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Protective Vaginal Intercourse
Nov 25, 1996

About a week ago, I engaged in protective vaginal intercourse with an escort. I wore a condom and the condom did not break. Now I noticed you said in previous answers that condoms aren't 100% effective against HIV. Why? Is it because of the condom breaking? I did not have any cuts or sores on my penis during this incident. Am I at significant risk of infection? This was the only incident I've had. I wore the condom correctly but but could there be microscopic holes in the condom? Thank you!

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi.Thank you for your question. Condoms are not 100% protection, but used consistently and correctly, they will significantly reduce the risk of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's).

Not all condoms will protect against these diseases. Natural (Lambskin/Sheepskin) condoms will NOT protect against HIV and other STD's. Natural condoms have microscopic holes in them that are large enough to allow viruses and bacteria to pass through. However, these holes are smaller than sperm cells, so sperm cells cannot pass through. Therefore, these condoms can be used for birth control, but NOT for prevention against HIV and other STD's. Also, condoms labeled "For Novelty Use Only" may not prevent against infections and may also not prevent pregnancies.

The only condoms that can prevent against infections are condoms made out of latex or polyurethane. These condoms do NOT have holes in them, and viruses and bacteria will not pass through them, if they are used properly.

Condoms, used consistently and correctly do significantly reduce the risk for HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's). However, they do NOT offer 100% protection. Sometimes, condoms that are used correctly can break, leak, or fall off. However, most of the time that condoms fail is either due to people not using them correctly, or not using them all of the time. A very good article that discussed how well condoms protect a person, is in the May 1995 issue of Consumer Reports magazine (with an update in the January 1996 edition). Consumer Reports can be found in most libraries, and can also be found on several online services (for example, America Online).

If a person has an STD where there are lesions or growths (like herpes, syphilis, or genital warts) and the condom doesn't completely cover these lesions or growths, the partner may still acquire that infection.

I have seen occasional cases where a person was using condoms and got infected with an STD anyway. Let me emphasize here that condoms are NOT 100% protection, but used every time, and used correctly, they will SIGNIFICANTLY reduce (but not eliminate) the risks for HIV, other STD's, and pregnancy. However most of the time a person got an STD while using a condom, was due to incorrect use of that condom. If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide). Rick Sowadsky MSPH CDS



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