« Totally Budget | Main | Hostile Witness »

August 23, 2005

Shooting blanks

Just got around to reading Mark Steyn's article from the August 12 Western Standard, and there's something of a howler in there. After resurrecting and making far too much of the Miss Universe/Nathan Phillips Square cock-up, he comes up with this:

The lifetime risk of getting lung cancer from smoking is about one in ten. By comparison, a condom has a failure rate for sexually transmitted agents of over 30%. That’s not like smoking, that’s not a deferred risk way down the road for a guy with a 20-condom-a-day habit for half-a-century; that’s the risk on the condom you’re wearing now.

If that sounds pretty much alright to you, you might need to give your head a shake. Like in a paint mixer, maybe. Condoms have a 30 percent failure rate for STDs, do they? Doesn't that seem a little, you know, unbelievably fucking high?

Steyn is probably getting this second- or third-hand from a University of Texas meta-analysis study published in July 1993, in the journal Social Science and Medicine (see abstract here). It is widely quoted on pro-life and paleo-Catholic websites and equally widely poo-pooed on the sex-ed websites of several famous universities.

Allow me to quote from the Discussion section of the study in question:

An obvious limitation in many of these studies is in the definition of condom use. What is "regular use," "consistent use" vs "any unprotected vaginal intercourse?" Are condoms being used correctly? Is recall of sexual behavior over 6 months, 1 year, or 2 year period accurate? Could infection by HIV have occurred prior to initiation of condom use?… Results may also be confounded by degree of exposure, e.g. degree of intermittent condom use [i.e., not using a condom! –ed.]…

One realizes rather quickly that this widely quoted study isn't talking about condoms breaking or allowing HIV to seep through their miniscule pores — well, it is talking about that, to the extent that this occurs — but rather examining the correlation between condom use, however inept, and HIV transmission. I saw no factors in my brief perusal of the study — which is way the hell over my head, I hasten to add — that could ever underrepresent the actual "failure rate," and a great many that would overrepresent it (see above).

Most crucially for those pausing mid-tearopen, all of the studies that Susan C. Weller examined treated user error as condom failure. I'm not accusing her of anything — this is all freely admitted, and valuable information for social scientists. For laymen, however, it's far simpler: use a condom properly, every time, and your risk can be broken down to two very answerable questions:
1. Is the orifice into which the condom is about to enter diseased? Is the penis within the condom? If no to both questions, you may safely confine your worrying to the spectre of an unwanted pregnancy.
2. If yes, or unknown, how likely is it that this condom is going to rupture, or that the diseases in the orifice/penis are smaller than the smallest "hole" in the condom?

In reference to 2., I remain quite confident that the answers are "not very" and "that doesn't sound like something Church & Dwight's legal department would like very much." I'd say take your chances and enjoy. And to Mark Steyn, I'd recommend twisting the facts only when it suits his grander purposes — there's no point getting called out on the small stuff.

Posted by Chris Selley at August 23, 2005 12:07 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.tartcider.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/45

Comments

It's even worse than you say - the "failure rate" was for *regular use* of condoms over a non-trivial period of time and thus includes such "failures" as "Oh, I don't feel like getting up and going to the bathroom to get a condom, it'll be all right just this once."

To state that this is the "risk of the condom you're wearing now" is an outright falsehood.

Posted by: Alex at August 23, 2005 01:13 PM

Turbo Tax

http://www.turbo-tax.org/

Posted by: Turbo Tax at April 6, 2006 11:57 AM

Disney Vacation

http://www.cheapdisneyvacationspackagesandtickets.com/

Posted by: Disney Vacation at April 6, 2006 08:46 PM

Online College

http://www.college-knowledge.us/

Posted by: College at April 6, 2006 11:01 PM

Turbo Tax

http://www.irsturbotax.org/

Posted by: Turbo Tax at April 9, 2006 09:53 PM

Posted by: UK Life Assurance at May 4, 2006 01:10 PM

Have you been the victim of identity theft or would like to learn to protect yourself from becoming the victim of online identity theft. Did you know that everytime you surf the internet you could be at risk for identity theft? Do you know how your identity is stolen? Are you concerned about identity theft happening to you? Do you know what identity theft really is? Do you want to know what identity theft has to do with you? Do you know how to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft? Are you protected from identity theft? Are you looking for help with identity theft or information about identity theft? Do you want a place with a large selection of identity theft information sources and help with identity theft prevention? Get your identity theft information and identity theft help at http://www.identity-theft-info.org/ and learn how to protect yourself from identity theft.

Posted by: Identity Theft at May 19, 2006 08:30 PM

are you concerned about weightloss and thinking about a diet?. Have you been thinking its time to do something about weightloss? Does weightloss haunt you but you don't know where to go to get help with weightloss or a diet? do you need diet information? Are you looking for a place you can go to find different avenues of weightloss and diet information with different options for weightloss and diet? We have the answer to your weightloss and diet questions and alot of sources for weightloss and diet information and weightloss and diet help. Try looking for your weightloss and diet needs at weightloss-diet-help.com

http://weightloss-diet-help.com/

Posted by: weightloss at May 23, 2006 05:35 PM

With the constant rise in violent crime and drug crimes that are committed on homes, how much home security do you have to keep your family safe? How much home security do you need? The police are not always able to protect your home's security and your family as the number of police officers are becoming fewer with budget cuts every year.
Have you stopped to consider how effective your home security really is? Could the steps you are taking for home security really protect your home and family against an intruder? Do you want more information about home security and what kind of home security is right for you? Do you need help with home security options? Does your home even need home security, and if so, how much home security do you need? You can find help with home security questions and home security information on this site and many different home security options. Find the home security option that best fits your home security needs here.

http://home-security-help.biz/

Posted by: home security at June 4, 2006 01:06 AM

Here you will find different ways to make money online. Money can be made several ways. You can make money doing surveys, you can make money reading emails, you can make money selling a product, you can make money doing what you are doing right now searching or money can even be made when others search on your sites. Making money on line can be fun as well as profitable. How you will do depends on what you choose to do and how much time you have to put in it.

Posted by: money at June 5, 2006 03:39 AM

We all have questions about medicine. Do you know enough about your medicine. Do you want
to know more about your medicine? Does your medicine mix with other medicine? What over
the counter medicine do you need to avoid with your medicine. Get answers to your medicine
types here.

Posted by: meds at June 5, 2006 04:28 AM