Two new studies document the efficacy of condoms and the use of emergency contraception in helping to protect sexual and reproductive health.
Condoms Reduce Risk of HPV
The preliminary findings of a longitudinal study of female university students suggest that newly sexually active women who consistently use condoms are at significantly lower risk for HPV (human papillomavirus) infection. The findings were presented at the 16th biennial meeting of the International Society for Sexually Transmitted Disease Research (ISSTDR) in Amsterdam on July 10-13.1
Rachel L. Winer, of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Washington, conducted the research with 123 female students who reported their first sexual intercourse with a male partner during the study. The participants volunteered to be tested for HPV every four months and kept an electronic diary of their sexual activity and condoms use. Most women were followed for over two years and those who reported using condoms for all sex acts had a 70% reduction in risk of infection with HPV.2
HPV is transmitted through skin to skin contact and infected areas may not be covered by a condom. Supporters of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have used this to inaccurately suggest that condoms provide no protection against HPV.
“This study shows promise that HPV is preventable. Those ideologues who are using HPV to scare people and undermine the public's faith in condoms need to heed this study and stop playing politics with people's health,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. “These findings also m that comprehensive sexuality education that includes information about condoms is absolutely necessary to protect our youth against HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs),” Smith continued.
Easier Access to Emergency Contraception Shows No Downside
In another recent study published in the British Medical Journal , researchers concluded that “making emergency hormonal contraception available over the counter does not seem to have led to an increase in its use, to an increase in unprotected sex, or to a decrease in the use of more reliable methods of contraception.”3 The study, conducted in Great Britain, surveyed women between the ages of 16 to 49.
The study's results found that “the same percentage of women used emergency contraception (EC) before and after it became more easily available in January 2001— about eight percent annually.”4 While researchers did not find a difference in how often emergency contraception was used, they did observe a change in where it was obtained. After it was made available without a prescription, more women bought it over-the-counter than through their doctor.5
In the United States, the debate over whether or not emergency contraception should be made available without a prescription continues. Opponents of EC have argued that making it available without a prescription will change contraceptive practices and encourage unprotected sex. In 2003, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel voted 23 to 4 to support making Plan B, a brand of EC, available over the counter. Despite the decision, the FDA rejected this proposal, and future attempts at a compromise remain stalled.
The approval process for EC was a central issue in the confirmation of Lester Crawford who was nominated by President Bush to head the FDA in February. Senators Hilary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) placed holds on his nomination saying they would do so until the FDA made a decision on making EC available over the counter.6 In mid-July, however, both Senators withdrew their holds after being promised that a decision would be made by September 1st.7 Crawford was confirmed by the Senate by a 78 to 16 vote.
“It is truly shameful when a product that could transform the lives and futures of women is withheld because politics trump the opinions of our nation's medical experts,” commented William Smith. “This study confirms that making EC available over the counter will not lead to an increase in unprotected sex, but will instead be an aid to our nation's women,” he continued.
For more information on this study and emergency contraception please see:
- Rachel Winer, “The Effect of Consistent Condom Use on the Risk of Genital HPV Infection Among Newly Sexually Active Young Women,” Presented at the International Society for Sexually Transmitted Disease Research (ISSTDR), Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 11 July 2005, accessed 15 July 2005, <www.isstdr.nl> View Article.
- Cicely Marston, Howard Meltzer, Azeem Majeed, “Impact on contraceptive practice of making emergency hormonal contraception available over the counter in Great Britain: repeated cross sectional surveys,” British Medical Journal , 11 July 2005, date accessed 20 July 2005, <bmj.bmjjournals.com> View Article.
- Marc Kaufman, “Access to Contraceptive Did Not Alter Practices, Study Says,” The Washington Post , 13 July 2005, accessed 20 July 2005, <www.washingtonpost.com> View Article.
- Eric Nagourney, “Behavior: The Night Before the Morning After,” The New York Times , 19 July 2005, accessed 20 July 2005, <www.nytimes.com> View Article.
- Al Baker, “ Sign, Veto or Some Combination: Pataki and the Emergency Contraception Bill,” New York Times , 19 July 2005, accessed 20 July 2005, <www.nytimes.com> View Article.