What I'm Doing

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Abstinence and Sexual Disease Prevention

Lately, there have been two conversations related to sexually transmitted diseases that I have come across. One is on a vaccine for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). The story there is that 1) HPV has been linked to cervical cancer, and 2) at least one state government is considering making the vaccine mandatory. The second story is about the WHO backing a plan to prevent HIV spread via circumcision.

In discussions on both stories, the topic of abstinence came up. The general idea is that, if you save yourself for marriage, then, assuming your spouse also saves (him|her)self, you will not be at risk for either HPV or HIV. In the case of the HPV vaccine, the concern was that having your daughter get the vaccine would imply that you don't trust your daughter's sexual morality. In the HIV story, someone made the statement, "if your son and his wife save themselves for marriage, circumcision won't change his HIV risk: 50~60% of 0 is still 0."

The issue that is not mentioned in either case is involuntary sexual encounters (i.e., rape). Sure, your daughter may have an impeccable sexual morality, but that's not going to save her if she is raped. In fact, I just read earlier this morning about a 15-year-old girl who came home from school the other day to find a strange man in her house who tied her up and raped her.

Also, there is the fact that men can be raped. Granted, man-on-man rape isn't going to be affected by circumcision, but I remember reading some time ago about an issue in Africa where HIV-infected women were going around raping men in order to infect them (apparently in revenge for their being infected).

As far as official policies go, abstinence is a great policy within a family, perhaps even a small community, but no government is going to be able to mandate abstinence (unless it's a totalitarian government, but who wants that?), and no group (like the WHO) can make people suddenly become monogamous. While, certainly, these groups should promote abstinence and monogamy, they need to augment this with other efforts to prevent disease among the population.

So, in conclusion, the argument that abstinence and monogamy will protect you against STD's is not 100% correct. Sure, it will greatly reduce your chances, which is something that should not be ignored. However, to say that it will reduce them to 0% is simply wrong; there is always the possibility of rape, and this possibility should never be ignored when looking at possible ways to prevent STD infection.

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