Is Incorrect Condom Use Helping Fuel the AIDS Epidemic?

Despite seeming relatively uncomplicated, condoms are commonly misused, and public health officials believe that this misuse is fueling the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

"We chronically underestimate how complicated condom use can be," Richard Crosby, a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, said in an Indiana University press release. "It involves the use of a condom, while negotiating the condom use and sex with a partner all at the same time. There is a complex triad of the sex act, condom use, and partner dynamics that must constantly be navigated by condom users."

A special issue of the journal Sexual Health includes a series of articles that provide a glimpse into the issues that people from different countries face. Some of the articles touch upon what factors influence condom use, the need and impact that condom education programs have, and where the female condom fits into this conversation.

This is the first time that condom use research from around the globe has been housed in the same place.

The press release explains:

Led by The Kinsey Institute Condom Use Research Team, or CURT, more than 20 researchers from around the world examine and discuss issues such as safe-sex behaviors by American adults, counterfeit condoms in China and use of female condoms in South Africa.

"The articles in the special issue illustrate both commonalities and differences relative to the use and promotion of male condoms around the world," said William L. Yarber, professor of applied health science at IU and member of CURT. "It provides a resource for sexual health professionals to use for strategizing ways to increase cultural and individual acceptance of condom use."

CURT analyzed 50 studies and found that while breakage and slippage were common, user error was much more common. WebMD reported the most common errors in condom use were:

  • Not using condoms throughout sexual intercourse
  • Not leaving space at the tip
  • Not squeezing air from the tip
  • Putting the condom on inside out
  • Not using only water-based lubricants
  • Incorrect withdrawal

WebMD further writes that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), condoms have a 2 percent failure rate when used perfectly and consistently. but the typical failure rate is much higher at 15 percent.