Abstinence and faithfulness: sure ways to avoid HIV


It is not debatable that abstinence and faithfulness are two sure ways to avoid HIV infection, although there is scepticism towards abstinence or being faithful to one partner, particularly when it comes to our male counterparts.

Africa is a landmass where AIDS afflicts 22 million people. Most religions preach that abstinence and faithfulness are the best ways to deal with the pandemic, especially among adolescents, although most people still believe condom use is the best option to prevent HIV infection.

We may still recall when Pope Benedict XVI first visited Africa in 2009 (in Angola and Cameroon), he stressed that promotion of condom use by health authorities cannot resolve the HIV/AIDS pandemic on the continent. On the contrary, the Pontiff believed it would escalate the crisis.

The Pope described a ‘two-fold approach’ that involves the ‘humanisation of sexuality, spiritual renewal which brings with it new ways of behaving’ as well as ‘true friendship, especially for those who are suffering’, as the only solution.

In short, what the Catholic Church and other denominations and religions have been advocating and still doing so is that the best way to fight AIDS is abstinence and fidelity.

By the look of things, I am of the opinion that there is a need to revisit the ABC strategy that emphasises on promoting abstinence, being faithful, and condom use – a global strategy that has been credited for bringing the HIV/AIDS pandemic under control.

Although most people have decided to focus on the C part of the strategy, as the best tool to prevent HIV, I personally believe that the only way to ensure safety from HIV infection, for the majority of people is to forgo sex.

In some poor countries, condoms remain scarce. Where they are available, couples trying to conceive cannot use them and condom use within marriage and long-term relationships is an exception rather than the rule.

In these circumstances and for vulnerable young people in general, the most effective prevention method may be to invest in programmes that encourage young people to delay sex until they are in a monogamous relationship or when they are married.

It is important that health authorities aggressively embark on media campaigns to encourage, especially young people who have not had their sexual debut, to abstain from sex until they are mature and ready for committed long-term or life-long relationships.

Campaign messages should also be tailored for those young people who have already engaged in sex, to sensitise them about the importance of abstinence, as a sure way to guard oneself against HIV/AIDS.

To understand better the attitudes of young South Africans towards the media’s role in HIV prevention and education, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation conducted a survey of nearly 4 000 South Africans aged 15-24 between August and December 2006.

The survey found that the majority (96 percent) respondents believe that television and radio are generally doing a good job communicating about HIV/AIDS and 89 percent said that television and radio have a positive impact on their own understanding of HIV/AIDS and related sexual behaviours.

About 50 percent said they talked with their partner about safer sex and more than 40 percent reported that they decided to change their sexual behaviour because of what they had learned about HIV/AIDS from the media.

The promotion of condoms has been portrayed as the promotion of promiscuity. Conversely, and in reaction to the perceived morality of the majority – sex without condoms has sometimes been portrayed as a right and a good thing in itself – suggesting or influencing people to delay or restrict it has been seen as oppressive.

But abstinence remains  a viable strategy for the majority, especially young people, to avoid sexually transmitted diseases or unplanned pregnancies, therefore, it is important to review strategies to ensure the massage yielded the desired outcome.

November 2013
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