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Should everyone have a month off sex?

Claudia Bradshaw Claudia Bradshaw | 12:02 UK time, Monday, 5 July 2010

condoms.jpg

Scientists fighting the Aids epidemic are calling on Africans to stop having sex for a month. They say it could cut new infections by almost half. According to their research a person with HIV is most likely to pass the on virus to somebody else during the 1st month after they've been infected.

One of the scientists, Alan Whiteside, thinks a month-long pledge to use a condom could also be effective.

"The main thing is to agree on a bounded period in which the entire population would live by the same rule".

But Elizabeth Mataka, the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa says that abstinence is not an option for most married women because they have conjugal obligations to fulfil. She argues for new technologies to prevent infection, such as a ring women can wear in the birth canal which releases anti-retrovirals to block transmission - which is being trialled in Kenya at the moment.

Some worry an abstinence campaign could be viewed as moralistic, or that church could hijack the idea and use it to promote their ideals around marriage.

Abstinence certainly fits in with the view held by many in the church. The authors of a new book argue that getting people to abstain and be faithful is more important than the 'technical fix' of promoting condom use. They compare it to smoking:
Maybe once it seemed unrealistic to change a situation where 75% of people smoked, but public health authorities embarked on campaigns to change such lifestyle choices, with success.

And Charles R Swindoll also connects abstinence with marriage:

The problem of AIDS is horrible, but understanding the ultimate cause is not complicated. To borrow from the prophet Hosea (who knew the tragic consequences of sexual impurity), our land has sown the wind and we are now reaping the whirlwind. The storm will not subside unless we return to marital fidelity and sexual abstinence.

But Philip N Cohen thinks talking about marriage and abstinence can get in the way of trying to promote a health message. This blogger argues that education is crucial to fighting Aids. Elizabeth Pisani thinks that one weakness of abstinence programmes is that they are only meant to work until people get married, but people can be unfaithful after that. And Dr Ayiko says we need to use the law as an instrument to prevent people intentionally infecting others.

What's the best way to prevent the spread of Aids? Should we all have a month off sex?

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