By Tom Holmes
The ABCs of HIV
I've been watching the Frontline special on public TV called End Game about HIV/AIDS in the African American community.
In that special, I heard a lot about a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" approach to communicating about the epidemic. "It's not something you talk about in the black community," said one person being interviewed. "I was an all American, heterosexual girl," said another. "HIV couldn't happen to me. . .but it did."
People on the program talked about the need for more education about sexuality on the one hand and how the medical research is coming with wonderful new treatments for people carrying the virus which prevent it from transitioning into full blown AIDS.
I haven't seen every minute of the program, so I might be missing something, but the focus on education and medication I saw seems to be what I hear on other media. What puzzles me is why more emphasis is not given to monogamy.
Uganda in the 1990s implemented a program called ABC which proved to be quite successful.
In other words, abstinence offers the best guarantee that you won't get HIV; if you don't abstain, then be monogamous; and if you are not monogamous, at least use a condom.
I have two reactions to ABC from a religious point of view.
The first is "Hello. Isn't this a no brainer? Even if you don't have moral problems with sex before marriage, isn't faithfulness a central ethical dictum in not only the Christian tradition but in all the other major world religions as well?" And, even if you are not religious, don't most of you want your significant other to do be your one and only?
The avoidance of talking about HIV in terms of right and wrong seems to me to be one more symptom of the moral relativism which has evolved in Western culture. In the name of tolerance, we say, "If you're not bothering me, do what you want in your own home." That ethical posture naively holds on to the illusion that what I do in my personal life is no one else's business.
The reality is that it has become all of our business in everything from how we deal with blood transfusions to the millions of dollars we spend on drugs to treat folks with HIV and AIDS.
The second reaction is in terms of public policy. My religious tradition teaches a number of things: 1) there is an ideal life—the way life is supposed to be—call it Eden or heaven or the Kingdom of God; 2) human beings keep make choices which prevent them from realizing that ideal life—call it sin or addiction or bad potty training; and 3) any attempt to create that utopia on earth mentioned in the first point and impose it on others will backfire and make things even worse because of point number 2.
That's why I support the ABC program and would like it taught in our middle school. For kids that age, abstinence is the best policy, and there many ways, which we are all aware of, to manage those raging hormones we can share with our soon to be adults.
We all know, however, that some kids will have sex no matter what we tell them. That's why it is important to warn them to at least be monogamous if they do. It's like telling your kids that they shouldn't get drunk, but adding that if you do, make sure you have a designated driver.
And finally, if they're going to play around, at least protect yourself and your partner but demanding that the male wear a condom.
For those who charge that the ABC program undermines religious principles by adding a B and a C to the A, my response is that given the universal acknowledgement that we are good but imperfect human beings living in a good but imperfect world, the most loving thing is to teach the ideal but have back up principles on hand when the ideal is not achieved.