Love and HIV/AIDS

Steven Mosher
Population Research Institute
Weekly Briefing
03 December 2010
Vol. 12 / No. 33
Reproduced with Permission

Whenever the issue of condoms come up, the Catholic Church is viciously attacked by the sexual libertines for its supposedly retrograde views. Last week we wrote about how the Pope's recent remarks on condoms were taken out of context by those who falsely claim the Church is contributing to the spread of HIV by its opposition to condoms.

We should not allow such charges to distract us from the real issue, which is this: How can we continue to spend 10 billion dollars a year - year in and year out - on failed condom promotion schemes and sex education courses in Africa when the data show that the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to worsen?

Two Catholic scholars, Matthew Hanley and Jokin de Irala, suggest that it is past time for a new approach. In Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS they point out that the spread of HIV can easily be prevented by avoiding sexual contact. Instead of continuing to pour billions of dollars into failed condom programs, they argue that funding should be redirected to efforts to change high-risk sexual behavior.

Western HIV/AIDS experts concluded from their experiences with homosexuals and drug users that risky sexual behavior cannot, or even should not, be changed. Their attitude reflects that of the homosexual who told a friend of mine, who had urged him in the direction of abstinence: "What it is to you if I want to die for sex?"

Most couples, of course, are not willing to die for sex, and are more than willing to change their behavior to avoid risks. Moreover, surveys show that most teenagers in African countries are not even sexually active. But the "experts" insist on taking risky behavior as a given, and continue to pursue "technical" solutions for the HIV pandemic.

Hanley and de Irala show that behavior change is not only possible, but has actually occurred in several countries. In fact, in every African country where HIV infections have declined, there has been a corresponding decrease in the proportion of men and women reporting more than one sex partner over the course of a year. Increasing marital fidelity is, not surprisingly, associated with a decrease in the spread of HIV infections. Another factor that is positively correlated with lower infection rates is a decrease in premarital sex among young people.

Increased condom use, on the other hand, seems to actually contribute to higher levels of infection. Why? Because when you tell young people that condoms will protect them against HIV infection, many will take greater sexual risks as a result. Of course, condoms often fail even when they are used consistently - which is, as it turns out, not often. Those who argue that "consistent condom use" will lower HIV infection rates have produced no evidence to speak of. Consistent condom use is rare.

By marshalling the evidence, Hanley and de Irala convincingly show that fidelity and chastity are not merely faith-based motivational programs but are also based on empirical evidence that they actually prevent AIDS. They offer a detailed case study of Uganda, where the Catholic Church played a major role in developing an AIDS prevention program. The emphasis in the program was placed on marital fidelity and delay of sexual debut - and the AIDS rate plummeted.

Catholics and others who are concerned that the Church's teaching on condom use somehow hinders AIDS prevention will benefit from a close reading of Hanley and de Irala's book. They will come away understanding that the epidemic does not stem from outdated moral teachings - as the Left claims - but from the ruthless imposition of Western notions of sexual liberation and license on traditional societies in Africa.

The major HIV/AIDS organizations, most of whom double as population control promoters, are ideologically committed to sexual license at all costs - even the cost of African lives - and take a very dim view of the African people. First and foremost, they claim that Africans cannot control their sexual urges and cannot change their sexual behavior, except of course for adopting condom use. As one Catholic priest put it, the current approach to HIV/AIDS prevention "is to treat people as rapacious … incapable of anything beyond immediate self-gratification…. When it is imposed by public and international agencies on Africans, it also represents unconscious but abhorrent racism. This is not a route that the Church can take."

There is no end to the falsehoods that have been propagated by the Left to impugn the possibility that Africans can avoid premarital sex and practice fidelity within marriage. Indeed, they even claim, as Nicholas Kristoff wrote in The New York Times, that marriage is a dangerous enterprise for women. The truth is that, as you might expect, marriage is a safe haven from AIDS. Married people in Africa are always found to have lower HIV infection rates than people who are single, divorced, or widowed.

Of course, the condom approach benefits the manufacturers of condoms and other devices, as well as the organizations themselves, which continue to receive huge grants despite their failed programs. That these organizations also believe that Africa is overpopulated is additional cause for concern, since condoms act as a contraceptive.

The Church, it goes without saying, views the African people quite differently. It sees them as human beings created in the image of God who are more than capable of the loving sex sacrifice that abstinence and fidelity sometimes requires. What the Church is called to do by its theology turns about to be what works best in AIDS prevention: Marital fidelity and premarital abstinence.

Hanley and de Irala admit that "The odds of displacing the prevailing paradigm certainly appear long. But with Africa's willingness to lead, to insist on a hopeful and successful alternative, perhaps we can build it together."

I would add that, for the paradigm to change, Catholics must speak with one voice on this issue. All of us need to recognize that, although the sexual libertines often distort his remarks almost beyond recognition, Pope Benedict continues to defend the timeless and saving wisdom of the Church in matters of human sexuality.

The Pope is borne aloft on twin wings of faith and reason where, guided by the Holy Spirit, he will not go astray. We must join him in defense of the Truth.