Suggested Headline: Condom Rules
By Matthew Craven
Last week this column discussed the chance that religious leaders have to make a
difference in the fight against HIV by promoting condom use along with sexual
abstinence and being faithful to one uninfected partner.
Education about condoms is important, because although they are not difficult to
use, obeying a few simple rules can make them much more effective.
Every year, many people who say they use condoms are infected with HIV. This has
led some to speculate that they are contracting the disease from the condoms.
However, this is not true - HIV can only live in human body fluids and an unused
condom presents no risk. The most important reason for condom users contracting
HIV is that condoms are most effective when used every time. If someone only
uses them sometimes, or only the first few times with each sexual partner then
they are not protecting themselves effectively. Repeated condom use requires
strength of will and planning ahead. Shops are often closed at the time when
condoms are needed so it is important to buy them before they are needed. It
should also be remembered that each condom can only be used once, so people need
to make sure that they have an adequate supply on hand.
Two weeks ago, Sister Agreda Mosha correctly pointed out in this newspaper that
condoms are of variable quality. They should be made of latex (a derivative of
rubber), since HIV and sperm cannot pass through latex. Condoms made from
goatskin or other materials are not effective at preventing the spread of
sexually transmitted diseases. Reputable brands clearly mark an expiry date, and
condoms should not be used after that time since the latex starts to degrade.
Proper storage is also important. Latex is a delicate material and is easily
damaged by extremes of temperature. Keeping condoms in a pocket or hot part of
the house for long periods of time can lead to degradation of the rubber. It is
best to carry them in a bag or jacket pocket when going out. Sharp objects can
make holes in condoms - users should check to make sure that there is air
trapped in the packet before opening. The South African government once
distributed 5 million condoms with an instruction card stapled to them. The
staples went through the condoms, rendering them useless.
Condoms must be put on immediately before sex, and removed immediately
afterwards. The whole purpose of the condom is to prevent body fluids from
touching, and care should be taken at every stage of use to ensure that this is
achieved. Finally, condoms should be disposed of appropriately; pit latrines are
often good places to put them.
Even when all of these rules are followed condoms will never be 100% effective.
Occasional manufacturing defects, damage in transit and unlucky breakages can
never be entirely eliminated. Nevertheless, if condoms were always used properly
their failure rate would be greatly reduced. Sexual abstinence and being
faithful to one uninfected partner will always be better than condoms at
preventing HIV infection. However, there are people for whom these are not
realistic options, and for those people following these rules for condom use
will greatly reduce their risk of HIV infection.