Published June 19, 2009
The federal government is spending $423,500 to find out why men don't like to wear condoms, a project government watchdogs say is a nearly-half-a-million-dollar waste of taxpayer money.
Researchers at Indiana University's Kinsey Institute, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, are investigating why "young, heterosexual adult men" have problems using condoms. The study will include "skill-based intervention" to teach grown men how to use protection.
The first phase of the two-year study called "Barriers to Correct Condom Use" will be a simple Q&A, but doctors say the second phase will plumb uncharted territory.
"The second phase involves a laboratory study, and focuses on penile erection and sensitivity during condom application," reads the abstract from Drs. Erick Janssen and Stephanie Sanders, both of the Kinsey Institute.
"The project aims to understand the relationship between condom application and loss of erections and decreased sensation, including the role of condom skills and performance anxiety, and to find new ways to improve condom use among those who experience such problems."
The study, which was first reported by UWire, is one of many being funded by the NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
But it has government watchdogs rolling their eyes at what they say is a clear waste of taxpayer money.
"This government is so out of whack with what the priorities are that this actually makes sense that we'd be wasting money on a condom study rather than the real problems facing the country," said David Williams, vice president for policy at Citizens Against Government Waste, which tracks wasteful spending in the federal budget.
For American men -- many of whom have already undergone years of awkward sex ed in the care of gym teachers -- the study might not offer much of a boost, Williams said.
"Are they going to hand out the study and are people going to go, 'Ohhh ... I'm going to do things differently this time?'" he asked, noting that the private sector was successfully handling issues related to erectile dysfunction.
"I don't think they should have any delusions of grandeur that what they're doing is going to change behavior and that it's really going to fundamentally change the way men and women get together."
But the study's directors say their project performs a vital public health service and could help develop prevention and intervention programs to stop the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
"Our study addresses important public health concerns in the U.S. and is the first study to test claims about arousal and sensation loss in a controlled scientific environment, while exploring factors that may be addressed in prevention and intervention programs," Janssen told FOXNews.com.
Janssen said the research will be conducted among 500 men aged 18-24, though only 120 subjects will be involved during the laboratory phase, when scientists will conduct neurological exams and "test an instructional method on the correct and consistent use of condoms." Janssen said funding for the study is "commensurate with the scope of a research project of this size."
But the $423,500 grant for the study is just a crumb in the NIH pie. The NIH spends $29 billion each year to help fund thousands of health studies at home and abroad.
But some questionable queries have come under close scrutiny, including a $400,000 study being conducted in bars in Buenos Aires to find out why gay men engage in risky sexual behavior while drunk; a $2.6 million study dedicated to teaching prostitutes in China to drink less while having sex on the job; and a $178,000 study to better understand why drug-abusing prostitutes in Thailand are at greater risk for HIV infection.
Williams, the taxpayer advocate, doubted whether eliminating one potentially wasteful project would have a large effect overall.
"Getting rid of this study is not going to change the country and solve all of our monetary problems, but it just kind of reminds people that government is out of touch with the real needs of the country," he said.