CDC on AIDS prevention: Talk about it and have sex

Over the last 30 years, HIV/AIDS has killed hundreds of thousands of people in America. Despite tremendous advances in medicine that allow victims of HIV/AIDS to live long, healthy lives, it is still a devastating disease that was diagnosed in nearly 14,000 people who died in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And most of those men were what the CDC calls “men who have sex with men,” or MSM (a specific CDC label).

In fact, MSM “accounted for 78% of new HIV infections among males and 63% of all new infections” in 2010, despite making up, at most, four percent of the total U.S. population.

With these results, one might expect the CDC to issue a simple bit of advice to the gay male community: “Don’t engage in anal sex. It’s bad for you.”

Nope, not our politically correct friends at the CDC. Instead, as part of its “Act Against AIDS” campaign, the CDC put out a video a month ago that highlights people who are focused on stopping HIV/AIDS. One guy says he is “stopping HIV by blogging and speaking up about it,” a woman is “taking my HIV meds every day,” and an older man is “being open about living with HIV.”

Another person says he’s doing his part “by raising awareness through my poetry and arts.”

Last week, a similar ad on Pandora noted that for people with HIV/AIDS, their medicine stops working “every time you [have] risky sex.”

That ad depicted gay men in same-sex relationships, and told people with HIV/AIDS to “be strong.” (By talking about HIV/AIDS while using medication as you blog about art and engage in the riskiest sexual act possible?)

Such outstanding advice isn’t new. In 2013, I reported on the disturbing results of a CDC study:

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows approximately 62 percent of gay men who know they have HIV/AIDS continue to engage in sexual relations without using a prophylactic, a behavior that can spread AIDS.

The report, which was released on the Friday after Thanksgiving, analyzed data gathered in 2011.

According to the report, the percentage of men with HIV/AIDS having sex with other men without a condom had increased from 55 percent in 2005, to 57 percent in 2008, to 62 percent today.

The CDC’s advice? Get tested, use condoms, be honest with sexual partners, and don’t sleep around:

To fight this, the CDC recommended MSM reduce the risk of HIV by “choosing less risky behaviors, using condoms consistently and correctly if they have vaginal or anal sex, reducing the number of sex partners, and if HIV-positive, letting potential sex partners know their status.”

It also recommends annual testing for men having sex with men, and “taking pre-exposure or post-exposure prophylaxis” as protection for some men at high risk. It also encourages more frequent testing. One-third of MSM were unaware they had HIV while engaging in risky sexual relations.

At the time, I asked a CDC spokesperson why abstinence — which has a 100 percent STI avoidance rate — was not listed as a preventative option. She told me that “we do know that not having sex is the most reliable way to avoid infection, and we include that as a prevention option in our media materials.” She highlighted an August 2013 graphic from the CDC that promotes abstinence as the first of three measures to prevent MSM from contracting HIV/AIDS.

This week, a different spokesperson addressed my questions about the CDC’s new ads. According to the spokesperson:

Act Against AIDS features multiple communication campaigns designed to serve specific populations at highest risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV, including sexually active gay and bisexual men and African American women. And, for those who are sexually active, our campaign messages aim to communicate how they can reduce the risk of infection.

However, when asked broadly how someone can protect themselves from infection, we consistently indicate that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective strategy for preventing infection. And, again, for those who are sexually active, we provide information on how to reduce risk.

Maybe the only method of HIV/AIDS protection that is 100% effective — sexual abstinence — could be advocated first and foremost every time?

The CDC spokesperson wasn’t done:

The goal of Let’s Stop HIV Together – the campaign which contains the PSA you shared — is to raise awareness about HIV and to combat stigma. This ad is not intended to provide a full run-down of HIV and prevention, but rather to provide participants’ personal stories to raise awareness, fight stigma about HIV, encourage HIV prevention and testing, and champion the power of relationships in the personal and public fight to stop HIV.

I asked how the CDC defines stigma. The response:

Stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV and AIDS are still very real issues in the U. S. today — both fueled by myths, misinformation and misperception. Stigma is a major barrier to HIV testing, condom use and use of other effective, available prevention strategies.  It also discourages those living with HIV from seeking the care and treatment they need to stay healthy and avoid transmitting HIV to others.

While it is certainly true that monogamously engaging in sexual acts reduces the chances of contracting HIV/AIDS and other STIs — whether those relationships are same-sex or opposite-sex — it is disappointing to see the CDC take the LGBT activist approach to sexually-transmitted HIV/AIDS. Anal sex, which is an intrinsic part of male-to-male sexual relationships, is simply dangerous. The CDC should consider promoting this stigma part of its public duty.

It is a well-established fact that MSM are most at risk to contract HIV/AIDS in America. Next on the list are women with multiple sexual partners and people who use needles for drugs — two other extremely unhealthy activity choices that should be avoided, not patched over with testing, “protection,” or medicine.

It is a credit to human ingenuity and compassion that people who have contracted HIV/AIDS are able to live long lives. But the CDC’s timid approach to HIV/AIDS prevention is problematic in the extreme.

The best way to drastically prevent HIV/AIDS is the same one that has existed since the dawn of man: Sexual relations between one man and one woman, for life.