Articles From the May 1994 Unification News


The Friendly Face Of Deadly High-Risk Sex Health And Human Services New $800,000 Condom Campaign Puts America At Risk

by William L. Bergman, MD-NYC

As part of an effort by the Clinton Administration to persuade young people to use condoms to "protect themselves from HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases", Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala announced a federally sponsored radio and television advertising campaign during the first week of 1994.

One television spot shows a condom that leaps from a chest of drawers just as a couple, whose sex is unclear, are about to have sex. Like a tiny superhero, the New York Times reported, the condom scurries across the room past a surprised cat and dives under the covers with the pair.

An article in the business section of the New York Times on January 5th, stated that "in producing a campaign that is the frankest, hippest and most provocative anti-AIDS effort ever by the Federal Government, the creative executives at Ogilvy and Mather South approached the work as product advertising rather than as public service advertising." (italics ours)

Here we have taxpayers hard earned money going to promote the very behavior that spreads disease and death, all in the name of disease prevention, and with the claim that it is justified because sex is "inevitable" for 18-25 year olds.

Just as Camel cigarettes are being promoted to young people by the cool "Old Joe" cartoon, we now have Americans of all ages watching condoms being promoted as harmless toys with no regard to the ethical dimension of sex or even an honest message regarding the true risks of so-called "safer sex." Also absent is any mention of responsible behavior, other than wearing a condom, or on healthy family relationships (are the people in the ads married?)

As a medical education and research organization concerned with the most effective means of containing the AIDS/STD epidemic and preventing HIV infection among our youth, the World Medical Health Foundation has been expressing our serious concerns regarding this campaign from several points of view:

1. It is suggested that there are "two ways to protect" oneself from HIV/STD infection: abstinence and using latex condoms correctly and consistently. Never mentioned are the numerous scientific studies indicating that there is between 10 and 20 percent condom failure rate for pregnancy making "correct and consistent use" more theory than practice. Also ignored is research indicating that 15 percent of couples using latex condoms experienced condom breakage and slippage. In addition, while abstinence is seen as "the best way" to prevent HIV, people are not told explicitly that abstinence apart from a committed relationship is virtual risk elimination while condom use is at best merely risk reduction.

2. Even more shocking, perhaps, is that the government's campaign is partly based on medical research which they say reveals condom effectiveness in preventing HIV infection is about 69 per cent; what they fail to emphasize is that this means a failure rate of 31 percent (or one-in-three). Would any rational person fly in an airplane if they were informed that one in three would crash? In one of the public service announcements called "Peer Educator/Condoms", Denise Stokes, AIDS education counselor, states, "And my message is simple, if you're gonna have sex, a latex condom used consistently and correctly will prevent the spread of HIV and other STD's. People out there gotta understand. That's why I'll go anywhere to talk about latex condoms. Even into your living room." This message, being broadcast and televised across our country, is blatantly false based on informed medical opinion. It is evident from a number of national experts (available from World Medical Health upon request) that condoms give no protection against human papilloma virus infection which can cause cancer, or chlamydia which is increasingly a cause of sterility among young people.

3. The expression in the ads stating that "if you are sexually active, as most people are," ignores the possibility that large numbers of sexually active young people would limit or reduce their sexual activity if their national leaders would put their free-sex ideology aside and the give them an honest message of the true risks involved. If then they still insisted on being sexually active, at least they would have the advantage of being accurately informed in advance.

4. Claiming that this media campaign targets only 18 to 2,5 year- olds is specious. Ms. Shalala knows very well or should know that many teenagers in high school and preteens in elementary school will see these ads or hear them on radio. The underlying premise that premarital sex is a societal norm is a destructive message that will only promote and accentuate negative social trends. Several studies indicate that contraceptive sex education is linked to higher rates of sexual activity among teens. Network television is not a "targeted" medium; it reaches a very wide audience. These ads are not suitable for children.

5. This campaign is virtually devoid of any moral content. Society recognizes the evil of rape, child abuse and violent crime. Yet the federal department responsible for our national health cannot bring itself to see that sexual promiscuity is wrong and that the disaster of HIV, STDs and the psychological trauma of sex without enduring commitment and fidelity are the consequence of distorted values . In the name of AIDS prevention, the federal govecrnment has embraced a free-sex agenda, justifies itself with the myth of the "inevitability of premarital sex," advances condoms as our salvation, and proceeds to promote and encourage on national television the very behavior that created the problem to begin with. The sexual revolution began in the 1960's, but it appears that unless there is a widespread understanding of the important issues involved, the children of the 60's generation will be the major casualties.

It is important for parents to realize that, with regard to public school policy, whatever is promoted through television, or through Hollywood or the media, or even by the misguided direction of the Centers for Disease Control or other federal programs, the final decisions are made at the local level, through voting of the local school boards in each school district.

On this basis, parents of any community seeking to safeguard the health of their youXng people must be actively involved in defining school policy. The steps that need to be undertaken in this regard include:

1. determining what current sex education or AIDS prevention already exists in your school district; approach school authorities with an attitude of cooperation, looking for those from within the school system who are disposed to a abstinence approach because they hold as an ethical value that sex belongs in marriage, or at least is wrong for children and teens.

2. educating those within the school system and the community in general that informed medical opinion, when one looks at published medical research, including Planned Parenthood's own research as reported in Family Planning Perspectives, points clearly to premarital abstinence as a realistic and practical disease prevention strategy. Using World Medical Health's slide program and video," The Private Plague", can help a lot in giving you the facts that make the case in a professional, compelling and irrefutable way.

3. building a consensus that, however adults may disagree on the moral issues involved, in this age of AIDS and the epidemics of other sexually transmitted diseases, teaching young people to exercise self restraint is good for their character and good for their health; let parents look over a variety of abstinence programs, including Free Teens, Teen Choice, Sex Respect, Teenaid, and others so they can determine which program is best suited to the needs of their community.

Promote the idea that while billions will be spent on AIDS research and treatment, "premarital abstinence is the AIDS vaccine."

For information on receiving the newsletter of the World Medical Health Foundation for timely information on this issue and to order "The Private Plague" 95-slide slideprogram for work in your community, please contact the World Medical Health Foundation at 50 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y. or call/FAX us at 914 961-5875.

Dr. Bergman is the president of the World Medical Health Foundation


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