Echoing a popular theme of supporters of abstinence-only sex education, Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the far-right Christian pressure group Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), falsely claimed that condom failure rates are “at best” 15 percent.
Discussing youth condom use on the June 1 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, Lafferty stated: “We know these kids cannot pick up their towels. How are they going to know how to put on a condom correctly, when adults have at best a 15 percent failure rate?” Cavuto did not correct Lafferty or ask her to qualify her statement.
Lafferty's misleading figure apparently comes from the website of 4parents.gov, a “new national public education campaign” sponsored by the Bush administration's Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). TVC has promoted the creation of 4parents.gov on its own website, characterizing the information it provides as “Abstinence Aids for Parents.”
The 4parents.gov website cited a study in Contraceptive Technology: Eighteenth Revised Edition, but the site misrepresented the report. The study determined that among “typical” users of condoms -- including those who used them improperly or failed to use them consistently -- 15 percent of women experienced an unintended pregnancy during the first year of use. Among those who used condoms “consistently and correctly,” the failure rate was 2 percent. By comparison, the study found that 85 percent of women relying on no method of contraception experienced pregnancy within one year.
Moreover, a July 20, 2001, National Institutes of Health (NIH) report determined that condom slippage or breakage, the two main sources of failure in condom use, occurred in only 1.6 percent to 3.6 percent of users, depending on user proficiency. The report concluded that condoms are an effective barrier against HIV, unintended pregnancies and gonorrhea in men.
On March 31, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt protesting numerous biased statements, medically incorrect terms and questionable statistics contained on the 4parents.gov website. SIECUS noted that only one non-governmental group collaborated with the HHS on the creation of 4parents.gov, the National Physicians Center for Family Resources (NPC). According to SIECUS, NPC is closely linked to many right-wing Christian groups, such as James Dobson's Focus on the Family, the Alabama Family Alliance and conservative radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger. NPC is also an ardent supporter of abstinence-only education in public schools. “By creating the website with only one organization,” SIECUS stated in its letter, “and one that has questionable credentials in this area -- HHS has dangerously narrowed the information included on 4parents.gov and in turn, shortchanged the very parents the site is meant to serve.”