HIV Prevention: Educating the Next Generation
Everyone agrees that sex education is the key to protecting teenagers from contracting HIV. What they don't agree on is what they should be taught.
Most experts say using condoms and other safe-sex techniques is the most effective method of prevention, but social conservatives and some religions say abstinence is the only choice.
Prevention has taken on new urgency as infections rise throughout the world. The problem is particularly acute in large American cities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued an alarming report showing that one in five gay/bi men has HIV -- and many, especially African-Americans and those under 30, are unaware of it.
Pope Benedict XVI recently entered the fray when he said male prostitutes could use condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. A Vatican spokesperson clarified his remarks Nov. 23 by stating that using a condom is a lesser evil than transmitting HIV to a sex partner. Even that mild OK for condoms distressed conservative American Catholics.
The policy reversal came a year after the pope, en route to Africa, contended that condoms worsened the spread of the virus and could be prevented only by abstinence. Abstinence advocates say that is the best -- and only -- appropriate advice to give teens. It's also the only method that is 100 percent effective, they hasten to point out.
Activists: Sure, Abstain. But Also Educate
Most comprehensive sex-education proponents argue that teens should be encouraged to abstain, but should also get information about how to avoid STDs and HIV.
There's evidence that the latter approach is working. A recent Indiana University survey of more than 5,000 Americans, including about 800 under 18, showed that nearly 80 percent of teens use condoms during sex, while those 25 and over use them less than 20 percent of the time.
The study is consistent with results from the annual public school Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the National Survey of Family Growth.
Last January, the International Planned Parenthood Federation began distributing Healthy, Happy and Hot, a brochure for youth living with HIV to help them understand their rights.
The introduction states that its purpose is to support "your sexual pleasure and health, and to help you develop strong intimate relationships. It explores how your human rights and sexual well-being are related and suggests strategies to help you make decisions about dating, relationships, sex and parenthood."
Perhaps predictably, social conservatives were outraged.
In November, the right-wing list serve Free Republic linked an article from the conservative Life Site News that included excerpts from the pamphlet. One example: "Some people like to have aggressive sex. There is no right or wrong way to have sex." The report contended that the brochure encourages young people who might have sex after drinking or using drugs to "plan ahead by bringing condoms."
The Girl Scouts Get Involved
The piece further reported that a Mormon mother saw the brochure at a closed-door, girls-only meeting at UN headquarters in New York sponsored by Girl Scouts USA.
As a result, chapters around the nation "have been roiled in a debate about the connections between Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood," the article continued. "Girl Scouts USA refuses to denounce the brochure and denies the brochure was in the UN room where the young girls met."
The Girl Scouts connection went viral on the Internet.
Free Republic reader reaction was unsurprising. One advocated violence. Another labeled HIV-positive people the "new protected minority" and "homo activists." A third called Planned Parenthood "baby-killing filth."
A comment argued that marriage is only between one man and one woman, then added: "Genital-genital contact only. Anything else is immoral and potentially fatal." One reader wrote haiku about leather, Vaseline, whips and chains. "I suggest that very few people with HIV are healthy or happy or hot (unless they have a fever)," said another.