The AIDS Epidemic And Politics

Frequently in discourse with non-Catholics, or some Catholics even, when the issue of contraception and the AIDS epidemic arises, there is uneasiness about the Church’s teaching on dealing with this deeply troubling matter. One might argue that by maintaining opposition to the use of condoms, the Catholic Church contributes rather to the spread of AIDS in Africa, for if the “Vatican hierarchy” cared more about people’s lives than rigid doctrines that even most Catholics reject, they would change their view to prevent the spread of AIDS. Why? It is the more “pro-life” thing to do given that it would save millions from dying from unprotected sex.

While the presented argument is well-intentioned, it is also profoundly incorrect. The Catholic Church doesn’t oppose contraception on the basis that it is a “nice rule” that Catholics should follow, but rather contraception is contra-human nature—it is an objective, moral evil that disrupts the purity and creative design of the sexual act. Much can be said on the matter, but what is relevant is that by isolating sexual pleasure from the procreative element built into the sexual act itself, one subconsciously (and consciously) affirms the sinful tendencies of lust, self-gratification, and promiscuity.

Why? If a man can sleep with multiple women (separately or even together) and experience sexual pleasure in abundance without any concern of producing children in doing so, he’ll be inclined to do it—and maybe he’ll become addicted to it (‘it’ being sexual pleasure). The result? Men objectify women, see them as objects and not as equals; men (and women too) have routine, recreational and meaningless sex unconcerned with reproduction because that “problem” has been solved. The consequences of such actions are grave and unfortunate. Not only is such action self-destructive objectively for all persons involved, it is harmful to society. Naturally such behavior leads to single mothers and dire poverty, abortions, the oppression of women, skyrocketing divorce, the growth of other vices, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

To the issue of AIDS — statistics repeatedly show that condoms really have not been very effective in the fight against AIDS despite the fact it has been the principal prevention device for the last twenty years. Billions of condoms have been shipped to Africa in order to deal with the epidemic. The countries that stress condom use are not seeing any great decline in the virus, but rather, the opposite. Luckily, there is a clear example of an African nation turning back the epidemic of AIDS by other means. In the late 1980s Uganda was viewed as the worst nation in the world in terms of HIV/AIDS infections. Currently, instead of placing the primary emphasis on condoms, they emphasized abstinence and faithfulness first. As a result, they have experienced the greatest decline in HIV in the world.

Some might assume, “Well, some protection is better than none.” Of course, this would seem to be a logical argument at first. After all, condom use can reduce the odds of HIV transmission during an act of intercourse. But it still remains that in the presence of an epidemic, unless a person changes his or her behavior, it may be only a matter of time before he or she is infected. When people are not taught the difference and are left thinking that risk reduction equals protection, they are more open to take risks that they cannot afford. Another reason why condoms have failed to stop AIDS is that when a person is infected with other STDs, they are up to five times as likely to get HIV if exposed. There are several reasons why this occurs; one reason is that many STDs cause sores that can serve as portals of entry for the virus. For example, a woman’s reproductive tract is often able to protect her from HIV. However, this natural barrier is compromised when she is infected with certain STDs. Considering that the number one determinant of STD infection is multiple sexual partners, any strategy to stop HIV that does not reduce sexual activity will have limited effect.

Why is abstinence so effective? In abstinence programs, people are encouraged to abstain from sexual activity until marriage and are encouraged to be tested for HIV regularly. The contraceptive approach doesn’t take a fundamental reality into much consideration: the infectivity rate of HIV. The infectivity rate of a disease or virus measures the likelihood of its transmission. For HIV, it is estimated on average, the odds of being infected with HIV through a single act of intercourse (without a condom) is about one in a thousand. However, when a person is first infected with HIV, he or she is highly contagious. But if this person were to get tested for HIV right away, the test would show that he or she is HIV negative, despite the fact that he or she does have the virus and can easily transmit it. Here’s why: Technically, the HIV test does not look for HIV, but for antibodies against the virus. Antibodies are what your body creates to fight off intruders. But viruses are pretty smart and it can take months before your body knows that you have one (and maybe even a decade before you know it). So if your body does not know that you have been infected with HIV, it won’t produce antibodies to attack the virus. So if the HIV test doesn’t find the antibodies, the doctors will tell you that you’re HIV negative. Meanwhile inside the body of a newly infected person, the HIV plasma viral level is very high, especially in the genital fluids (semen and cervical-vaginal fluids), because there aren’t any antibodies around to reduce their levels. Since the viral load is thousands of times higher, and the person is shedding viruses, the infectivity rate soars in the early weeks on infection.

This means that if people abstained from sex or were encouraged to wait until marriage (rather than seeing sex as a recreational activity that you can just “band-aid” with a condom), then the odds of HIV transmission would be reduced dramatically. Within a generation, HIV would no longer exist at its current epidemic levels.

Why is this important? AIDS is a transnational global health phenomenon that isn’t unique to third world countries. The Democratic Party is very concerned about this growing epidemic and often ranks it high in their list of things to do. This is certainly commendable. But, the Democrats endorse a strategy—wanton distribution of condoms—that has proven fatal and ineffective. It perhaps even makes the situation worse. The Republican Party under the leadership of President Bush began to promote abstinence in Africa (which works), but this is not very high on the list of things to do despite the fact that this is an international health crisis that is spreading at an alarming rate. In essence, neither party is giving us much needed headway. Democrats simply wish to throw money and condoms at these people (nothing surprising there); Republicans cut funding and promote abstinence. (nothing surprising there either; I’ll add here, I’m not opposed to budget cutting given domestic problems, if we’re advocating for more international support in place of solely American money).

On a side, but relevant, note, I think it can be agreed upon that the most common view of many American Catholics is that the Republican Party is comprehensively right on family, marriage, and the “life issues,” while the Democratic Party is more in alignment with the Church’s teachings on “social justice.” I can easily see how a person falls into the temptation of this sort of thinking, but I do think it’s profoundly mistaken.

If we were to follow the just-described view, the Democrats are better positioned to combat the global AIDS epidemic—which is regarded as a “life issue” and one issue among many others (healthcare, war, etc.) that Catholics use to support pro-choice Democratic candidates, namely, a collect set of issues they deem Democrats better equipped in to bring about “social justice.”

I personally sympathize with their view. Nevertheless, a well-formed Catholic conscience begs to differ and would see the profoundly flawed thinking in strategy that is far from life-affirming, thus, no social justice at all. We can’t settle for what the media tells us nor the latest novelties or refashioned dishonest rhetoric of liberal-partisan groups like Catholics United. Additionally, the fact that the Democratic Party is profoundly wrong in strategy doesn’t lead us to just settle with current Republican efforts—much more can be done.

This can’t be a small matter for Catholics. Every 11 seconds someone dies from AIDS. We can’t call ourselves morally coherent and pro-life if we stand by idly as this horrendous cancer fueled by sin kills our brothers and sisters. Are we not our brother’s keeper?

Pray for those with AIDS.

Note: I’m going to stray away from directly tackling the election, Barack Obama, and his horrid abortion stance. I’m all but done with this election (mostly from insanely tense debating in real life, particularly with my family whom I suspect is mostly voting for him because he’s black). I cast my vote for John McCain on Monday, all I can do is hope and pray, and trust in God’s providence. If you have any issues that haven’t been really talked about, tell me, I welcome all ideas. Thanks.

11 Responses to The AIDS Epidemic And Politics

  • Tito Edwards says:

    Uganda is an excellent example of combating the AIDS epidemic. Where the abstinence programs have proven to be far more effective than the promotion and distribution of condoms.

    As far as the Republican and Democratic Party platforms are concerned a Catholic (especially a practicing Catholic) cannot be identified as such nor as a ‘conservative’ nor ‘liberal’. Many Catholic positions overlap and cleave across the political spectrum. Like you but on the opposite political spectrum we aren’t excited at all at a McCain presidency (Obama being much worse). With McCain’s support of ESCR and his lukewarm leanings towards other life issues this is a difficult election to choose a candidate from.

    What we can do is pray and fast and trust in His will this election year.

  • Micha Elyi says:

    Scholium:

    Look again at the third paragraph of the essay. Rather than advancing the main argument in Eric’s essay, it swerved into a one-sided exercise in man-bashing.

    “If a man can sleep with multiple women…” Notice there’s no counterpart scolding of women who sleep with and solicit the sperm of multiple men for the purpose of making babies, often father-alienated babies.

    “Men objectify women…” Notice again that the author’s finger-waggling is directed at men, as if Ms. Open-Blouse and Ms. Exposed-Midriff isn’t insisting that she be regarded as an item of sexual interest and bludgeoning the men around her with her sexuality. Such behavior is a women’s way of objectifying men. Other common ways women objectify men are as success objects, wallets, and sperm banks. “Just look around you,” to quote a line from a feminist polemical novel.

    “…men (and women too)…” Notice that the mention of women is merely parenthetical. This phrase is a pretense of even-handedness. Clearly the author does not consider women’s blameworthiness to be at all as much as men’s.

    “Naturally such behavior leads to single mothers and dire poverty, abortions, the oppression of women, skyrocketing divorce, the growth of other vices, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.” The conclusion of this paragraph is typical, man-blaming, woe-is-woman women-are-victims whining. The author is indulging in a stupid form of male chivalry.

    Let’s turn away from the “what everybody knows” catch phrases that have been propagandized into becoming the media’s conventional wisdom and look at the real-world facts. Very little single motherhood is involuntary on the part of the mother (even without considering members of the Single Mothers By Choice movement). “Dire poverty” in such circumstances is largely due to the stupid decisions of those irresponsible baby making and baby-exploiting women (as William Niskanen discovered and had his work censored by a Democrat-controlled Congress). “Skyrocketing divorce” is another phenomenon furthered primarily by females — Shere Hite bragged in print that women initiate 91% of divorces. Dr. Sanford Braver in his 1998 book Divorced Dads puts the figure of female-caused divorces at roughly 2/3rds of all divorces and he’s being conservative about assigning blame to women. Were the rate at which women wreck marriages to fall to a figure equal to men’s, the number of divorces in America would plunge by at least 30% and likely more, even as much as 80%. Only single-digit percentages of divorces are due to infidelity and violence (which women commit about as much as do men) but are mostly because of fluffy female reasons such as “I love you but I’m not in love with you anymore” and “I want to find myself” (Braver, 1998)

  • Tito Edwards says:

    Micha,

    I clearly see where you’re coming from. Thank you for the clarification. What I believe, I need to check my Navarre Bible, that passage is applicable to both sexes. ‘Man’ is sometimes referred to as all the sexes, as in the species of man.

  • Eric Brown says:

    Well, yes, I consider myself a feminist, but I wasn’t “man-bashing.” I was pointing out – to validate other claims – that man has a fallen nature. I don’t in any way think that women are any less fallen than men are. But I do think that because women physiologically are the bearers of new life they are indeed more conscious and more sexually responsible than men in a lot of ways. Men naturally – because of their biological make-up – arouse much faster than women. Promiscuity rates among women are in no way the same as among men.

    There is also a cultural double standard (and I’m in no way approving either). But it seems more acceptable for a man to sleep around with multiple women, yet any woman that does the same is a slut, a harlot, and everything else under the sun. It seems to me, at least, that men in a lot of ways are expected to act in such a manner and receive a lot more peer pressure to sleep around than women do – hence, men do it more.

    Secondly, I’m particularly talking about Africa. Women are not so much the equal of men in African countries and in many places, don’t get to choose their spouse or who they sleep with or when (have you seen the statistics about human trafficking and rape in those countries?).

    In regard to what “such behavior leads to…” I don’t think I’m mistaken. We live in a culture where we reaffirm the notion that sex is casual and recreational, where men are encouraged and pressured into engaging in sex with multiple women, and women – cooperate in that evil (yes), they even invite it, etc. – and they do reap the consequences. But what I’m saying is, more often than not, since sex and marriage are not related in our society and the majority of men don’t have a sense of responsibility for their actions, they often leave the women they get pregnant to raise children on their own. I don’t see how you can deny that.

    I’m not sure that I think that “dire poverty” is largely due to stupid decisions of irresponsible “baby making and baby-exploiting women.” I’m not sure if women go around looking to just have babies that they can live struggling to take care of by themselves. Sure, they sinned and are reaping the consequences. But I don’t buy into the fact that men are not just as culpable if not in some ways, more so because here in the United States especially, we live in a very matriarchal society. A lot of children only have mothers – women who are paying for the actions they unwisely chose, where as men a lot of the time simply “get off the hook.”

    Most certainly I think your statistics about women being the cause of divorces is absurd. Any divorce is the result of some division between two persons that is hardly ever the fault of one person alone. Divorce is a breakdown in communication, in giving of self, in mutual respect, etc – and it is not a one-sided deal. I honestly think the book you’re quoting is really anti-feminist nonsense. It’s simply unfounded. If you think our society is in the shape that it’s in – with the growing lack of fathers, with the rising divorce rates, with sexual promiscuity, etc – mostly because of women and men are just innocent bystanders, God bless you.

  • And just at an impirical level, a lot of studies in the US show higher average numbers of sexual partners for men. In more traditional societies, that’s even more the case.

    That’s hardly a surprise, I would say. There’s a much higher basic biological imperative for women to avoid sexual excess, and human nature backs that up. Though in the US levels of promiscuity have been gradually equalizing between the sexes as a result of contraception and the “sexual revolution”.

  • Micha Elyi says:

    Trying to wish away Dr. Braver’s research as “anti-feminist nonsense,” Eric, won’t wash because feminist Shere Hite has made similar claims in the past that women are the drivers of divorces and that the reasons for the breakups women cause are fluff such as “lack of fulfillment” blah blah.

    To claim “divorce is not a one-sided deal” anywhere laws allow unilateral divorce (what so-called no fault divorce really is) is to be, at best, naive.

    One can only believe that men “a lot of the time simply ‘get off the hook’” if one ignores all the hooks women set to pull children to themselves and out of the arms of fathers. Men are more often pushed out of their children’s lives than drop out. Just look around you. Notice the women’s group Single Mothers By Choice in America and then ask why African women don’t feel a need to form such a group at all. One might suppose that there’s a “basic biological imperative for women” to make children fatherless, an imperative that Western culture was once structured to impede.

    Finally, those who believe that men “sleep around” more often than do women must suppose that men are sleeping around with — whom? — females from another planet? C’mon, do the math people. The latest empirical research findings are that men and women report the same overall number of out-of-wedlock sexual partners when they are led to believe that deceptive responses will be detected. Interestingly, it’s women’s answers that change; the answers men give don’t change much whether they believe their attempts to give deceptive answers will be detected or not.

    The belief that women are somehow more “sexually responsible” than men that Eric exhibits is likely due to the differences between women’s and men’s choices of potential sexual partners to pursue. Crudely put, 90% of women are chasing 10% of the men while men are willing to partner with any of 90% of women. What this produces is a distribution of sexual activity in which the average number of partners is identical for men and women but the median numbers are very different. A relatively small number of men have many partners and a lot of men have no partners at all, they are sexually invisible to women. Among the women, all but a small number have several partners, a number that is larger than the number of partners the typical man has. Because so many of the women are sexually partnering with just a small portion of the men, a woman often complains that her man-of-the-moment has a roving eye etc. then erroneously generalizes this to all men.

  • Micha,

    Finally, those who believe that men “sleep around” more often than do women must suppose that men are sleeping around with — whom? — females from another planet? C’mon, do the math people.

    I do math for a living; I’m an analyst.

    It’s pretty simple, really. In most traditional societies, the vast majority of women have very, very few partners while men on average have a slightly larger number of partners. The slack it taken up by a small number of women (traditionally prostitutes and/or social outcasts) who have astronomical numbers of partners.

    The US and other developed countries are gradually moving towards a model in which men and women are more equally promiscuous.

    Honestly, though — and I say this as a man who is not remotely a feminist — while I’m sure you don’t intend your remarks this way at all, they come off sounding a bit misogynist, nor does your description of women being more unfaithful and roving-eyed fit with my observation of life.

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