Hello Dr. Bob. How are you doing? I was just wondering about something. Has there ever been a CONFIRMED case of someone using proper protection and still contracting HIV? I know you say that if a condom doesn't break and is used properly then the risk is non-existent. Why do other Web sites say differently? I trust your opinion, so can you clarify this inconsistency of information? Thanks!




Hi Joe,

Unfortunately I cannot explain what other people might be thinking or how they might be interpreting (or misinterpreting) scientific data. What I can do is try to explain the scientific facts and let you draw your own conclusions, OK? You ask if there has ever been a "confirmed" case of HIV transmission while properly using a latex condom. The answer would be a qualified "no." I say qualified because there would be no scientific way to validate that a latex condoms was indeed used properly after the fact. What we have confirmed in the laboratory, as opposed to the boudoir, is that HIV cannot permeate intact latex. No way. No how. Consequently the advice I give involves a very carefully constructed qualifying phrase: If the latex condom is used properly and doesn't break, the HIV-transmission risk would be essentially nonexistent. That's very different from saying condoms are 100% protective. Saying condoms are 100% protective would, in my opinion, be misleading, because condoms are not always properly used and condoms can very rarely fail (break). I'll post below some information about condom efficacy from the archives. Hopefully this will further clarify any inconsistencies.

Be safe. Be well.

Dr. Bob

Effectiveness of condoms (CONDOMS) (CONDOM EFFICACY) Jan 2, 2008

I am confused good said HIV can't penetrate a condom no, way no how....why does The CDC website say its only 85% effective. They say that it still possible to get HIV. I googled it and I see everything from 98% to 80%. I know people who have slept with over 60 people and they never got anything using a condom. So whats the real deal?

Response from Dr. Frascino


I've addressed this topic numerous times before and have nothing new to add. See below.

Dr. Bob

condoms aren't totally safe (CONDOMS) (CONDOM EFFICACY) Jan 10, 2007

I don't really have a queston but rather a statement. i'm a 17 senoir in hight school and have done many essays throughout my high school career. when i was in the 11th grade i did a report on safe sex and the different types of condoms you can use. i quickly found out that, they may decrease the risk but they do NOT take that risk away. there are tiny tears in condoms that are not big enough for sperm to pass but, viruses can. i think you should better infor people on this subject and help me help people understand that there is always that chance that you could become infected.

Response from Dr. Frascino


You don't have a "queston," but rather a statement. OK. You're a "senoir" in "hight" school???? Hmmm . . . . Your many essays and 11th grade report on safe sex found that there are "tiny tears in condoms that are not big enough for sperm to pass, but viruses can."???? Consequently, you think I should better "infor" people on this subject . . . . Do I have that correct?????

OK, I'm delighted you have taken an interest in learning about safe(r) sex, including the use of condoms. However, if I graded your report, you would have flunked, because you did not use scientifically reliable sources for your information. I strongly urge you to go back and check your sources and your facts, not to mention your spelling and grammar!

I do agree with you that condoms, when used in real world situations, are not 100% effective, but not for the reasons that you imply. HIV and other viruses, such as hepatitis, cannot permeate intact latex or polyurethane. No way. No how! Condoms do not have tiny tears that allow HIV to pass through!!! Condoms are not 100% effective, because they can be used improperly and, rarely, they fail (break) during sex. I'll repost one item from the archives below. You can find many more by doing a simple search and following the related links. I'd advise steering clear of links to The Vatican or anything having to do with Fox News or any Bush Administration faith-based, science-phobic position papers on this topic, OK?

Finally, since you are still in high school, let me leave you with a quote form Mark Twain:

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

Good luck.

Get the real facts. Stay safe.

Dr. Bob

Holes in Latex Condom (CONDOMS) Jul 29, 2006

Hello Dr.

These last days there had been a lot of "bad information" circulating on the net about, the fact that the holes in the latex condom, are about 100 times bigger than an HIV particle, so the virus could pass the intact condom. I think, ( and i believe i read that in an paper) that althoug the hole could be 100 times bigger than a virus particule, at that level of interaction, the electromagnetic forces, make imposible for the particle to pass the intact latex. Unfortunately I coulnd't find any demonstration about this fact on the net, and my math or knowledge in molecular biology it's not enought to prove it. Thanks for your comments and sorry about my english. The bad info sometimes is worse than no info. Thanks again.

Response from Dr. Frascino


You are correct the information about holey condoms is "bad information" often generated and perpetuated by the holiest of holies, the Vatican. Religion obviously is based solely on beliefs, be they virgin births, walking on water, Adam and Steve (I mean Eve), etc. Science and common sense sometimes get in the way of these belief systems the science of evolution versus the belief of creationism, etc.

Unfortunately we have this type of problem with condoms. Anti-science religions, like the Catholic Church, believe that condoms are nothing more than Swiss cheese. Science, on the other hand, has confirmed repeatedly that HIV cannot permeate intact latex. No way. No how.

The concept that condoms have holes is a myth that has been disproved on numerous occasions. The Vatican (and other rightwing religious sex-phobic wingnuts), however, continues to "believe" their fantasy. Actually, it's hard for me to really accept that they actually truly believe this obvious fallacy, but they most likely continue to promote it because it fits in nicely with their other agendas.

I'll post some information form the archives that addresses the efficacy of condoms. You can also find much more information on this topic in the archives.

Yes, there is "bad information" out there; however, focusing on the scientifically sound information will mitigate and hopefully eventually eliminate myths in favor of truth, fact and common sense. Watch for a swing back toward science, truth and reality once Dubya and his cronies have been tarred, feathered and run out of town. One small victory this week was the crushing defeat of the Religious Right's poster boy, Ralph Reed, in his bid to become lieutenant governor of Georgia.

Stay safe. Stay well.

Dr. Bob

only 80%????

Jul 25, 2006

I just was watching The Today and there was a doctor on there who stated that condoms are only 80% protective against HIV. I have always had protective anal sex - no condoms breaking. I have heard I am at close to zero risk - but this doctor "chic" on The Today show freaked me out. Can you add to this?

Response from Dr. Frascino


No need to freak out. HIV cannot permeate intact latex. No way. No how. The reason condoms are not 100% protective has to do with many potential factors, such as:

  1. Using the wrong kind of condom. Natural (lamb's skin) condoms do not protect against HIV.

  2. Using condoms improperly. This is a biggy! You'd be amazed how many studs just don't know how to dress for success!

  3. Condom failure. It's rare, but it can happen, especially if one is stingy with the lube.

I'll post some questions from the archives below that address condom efficacy. The "doctor chick" on the Today Show seems to be a bit of an alarmist. Chances are she voted for Dubya and his sex-phobic anti-science cronies.

Stay safe and you'll stay well.

Dr. Bob

What's the story with those new condoms?

Apr 3, 2006

Hey Dr Bob Thanks for answering our questions.

Recently I bought a Trojan condom and what I found written on it frightened me a lot.

The message written on the condom went something like, " although proper use of the condom may protect against HIV/Aids, it does not properly eliminate the risk".

That seemed a little bit in contradiction to what I have read from your archives here. My impression was that if the condom was used properly and does not break then you can count on 100% protection. Does this mean that those of us who had protected sex with people of unknown status should go for tests? I am confused.

Thanks Doc

Response from Dr. Frascino


". . . does not properly eliminate the risk???" I doubt that was the exact wording, but the take-home message you really need to hear is that if you're going to have sex, using a latex condom properly is the smartest thing you can do to prevent contracting HIV. I'll repost a question from earlier today that addressed condom efficacy.

Dr. Bob

not another hypothetical risk question Apr 3, 2006

Hi Dr Bob:

After finding out that my bf was HIV positive, I've been a regular in this great site, mining for as much information as I can find and process. I understand people's fears, but somehow I grow tired of the "5 years ago I touched a handkerchief that a prostitute had used to wipe her butt, I washed my hands with bleach 432 times after that and my ELISA, western and PCR came back negative 3, 6, 12 and 24 months after that, what should I do?" type of question. So here are my questions, from a neg. guy who regularly engages in protected sex with a pos. guy: 1- When they say that condoms offer at least 85% protection against HIV, do they mean that out of 100 episodes of protected sex with a pos. individual, 15 result in transmission? I guess not, but what do they actually mean? 2 - The HIV specialist my bf is seeing told him that there is no data to back up PEP, so she doesn't recommend it. Is this true? 3 - How often do you think I should be tested? Thank you so much for the amazing site, it goes to show that information is power.

Response from Dr. Frascino


Gosh, if you think you're tired of the "touched a hooker's hankie" type of question, you can just imagine how I must feel as I wade through literally thousands of such questions on a continual basis day after day. So let's proceed to your magnetic couple questions: 1. The bottom line here is that HIV cannot pass through intact latex. No way. No how. Condom statistics (like all statistics) can be a bit misleading. I'll repost below a few questions from the archives that address the condom-efficacy question. I also suggest you check the Planned Parenthood Web site and review their document, "The Truth about Condoms." It's well referenced. Now let me show you an example of how statistics can be misleading in a very Republican-NRA sort of way. Consider the following stats: Doctors: The number of doctors in the U.S. is 700,000 Accidental deaths caused by physicians per year are 120,000 Accidental deaths per physician is 17.14% (Statistics courtesy of the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services) Guns: The number of gun owners in the U.S. is 80,000,000 (yes that's 80 million) The number of accidental gun deaths per year is 1,500 The number of accidental deaths per gun owner is 0.001875% (Statistics courtesy of the FBI) Therefore, "statistically speaking," doctors are approximately 9,000 times more dangerous than gun owners, the logical conclusion being "guns don't kill people, doctors do!" See what I mean about statistics and how they can be manipulated to support an illogical conclusion?!?

  1. Your boyfriend's HIV specialist doesn't recommend PEP? That's worrisome. The most direct evidence supporting the efficacy of PEP is a case-control study of needlestick injuries to health care workers. In that study the prompt initiation of AZT was associated with an 81% decrease in the risk of acquiring HIV. In the nonoccupational arena we have data from observational studies and registries. Although data from observational studies and case reports may not provide definitive evidence of PEP's efficacy in nonoccupational exposures, the overall cumulative data is so convincing that it would now be considered unethical to run a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of PEP to scientifically verify what has now become standard of care for most HIV specialist practices. I would suggest you print out a copy of the recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services entitled "Antiretroviral Postexposure Prophylaxis After Sexual, Injection-Drug Use, or Other Nonoccupational Exposure to HIV in the United States" (January 2005) and review it with your boyfriend's HIV specialist. If he/she doesn't promptly change his or her opinion on PEP, you might want to consider changing HIV specialists! I also bet that if that specialist found himself/herself on the wrong end of a broken condom with an HIV+ partner, he or she would have PEP meds swallowed faster than Bush can write " I souport publik edekasion"

  2. That depends on your level of risk. For instance, some magnetic couples don't use condoms for oral sex, some may not use condoms "properly" each and every time, etc. Some HIV specialists suggest an every-six-month STD/HIV screen for the sexually active "at risk" population. Consequently the answer to how often I would recommend that you be tested would depend on a variety of variables. But remember, the option of testing is always open to you if you feel there has been a potential exposure. Yes, information is indeed power.

Stay well. I hope your magnetic coupling is as successful and satisfying as mine. I think we should change the terminology of "serodiscordant" to "serodiverse," as serodiscordant is so, well, discordant, and that certainly doesn't apply to my relationship!

Dr. Bob

With age comes wisdom, maybe? Jun 29, 2005


Has there been any known cases of persons getting infected with HIV even though they have consistently and correctly used a latex condom without any breakage of slippage? This may sound like a dumb question to you and others, but me and my friends at my high school are getting different answers from alot of adults here at school and elsewhere about condoms and there effectiveness against HIV. Thanks for reading this letter and it is important to have an expert opinion like yours, I know you know more than these so called other grown-ups.

David (still not sure if I'm bi or just gay) either way would like to do it right.

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hi David,

With age comes wisdom? Maybe. But far too often with age the broadness of the mind and narrowness of the waist change places. So, since I still have a narrow waist, I'll try to clear up the condom efficacy/effectiveness conundrum. Under controlled laboratory conditions, latex condoms are essentially impermeable to particles the size of STD pathogens, including HIV. However, when placed into the context of horned-up mattress mambo with the lights off after a few cosmopolitans, the "real life" large-scale epidemiological studies show condoms to be 80-95% effective in reducing HIV infection. Some folks think they are using condoms properly, when, in reality, they are not. I'll attach a few recent posts from the archives that also address this issue, OK?

David, bi, gay or whatever, it's cool with me. What's most important is that your facts are "straight!"

Stay well! Stay safe.

Dr. Bob

critical: have you shifted your opinion on condoms? Posted: Apr 6, 2005

I am a donor to your organization, a regular reader and an admirer. I have a question for you that has very important ramifications for myself and the entire population that frequents this site. For literally years, your position has been, simply stated, that the proper use of a condom prevents HIV transmission. While "proper use" is somewhat loaded phraseology, and you have always very candidly pointed out that humans are not always perfect, the gist of your position has been that proper use of a condom prevents HIV transmissions and obviates testing. Of course, I realize that this prevention statement incorporates assumptions, e.g., condom did not fall off, break, was not expired, and was put on properly. Now, however, I am reading your posts indicating that "large epidemiological studies" indicate that practically speaking, i.e., in the real world of human error and shortcoming, condoms are (I believe you stated) approximately 80% to 95% effective at preventing transmission. You still state, though, that they are nearly 100% efficacious in the laboratory world. Perhaps I am missing something, but to me, you seemed to have shifted considerably your views on the overall effectiveness (i.e., real world effectiveness) of condoms. The question to you that I think should clarify your position: if you were advising an individual, such as myself, on the safety of using a condom for intercourse with a partner of unknown statuts (and therefore, to error on caution's side, let's say positive); and assuming that I have used many condoms in the past and know how to use them "properly," i.e., leave room at tip, unroll to base, don't put on inside-out, etc.), then would you advise me that using a condom for intercourse with this partner will effectively prevent HIV transmission? I realize that large epidemiological studies are not necessarily reducible to the individual level. But I think your apparent shift (at least as perceived by me) merits elaboration to the "individuals" who visit your site. Thank you, and god bless you!!!!

Dr. Bob's reply:


No, my position on condoms has not changed at all over the years and I don't anticipate it will unless new scientific research evolves to support a change.

So, why the confusion??? Like many other current problems, it can be traced back to a "son of a Bush." In the context of U.S. Government policies and programs for combating HIV/AIDS domestically and internationally, a debate has resurfaced about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexual transmission of HIV infection. Some recent U.S. Government policies have begun to shift emphasis to the "lack of condom effectiveness" in educational materials and other publications that receive federal funds. This shift has caused confusion in the general public about whether condoms should be used and promoted for preventing HIV infection. I have consistently restated the scientific evidence related to condom efficacy and effectiveness for prevention of HIV/AIDS. You are correct that I have often quoted the scientific facts from laboratory studies, including those conducted by the FDA, concluding that latex condoms are impermeable to particles the size of STD pathogens, including HIV. Therefore, if you did use a latex condom properly and the condom did not fail, I do not believe HIV testing is warranted.

There are many reasons condom effectiveness in preventing HIV may be compromised. For instance, using natural skin rather than latex or polyurethane condoms, using the wrong type of lubricant (oil-based rather than water-based), not using the condom for the whole sex act (some folks put them on just before ejaculating), compromising the integrity of the condom (excessive heat if kept in the glove compartment of your car, tearing the condom when opening the foil packet, using condoms beyond their expiration date), etc., etc., etc. the list can go on and on and on.

Even with all these "real life" limitations of not using a condom "properly," condoms still remain 80-95% effective in reducing the risk of HIV infection if used consistently. I hope that helps clarify any confusion.

The real take-home message is that scientific evidence does not support the recent shift in U.S. Government policy that stresses lack of condom efficacy. Rather the scientific evidence clearly shows that both male and female condoms are highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Gosh, if I'm getting this many questions about condoms, I can just imagine what the evolution and global warming experts are up against in refuting Dubya's faith-based science initiatives. Stay safe. Stay well.

Dr. Bob

I hope you won't be annoyed. Posted: May 14, 2005

Dr Bob,

You seem to imply that the catholic church's position re: rubbers is wrong. And I agree with you a 100%. However, what I disagree with is your counter-implication that condoms provide almost perfect protection. Fact is, in studies with discordant couples, there were always one or two that got infected with condoms (as opposed to 10 out of a 100 odd couples) implying that the risk is still significant. I want to know if I am misunderstanding you, or what your opinion is on this otherwise.

Thank you for educating us on these issues. You are the best!

Dr. Bob's response:


No, of course I'm not annoyed but I do think you are misinterpreting my "counter-implication." If you go back to the archives, what you will find is that my statements are very consistent and reflect what we know about how well condoms work for preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Perhaps the easiest way to explain this is to make a distinction between efficacy and effectiveness. Efficacy can be defined as the protection the user would have under "ideal" conditions. Efficacy, therefore, is dependent on the properties of the device, in this case the condom, tested in controlled situations. Effectiveness can be defined as the protection the user would have under "actual" or "real life" conditions. Effectiveness, therefore, is dependent on both the properties of the device (condom) and the behaviors of the user. Laboratory studies, including those conducted by the FDA, have shown the latex condom to be essentially impermeable to particles the size of STD germs, including HIV. However, in large-scale, "real life" epidemiological studies, condoms are 80-95% effective in reducing HIV infection.

The bottom line is that condoms provide a highly effective barrier method when used correctly.

The Catholic Church is shamefully wrong in their condemnation of condoms. For example, in El Salvador the Church helped push through a law requiring condom packages to carry a warning label stating that condoms do not protect against AIDS. Studies now show fewer than four percent of Salvadoran couples use condoms the first time they have sex. The result will be more funerals. The Church must choose between obeying tradition and saving lives. Somehow the answer to the often quoted question "What would Jesus do?" seems painfully obvious.

Stay safe. Stay well.

Dr. Bob

CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION Basic Facts About Condoms and Their Use in Preventing HIV Infection and Other STDs With more than 1 million Americans infected with HIV, most of them through sexual transmission, and an estimated 12 million other sexually transmitted diseases occurring each year in the United States, effective strategies for preventing these diseases are critical. The proper and consistent use of latex condoms when engaging in sexual intercourse--vaginal, anal, or oral--can greatly reduce a person's risk of acquiring or transmitting STDs, including HIV infection. In fact, recent studies provide compelling evidence that latex condoms are highly effective in protecting against HIV infection when used properly for every act of intercourse. Latex condoms are highly effective when used consistently and correctly-- new studies provide additional evidence that condoms work The protection that proper use of latex condoms provides against HIV transmission is most evident from studies of couples in which one member is infected with HIV and the other is not, i.e., "discordant couples." In a study of discordant couples in Europe, among 123 couples who reported consistent condom use, none of the uninfected partners became infected. In contrast, among the 122 couples who used condoms inconsistently, 12 of the uninfected partners became infected. As these studies indicate, condoms must be used consistently and correctly to provide maximum protection. Consistent use means using a condom from start to finish with each act of intercourse. Correct condom use should include the following steps: Use a new condom for each act of intercourse. Put on the condom as soon as erection occurs and before any sexual contact (vaginal, anal, or oral). Hold the tip of the condom and unroll it onto the erect penis, leaving space at the tip of the condom, yet ensuring that no air is trapped in the condom's tip. Adequate lubrication is important, but use only water-based lubricants, such as glycerine or lubricating jellies (which can be purchased at any pharmacy). Oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, cold cream, hand lotion, or baby oil, can weaken the condom. Withdraw from the partner immediately after ejaculation, holding the condom firmly to keep it from slipping off. Myths About Condoms There continues to be misinformation and misunderstanding about condom effectiveness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides the following updated information to address some common myths about condoms. This information is based on findings from recent epidemiologic, laboratory, and clinical studies. Myth #1: Condoms don't work Some persons have expressed concern about studies that report failure rates among couples using condoms for pregnancy prevention. Analysis of these studies indicates that the large range of efficacy rates is related to incorrect or i inconsistent use. The fact is: latex condoms are highly effective for pregnancy prevention, but only when they are used properly. Research indicates that only 30 to 60 percent of men who claim to use condoms for contraception actually use them for every act of intercourse. Further, even people who use condoms every time may not use them correctly. Incorrect use contributes to the possibility that the condom could leak from the base or break. Myth #2: HIV can pass through condoms A commonly held misperception is that latex condoms contain "holes" that allow passage of HIV. Although this may be true for natural membrane condoms, laboratory studies show that intact latex condoms provide a continuous barrier to microorganisms, including HIV, as well as sperm. Myth #3: Condoms frequently break Another area of concern expressed by some is about the quality of latex condoms. Condoms are classified as medical devices and are regulated by the FDA. Every latex condom manufactured in the United States is tested for defects before it is packaged. During the manufacturing process, condoms are double-dipped in latex and undergo stringent quality control procedures. Several studies clearly show that condom breakage rates in this country are less than 2 percent. Most of the breakage is due to incorrect usage rather than poor condom quality. Using oil-based lubricants can weaken latex, causing the condom to break. In addition, condoms can be weakened by exposure to heat or sunlight or by age, or they can be torn by teeth or fingernails. Preventing HIV Infection And Other STDs Recommended Prevention Strategies Abstaining from sexual activity is the most effective HIV prevention strategy. However, for individuals who choose to be sexually active, the following are highly effective: Engaging in sexual activities that do not involve vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse Having intercourse only with one uninfected partner Using latex condoms correctly from start to finish with each act of intercourse Other HIV Prevention Strategies Condoms for Women The FDA recently approved a female condom, which will soon be available in the United States. A limited study of this condom as a contraceptive indicates a failure rate of about 26 percent in 1 year. Although laboratory studies indicate that the device serves as a mechanical barrier to viruses, further clinical research is necessary to determine its effectiveness in preventing transmission of HIV. Spermicides The role of spermicides in preventing HIV infection is uncertain. Condoms lubricated with spermicides are not likely to be more effective than condoms used with other water-based lubricants. Spermicides added to the tip of the condom are also not likely to add protection against HIV. Making Responsible Choices In summary, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection, are preventable, and individuals have several responsible prevention strategies to choose from. But the effectiveness of each one depends largely on the individual. Those who practice abstinence as a prevention strategy will find it effective only if they always abstain. Similarly, those who choose any of the other recommended prevention strategies, including condoms, will find them highly effective if used correctly and consistently. For further information contact: CDC National AIDS Hotline: 1.800.232.4636 Spanish: 1-800-342-SIDA Deaf: 1-800-324-7889 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Service Centers for Disease Control and Prevention July 30, 1993 ________________________________________ Our thanks to<> Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provided this article to The Body.