Although shielding us from HIV, thus deadly AIDS, could be considered a fairly monumental accomplishment for a simple latex balloon, to the abstinence-until-marriage crowd, it's not enough. For them, the NIH study provided a political opening. The day of its release, the 2000-member Physicians Consortium sent President Bush a letter calling for the resignation of Mr. Big at the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Jeffrey Koplan. Koplan's crime? "The CDC has failed in its primary duty to protect the public health," said Massachusetts Dr. John Diggs, by promoting condom use as a "safe sex" strategy.
Such righteous bravado, despite the report's conclusion that condoms do save lives! And despite findings that don't discount condom effectiveness against other STDs, but merely call for further research.
But according to the Physicians Consortium, promoting abstinence-only-until-marriage can be the only proper public health strategy for the CDC and others. Nevermind that virtually no research backs the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs in preventing unwanted pregnancy and disease in America or, well, anywhere.
Having requested the NIH study last year while a member of Congress, Oklahoma's Republican M.D. Tom Coburn was quick to stick out his tongue and stomp, "I told you so" upon its official release. A true believer of abstinence-only "education" and condom labels stating their, uh, shortcomings, Dr. Coburn said the report is "proof that the term 'safe sex' is a myth."
Given the 15 million new cases of STDs each year, what do these socially conservative doctors prescribe to sexual Americans for protection?
"I would want abstinence until marriage -- anything less than that and some patients are going to get hurt," said Texas doc J. Thomas Fitch, one of the report's panelists who lobbied President Bush for yet more abstinence-only funding. Medical Institute for Sexual Health president and marriage champion Dr. Joe McIlhaney said, "As the NIH report makes clear, there is no such thing as safe sex outside of marriage."
BIGGER NEWS FLASH: There is no such thing as safe life.
So what? You don't stop living because you can walk across the street on any given day and get nailed by a car or slip and crack your head open in the bathtub. You don't stop breathing because stinky pollutants can give you lung cancer. You don't stop eating because you might clog your arteries. You don't stop drinking because you might suck down some microbe bent on attacking your intestine. You don't stop sleeping because you might not wake up in the morning.
Okay, some of us are more "come what may" than others. And some suffer more extreme consequences for those choices than others. But life is about conscious give and take in the risk department. I don't mean to diminish the agony and loss of those with AIDS, or wannabe mommies infertile because of HPV or untreated chlamydia. No more than I dismiss the tragedy of any life reduced for any reason. But singling sex out of all life forces for "risk-free" public policy is grossly misguided.
"Pregnancy is only nine months," says Floridian abstinence-only purist and Eagle Forum spokeswoman Patricia Ann Morris. "The same act that gets you pregnant can give you any and all of the STDs that have no cure -- and if they don't kill you, they may make you wish you were dead."
Yeah, and that same act -- maybe even when that same act is forbidden -- can bring you to the brink of death and back again within the span of one sweaty night. Sex can, also, bring you to the center of the universe, married or not. It can make you cry Jesus and believe in God no matter how agnostic, how atheist. It can make you feel loved, wanted, accepted, like a king. Those and a zillion other reasons -- some noble, some sad -- are why humans will always continue to have sex, whatever the risk.
If these anti-condom docs truly care for the health of their patients, of the nation, then they would promote masturbation, not abstinence until marriage, as the one and only "safe" game in town. At least admit we're sexual beings with, or without, a life mate. Even if you save yourself for marriage, you must still depend on your partner to truthfully say if he or she has ever penetrated another before you. Then over the years you must trust that same person to have sex with only you, through sickness and through health until death, or ennui, do you part. Since in no way can you control another's behavior, you remain always at risk.
There is no safe sex. Even if you practice abstinence until marriage, and even if you stay monogamous while married. There is no safe anything. That's life.