The Social Conservatives' War on Condoms Print

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Conservatives in the United States Congress and the administration are waging war on public confidence in condoms. Domestically in the United States and through U.S. foreign policy, these social conservatives are promoting a sexual health agenda based far more in ideology than grounded in public health science. Among other things, they have:

  • Spent more than one billion in public funding within the United States to promote abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that distort the health benefits of condoms.[1]
  • Earmarked at least 33 percent of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) prevention funding for abstinence programs and segmented global HIV prevention efforts through PEPFAR to include for youth only the A (abstinence) and B (be faithful) components of the ABC (abstinence, be faithful and condoms) approach to HIV prevention.[2]
  • Removed information about the health benefits of condoms from the Web sites of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Agency for International Development (USAID).[3,4,5]
  • Included in the Office of Global AIDS Coordinator’s guidance that PEPFAR funds may not be used in any setting for marketing campaigns that target youth and encourage condoms use as the primary intervention for HIV prevention—even though there are more than 11 million sexually active youth in PEPFAR priority countries.[6]
  • Argued at international conferences that promoting condom use encourages teens to have sex, despite overwhelming research to the contrary.[7,8]
  • Named to the United States National Institutes of Health’s advisory committee on reproductive health social conservatives whose stance is to oppose condom use on ideological grounds.[2,3]
  • Pushed the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for condom labeling that would emphasize condom ‘failure’ instead of condom effectiveness.[9]

Condom Education is an Essential Tool in the Fight against HIV/AIDS

Educating youth about condoms does not promote sexual activity. Research clearly indicates that education about condoms does not lead to increased rates of sexual initiation, lower the age of sexual initiation, or increase sexual activity among young people.[10,11,12,13] Furthermore, studies show that consistent and correct condom use can greatly reduce the risk of HIV transmission among sexually active youth.[14,15] For all these reasons, mainstream medical organizations—like the American Academy of Pediatrics,[16] Society for Adolescent Medicine,[17] and American Medical Association[18]—strongly support providing youth with information about and access to condoms, including making condoms available in high schools.

Research indicates that young people who are educated about the health benefits of condoms are more likely than other young people to use condoms when they eventually initiate sex.[10,11,12,13] Teens whose parents talk with them before they are sexually active about the importance of using condoms are also more likely to use condoms at first intercourse.[19,20] Additionally, research shows that young people who use condoms at first intercourse are more than twice as likely to use condoms thereafter compared to peers who did not use condoms at first intercourse.[21] Finally, research shows that youth who feel comfortable in talking with a partner about condoms are also more likely to use condoms compared to youth whose discomfort keeps them from talking about condoms with their partner.[20]


  1. U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Government Reform. The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs, prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman. Washington, DC: The House, December 2004.
  2. U.S.Congress in the U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003
  3. Boonstra H. Critics charge Bush mix of science and politics is unprecedented and dangerous. Guttmacher Report on Public Policy 2003; 6(2).
  4. Human Rights Watch. Access to Condoms and HIV/AIDS Information: a Global Health and Human Rights Concern. New York: HRW, 2004.
  5. Clymer A. Critics say government deleted sexual material from Web sites to push abstinence. New York Times, November 26, 2002.
  6. U.S. Agency for International Development. Annual Program Statement: HIV/AIDS Prevention through Abstinence and Healthy Choices for Youth: President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. [APS No. M/OP-04-812] Washington, DC: USAID, March 11, 2004.
  7. Associated Press. Conference Rejects US Stance on Abortion, Condom Use. December 18, 2002.
  8. Reuters. U.S. Anti-Abortion Stand under Fire at U.N. Meeting, December 16, 2002.
  9. Coburn Web site. Dr. Coburn Says New FDA Condom Regulations Make Inconclusive, Exaggerated Claims about Condom Effectiveness, November 10, 2005;; accessed 11/15/2005.
  10. Baldo M et al. Does Sex Education Lead to Earlier or Increased Sexual Activity in Youth? Presented at the Ninth International Conference on AIDS, Berlin, 6-10 June, 1993. Geneva: World Health Organization, 1993.
  11. United Nations Joint Programme on HIV and AIDS. Impact of HIV and Sexual Health Education on the Sexual Behaviour of Young People. [UNAIDS Best Practice Collection] Geneva: UNAIDS, 1997.
  12. Institute of Medicine, Committee on HIV Prevention Strategies in the United States. No Time to Lose: Getting More from HIV Prevention. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.
  13. Kirby D. Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001.
  14. CDC. Condoms and Their Use in Preventing HIV Infection and Other STDs. Atlanta, GA: CDC, 1999.
  15. de Vincenzi I. A longitudinal study of human immunodeficiency virus transmission by heterosexual partners. New England Journal of Medicine 1994; 331:341-346.
  16. Klein JD and the Committee on Adolescence. Adolescent pregnancy: current trends and issues. Pediatrics 2005; 116:281-286.
  17. Society for Adolescent Medicine. Position Statements and Resolutions: Reproductive Health [December 1991];
    ; accessed 11/17/2005.
  18. American Medical Association. Report 7 of the Council on Scientific Affairs: Sexuality Education, Abstinence, and Distribution of Condoms in Schools (I-99);; accessed 11/17/2005.
  19. Miller KS et al. Patterns of condom use among adolescents: the impact of mother-adolescent communication. American Journal of Public Health 1998; 88:1542-44.
  20. Shoop DM, Davidson PM. AIDS and adolescents: the relation of parent and partner communication to adolescent condom use. Journal of Adolescence 1994; 17:137-148.
  21. Shafii T et al. Is condom use habit forming? Condom use at sexual debut and subsequent condom use. Sexually Transmitted Diseases 2004; 31:366-372.


Written by Deborah Hauser, MPH Executive Vice President and Marcela Howell, MA Vice President, Communications & Marketing
August 2006 © Advocates for Youth

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