Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pope Makes Stupid Comments; Some People Listen

The Pope and his merry gang are tying themselves in knots again about things they know little of. They are not experts in sex, only in denying that it occurs. Outside of ostentatiously religious circles, sex is just one type of human behavior, it's certainly not an act of gross immorality. It's a highly significant type of human behavior, but it dates back long before Christians decided to prognosticate about it.

If I was sick, suffering from any disease, HIV being just one, I certainly wouldn't ask the Pope's advice on how to live my life, how to avoid transmitting the disease, etc. And if I wanted to avoid HIV, or any other disease, I wouldn't aks the Pope for advice either. Because the advice I would get would be wrong.

Not that the advice you'd get from UNAIDS or many other institutions would be any better. They would all lecture you on sex, safe and unsafe, and they would probably tell you that no sex at all is the best thing. But not having sex will not protect you from HIV, especially in high prevalence countries. And practicing safe sex will not either.

Time after time, research has shown that people who have no sex or no unsafe sex are as likely to be HIV positive as those who have lots of sex or have unsafe sex most of the time. Sometimes, they are even more likely to be HIV positive. The connection between HIV and sex is tenuous.

This is not to say the connection does not exist. Certain kinds of sex are very dangerous, such as anal sex. Certain sexually transmitted infections (STI), very common in some countries (developing and developed), highly transmissable infections, increase the risk of transmitting or of contracting HIV. But the probability of transmission through heterosexual sex is generally low.

True, STIs can be very common in some African countries. But exceptionally high rates of easily treated sexually transmitted diseases is not a sign that people there have lots of sex, or lots of unsafe sex. It is a sign that the health services are in disarray. Many people hardly ever visit a health facility and many of those who do are as likely to be infected with something they don't already have as be cured of something they do have.

In addition to the risk of being infected with HIV and other diseases in hospitals and other health facilities, people even face risks if they go to a hairdresser, a tattoo artist or a pedicurist. UNAIDS and other institutions who are obsessed with others having sex don't want to admit it but these are far more efficient transmitters of HIV than sex.

Tanzania is, according to some figures, roughly divided into three in terms of dominant religious. About one third each are Muslim, Catholic or some kind of non-Catholic Christian. HIV rates are often (though not always) lower among Muslims. But rates are very similar among the other two religions.

Similar remarks apply to Kenya and some other countries. For all their posturing, Christians, Catholic or otherwise, are no less likely to be HIV positive, to suffer from high rates of other STIs, to engage in sexual behavior considered to be unsafe, to circumcise their daughters, to beat their wives and generally indulge things that are considered to be 'unchristian'.

The fact is, many people say the right things, or what they consider to be the right things, but they do just what they want to do. So shouting about whether condoms and contraception are wrong or right, for most people, is hypocritical and potentially dangerous. There is a vast unmet need for contraception among women in developing countries.

These 'Christians' would be better advised to figure out how to change the kinds of behavior that results in some of the worst social and development problems. They could even spend a bit of time considering how to reverse the levels of gender inequality that they have spent centuries building up because that is behind some of the biggest threats that people face, especially women, mothers and girls.

Every time an article like this is published, the irrelevance of Popes, priests and religions are shoved down our throats. But when these people and institutions stand by while others become infected with a debilitating and deadly disease, it's time to tell these overfed fools where to stuff their advice. If I thought the churches had something valid to say about morality, I might listen, but they don't.


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