- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On the family column:

Pope Benedict XVI recently rocked the world when he said condoms were not the solution to AIDS.

“One cannot overcome the problem [of AIDS] with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem,” he said upon arriving in Cameroon.

Vatican officials later amended the pontiff’s remarks, to clarify that condom distribution poses “a risk” of increasing the problem.

But his comments, as the pundits said, resulted in mass condom-nation.

After all, out of the two dozen sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) wreaking havoc in the world, research shows that condoms are particularly effective against HIV/AIDS.

Many studies, for instance, examined transmission rates among married or monogamous heterosexual couples in which one person had HIV/AIDS and the other did not. If couples used condoms every time they had sex, they reduced their risk for transmission by 80 percent or more.

Not surprisingly, condoms have become one of the biggest tools - if not the biggest tool - in public health organizations’ AIDS prevention arsenal.

They and their allies work hard to get people to use condoms, so their outrage at such a powerful put-down is not unexpected.

On the other hand, folks, expecting the pope to approve of any form of contraception is pretty outrageous.

I’d like to expand on Benedict’s apparent line of thinking, so here is a short list of behaviors, that if changed on a mass scale, would quell transmission of HIV/AIDS.

First, avoid having anal sex. Why? The cell lining in the rectum is paper-thin and can tear fairly easily, making it easy for the HIV virus to enter the bloodstream. Plus, rectal cells are all about absorbing - not repelling - foreign microbes, so they can actually speed transmission, according to Dr. Miriam Grossman, who penned the 2006 book “Unprotected.”

Second, avoid using unsanitary needles. The HIV virus has to penetrate the natural barrier of the skin to infect someone, so sticking oneself with a dirty (infected) needle does the job perfectly.

Third, avoid having sex with young girls. Before age 20, the female reproductive tract is still immature. Thus, adolescent girls are far more susceptible to STDs than they will be once their reproductive organs have fully developed, says Dr. Grossman, who urges all teens to be abstinent.

Fourth, avoid having multiple sexual partners. More partners means more exposure.

If these four behaviors are avoided until and unless one is positive that one’s partner is uninfected and old enough (and sober enough) to consent to sexual activity, the risk for HIV/AIDS transmission should be low. Adding a condom becomes yet another wise choice.

But the pope and the Catholic Church are correct when they say condom distribution cannot overcome or resolve the problem of AIDS.

Condoms are not the first line of defense in fighting this disease. They are the last line of defense - a “hail Mary pass,” if you will - in which a man or a woman literally throws up a barrier in the last seconds ofsex, in hopes that no virus will find its way into their bloodstreams.

So condoms have a role to play in fighting AIDS, but the best results will come when those four dangerous behaviors are reduced or eliminated.

• E-mail Cheryl Wetzstein

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide