February 14, 2005
How many condoms would it take to end the AIDS crisis?
In 1998, Sharon Stone urged parents worldwide to set out a basket of condoms for their children…as many as 200…encourage your children to play with them, take them, give them to their friends…condoms and more condoms for our children, she pleaded, because we love them.
You can’t really blame Ms. Stone. After all, condoms had been the centerpiece of our response to AIDS since news stories in 1982 first announced the arrival of HIV in America.
Immediately, the deadly virus sent us into a panic. School children wanted to know if they could get HIV from mosquitoes. Mothers wanted to know if public pools were safe for their children. Grown men quit going to the gym and bought weight machines for the garage.
Worst of all, liberated sex, once a promise of unrestrained pleasure born on the wings of the birth control pill and coed college dorms, became a risky adventure. Scientists scrambled in their labs to put definition to the virus while health officials struggled to suggest ways to avoid contracting it.
Americans needed answers in a crisis where precious few answers were available. And so we grasped at the closest thing we could find…the condom.
We could have ended coed dorms on college campuses. Instead we enlightened students with the ten-step method of putting on a condom.
The Centers for Disease Control could have closed the gay bath houses so prominent in San Francisco and New York. Instead, the CDC preached condoms.
We could have come together as a society to reject sexual promiscuity. Instead we set out baskets of condoms in high school guidance offices.
A wake-up call arrived this week. The New York Times reports, “A rare strain of HIV that is highly resistant to virtually all anti-retroviral drugs and appears to lead to the rapid onset of AIDS was detected in a New York City man last week.” Health officials are said to be alarmed. But they shouldn’t be surprised.
Four years earlier, The Arizona Republic reported, “People who catch HIV are increasingly likely to encounter mutant forms of the virus that are able to resist some of the drugs commonly used to treat the infection. Drug-resistant strains have been a major problem since the start of treatment in the early years of the AIDS epidemic.”
Drug resistant strains of virus have long been known to scientists. The CDC could have predicted this would happen. Instead, they plowed ahead, with the help of science superstars like Sharon Stone, to put a basket of condoms in every home.
America didn’t stop with handing out condoms to our own kids. From 1989 to 2000, over 232,000,000 condoms were sent annually to eleven African nations. While that’s not even close to all the condoms in the world, that’s a heck of a lot of condoms.
In Zambabwe, their allowance provided the highest number of condoms per male for this group of nations. Zimbabwe also had the highest HIV prevalence rate. More condoms…and more AIDS.
It takes a courageous leader to set aside the popular mantra and evaluate the AIDS epidemic with a clear mind. Ugandan President and Mrs. Museveni are just such leaders. They were able to look past the mountains of condoms and see the obvious. Lack of condoms doesn’t cause AIDS. Sex with infected people causes AIDS.
Uganda chose a different path. One of its governmental booklets published in 1989 stated with assurance, “The government does not recommend using condoms as a way to fight AIDS.” Condoms gave users “a false impression that they were safe from AIDS.”
Choosing to support a return to their traditional cultural values, Ugandans educated and supported one another in saving sex for marriage and in honoring their marriage with fidelity. Because they believed it could be done, they did it. And today, experts from the world are traveling to Uganda to study their great sexual experiment…self-control.
Meanwhile, in the United States, as we contemplate how to face this latest AIDS scare, the old condom battle heats up once again. This time, however, “a radical idea, born of desperation,” is taking hold in some quarters. AIDS workers dismayed over a new battle against a stronger virus are considering a novel idea…novel that is, for Americans. They are calling for an end to promiscuous sex.
How many condoms will it take to end the AIDS epidemic? Zero.
Yes, that’s right. Zero.
Confronting people with their personal responsibility for curbing sexual behavior is beginning to sound more reasonable all the time. Even the CDC has turned the corner on its website, “The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected.”
And what do you know…that doesn’t take a single condom. Not one.
April 30, 2004: Condoms: A Failure to Protect
June 4, 2004: AIDS: Importing the Cure
See Archives for past editorials.