The Vatican and condoms

Expect the usual outrage here:

The Vatican has renewed its criticism of the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS, saying they made the problem worse by promoting a false sense of security.

But do note that they are actually on to something.

Written by Matthew Hanley, a US public health expert who has worked on HIV prevention programmes in Africa, it warns of the emergence of phenomenon of \”risk compensation\” in which people who used condoms had more casual sexual encounters with more partners than those who did not.

It says that statistics show that AIDS continues to spread in the condom-using group because, even with \”perfect\” use, the failure rate means that some 12,000 infections are expected from every million people.

The infection rate is in reality much higher, however, because people frequently use condoms either imperfectly or inconsistently, says the report, The Catholic Church and the Global Aids Crisis, which will be published by the London-based Catholic Truth Society next month.

Yes, yes, we know, the Church is using this to bolster its argument that monogamy within marriage and abstinence outside it is the only way to go.

But they are still on to something.

The accident rate for cyclists wearing helmets is higher than that for those who do not. The accident rate for drivers wearing seatbelts is higher than that for those who don\’t. Protection from the consequences of aggressive actions does seem to increase the number of aggressive actions taken.

We can compare it by analogy to Jevons\’ Paradox, where making energy use more efficient can actually increase the use of energy: because we\’ve just made energy costs a much smaller part of the value added.

What amuses slightly is that those very people who insist that Jevons is absolutely correct about energy (and thus that lower consumption of everything is the only possible solution) and resource use are likely to be those who absolutely insist that the Vatican must be wrong about condoms.

3 thoughts on “The Vatican and condoms”

  1. The Peltzman effect is obviously frequently true, but as far as I know there has never been a case demonstrated where the change in behaviour was enough to more than cancel out the added safety. So the benefits of any safety measures are reduced, but not cancelled out or reversed in effect.
    (However, this may not be true for 3rd parties. For example making cars safer makes drivers drive more recklessly which reduces the benefit. However, drivers driving more recklessly may kill more cyclists, who aren’t protected by the car safety measures.)

  2. If you cycle on busy roads through town you’re more likely to wear a helmet than if you cycle through a park.

  3. “Protection from the consequences of aggressive actions does seem to increase the number of aggressive actions taken.”

    As Alex points out, it’s the aggressive actions taken by other people that’s the problem with cycling helmets.

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