Today three leading national public health organizations – the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD), the American Social Health Association (ASHA), and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) – renewed their call for sexual health policy to be driven by science instead of politics.
NCSD, ASHA, and NFPRHA issued the call for science-based sexual health policy in response to today’s hearing on human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer by the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources. HPV is a highly prevalent sexually transmitted infection that in most instances is asymptomatic and transient. In some cases certain strains of HPV can lead to cervical cancer. Available scientific evidence suggests that the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HPV is unknown. However, condom use has been associated with lower rates of HPV-associated diseases, including cervical cancer.
“There are some who argue that because condoms are not 100% effective in preventing all sexually transmitted diseases, public health professionals should not encourage their use,” said Theresa Raphael, Executive Director of NCSD. “This is the wrong message. For those that are sexually active, condoms are the best way to reduce the risk of contracting a host of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Scaring sexually active individuals away from using condoms will not reduce the prevalence of HPV. Instead it will put millions of Americans at risk of contracting a range of preventable STDs.”
According to a January CDC report, the best way to prevent HPV infection is to refrain from all genital contact with another individual. The report also states that the current scientific evidence is not sufficient to recommend condoms as a primary prevention strategy for the prevention of HPV. The report also notes, however, that there is evidence that condom use may actually reduce the risk of cervical cancer itself. Possible explanations for the protective effect of condoms against cancer may be that condom use reduces the quantity of HPV transmitted, the likelihood of re-exposure to HPV, or the exposure to a co-factor for cervical cancer, such as chlamydia or genital herpes.
“Cervical cancer is preventable, treatable, and curable,” said James R. Allen, MD, MPH, President and CEO of ASHA. “Since the invention of the Pap test, cervical cancer incidence has dropped by nearly 75%. If we want to beat cervical cancer, we must focus on making sure all women have access to cervical cancer screening and follow-up care instead of turning cervical cancer into an excuse to disparage condoms.”