Does "safe sex" really exist?

By Arthur Allen

By Salon Staff
July 25, 2000 11:09PM (UTC)
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There is a basic problem with most comparisons of the efficacy of abstinence to condom use or other measures: Abstinence's "100 percent" effectiveness in theory is usually compared to condoms' effectiveness in practice.

The two are thereby incommensurate. What would make more sense would be to compare outcomes as used: Condom stats include people who put them on incorrectly or forget them sometimes; abstinence statistics should include people who trick themselves into believing, say, that what they're doing isn't sex, or who just forget themselves completely.


-- M. Turyn

The article quotes Dr. Allan Brandt: "There's always been this anxiety that if you put technology into the hands of people to promote sexual health you will also encourage what's perceived to be illicit sexuality."

In the first place, sexual activity goes on with or without encouragement. In the second place, saying that availability of condoms promotes sex is like saying the use of seat belts promotes driving. Either way, there will be accidents, but to not use either protection is foolishness.


The moralistic anti-condom people are merely jealous that other people can have sex without guilt and they can't. Their answer is to stop other people from having fun. After all, misery loves company.

-- Tom Kowalski

While I would recommend condom use to everyone, I am living proof that it is not 100 percent effective. My first (and only) partner and I used condoms every time, without "naked" penetration first. Yet I still got herpes. I was 17.


-- Name withheld at writer's request

Safe(r) sex advocates have never, in my experience, claimed that condom use automatically makes sex safe -- just that it's better than nothing at all.

Abstinence advocates overlook the fact that, as people marry at a later and later age, complete abstinence until marriage is not a viable option for the vast majority of people. Even those I know who say they want to remain virgins until marriage have experimented sexually in the form of oral sex, mutual masturbation, etc. These are not risk-free activities. And, even if one miraculously arrives at marriage with their sexual innocence intact, what guarantees that their partner arrives in a similar state?


What is missing from the debate is a discussion about testing. Sexually active individuals should be tested regularly (at least every six months). If you intend to enter a committed relationship (which for most people means terminating condom usage), you and your partner should be tested. Yet asking your partner if (s)he has been tested, or suggesting to do it together, is still considered a sign of distrust. Why? Because society still portrays STDs as the province of the promiscuous and immoral.

Having an STD is not a crime. The sooner we stop treating it as one, the sooner we can begin to address sexual health in an effective way.

-- Rachell Gautz


Let's get ALL the information out to ALL people. Lets teach abstinence, correct condom use and the ramifications of having sexual relations. We should start in junior high school health-education classes. A lot of kids aren't getting these lessons at home from their parents. Why? Because most of these kids' parents don't know themselves. When will this country finally realize that talking about sex isn't a bad thing? Not talking about it is harmful and leads to generations of people who are ignorant and will make stupid decisions with their lives and the lives of others.

-- Torey Reichwein

Salon Staff

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