Medically Accurate Cowards

Jane Jimenez

Jane Jimenez

July 11, 2005

We’ve all seen it.  The television commercial where a magic pill is sold, the cure to some terrible medical problem.  The lady smiles.  The man takes her hand gingerly.  The sun sets, leaving a warm glow in the air just as the announcer lowers his voice.  As an afterthought, he remembers to tell us, “Valipuck may cause drowsiness, nausea, limping, coughing, gagging, financial ruin, blindness, skin rot or death.  Consult your physician.”

Magazines are luckier.  They have the whole back page of Valipuck’s ad to describe in the smallest font possible why the medicine they are selling to cure you could possibly leave you worse off than you were.

This is the age of medical liability, where undisclosed side effects of drugs can include financial ruin for drug companies.  One gets the feeling they are rushing to make the list of terrible possibilities longer than a person has time to read…just so you won’t.

There is only one serious exception to the “tell them everything” rule used by drug companies.  Without any compromising “fine print” disclosures, condoms are pushed on us from every possible angle, promising us unqualified “protection” from every consequence of sexual promiscuity.

On June 1, NBC and WB networks announced they would be running a series of four commercials “touting the importance of condom use in the prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).”  Their message is the all-encompassing promise we have come to expect from condom pushers, “Other than abstinence there is only one way to protect yourself.  Use a condom every time.”

Jim Daniels, vice president of marketing for Trojan, assures us his “respectful and tasteful” ads will get out an “important health message.”  So, Jim, what about the fine print?  What about the medically accurate truth about condoms?

One month after Jim’s tasteful ads, the Kaiser Family Foundation filled out the missing information on condoms.  “According to a 2004 World Health Organization bulletin and a 2001 NIH report, individual studies have demonstrated that condom use reduces the risk of infection for:

  • Gonorrhea by 39% to 62% in women and 49% to 75% in men;
  • Chlamydia by 29% to 90% in women and 33% in men;
  • Genital herpes by 30% to 92% in women and less in men, though no numbers were given;
  • Trichomoniasis by 30% in women and significantly less in men, though no numbers were given;
  • Syphillis by 40% to 60% in both sexes;
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease by 55%; and
  • Genital ulcers by 18% to 23% in both sexes.”

Wow!  With odds like these, who needs enemies?  Any way you slice it, the flip side of these numbers is clear evidence of the serious risk for contracting life-changing diseases even when using a condom.  And this is even before disclosing that there is no evidence that condoms prevent infection by human papillomavirus, the cause of over 97% of cervical cancer cases.

Giving teens a choice between abstinence and condoms is like giving a five-year-old a choice between a pea shooter and a six-shooter loaded with four live bullets.

Jim, speaking for Trojan, tells his potential customers that they have two choices, abstinence or condoms.  He lays the two options out in either/or fashion as “protection”.

But there is only one way for Jim…or anyone…to promote condoms as “protection” in the same sentence with abstinence.  Just shut the door and push the medically accurate facts under the carpet, behind the wall, and into the round filing cabinet.

While drug companies heap their medically accurate facts on us, it will take an act of Congress to get the same disclosure on condoms…literally an act of Congress.  Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is one of many who are insisting that condom packaging labels be revised to tell the full truth about condoms and their failure to provide the level of “protection” promised by advertisers.

Meanwhile, opponents to this labeling change are running full speed away from full disclosure, saying it “might undermine the public’s confidence in condoms.”  If we weren’t in the midst of an epidemic of STDs we might be laughing at a surprising irony: for the most part, opponents to medically accurate information on condoms are the same people who support laws requiring medically accurate information in sex education.

Any way you add it up, this is a formula for selling the people a lie.  It has worked for thirty years, but it won’t work forever.  Eventually, truth always comes to light.  Just ask the makers of the Pinto and cigarette industry CEOs.  Truth is only one class action lawsuit away from the surface.

Securing medically accurate information on condoms is not a battle for the coward.  In Congress, in classrooms, and in the courts…we are in debt to those who have the courage to lead the fight.  Thanks to them, no matter what it takes to make it happen, the truth about condoms is on its way.

February 14, 2005:  All the Condoms in the World

April 30, 2004:  Condoms: A Failure to Protect

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