Readers left unprotected against condom story

New research finds that sex with a condom is just as pleasureable as without. But most news outlets fail to include the fact that the study was funded by a condom manufacturer.

A condom as a Chinese dragon

There's been a slew of stories about recent research finding that the use of condoms does not reduce sexual pleasure.

The paper[1] at the heart of it was written by researchers from the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, based on a study of data from the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB).

The NSSHB and various press releases all clearly state that the study is "supported by Church & Dwight, Inc., the maker of Trojan Brand condoms and vibrators".

Leaving aside any other concerns [2], the reporting of this link with industry has been very poor. Of the dozen or so articles I found with a quick web search, very few stated there was a link.

Articles failing to mention the link:


There were a couple which didn't mention the link but, underneath which, readers quickly added comments pointing it out:

And the honorable mentions, which did state the link:

So why did only a third of these articles feel the need to mention that a story reflecting positively on condoms was in fact sponsored by a condom manufacturer? It was stated very clearly in all the released press materials. Was it edited out for the sake of brevity or smoother narrative? Was it just deemed an unimportant detail?

The really big question is: how can journalists and publications expect to keep their reader's trust if they willfully omit important facts?

 

 

 

Footnotes:

[1]

The paper is not published at the time of writing, but its full citation is:

Herbenick et al. “Characteristics of Condom and Lubricant Use among a Nationally Representative Probability Sample of Adults Ages 18-59 In the United States” The Journal of Sexual Medicine 2013. DOI: 10.1111/jsm.12021
URL Upon publication: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/jsm.12021

[UPDATE: the paper is now online]

 

[2]

Please note I've no reason to suspect anything amiss with the actual methodology or results. However there are a couple of troubling aspects:

  1. Would the research have been published if a strong dislike of condoms had been expressed? I'd suspect not. Such selective publication happens a lot and is a big problem.
  2. The paper is to be published along with other NSSHB results in a special issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Why a special issue? It could just be that the study has spawned so many interesting results that it justifies it's own space. The more conspiracy-minded might feel the journal is 'fencing' off the industry-sponsored NSSHB results to protect the more 'legitimate' papers. It will be interesting to see how the sponsorship is disclosed in the special issue. Is such sponsorship usual in this field? I've no idea...