- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An international reproductive rights group’s guide on “hot” and “healthy” sexuality — which recently came under fire after a woman found it in room where a Girl Scout meeting attended by dozens of teens was held — is also being criticized for its advice that HIV-infected persons need not always disclose their status to sex partners.

Meanwhile, an Olympic equestrian is scheduled to go to trial in June for failing to disclose his HIV status to a former lover. Darren Chiacchia can be sentenced under Florida’s HIV disclosure law to up to 30 years in prison.

To tell or not to tell is a perennial issue in HIV/AIDS prevention.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when AIDS was a disease often marked by rapid deterioration and death, laws were passed to require HIV-positive persons to identify their status to potential sex partners. Today however, HIV/AIDS is more commonly a chronic health condition managed by drugs, diet and lifestyle. In this paradigm, HIV-disclosure laws are seen as draconian, cruel and counterproductive for prevention efforts.

The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) adopted this view in its 2008 report “HIV: Verdict on a Virus,” in which it said policies and laws that criminalize HIV are “misguided.”

“We must stop demonising people with this virus,” English AIDS activist Mark McGann said in the IPPF report. The criminalization of HIV “promotes the assumption that ‘everyone who has HIV is a danger to someone who does not.’ This is simply untrue.”

So it should come as no surprise the IPPF’s 20-page guide “Healthy, Happy and Hot: A Young Person’s Guide to Their Rights, Sexuality and Living With HIV” advises young people to think before they speak — and decide if they want to say anything at all.

“Young people living with HIV have the right to decide if, when and how to disclose their HIV status,” it says.

The IPPF guide offers tips on how to disclose HIV status, including choosing the right time to say something and preparing for adverse reactions from a would-be sex partner.

But it also says: “Some countries have laws that say people living with HIV must tell their sexual partner(s) about their status before having sex, even if they use condoms or only engage in sexual activity with a low risk of giving HIV to someone else. These laws violate the rights of people living with HIV by forcing them to disclose or face the possibility of criminal charges.”

Catholic columnist Austin Ruse challenged that assertion, telling the Cybercast News Service that there are no such “rights” that HIV disclosure laws could violate.

According to Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, “sexual rights” in international documents usually refer to the right to refuse unwanted or coerced sex. Sexual rights don’t mean “a right to have sex under almost any circumstances,” he added to CNSNews.com.

More than 30 states have laws relating to HIV disclosure, many of which date back to the height of the AIDS epidemic. The Florida law, passed in 1997, makes it a felony for HIV-positive persons to have sexual intercourse without telling their partners of their status.

According to media reports, Mr. Chiacchia, who won the bronze medal as part of the 2004 U.S. equestrian team, met a man on a Web site but did not disclose his HIV status when they began dating. Instead, the boyfriend discovered the HIV status in Mr. Chiacchia’s medical documents. The ex-boyfriend, who declined to speak to the New York Times when a reporter reached him, filed a criminal complaint in August in Marion County.

Meanwhile, the IPPF’s “Healthy, Happy and Hot” publication made news earlier this year when Sharon Slater, president of Family Watch International, said she found copies of the guide in a U.N. meeting room used by Girl Scout leaders and girls.

The guide says its purpose is to support sexual pleasure and health and explore human rights and sexual well-being.

Mr. Ruse, president of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, denounced the guide in a column that appeared in The Washington Times.

However, Girl Scout leaders told The Times that they did not distribute the IPPF guide.

“Girl Scouts of the USA and the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital do not have, and never have had, a relationship with Planned Parenthood,” Diane Tipton, president of the board of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, said in an April 8 letter to The Times.

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