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Johan Malmlöf wrote:


As an atheist, who intends on remaining one, I wonder why the Pope said,

Condoms don't prevent AIDS?

If Pope Benedict wants to ease human suffering, then there's one simple step he could take that would save vast numbers of lives.

There is a very good article about this in the New York Times:

The Pope and AIDS By Nicholas Kristof May 8, 2005


  { As an atheist, why would the Pope say condoms don't prevent AIDS when it would save lives? }

Mary Ann replied:

Johan —

The nations with high AIDS rates have been buried in condoms. The only nations who have successfully lowered their AIDS rates have emphasized abstinence until marriage and fidelity to one partner.

It is promiscuity that promotes AIDS. Multiple partners also renders the female more susceptible to AIDS.

Also, the Harvard AIDS study author recently agreed with the Pope.

There is a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded Demographic Health Surveys, between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates.

— Edward C. Green, Director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies;, March 19th, 2009

Mary Ann

Eric replied:

Hi, Johan —

First we have to distinguish what the media said, the pope said, from what the pope actually said, and take it in context. This is what the pope said:

"I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome with advertising slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanization of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness — even through personal sacrifice — to be present with those who suffer. And these are the factors that help and bring visible progress."
  • What is the pope saying?

First, he's saying that sloganeering is not going to solve the problem. This is true for almost any large-scale, intractable problem. Politicians try to convince you otherwise but it's overly simplistic to say that the problem will be solved by any one action or strategy. So this is a pretty safe opening.

He goes on to explain why sloganeering is insufficient. He explains that solving the problem requires Africans to help one another, it requires soul — hard to define but I'd say a sense of community and humanity, treating people as human beings and not as objects. This is what he means by the humanization of sexuality. By this he means that sex should not be a matter of treating other people as an object for fulfilling one's own sexual pleasure, but rather it should be an expressed community of persons, a genuine act of self-giving love rather than merely an expression of lust or animalistic desire.

  • Would you disagree with this?

If so, think about this. Suppose your sexual partner (wife, or whoever it happens to be) in their hearts sees you not as a person to:

  • be sought
  • to have a relationship with, or
  • to be someone to love with all the fullness of their heart

but as an object, as an instrument she uses to obtain selfish pleasure and is ready to discard if you no longer suit her.

  • Is this a good attitude to have or a bad one?
  • Which attitude builds up society and contributes toward the solution of this problem?

The goal here is stop the spread of AIDS by encouraging responsible and healthy sexual activity, and also to build a successful society.

Finally the pope points to the importance of friendship. This is essential in any society. The more alienated we become from one another, the more society falls apart. It's hard to argue with that. This is important for:

  • for encouraging the care of those with AIDS and other sexual diseases (and maintaining dignity for them), and
  • for cultivating a right view of human beings as described above (not as objects for personal gain, but as persons worthy of self-giving love).

Now let's look at practical factors. One interesting fact is that Harvard agrees with the pope that condoms won't solve the problem.

“The pope is correct,” Green told National Review Online Wednesday, “or put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports the pope's comments. He stresses that “condoms have been proven to not be effective at the level of population.”

It might be true that condoms would reduce cases of infection if people did not change their behavior when they used them. Unfortunately, studies have shown that they do not.

They develop a false sense of security and increase their risky sexual contacts when they use condoms. Since condoms are about 70% effective if they are used consistently and correctly, according to Planned Parenthood this isn't enough to overcome the additional risk people shoulder thinking they are protected by condoms. You may find these articles and web pages interesting as well:

The International Planned Parenthood association indicates that the risk of contracting AIDS during so-called protected sex approaches 100 percent as the number of episodes of sexual intercourse increases. (Cates Medical Bulletin, IPPF 1997.)

Another factor is that due to the climate in Africa (the heat in particular), condoms cannot be safely stored very easily. Heat causes the latex to deteriorate and as you know, heat is a problem in Africa.

Also the cultural problem here is that the men go away for long periods of time to work, acquire diseases, and then come home to their wives. A large percentage of infections occur this way. To slow infection, the husband and wife need to use a condom, but this would imply either a lack of trust (on her part) or an admission of guilt (on his part), so they don't.  Overcoming that cultural taboo is hard.

Yet another factor is that there is an imperialism angle. We, in the West, are trying to impose our culture and values on an unwilling continent.

We think we know everything and know just the solution which we are cheerfully ramming down the throat of Africa. Not only that, American companies are profiting from it. We make money off the condoms we sell to them. It's a form of exploitation. The people need basic medicine and we're shipping them boatloads of condoms.

Promoting condoms alone in Africa hasn't worked so far. Promoting abstinence and sexual responsibility in Uganda however has. They have dramatically improved their HIV infection rates since doing this (down 70%). See this article:

These are just a few of the reason why I suspect the Pope is opposing the use of condoms in Africa — reasons the New York Times won't tell you.

(Don't forget, they have an agenda and aren't afraid to follow it.)


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