Holy Condoms!

The Guardian in London first reported it on Thursday October 9, 2003 — according to “Vatican: Condoms Don’t Stop AIDS” by Steve Bradshaw, “the Catholic Church is telling people in countries stricken by AIDS not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which HIV can pass. The church is making the claims across four continents despite a widespread scientific consensus that condoms are impermeable to HIV.”

The church made its claims on a BBC program, Sex and the Holy City. The president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo said: “The AIDS virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the ‘net’ that is formed by the condom.”

The World Health Organization responded immediately that the Vatican’s claims that condoms have holes that the virus can pass through are untrue, senior spokesmen from the church continued to stand by their view.

“These margins of uncertainty… should represent an obligation on the part of the health ministries and all these campaigns to act in the same way as they do with regard to cigarettes, which they state to be a danger.”

The church’s recommendation for stopping the spread of AIDS? No surprise: It’s chastity, chastity, chastity. That not having sex will certainly keep one from getting a sexually transmitted disease, unfortunately, it’s not a real-world solution.

Where to begin? In these times when all one needs to criticize the Catholic church is a fish, a gun and a barrel, response to the church’s latest proclamation has been the equivalent of a heavy, deep sigh. AIDS awareness groups have issued immediate statements denying the church’s claims that condoms are permeable, and most reports on the proclamation (such as the one in The Guardian above) skewed heavily in a tone of pure disbelief. For those of us who’ve watched the church turn a blind eye on priests who engage in criminal behavior and admit they were wrong about Galileo multiple centuries too late, this latest sex tip from Rome, while outrageous, is hardly surprising. In fact, we imagine what might come next:

VATICAN CLAIMS UMBRELLAS DO NOT PROTECT FROM RAIN
ROME –The Vatican issued a statement today that the wide-held belief that umbrellas help in keeping one dry from rain is deeply false, and that in fact using an umbrella is an “affront to God”.

Cardinal Guillermo Posedo announced yesterday that “umbrellas for years may give the illusion of keeping one dry, but as it turns out, tiny holes in the umbrella allow water through. Therefore, there is no point in using an umbrella — in fact, one should become drenched in the rain, develop a sickness which keeps them at home, allowing more time for procreation.”

The Cardinal added, “Of course, during such procreation couples shall not use a condom. Don’t even get me started with the holes in those things.”

Part of the reason response to the Vatican’s anti-condom proclamation is that as Americans, their effect on our psyches and habits seems relatively minor. Despite the sad state of sex education in our schools, Americans in general are more aware and savvy about condom use than developing countries (at least, I hope). Furthermore, the Vatican’s impact on American Catholics isn’t what it is in, for example, Africa and South America. According to The Guardian article, however, the church’s proclamation has had immediate effect. For example, in Kenya, where an estimated 20% of people have HIV, the church condemns condom use, noting that they promote promiscuity. According to the archbishop of Nairobi, “AIDS… has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms.”

In Lwak, near Lake Victoria, the director of an AIDS testing center says he cannot distribute condoms because of church opposition. Gordon Wambi told Sex and the Holy City: “Some priests have even been saying that condoms are laced with HIV/AIDS.”

While the media widely reported the Vatican’s statement, once again we fall victim to the typical short-attention-span media coverage things like this and so many other hot topics get. Why worry about what erroneous, dangerous proclamations the Vatican makes, because tomorrow our awareness of it will all go away? And look at who the victims are: Africa, which, if the average American looked at it on the map (provided he or she could find it), he or she might also notice that it’s pretty darn far away.

At the same time, criticizing the media and American public is just as easy as the aforementioned fish-in-barrel Catholic Church. Most people I know who heard about the Church’s proclamation expressed opinions that ranged from deep frustration to outrage — but at the same time felt like they had a plate full of things about which to be flummoxed. Take your pick — the war in Iraq, Bush’s judicial nominations, Schwartzenegger’s gubernatorial tenure, partial-birth abortion bans, same sex marriage — shall we go on? Oh, look — here’s another potential press release from the Vatican that’s made its way to the wires:

CHURCH BRINGS INTO QUESTION EARTH’S ROTATION
ROME — Vatican leaders today brought into question the existence of the earth’s rotation, challenging centuries of scientific evidence that proves unequivocally that every 24 hours the earth makes a complete rotation.

Cardinal Jean-Luc Valliere noted that while “scientific evidence may suggest that a rotation is involved, we know that, according to Genesis, God created day. Therefore, we cannot explain how it is done. All we know is that it is a great mystery, never to be known to man how God creates days.”

Valliere added, “It is also true that God created night, during which time one must be fruitful and multiply, as long as one is Catholic, married, heterosexual, engaging in the missionary position and not using birth control.”

While the easiest response to the Church’s stance on condoms and HIV transmission may be to simply ignore it, not dignifying their remarks with a response; at the same time the implications of the church’s statements are terrifyingly dangerous. The “Silence = Death” slogan popularized in the 1980s may feel retro now, but in this case it rings particularly apt. While we can only hope that the influence of the church’s statement isn’t as widespread, particularly over the countries particularly ravaged by AIDS and HIV, simply hoping can leave one with a helpless feeling.

One good response to the Vatican’s message is to support a charity, such as Doctors Without Borders, that works with AIDS victims and educates the rest of the populace in developing nations. Beyond that, however, the resignation and helplessness one feels upon hearing such a proclamation, considering it is made by an authority that has so much influence over the populace in the nations that need immediate help.

Perhaps the answer is a press release of our own?

EVERYONE IN WORLD WANTS CHURCH TO JUST SHUT UP
(WORLD) — In response to the Catholic Church’s recent proclamation that condoms have holes through which HIV can pass, everyone in the world collectively shouted for the Church to just shut up, before you cause any more misery.

Eliza Rogers, spokeswoman for everyone, told the wires: “Only the Catholic Church could not think it’s bad enough that there’s a global pandemic of AIDS and HIV transmission — they have to make it worse by condemning the most effective barrier against spreading the disease sexually.”

“We, the citizens of the world, have heard enough from the Vatican. Until they’re ready to help, we ask that they keep their dangerous opinions to themselves.”

The Vatican, to everyone’s delight, declined to comment.

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