THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

HIV Prevention 101: Ignoring the Church's views on condoms
Hayden Horner, Plus News
February 11, 2005

Dear Diary,

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 above abstinence.

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 rightfully so.

Research suggests 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 HI virus.

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.

Forever positive,

Hayden Horner

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.