The Bush administration is considering requiring warning labels on condom packages to read that the contraceptive devices do not protect users from all sexually transmitted diseases. Recent studies indicate condoms do not safeguard against human papillomavirus, or HPV, a little-known but widespread sexually transmitted disease that can cause genital warts or cervical cancer. The Food and Drug Administration "has developed a regulatory plan to provide condom users with a consistent labeling message and the protection they should expect from condom use," said Daniel G. Schultz, director of the agency's Office of Device Evaluation. The agency "is preparing new guidance on condom labeling to address these issues," Schultz told members of a House government reform subcommittee Thursday during a hearing called by Republican representatives who are outspoken critics of condom use and sexual health studies conducted with federal research dollars.
Package labels now say that condoms, if properly used, reduce the risk of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The question now is whether that statement needs to have any additional information regarding protection against HPV without discouraging people from using condoms for HIV protection. Some lawmakers fear that such labels could turn people away from using condoms, thereby increasing the risk of contracting diseases such as HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. There are also worries that would-be condom users would confuse HPV with HIV and shun condom use for sexual acts that could put them at high risk for HIV infection.
"Anything that undermines the effectiveness of condoms for these uses will have serious public health consequences," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). "Are condoms perfect? Of course not. But reality requires us not to make a public health strategy against protection but rather to ask a key question: Compared to what?" Waxman also says some Republican lawmakers "insist that abstinence-only education is the solution to teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases because abstinence works each time. Well, the evidence, however, indicates that abstinence-only education works rarely, if at all."