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September 30, 2002

Condom use error common among college men

By Tia Webster

A study conducted at Emory and Indiana universities and published in the September issue of Sexually Transmitted Diseases found that various condom use errors were frequent among a small sample of sexually active heterosexual college men.

The purpose of the study was to evaluate errors and problems in the use of male latex condoms. Although the findings cannot be generalized to a broader population and assume all of the limitations that come with self-reported data, researchers believe they are significant because they point to a clear need for better condom education and instruction.

“We have known for quite some time that it is vital to get the message out to sexually active young people about the importance of consistent condom use,” said lead author Richard Crosby, assistant professor of behavioral sciences and health education in the Rollins School of Public Health. “This research suggests that promoting consistent condom use may not be enough. It is important to provide adequate condom use education and skills-building instruction so that sexually active young men know how to use condoms correctly.”

Previous studies have shown that consistent and correct use of male latex condoms will provide highly effective protection against HIV and many other sexually transmitted diseases. Although previous studies have focused on the consistency of condom use, relatively few have assessed condom use errors and problems.

Crosby’s study, conducted from November 2000 through January 2001, explored condom use errors and problems among college men at Indiana. Of 362 men, 158 met the study inclusion criteria (never married and reporting having used a condom for sex at least once in the previous three months). Forty-two percent of young men participating in the study reported that they wanted to use a condom but did not have one available.

Some of the other basic problems highlighted by the study included not checking the condom for visible damage (74 percent), not checking the expiration date (61 percent) and not discussing condom use with their partner before sex (60 percent). In addition, various technical errors were found, including putting on the condom after starting sex (43 percent), taking off the condom before sex was over (15 percent), not leaving a space at the tip of the condom (40 percent), and placing the condom upside down on the penis and then having to flip it over (30 percent).

In addition, 29 percent of study participants reported condom breakage, and 13 percent reported that the condom slipped off during sex. Crosby stressed that this is not surprising since those who reported slippage or breakage also had significantly higher error scores.
“These problems are likely the result of condom use errors rather than defects in the condom itself, which, again, highlights the need for better condom education and instruction,” Crosby added.

The study was sponsored by the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention at Indiana University and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction.
Study co-authors included Stephanie Sanders and Cynthia Graham (of gender studies at Indiana and the Kinsey Institute for Research) and William Yarber (of applied health science at Indiana and senior director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention).