June 22, 2006

Safe sex gets safer

Researchers reported definitively today that condoms prevent the spread of HPV, the virus that causes genital warts and cervical cancer.

I've written a few times about the pro-abstinence movement's pathetic fondness for HPV, most recently when the abstinazis denounced a new vaccine for it.

The abstinence movement needs HPV out there to help justify its war [on sex]. HPV, you see, isnít blocked by latex, which means that as long as itís around, chastity pushers can argue that condoms are essentially worthless. Abstinence education literature puts more emphasis on HPV than on just about any other STD — itís the bug that supposedly gives the lie to the safe-sex approach of comprehensive sex education. Itís not uncommon to hear claims — lies, that is — that HPV kills more people than HIV/AIDS.

The abstinazis anti-vaccine position was so blatantly outrageous (it's really hard to sell the sex is worse than cancer line) that even they had to backpedal. Don't expect them to embrace condoms anytime soon, though. After all, they're responsible in the first place for the misinformation that this study now overturns. Even as I denounced them, in the above piece and others, I accepted the contention that latex doesn't block HPV — after all, the government said so. But buried in the Times coverage of today's research is the following shocker:

In 2000, four government agencies convened a panel of condom experts to determine the medical accuracy of condom labels in describing their effectiveness in preventing papillomavirus and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The panel concluded 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, an editorial accompanying the journal article said.

Although the panel emphasized that the lack of information did not mean that condoms were ineffective for those purposes, the Food and Drug Administration was urged to add warnings to condom labels about the lack of protection against papillomavirus.

Urged by whom, do you think? That's right, the abstinence movement officially changed the "science" from "we don't know if latex blocks HPV" to "latex does not block HPV." I know they lie about condoms to children (one textbook tries to make condoms sound scary by saying that to use them properly you have to wash your genitals with Lysol afterwards), but somehow I didn't think to double-check that FDA warning. I wonder how many kids have gotten STDs because they'd been led to believe that condoms are so useless they're not even worth the trouble.

Meanwhile, don't think the vaccine fight has been entirely won. The abstie's compromise position is that while they won't fight Gardasil directly, "we would oppose any measures to legally require vaccination or to coerce parents into authorizing it. Because the cancer-causing strains of HPV are not transmitted through casual contact, there is no justification for any vaccination mandate as a condition of public school attendance."

Of course, as the American Council on Science and Health points out, "The principle behind compulsory vaccination is that almost all members of a population must be vaccinated in order to ensure population immunity and complete safety from a disease." So while you might be tempted to say, "Fine, your kids can get the warts," it doesn't work that way.

Posted by Daniel Radosh

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