Sitting alone in a classroom at a Catholic all-boys high school this weekend (don't ask), I passed the time by browsing through the health textbooks stacked on the window sill. Sure enough: no discussion of contraception (condoms are mentioned, but not described, in connection with people who have HIV); abortion, still legal here in the United States, isn't even listed in the glossary. Sex itself is discussed only in the vaguest terms, with emphasis on how to avoid it. This wasn't a special Catholic-boy textbook, either -- "Health: Skills for Wellness" is one of the bestselling health texts in the country.Pollit's discussion continues through a long list of changes that she attributes to political payback for the Religious Right. Her conclusion is basically that "this, too, shall pass," and reason and enlightenment will eventually return to the land of the free and the home of the brave. Until then, however, she asks:
How many young people will suffer STDs and HIV and pregnancy because they learned in school that condoms "don't work" -- or didn't hear about them at all?
One may agree with her conclusion or disagree with her thesis, but Pollit still points to troubling examples of disinformation which seem likely to have some effect on HIV prevention. When effective prevention information is withheld from those at high risk to engage in high risk activities, then their likelihood for exposure to HIV increases simply because they will not have the information they need to avoid such exposure. Giving incorrect information is at least just as bad.
It's true. Condoms don't make a very good sandwich wrap. They are useless for holding the trunk closed when you want to haul an oversized load. They simply don't work as a hotpad. But condoms are effective at preventing the transmission of HIV.