In response to "Condoms for Kids? Get Real," Commentary, July 13:
Dr. Steven Sainsbury's argument against condom promotion for youth to prevent HIV transmission is full of holes.
Failure to use condoms properly is the overwhelming reason for condom failure: i.e., the failure is in the user, not the condom. Many people use the wrong kind of lubricants, or none at all, thus leading to condom breakage. Others only put the condom on late in the game, after some penetration has occurred; this can be too late for both pregnancy and infections.
No prevention method has to be 100% effective for there to be significant impact on disease occurrence. Numerous studies have proven the condom's effectiveness at reducing many sexually transmissible diseases, including HIV, in highly sexually active populations.
As a nation we have barely begun to educate everyone on sexual physiology and safety. Virtually no school system in this country educates about condoms in a way that will actually make a difference. Proper condom usage is not intuitive. Like anything else, people get better at using condoms the more they practice. Boys need permission to try out condoms on their own, practicing putting them on, getting a sense of how much force they can withstand, sensing what it feels like if the condom breaks. Girls and gay boys need to learn empowerment to reject any boy who refuses to comply.
All kids need to learn that postponing insertive sexual activity (abstinence) will not kill them. There are other, unrisky forms of sexual gratification that can be satisfying to both boys and girls.
For those kids lucky enough to have parents who educate their children about reproductive and sexual health, hurrah! For the others, the duty falls to the public health departments, public schools, and community service organizations to present factual health information and skill training that has the proven potential to save lives. To do any less is immoral.
DAVID E. DASSEY MD
* Although the author's point is well-taken, I fail to understand why we must choose between abstinence and condoms. We instill in our children certain value systems that the television programs at times distort. In some cases those values are able to block the peer pressure generated from friends and television but in other cases they are not.
We need to both recommend abstinence to those individuals who can and provide condoms to those individuals who can't, while teaching them safe sex techniques. There is no foolproof method for preventing the AIDS virus. It can be transmitted through needles as well as blood transfusion. Abstinence is only one guard against this dreaded disease. Let's give our children the real choice, abstinence, but in the absence of abstinence, condoms.
* I wholeheartedly agree with Sainsbury. They key words are abstinence and monogamy. My wife and I have a teen-age daughter in whom we tried to instill our values--both by word and example. However, the media barrage promulgating free and open sex with anyone and everyone is so pervasive that it overwhelms parental influence. The media and peers have a much greater impact in the critical adolescent years.
My daughter was not ready to be a mom emotionally, financially, or morally, and I'm a grandparent way before my time. I'm not so naive to think that illicit sex did not exist prior to TV and sleazy magazines, but we also did not have AIDS, venereal disease, and unwanted pregnancies at epidemic levels. I hope and pray the "permissive sex pendulum" will swing back toward center.
GERALD L. LENNING