Casual sex, we are told, has become a casualty of the AIDS epidemic. Those who speak scornfully of the "sexual revolution" are now proclaiming its end, waving the bloody shirt of AIDS.
A newsletter devoted entirely to AIDS contains blocked-off, oversized fillers that blare such admonitions as: "Save sex for marriage! You owe it to your future children!" neither of which would seem to have much to do with homosexuals. The newsletter contains apocryphal stories about young heterosexuals losing their virginity and getting AIDS.
- "AIDS: Suddenly Sex Has Become Very Dangerous," a Texas video, has been sold to more than 1,000 schools. A young woman is shown trying on her wedding dress when she receives a call from her doctor telling her she has AIDS. The video warns that the only truly safe way to avoid such calls is to avoid sex. Homosexuality is never mentioned.
- Secretary of Education William J. Bennett apparently printed over two million copies of his booklet, "AIDS and the Education of our Children," which devotes only three sentences to homosexuality and nowhere mentions anal sex.
- A conservative Catholic columnist confided to me that he saw nothing wrong with the "chastity or death" message, despite acknowledging the low risk to most heterosexuals. He saw the end as being so important as to justify a "whatever works" approach.
But is it?
The main problem with using AIDS to terrify heterosexuals into chastity is that it requires gross exaggeration of the risk. AIDS is a bloodborne disease that, 10 years after the first heterosexual AIDS cases began showing up in New York City, remains confined almost exclusively to homosexuals, intravenous (IV) drug abusers, recipients of blood products prior to 1986, and their steady sexual partners.
Only about two percent of all diagnosed AIDS cases in this country have been attributed to heterosexual transmission in native-born Americans, a figure that has held steady for several years now. In New York City, the heterosexual AIDS capital of the United States, only eight males have been identified as having gotten AIDS from heterosexual intercourse.
If other health departments interviewed patients as carefully as New York does and were thus able efficiently to screen out those who claim sex with women as their only risk, when in fact they have had sex with men or shared needles, its quite possible theyd find that less than a score of such heterosexual men exist in the entire country.
Blood tests also indicate that the problem remains tightly confined to a few groups. The prevalence of HIV infection in military recruits not belonging to the aforementioned high-risk groups has been estimated at 0.02 percent or less. In first-time blood donors this figure drops to 0.006 percent. Most importantly, both of these figures have held steady the last two years.
Premarital blood tests for HIV were canceled wherever tried because they just werent finding any positives.
Just as the risk of heterosexual sex in general is greatly overstated, so is that of "casual sex" in heterosexual AIDS transmission. Researchers in New York City and elsewhere report that the great majority of their heterosexually transmitted AIDS cases are appearing in monogamous or nearly monogamous relationships. This may seem strange until one realizes that this virus is so difficult to transmit heterosexually that the chance of receiving the virus in a quick relationship or the proverbial "one-night stand" is miniscule, so that the true risk to a heterosexual comes from a long-term relationship with a bisexual or, more likely, an IV drug abuser.
Since there is no evidence that AIDS is spreading among non-drug-using heterosexuals, there is little public health reason to target information towards heterosexuals in any degree greater than its risk to them.
Other than because they wish to push chastity for its own sake, we are hardpressed to explain why the government, church leaders, and others are placing so much emphasis on terrifying heterosexuals about a disease that will strike slightly over 500 non-IV-drug-using heterosexuals in the next year, even as auto accidents take 40,000 heterosexual lives, accidental falls over 10,000, and drownings about 5,000, the great majority of which might well be prevented if the enormous resources devoted to informing heterosexuals about AIDS were diverted to educating the populace about safer driving and swimming habits.
Thus, dishonesty underlies the entire moralistic scheme to exaggerate the heterosexual AIDS problem. That it is a course chock full of deception should constitute the first of our objections to using AIDS as a whip to enforce an otherwise honorable and morally correct concept — that of chastity until marriage.
Frustrated with the reaction to our admonition to "Avoid pre-marital sex or youll lose your soul," we have cynically exchanged it for "Avoid pre-marital sex or youll lose your life." Moral suasion is replaced with mortal terror.
Beyond the lack of ethics in using one form of immorality — prevarication — to dissuade another, such an approach is fraught with danger, for a couple of reasons.
First, at some point, sexually active heterosexuals are going to wake up and find theyre still alive. Either there will be a vaccine, or a treatment bordering on a cure, or else theyll simply realize that the apocalyptic talk about heterosexual AIDS was just that. What then?
Persons can also reduce their perceived risks through such means as using condoms, the promotion of which has enraged the moralists to the extent that Bennett devoted a major section of his booklet to downplaying their efficacy. He seems not to understand that "condom- mania," as he calls it (which includes such niceties as condoms in fortune cookies, condom bouquets, door-to-door condom delivery, a cartoon Calvin Condom to teach youngsters, and — of course — the condom of the month club), is a pragmatic, if offensive, reaction to the problem he overstates.
Pragmatic arguments against pre-marital sex can always be overcome by pragmatic means. Pregnancy? Use birth control and if that fails, get an abortion. Sexually transmitted disease? Use a condom or get a dose of penicillin. Even herpes can be treated. The only argument against pre-marital sex that cant be overcome is that which isnt pragmatic but moral: that the act is wrong and preventing the physical consequences cannot forestall the spiritual ones.
Further, if the moral position is abandoned for a pragmatic one, how can the moral one be reclaimed once the reason for pragmatism is gone? Whatever short-term gains made through the AIDS hysteria will result in lon -term loss of trust once the falsely induced hysteria inevitably abates.
Second, the virtue that comes from abstinence can only come about if that abstinence results from morally praiseworthy motives. If John finds Freds wife sexually attractive but refuses her advances out of a sense of morality, John has acted virtuously. If, conversely, he resists her advances because Fred is a hot-tempered, suspicious NFL linebacker, then John is merely acting expediently.
In either case, Johns abstinence from sex with his neighbor is the proper action, but in only one case was it done for the morally correct reason. People can be forced through fear to behave correctly, but virtue must be chosen of free will — it cannot be enforced at the end of a bullwhip or through the services of a bogeyman with a scarlet "A" tattooed on his chest.