Saturday, January 24, 2009

New Condom Study Raises Questions

The other day I arrived at the citizens advisory committee meeting a little early. They were orienting a couple of new members, and when I walked in they were showing the MCPS condom-use video. I sat and watched as a man's voice droned on and the words he was saying appeared on the screen, screen after screen. At one point they replaced the text with a picture of a wooden dildo, which they unrolled a condom onto, and then back to the man's voice and text. It is the most boring video in the world. A committee member was explaining that there had been a big controversy over the previous video. One of the new people asked, "What was wrong with the other video?" The committee member said, "It was too much. It had this attractive blond ..." Somebody said, "Wasn't there a cucumber or something in it?"

There was nothing wrong with the first video. Maybe it was dumb to use a cucumber instead of an inanimate dildo, like they use now, but there is nothing inherently immoral or controversial about using vegetables in health videos. The "attractive blond" was simply a young woman whose hair was blond. It wasn't Pamela Anderson, it was some teacher, and it doesn't take a lifetime NOW membership to recognize the sexist implications of replacing a live woman with a disembodied male voice. Even some liberal committee members seemed to agree that it was offensive to have an "attractive blond" telling students how to use a condom. No, it wasn't, and there is no payoff for putting the bigots' frame around the issue. That original video had some production, it had music, it showed various personalities on the screen, this one is dry, it is intentionally boring.

They say there is a female voice in it somewhere, but I never heard one -- I came in in the middle, I only saw the last half of the video, there could have been a female voice in the first half. This video is for the guys, anything that may have engaged or interested the female student was removed by the school district. The message is that it's the man's job to make sure you don't get pregnant, honey, just lie back and let him take care of things for you. If the goal is to teach students that sex is aversive, this is the way to do it. I guarantee the school district has no other video production where all you see is the narrators words scrolling on the screen, this video does present some important information but it is a lame compromise with people who should not have any influence at all on our county's public education.

The reason you want to have a condom video is so that young people learn the right way to use one. Used properly, a condom can prevent both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Used improperly, you might as well not use one at all.

A new study demonstrates this fact. From Medical News Today:
Some teenagers and young adults might overestimate how often they use condoms during sex, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Reuters Health reports. Eve Rose of Emory University and colleagues studied 715 black women and girls ages 15 to 21 who were enrolled in an HIV prevention program. Researchers asked the participants how many times in the past two weeks they had sex and how many times they used a condom. The participants also provided vaginal fluid samples to be screened for Y chromosome DNA, or evidence of sperm.

The researchers found that among the women who had sex during the past two weeks, 186 reported condom use every time. However, of the women who reported consistent condom use, 34% had Y chromosome DNA in their fluid samples. According to the researchers, the reasons for the discrepancy are not known. Possible explanations include that the participants were mistaken, had misused the condoms or had provided the "socially desirable" response, researchers said. They added that "regardless of whether the problem is condom user error or misreporting, the unfortunate result, in terms of risk for [sexually transmitted infections] and HIV, is the same." The study's findings also have implications for young people's sexual health and studies on the issue, the researchers said. They added that studies using both self reports and objective measures of condom use might provide a more thorough understanding of young people's sexual behavior and their STI risk (Reuters Health, 1/14). Teens, Young Adults Might Overestimate Condom Use, Study Finds

Without knowing the details, it seems to me that this test might not pick up the presence of sperm after two weeks, in other words this probably underestimates it.

This report doesn't say where the study was conducted. The question would be, are these young women who have been taught how to use a condom, or do they just put it on in some way that seems to make sense? The fact is, almost nothing is going to get past that latex, not a bacterium, not a virus, not a sperm cell. It's a barrier and if it's put into place correctly it is going to keep stuff out. Yet a third of the time these researchers found that the woman's vagina had stuff in it that should have been blocked. Were they lying about using the condom? Did they misunderstand the question? Were they using it incorrectly? The answers are, most likely, yes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

and condom education doesn't seem to much good and warps social mores

January 24, 2009 12:31 PM  
Anonymous Andrew B. said...

Make information boring? That's a good way to educate! Not. Frankly, I think having a beautiful smart sex educator host the video would help students of every gender pay more attention and retain the material. A disembodied male voice reminds me of the entirely forgettable chemistry videos we watched in 10th grade. I have said before that MCPS did make mistakes in the first condom video: fake MTV production styles and the cucumber. But this new video seems to swing way too far in the other direction.

You know, this all reminds me of another video the CAC screened during the 2004-2005 academic year that supported condom use. I think it was a video produced by students. Everyone, men and women, kept pulling condoms out of every possible storage place and sharing them with their friends. One girl pulled one out of her backpack. A boy pulled one out of the breast pocket of his oxford shirt. It was absurd and trivial. Maybe it could work as part of a larger curriculum in some classrooms, but it wasn't going to be a good educational tool for the entire school system.

Is it so hard to produce a video that is factual, enticing, serious, and fun to watch? Perhaps the problem is that these videos are being made in-house or by educational video companies. I think asking Dateline NBC or a similar group to put something together would be a much better idea. After all, their jobs are to convey facts in an entertaining manner to a diverse population. And in a typical news style, they could interview people like Jerry Weast, Chris Van Hollen, Barbara Mikulski, maybe some athletes, and other prominent people who could talk honestly about sex and say "If you're going to have sex, use a condom and maybe another form of birth control on top of that. But these methods aren't perfect and only abstinence will keep you from getting an STI/STD and from getting pregnant." Then have our new Surgeon General, a tv personality in his own right, demonstrate how to put on a condom.

January 24, 2009 1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim - You might find the video to be boring because you already know the material. You might not find it titillating enough, but most kids in school are going to be embarrassed enough by watching this with their teachers --they don't need the further embarrassment of a glitzy production. In fact, they're probably secretly thankful for the dry presentation.

Besides, kids learn most things without being entertained. Just open up the backpack of an average kid and you'll find all sorts of boring worksheets, workbooks, etc. Most teachers are boring but kids still learn.

Dry, factual material is not a big deal. I'd suggest that you get over it.

January 24, 2009 4:47 PM  
Anonymous svelte_brunette said...

Jim conjectured:

“Maybe it was dumb to use a cucumber instead of an inanimate dildo, like they use now, but there is nothing inherently immoral or controversial about using vegetables in health videos.”

Apparently you never stopped to think of the psychological trauma that could be caused in a teenager’s mind when, having been raised on episodes of Veggie Tales, they suddenly see Larry the Cucumber being subjected to this kind of inhumane treatment.




January 25, 2009 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Mantu said...

There were those who thought the CRC actually opposed the video because the size of that cucumber made "some people" feel inadequate, and made other people have uncomfortable lustful feelings.

January 25, 2009 1:15 PM  

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