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Modern Mythology: Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Infections

Modern Mythology is a Teen Skepchick feature in which we try to cut through the woo so you can make informed decisions. If you have any questions, contact us here.

When I was working for a women’s rights non-profit a few years ago, I worked with a young woman from the southern United States. She was bright, out-going and went to a prestigious university. So you can imagine my surprise when she told me that in her university health clinic hung a poster that said condoms don’t stop the spread of HIV.


This is at once hilariously false and incredibly dangerous misinformation. According to the Guttmacher Institute earlier this year, 70 percent of teens will be sexually active by the time they turn 19. So even if you decide to delay sex until later (which is a valid choice), chances are your friends or other people you know will not.

According to the poll cited earlier, 15-24 year olds only make up about 25 percent of the sexually active population, but account for almost half of the new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) every year. That’s 9.1 million new STI cases. In addition, people ages 13-24 accounted for 17 percent of new HIV infections in 2008.

So teens are having sex. We know this. We also know that teens are becoming infected with STIs, including HIV. Yet egregious misinformation still persists, even on college campuses. So it’s important to have accurate information.

The simple fact is that condoms work. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), correct and consistent use of latex condoms significantly decrease the spread of HIV and other STIs. Condoms provide an “essentially impermeable barrier to particles the size of STD pathogens” in laboratory studies, and the preponderance of the evidence (which consists of lab studies, epidemiologic studies) says that condoms are highly effective in preventing the transmission of STIs. The same is true for HIV.

Female condoms are also effective at decreasing the risk of STI infection, but those are harder to find. But they are available at some drug stores, many Planned Parenthood clinics, and you can order them online.

Of course, if you’re having sex, nothing can completely eliminate the risk for pregnancy or STI transmission. But, as we’re seeing in Texas, abstinence only education is not causing teens to not have sex, but instead not use protection. You deserve much better than that. It’s important to not let anyone pressure you into having sex before you’re ready, but if it’s something you decide to do, mitigate your risks and use a condom.

(P.S. I know this is a very heteronormative discussion. But give us some time. We want to provide good information to people of all sexual orientations.)

Featured image credit: David Sim

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Mindy is an attorney and Managing Editor of Teen Skepchick. She hates the law and loves stars. You can follow her on Twitter and on Google+.

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