit HMO.

Delayed condom use is defined as putting on a condom after sex with penetration but before ejaculation. This technique doesn't prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). That's especially true of STDs spread by skin-to-skin contact, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes. It also increases risk of unwanted pregnancy and other STDs such as HIV infection. That's because pre-ejaculate -- fluid emitted by the man before ejaculation -- often contains sperm as well as cells that can harbor the AIDS virus.

Women were more likely to report delayed condom use:

  • If they were younger than 21
  • If they were having sex with their primary partner
  • If their partner did not support their desire to use condoms
  • If they had multiple recent sex partners
  • If they were using condoms for contraception

Women were more likely to report condom breakage or slippage if they were of non-white race or ethnicity or if they had previously had an STD.

The National Institutes of Health funded the study. Ironically, the CDC recently removed from its web site detailed information about proper condom use.

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