Light is Right Joe Campbell

Light is Right Joe Campbell

Like me, you might not have known that sexpert is an officially recognized word. Well, it is. You can look it up in the Oxford dictionary, which defines it as an expert in sexual matters. I don’t object to the word. I do, however, object to the definition. I think it should be an alleged expert.

Years ago, sexperts told us that we must embrace contraceptives to counteract abortion. Now, they tell us that we must embrace abortion to counteract contraceptive failure. What they offered as a remedy for abortion needs abortion as a remedy.

Oh, well, I’m used to their contradictions. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that two-thirds of the women who had abortions through the British Pregnancy Advisory Service over three years were using contraceptives when they conceived. Nor was I surprised that studies in the United States, Russia, and Spain reached similar conclusions. Why, I wasn’t even surprised when a Canadian abortion rights advocate admitted that most abortions result from failed contraception.

What surprised me, though, is that more than a third of the aborted women in the British study had been using condoms. I was surprised because sexperts tell me that we must embrace condoms to counteract AIDS. But if abortion is the remedy when contraceptive failure results in pregnancy, what is the remedy when it results in an incurable disease?

Oh, I know that anti-viral drugs combat AIDS. But they don’t abort it. They only slow its progress. What’s more, they have unpleasant side-effects and must be taken for life. Even worse, the AIDS virus can develop resistance to them. Although the anti-virals have reduced deaths in many developed nations, AIDS is still a major killer in Africa, Haiti and parts of Asia.

Which deepens the contradiction. On the one hand, sexperts readily admit that condom failure results in a significant share of conceptions. On the other hand, they seem loath to admit that it results in a significant share of infections.

Maybe, in Biblical fashion, the one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. Or, maybe sperm are better than viruses at exploiting condom failure. If so, it would be another surprise: during intercourse, sperm can impregnate female participants only periodically, whereas viruses can infect male or female participants anytime. So if condom failure makes pregnancy prevention difficult, you would expect it to make disease prevention even more difficult.

But if you question sexpert wisdom on the subject, expect to incur sexpert wrath. When a former head of the Catholic Church questioned it, the response was like a gaggle of hecklers crying no popery.

I used to think that condom failure meant breakage or slippage. But that’s only part of the difficulty. Theoretically, sex is about 80 to 85 per cent less risky with condoms than without. Or, put another way, condoms reduce the risk of infection from unprotected sex to about 15 to 20 percent, but only under more or less ideal conditions. Otherwise, theory and practice go their separate ways.

Then there is risk compensation, which sounds beneficial – “Hey, they compensated me for the risks I face”– but is actually harmful – “Hey, I compensated for the safety they offered me by taking more risks.”

The scientific literature suggests that because they feel safer, many who use condoms do so inconsistently or become more promiscuous. As a result, they reduce or eliminate the expected protection.

Part of the law of unintended consequences, risk compensation doesn’t just undermine the safety condom promoters expect, it also bedevils the touted safety of technological fixes ranging from seat belts for drivers to sunscreen for tanners.

To reduce risk, there is no substitute for behavioural change, whether following the rules of the road, limiting exposure to the sun or, with sex, opting for abstinence or monogamy.

That’s what Uganda saw when a 70 per cent decline in the AIDS virus accompanied a 60 per cent reduction in casual sex. That’s what the Philippines saw when the rates of viral infection and condom use both remained remarkably low. That’s what Thailand didn’t see when it promoted widespread condom use and endured a viral infection rate 50 times as high as the Philippines experienced.

Demographic and health surveys confirm that a greater availability and use of condoms is consistently associated with higher infection rates. Nevertheless, sexperts continue to pressure Uganda and the Philippines to distribute more of these technological fixes. Maybe a commitment to unlimited sex and the billion-dollar condom industry has clouded their vision.

Whatever the reason, when it comes to surprises, sexperts rarely disappoint.