Cutting Edge Magazine
What was becoming routine and old to some, received a new breath of life last year when, Magic Johnson revealed to the world his infection with HIV, the virus believed to cause AIDS. AIDS prevention programs and messages havepermeated schools, the media, and
Popular music with a familiarity that had the tendency to tune some people out. Following Johnson’s revelation, however, scores of clinics reported a surge of requests for testing, and Magic himself appeared on the Arsenio Hall show, heralding condom use as a means of “safe sex.” He soon made a short recantation, advocating abstinence as the only means of avoiding the killer virus.
“Condoms, abstinence, safe sex, honor yourself”—all methods and clichés in the fight against AIDS. The facts about the virus, its dangers, and spread are known by most people. Or are they?
Welcome To The World Of AIDS
First known as Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID), AIDS was first documented in a report published by the Centers for Disease Control during June of 1981. The report noted five cases of Pneumocystis carina pneumonia in normally healthy homosexual men. Each case also had other opportunistic infections associated with immune suppression. Following reports documented more cases, with other similar infections, yet, without known cause. Thus, the diseases were lumped into a new immunosuppressive category now known as AIDS.
Research into the cause and spread of AIDS has progressed tremendously since it was first recognized. Opinions and official government positions have also changed dramatically about the syndrome. Up until August of 1988, it was believed that AIDS was not 100 percent fatal. Until October of 1988, the general consensus was that health care workers were at a low risk for contracting HIV when working with infected patients. That changed with the risk factor now rated at 1 in 200 if the worker receives accidental sticks—not an uncommon event for many health care workers. (Having “unprotected” vaginal sex with an AIDS carrier rates a risk factor of 1 in 500.)
Finding a cure is proving to be no easy task. HIV isn’t a bacteria. Nor is it your normal virus. It’s a retrovirus, and the first one ever believed to cause death, much less harm to human beings. What makes finding a cure tricky is how the virus works. HIV uses the immune system in its attack. The very thing designed to fight infection is actually the target. The virus also copies its own genetic code into its host. The person with HIV is then in the position of having their own body producing more virus from his or her own genetic record. In other words, HIV literally becomes part of the person it infects. And the means of infection is the center of great controversy.
Getting High, Getting Lucky, Getting AIDS
The most well-known means of spreading and catching AIDS is through sexual contact with an HIV infected carrier. IV drug use is receiving increased attention as a means of spread, but it still ranks low as a means of catching the syndrome as compared to sexual activity. And sexual activity—especially the “unsafe” kind, is more prevalent in teens and young adults. Thus, the large degree of “safe sex” programs are directed towards those age groups.
Controversy surrounds the safe sex message because of the unique manner in which AIDS is spread—almost completely by behavior. With the exception of recipients of infected blood and those born with the virus, HIV has been spread almost exclusively through sexual contact and IV drug use. Both, at one time, were considered improper behaviors. Today, drug use is seen as the greater evil of the two. Promiscuity is looked upon as more natural and normal. Thus, the admonition for teens to use condoms, spermicides, and safe sex techniques.
HIV can be spread through virtually any kind of sexual contact—anal, vaginal, oral or otherwise. During any act where bodily fluids such as semen, blood, or saliva can be exchanged, HIV can also be transmitted. There has been some argument over saliva spread. But the documentation is very conclusive. Small particles of blood often reside in saliva. Blood is a primary carrier of HIV. Aside from blood, HIV has also been isolated in saliva itself. Deep mouth kissing and oral sex can therefore, put a non-infected person in dangerous contact with HIV.
AIDS could not have come at a worse time. The sexual revolution of the late sixties and seventies has impacted the eighties and nineties by carrying over the new pro-promiscuity, non-marriage morality to a new generation. With promiscuity on the rise, the potential for AIDS to infect larger subcultures and age groups in the population increases. The rise in teen and young adult promiscuity is already through the roof, and though the fatality of AIDS is well known, it shows no sign of letting up.
A report published by the Centers for Disease Control in January claims 72-percent of high school seniors have had sexual intercourse. That’s a pretty dramatic figure considering the report published in 1990 by the Allen Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood. AG claimed in a study of 8,450 girls and women that 53 percent of girls age 15-19 were sexually experienced in 1988. That was a six percent rise from 1982 according to AGI’s own statistics. Of interest is the research on contraceptive use during that same period. Forty-seven percent of teen girls claimed to have used a condom the first time they experienced sex. The figure represented a whopping 23 percent increase from 1982 to 1988. There was a 17 percent increase of teens who used “some” method of birth control during the same period. Some wonder if the increase in contraception and condom promotion has actually contributed to the AG claimed 6 percent rise in sexual activity. Such concepts are not unfounded.
Long before “comprehensive sex education” was introduced in America’s public schools, teen sexual activity was rather low. In fact, between 1953 and 1962, teen sexually activity for the 15-18 age group was less than half what it is today. Furthermore, it was actually on a decline! During the early 1970’s as the sexual revolution began taking hold and sex education became more widespread, teen promiscuity took a sharp turn upward, and has continued that trend ever since. With so many more teens and young adults having sex, the chance for AIDS spread also climbs. And climb it has. Information available from the CDC shows that 22 percent of all AIDS cases in U.S. history were diagnosed in 1991. That’s almost one quarter since the discovery of the syndrome. And the locations of spread have also changed. Cities with large homosexual populations like New York and San Francisco retain the largest AIDS populations, but rural areas are catching up. Next to heterosexuals as a people group, women are the next victim group to grow in the nineties. Teen spread also remains steady and may be expected to rise with the subsequent rise in teen sexual activity.
AIDS spread is no longer confined to the bedroom, the back alley or the blood factory. Recent cases of doctors transmitting HIV to their patients have raised ethical questions about HIV infected doctors performing invasive procedures on patients. A physician with John Hopkins University performed breast surgery on over a thousand patients while HIV infected, yet his patients were never told until after his death from AIDS. The well-publicized case and death of Kimberly Burgalis is another example.
AIDS activists have blasted supporters of mandatory testing for health care workers and full disclosure of doctors’ health status. But as Dr. Lorainne Day, former Chief of Orthopedics at San Francisco General has said, a patient’s right to live supersedes a doctor’s right to privacy. While patients should be legitimately concerned about the possibility of contracting AIDS from an\ infected physician, medical personnel have equal cause to be worried.
Glove Up Again, and Again, and Again…
Medical personnel don’t often know if a patient is HIV infected or not. Especially those they see for the first time in an emergency room or doctor’s office. Yet, normal protective measures may not be enough to protect health care workers from coming into contact with HIV. According to the August 1988 edition of Surgical Practice News, “Tests of rubber examination gloves recommended by the American Society for Testing and Materials do not detect holes less than 10 microns in diameter (HIV is 0.1 micron in size), which allows the AIDS virus to come into contact with the skin. In a recent study, 35 percent of nonsterile gloves had easily detectable holes.”
In the report The Condom, Is lt Really Safe Sex? author Richard Smith of the Public Education Committee notes a Los Angeles Times news story: “Blood is able to penetrate through many of the vinyl and latex gloves provided to doctors and nurses working in hospitals.” To increase safety, some health care workers will wear multiple gloves for extra protection. But while medical personnel may be able to take extra precautions while servicing the medical needs of their patients, promiscuous teens and young adults are without similar means.
Hoping to slow down the spread of AIDS among high school students, New York City public schools began distributing free condoms to students after heated debate between parents and school board members. Following the revelation of Magic Johnson’s infection status, schools across the country began picking up on the idea as well, hoping to utilize Johnson’s tragedy for their own student’s benefit. Albuquerque Public Schools is no exception.
Touted on MTV and through public service advertising, condoms are the most popular instrument to promote and use when furthering safe sex. Sex education has even gone as far as demonstrating how to properly use condoms by stretching them over bananas, cucumbers, and fingers. CNBC aired a broadcast during the first week of January on the topic of condom use and safe sex. A model of a penis sat on a table between the interviewer and interviewee. The show aired during prime time when children of any age could watch. It also aired more than once. One Albuquerque teacher came under fire for wearing condom earrings to class in her education efforts. During 1990, a Las Cruces teacher had the girls and boys in her eleventh-grade class line up on each side of the room. Girls then took turns walking across the room and putting their supplied condom on each boy’s fingers.
Can condoms really offer protection against HIV? Condom supporters say they’re trying to help save lives. Religious and family groups claim promoting and even giving out free condoms actually encourages promiscuity. Thus, more kids will actually be exposed to sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS in the long haul.
From a purely “protection” standpoint, using condoms to prevent contact with HIV is a nearly hopeless cause. This is because of the many and rarely published failures with condom design and testing.
According to medical research, HIV is one of the smallest organisms to cause harm to human beings. It is incredibly small—0.1 micron in size. To help grasp the importance of HIV size, a comparison is in order.
Regulation of condom quality is the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration. Tests done by the engineering staff of the FDA’s Life Sciences Division cannot detect holes smaller than 1.0 micron in size. In comparison to the size of HIV, that’s like putting a baseball through a
basketball hoop. It gives new meaning to the term “score.”
Condom failures don’t stop there, however. According to the FDA ‘s Howard Cyrs, “The FDA doesn’t measure condom hole sizes as a matter of regulation.” And the kind of testing done for condom quality may cause some who are sexually active to think twice.
To test condoms for holes, sample condoms are suspended upside down and filled with water. Stresses are applied uniformly for stretch and thrust factors, and the condom is then inspected for visible leaks—ones that can be seen with the naked eye. If no leaks or streams are seen, it passes inspection. Tests are not done for leaks or punctures not visible to the naked eye. And certainly, HIV is not visible to the naked eye. When determining if a batch of condoms has defects, a minute 4 out of 144 are sought for holes. And not all 144 are tested, the minimum number tested is 125. A condom batch is 1000. So, literally, 125 condoms per batch of 1000 are tested randomly to find 4 defective condoms. If 4 are not found, the batch of 1000 is processed for shipping. That leaves 87.5 percent of every batch untested and unproven for safety. But since HIV size is much smaller than the smallest detectable hole, condom hole rates have little
Stretching The Truth About Condoms
In light of such a revelation, can condoms really protect a person against AIDS? The answer isn’t a simple yes or no.
The March 11 edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report provided as current information by the CDC on condom quality control states the medical facts in no uncertain terms. “Condoms do not provide absolute protection against any infection.” What can
you expect if you have sex with an HIV infected person and use a condom every time?
The New England Journal of Medicine reported that married couples who used condoms when one partner was infected had a rate of 10 percent infection of the healthy partners within two years. During August of 1988, the Los Angeles Timesreported an abrupt halt to a study of male homosexuals and HIV infection. The $2.6 million study ceased before completion because of concerns that condoms failed so often, they might be unable to provide protection to those involved in the experiment. Another California study found that 17 percent of healthy subjects became infected within 18 months—though they used condoms for protection. As of yet, no study under controlled (human) conditions has ever been completed for determining HIV infection rates with condoms. According to Dr. Howard Cyrs, “No one is stupid enough to take part in such a test.” Existing “tests” are only surveys to determine condom failure rates. But the surveys that exist are so far consistent with condom failure and pregnancy rates.
Since studies seem to suggest that giving free condoms to kids may actually contribute to an increase in teen sexual activity, and condom failure may be ranked near 20 percent, the logical conclusion is that more kids may end up getting AIDS in the long run. And there’s yet another failure regarding condoms.
Frankly, condoms are boring, and many who are sexually active feel that using condoms inhibits sexual spontaneity. The track record seems to bear that out. A survey of college students published by USA Today during 1991 showed a 5-percent drop in condom use for protection and a 3-percent drop in those who were “Extra selective about their sexual partner.” Even the homosexual community isn’t immune. During 1990, several reports surfaced that homosexuals were abandoning safe sex practices because of boredom. Pleasure, it would seem, takes precedence over caution and self-control. If high school students follow that same trend, those receiving free condoms will surely acquire HIV once their sexual inhibitions have been lowered by condom promotions and hand-outs.
AIDS education has taken a decidedly permissive tone. Abstinence takes a back seat to condoms and safe sex. Abstinence is discussed, but the degree of promotion weighs heavily on the side of condoms and promiscuity. And AIDS education doesn’t always give all the facts—possibly because AIDS educators don’t know all the facts themselves. For instance, how many students know much of the information presented in this report? Especially regarding the size of condom holes in relation to the size of HIV, the randomness of testing, condom failure rates and so on? There’s another little-known fact about condoms not often reported.
The commonality of leaks in hospital gloves is not unknown to many health care workers. That’s why, as reported earlier, some workers glove up more than once. Once more, a sterile surgical glove is 229,000 nanometers thick, a disposable latex glove is 127,000 nanometers thick. But condoms, which are promoted for teen use against AIDS spread, are 38,000 nanometers thick! If leaks in hospital gloves are common, even with proper use, then leaks in condoms are a surety. How many teens know that when they rely on condoms for protection, they rely on one of the thinnest pieces of protection against a fatal syndrome that some have called “The New Plague?” Certainly, there are more students having sex than doctors performing surgery, yet students are supposed to count on condoms for protection against AIDS when doctors gets a protective device 3 to 6 times thicker and stronger. Something doesn’t measure up.
Schools must consider the legal ramifications of promoting and handing out free condoms to kids. What if a teen receives a school supplied condom, uses it, and contracts AIDS? Attributing the failure to “improper use” won’t always work, and the last thing schools need are lawsuits for wrongful death. Furthermore, if students are not given full disclosure regarding condom effectiveness and failure, negligence charges may surface if a teen contracts the syndrome. Could parents or a teen collect monetary damages in such an event? That remains to be seen. Either way, schools could avoid the potential legal problems, reduced teen sex and STD’s, and save a lot of taxpayer money by concentrating on an abstinence-based message for teens.
Holding Out In More Ways Than One
Abstaining from sexual activity is mentioned during many sex-education courses, but the strength of the abstinence message leaves a lot to be desired. Who has seen a public service message on television calling for chastity as a means of AIDS prevention? Are methods of abstinence given equal time to condoms? Students are lectured on condoms, and even shown how to use them, but are students also given methods to secure an abstinence-based lifestyle for themselves? Clearly, no. And this is one of the stranger standards in public education.
President Bush revived Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No To Drugs” message when he announced early in his presidency an increase in efforts for the drug war. Congress soon followed suit by requiring schools to teach illegal drug use as an immoral act. Suddenly, for the first time in years, U.S. education policy required that an absolute value be taught in the classroom. The “Just Say No” message is also used for AIDS education because of IV drug use transmission. But a similar policy has not been adopted for sexual conduct. Yet, the benefits are clear.
If the available information is correct, then those who are sexually active with an HIV infected partner continuing their behavior, using a condom every time—10 to 17 percent can expect to be infected within 2 years or less. For those who adopt a lifestyle of abstinence, the chance of contracting AIDS is almost zero. And everyone has the ability to abstain from sex—just as everyone has the ability to abstain from illegal drug use.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 54 percent of high school student have had sexual intercourse. While that figure is rising, it reveals something often overlooked. Forty-six percent of high school students are not having sexual intercourse. That’s almost half. If half of today’s high school kids are abstaining from sex, then the other half has the same ability. They simply need the encouragement to do it. And there are ways schools and parents can help teens establish and hold to a lifestyle of sexual purity.
Pro-promiscuity messages are contained in almost every form of media. Billboards for beer have beautiful women sprawled in bikinis. Radio stations use sexual innuendo and up-front enticement. Advertising and popular TV shows appeal to the base nature of man. And education has contributed by emphasizing sexual safety. The results are obvious. Abstinence, however, can be promoted as a means of personal accomplishment. The virtues of virginity for both boys and girls can be promoted as a sign of personal integrity.
High schools have “Just Say No” clubs, why not establish another kind of “Just Say No” club? Students committed to purity can lend one another support by sharing the positives of abstinence. Those with a degree of gumption may even have their names posted on a club bulletin board as ones who have maintained their sexual purity. Students wishing to reclaim their purity can be coached with club students on avoidance techniques, such as never dating
alone, and having “accountability partners.” In addition, parents could be brought into the picture.
The new “Say No” clubs could require that teens inform their parents that they have committed to remaining sexually pure. Measures could include always letting parents know where the student is on dates, consistently double dating with another club member, and the two couples never separating on the night out. Students could also develop creative ways to avoid being home alone with the opposite sex. Some of these ideas are old ones, but effective. Students successfully abstaining from sexual immorality would also acquire a new sense of personal accomplishment—not having succumbed to peer pressure and popular sexual messages. Students who stumble would be encouraged by the group to reclaim the purity, and establish a “second virginity.”
In all, accountability is the key factor in making such a program work. Someone must be able to call another on the carpet and help strengthen them in a time of weakness. Without accountability (positive peer pressure), students will have no means outside themselves for strength. Since the pressure to have sex is increasing, so too, the pressure to abstain should increase equally.
Will kids “have sex anyway?” That depends on what they’re told. Everyone may have sexual organs, but they don’t have to be used sexually. Each person has a mind and a free will to choose the kind of behavior they engage in. You can either build of habit of sexual failure, or a habit of sexually integrity. Everyone, heterosexual or homosexual, has a free will. Exercising the free will to abstain will save lives. Anything otherwise means risking life for the sake of a sexual high. Can sex be worth death?
The Biblical Perspective
When it was made clear to the public the means by which AIDS is spread, some evangelical leaders seemed to jump on the judgment bandwagon, declaring that God was rewarding homosexuals for their deeds. The passage of scripture usually quoted is found in Romans 1:26 and 27. “God gave them over to degrading passions, for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire towards one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” But is AIDS a judgment from God? It has been said that if AIDS isn’t a judgment from God, then it is at least a warning. And if AIDS is a warning, pray we don’t see the judgment.
Considering how AIDS is spread (almost exclusively by behavior), it follows that AIDS can be avoided by not engaging in that behavior. So, it may be said that contracting AIDS is a consequence of committing an immoral act. Since the Bible defines all sexual contact outside of marriage between men and women as sin, the biblical perspective is one of consequences for immorality. God does not summarily intervene in natural events to give a person a disease. Such things are usually a natural consequence. It’s built into the system.
AIDS has been built into the system of consequences. The passage in Romans 1 is not about receiving punishment for evil deeds, it’s about receiving “Degrading passions” for refusing to acknowledge God. The passions stimulate the act of immorality, and the act can potentially lead to contracting a disease or a fatality. If you drive recklessly on the road and get into an accident, is that a judgement from God or the consequence of your behavior? What if that accident kills an innocent person on the road or in another car? Were they judged by God, or did they suffer the consequences of another’s actions? Common sense makes the answer apparent—and it should with AIDS. God has granted to each individual a mind, the ability to ascertain a situation, its circumstances, and consequences. Living by one’s sexual impulses disregards that God given mind and ability.
Whether or not AIDS is a judgment from God remains to be seen. What is clear is that actions have consequences, and those consequences vary. Sexual activity between some only dissolves bonds of purity. In others, it brings pregnancy, hardship, separation from parents or other family members, diseases, and in the case of AIDS, death. We simply must choose what we are willing to risk. How far over the line of sure safety are we willing to cross for a sexual experience?
Sexual impulses can be hard to control. Especially since the nature of lust is gratification. But no one need ever give in to every desire.
Romans 6 details an extra measure of protection available to those who have a commitment to Jesus Christ. For the person who has received Jesus death on the cross as the punishment for their sin, a spiritual power is available to deny sin. The same kind of power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. “For if we become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin, for he who has died has been freed from sin…even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
AIDS is a terrible thing. So are the acts of moral failure that may expose a person to AIDS. But whether infected or healthy, promiscuous or pure, God’s power is available to anyone who wants it. A lifetime commitment of love and obedience to Jesus Christ is all that is required.