Today's New York Times reports on the most conclusive study to date regarding the correlation between condom use and decreased incidence of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a cause of genital warts and cervical cancer. The five-year study found that "consistent use of condoms protects against HPV."
The study was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a federal agency, and was conducted at the University of Washington at Seattle from December 2000 to June 2005. Results show that "women whose male partners used condoms every time they had sexual intercourse had less than half the rate of infection as did women whose partners used condoms less than 5 percent of the time." According to the Times, "researchers followed 82 female students ages 18 through 22 from the time they said they had their first sexual intercourse with a male partner. Every two weeks, the women electronically filed information about their daily sexual behavior and condom use to a protected website. Every four months the researchers tested the women for papillomavirus and early indications of cancer." A researcher also conducted personal interviews with the participants.
If this study is indeed "definitive," as James R. Allen, president of the American Social Health Association, who was not involved in the study, told the Times, it puts to rest concerns that condoms are only partly effective, if at all, against HPV and other sexually transmitted infections. The results also take the pressure off the recently FDA-approved HPV vaccine, which some conservatives are complaining will increase sexual promiscuity among teens.
The findings should make condom labeling more straightforward as well. In 2000 a panel of four government agencies determined that there was "inadequate information about condom use in reducing the risk of all sexually transmitted infections except for the AIDS virus and, among men, gonorrhea" and the "FDA was urged to add a warning to condom labels about the lack of protection against HPV."
The moral of the story -- all together now -- use condoms. But if you don't know how to use one properly, then go here or ask your OB-GYN, or petition your school to give you comprehensive sexual education.