If you haven’t heard about lambskin condoms, read on about the potential dangers. (Getty Images)
Charlie Sheen announced on the Today show this morning (Nov. 17) that he is, as tabloids began speculating last week, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) positive. The actor told Matt Lauer in an exclusive interview that he had informed all of his sexual partners of his HIV positive status.
However, one of his past girlfriends, former Penthouse model and adult film actress Bree Olson (nee Rachel Oberlin), told Howard Stern this morning, that while she herself does not have HIV, and went as far as to exclusively reveal her test results on air, that Sheen never told her about his HIV positive status.
“[He] never said anything, ever,” Olson told Stern this morning, offering a differing account to Sheen’s story. “’I’m clean,’ he told me.”
Hearing Sheen publicly announce otherwise, Olson said, was deeply upsetting.
“He doesn’t even value my life,” she told Stern.
Olson also told Stern that while she and Sheen did use protection when they had sex, this was limited to the use of lambskin condoms (and not latex ones) and, at times, the pull-out method.
Health experts agree, however, that while lambskin condoms may help prevent pregnancy, they do not protect against HIV.
“Basically, condoms in general, when used correctly, are pretty great. The breakage rate is only 2 percent, meaning 98 percent of the time they don’t break,” Dr. Jill Rabin, the head of urogynecology, co-chief of the women’s health programs and board certified obstetrician and gynecologist at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, North Shore-LIH Medical Group and a fellow of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), tells Yahoo Health.
Lambskin condoms however, Rabin says, “do not protect adequately against HIV.”
Dr. Nate DeNicola, an obstetrician-gynecologist with the University of Pennsylvania Health System and an ACOG fellow, agrees: “Lambskin condoms do nothing to protect against any kind of sexually transmitted infection. They can be used as a barrier method for pregnancy, but offer no protection against infection – especially and including HIV.”
This is because, DeNicola explains, lambskin condoms are “not lambskin at all. They are made from sheep intestine,” a material that has micropores that, while small enough to block semen, are not small enough to block a virus from passing through.
“HIV is very tiny,” echoes Rabin. “Lambskin just does not afford enough of a barrier. It is really quite simple. The virus can go through.” She also notes that if you examine condoms under a microscope after they’ve been used, you will see more micropores in the lambskin created by the force and friction of intercourse than in latex or polyurethane.
It’s important to know, too, that should you have a latex allergy, you do have options other than lambskin for condoms: polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms are both great, latex-free options — and protect just as well as latex. Polyurethene is actually thinner and stronger than latex, more heat conductive, and, in turn, even more pleasurable than latex.
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the most advanced stage of the HIV virus; in the United States, about 40,000 people contract HIV each year.
Latex and polyurethane condoms, Rabin explains, are 80 to 90 percent effective in preventing HIV transmission — if they are used correctly and used every time people have sex.
To maintain the efficacy of latex condoms, it’s critical to not store them in a wallet, where body heat will make them age more rapidly, becoming more rigid and more likely to break.
And yet, says Rabin, even though condoms can be highly effective against HIV specifically, they still do not protect against any HIV that “may be hanging out on the scrotum.” Scrotal transmission of HIV can occur from the crota to the vulva or from one scrotum to another, says Rabin.
Which is another critical problem with withdrawal, or the pull out method.
Withdrawal, or the pull out method, provides no protection from sexually transmitted diseases.
“Similar to lambskin, [withdrawal] offers almost no protection against STIs [sexually transmitted infections], especially in women,” says DeNicola. “Even the microabrasions that occur during intercourse can transmit HIV. It doesn’t have to be through semen only.”
“Withdrawal, even with condoms used perfectly — you can still get scrotal transmission [of HIV],” explains Rabin. “Withdrawal is not a good method because if a male feels himself about to ejaculate, the first drop of ejaculate is already out — and that transmits the virus. Withdrawal could still give you a good amount of virus in the vagina or rectum. If you are waiting to feel something [to pull out], it’s too late. It’s already over.”
As Planned Parenthood explains, while some may develop symptoms for HIV soon after being infected with the virus, many people will not exhibit symptoms for more than 10 years after contracting the disease.
Related: HIV+ While the Treatments Have Changed, the Stigma Remains
Early signs of HIV can include swollen glands, low-grade fever, headache, fatigue and achiness. In other words, early symptoms of HIV can resemble that of a cold or flu — making it even harder for an individual to even begin to wonder if they might have contracted the virus. The only way to know for sure whether or not you have HIV is to get tested through a simple blood test for it. 1 in 6 people with HIV are not aware that they have the disease. HIV is spread through blood, semen, or vaginal secretions — which is why a barrier method of protection is so essential in practicing safer sex to help prevent the spread and contraction of HIV. Vaginal and anal intercourse with a (non-lambskin) condom is considered to be a low risk behavior when it comes to the spread of HIV.
“Anybody can give anybody any disease,” says Rabin. “Men to women. Men to men. Women to women. Unless you’re having sex with a vegetable, anybody can give anything to anybody. And if your partner doesn’t want to go get checked, than that is not a very good partner. Physicians know not to get lulled into a false sense of security just because someone seems fine and healthy.”
“It’s hard to address how to prevent HIV transmission,” says DeNicola. “In general, the best thing you can do to reduce HIV exposure is annual screening — and being open and honest with your partners. It’s not unreasonable before engagement [in a sexual relationship] with a partner to be tested, to have this conversation. That can reduce your chance of HIV transmission. Get checked frequently — that’s always a good rule of thumb and have testing done before beginning [a sexual relationship] with any new partners. Use condoms, just not lambskin, and use them every time. If you don’t use them every time, there’s not much effectiveness.”
“The age of casual sex is over,” says Rabin. “And people who don’t realize that are placing themselves at risk for HIV, for hepatitis B and C. We’re seeing a huge uptick in syphilis cases in the past two years. You can’t tell by looking at a penis or a vagina if someone has HIV. You can look like the most gorgeous Hollywood movie star in the world, but you can still have HIV. You can be Charlie Sheen and still have HIV. You only have one life. Even the most amazing sex and most amazing orgasms in the world — it’s not worth dying for.”