Improper condom use is a global health problem, research shows

Whether you use condoms may rest, in part, on your age and ethnic group. When it comes to vaginal intercourse, Caucasians reported using them less than African-Americans and Hispanics. But overall, teens seem to be getting the safe sex message, especially males. Seventy-nine percent of young men between 14 and 17 said they used condoms. That was 21 percentage points higher than than their female counterparts.People over 40 have the lowest rates of condom use and it declines rapidly with age. Only 5 percent of men over 60 years old are using them.Older people may be less concerned about pregnancy. They may also be in need of remedial education about sexually transmitted diseases. iStockphoto

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(CBS) Do condoms go hand in hand with safe sex? Only if they're used correctly. But public health officials are saying improper condom use is a problem, not just within the U.S. but everywhere around the world.

A new study published in the journal of Sexual Health provides a global picture of condom use, based on 50 articles representing 14 countries. Led by the Kinsey Institute Condom Use Research Team, researchers from around the world compared notes on condom habits and issues, including the use of female condoms in South Africa and counterfeit condoms in China.

The most common errors included not using condoms throughout sex, not leaving space or squeezing air from the tip of the condom, putting condoms on upside down, not using water-based lubricants, and incorrect withdrawal. Other problems included breakage, slippage, leakage, and difficulties with fit and feel.

Many studies have been done in the past about condom use and access around the world, but little attention is paid to whether people understand how to use condoms in the first place.

"We chronically underestimate how complicated condom use can be," Richard Crosby, a member of the research team and the lead editor for Sexual Health's special issue, said in a news release. "It involves the use of a condom, while negotiating the condom use and sex with a partner all at the same time. There is a complex triad of the sex act, condom use and partner dynamics that must constantly be navigated by condom users."

Making condoms accessible is important, Crosby said, but so is the need to improve clinic-based counseling and public education efforts. This involves talking openly about topics that many people find embarrassing, such as erections, semen, lubricant and other aspects of sex. In this case, embarrassment can cost individuals' health and lives, Crosby said.

Researchers said proper use of condoms is key in reducing unplanned pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV - especially because condoms are inexpensive compared to costly HIV and AIDS medications.

Said Crosby, "Condoms are the vaccine we've been waiting for."

The CDC provides a guide on proper condom use.

  • Monica DyBuncio

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