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Prevention 101: Ignoring the Church's views on condoms
Horner, Plus News
A flurry of news this
past month about the Catholic Church’s opposition to condoms has forced
me to question its role in the global struggle against HIV and AIDS.
In my opinion, the
Vatican, with its firm anti-latex stance and undying call for abstinence,
is unwittingly putting many of its followers, as well as non-believers,
at risk of HIV infection. This was particularly evident in the recent
criticism of South Africa by the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference
(SACBC), for encouraging condom use in its prevention campaigns.
The SACBC argued that
the prophylactics promoted promiscuity rather than helping to curb the
spread of HIV. Citing abstinence as the best method for preventing infection,
SACBC president, Cardinal Wilfred Napier, charged that promiscuity was
more damaging than the virus. In reality, abstinence is usually only achieved
within the walls of a convent or monastery ... and even that is debatable.
While the Church’s
dogged determination in imposing its view that abstinence is the ideal
way of guarding against infection might seem admirable, the magnitude
of the current pandemic shows that ours is far from being an ideal world.
Nowhere does this statement hold more truth than in South Africa, where
an estimated 2 out of every 10 people are living with HIV and AIDS. The
numbers are a stark reminder that people are choosing sexual intercourse
These alarming statistics
also make it is easy to suggest that at least some of the 8 out of 10
who are fortunate enough to be HIV-free could, at some point, become intimately
involved with an infected person. As most sexually active individuals
will agree, the laws of human attraction stipulate that, in the presence
of raging hormones, lust will successfully cancel logic.
With the world’s largest
number of HIV-positive people - some 5 million - the government is courageously
going against the Church’s beliefs by advocating the use of condoms as
the main shield against millions more becoming part of the horrific AIDS
figures. With the fight against the pandemic losing ground in most developing
countries, the condom is still seen by many healthcare workers and educators
as the first line of defence in preventing the transmission of HIV. And
that the contraceptives are at least 98 percent safe, with the outstanding
2 percent often depending on how correctly they are used. But the (Roman
Catholic) Church accentuates the uselessness of condoms, and maintains
that only drastic change in sexual behaviour will stop the spread of the
The condom is believed
to have originated around 1,000 BC, when the ancient Egyptians used a
linen sheath for protection against disease. In the 1500s, when a syphilis
epidemic spread across Europe, a similar device was used to protect men
against infection; and, by the late 1700s, handmade condoms were being
advertised and sold in London. The condom, it would seem, predates the
Catholic Church, which only came into existence in the late 4th century.
So, if it was used to prevent sexually transmitted infections, why should
it lose its credibility in the face of something much more devastating?
For anyone in an HIV-positive/negative
relationship, the pros of condom use far outweigh the cons when it comes
to keeping your partner safe from infection. Cardinal Napier, slamming
official policy on supplying free condoms, said: "Government speaks about
moral regeneration, but it does not think how the promotion of condoms
affects human behaviour." It seems the cardinal and the Vatican fail to
realise that human behaviour is just that, and sex, unprotected or otherwise,
will always be an integral part of human behaviour.
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