Virgins Are Using Condoms!

cartoon_final.jpgTerrible timing for me, eh? My look at the decline in public messaging around STI prevention hits the Web, and lookie here, a new CDC study shows condom use is up, particularly among those having intercourse for the first time.

Well, a couple of things. First, the study released today is focused on preventing pregnancy, not sexually transmitted infections. (Title: National Survey of Family Growth.) So while it's encouraging to see an increase in condom use, it doesn't really get into the specifics of how effective that use is. Interestingly, the survey did ask questions aimed at determining whether women who use the pill as their primary form of contraception are also using condoms. The total number of women using condoms as their primary method is 6.2 million, but an additional 2.4 million women are using condoms as a back-up or secondary method.

What sticks with me is this: Condom use is up, which is great. But you know what else is up? STIs and new cases of HIV infection. Women's infection rates for syphilis -- which was once nearly eliminated in the U.S. -- increased 36 percent from 2007 to 2008. In 2009, young women aged 15 to 19 had the highest reported rates of Chlamydia and gonorrhea.

The authors of the study acknowledge there's a disconnect here: "Contraceptive use in the United States is virtually universal among women of reproductive age ... but that does not mean that contraceptive use in the United States is completely consistent or effective." Contraceptive use doesn't mean safe sex. For better or worse, our two primary methods of contraception in the U.S. are the pill and sterilization. So while increases in first-time condom use are great, we need to make sure that they are lasting.

--Phoebe Connelly