AIDS book cautions women against 'sexual suicide'

November 09, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI — Dr. Fleur Sack loves her patients to the death.

That is why they can make her furious. They tell her they're sleeping with men who won't wear condoms. They tell her they are HIV-infected and still don't always practice safe sex.

One former patient, now dead, told her he had unprotected sex with various married men despite his HIV infection, exposing their spouses and unborn children. He felt no guilt. His stories, Dr. Sack says, made her shake with anger.

These are characters in an eye-opening new book called "Romance to Die For," which has all the tragic underpinnings of NTC love, death and drama, and every word is true, taken from the lives of South Florida patients living and dying with AIDS. The book will be available in bookstores across the nation this week.

"Romance to Die For" (Health Communications Inc.; $10.95) is a book for women who believe acquired immune deficiency syndrome is a gay disease, or that the only women who contract the HIV virus get it after a one-night stand. Instead, says Dr. Sack, half the women who get AIDS from sex get it from their husbands or longtime lovers they thought were monogamous.

They weren't. Or they had the HIV infection but didn't know.

Dr. Sack, a family-practice physician, and her co-author, Anne Streeter, an administrator at Baptist Hospital of Miami, tackle AIDS with the understanding that the human sex drive is strong, sometimes beyond reason, and that love and passion lead women to behave foolishly, dangerously.

Some call it love. Some call it trust. Dr. Sack calls it sexual suicide.

"I had been going around talking to whoever would listen to me," says Dr. Sack, a consultant on AIDS education to the Dade County School Board. "If I talked to you on the street, I talked to you about safe sex. I felt like I was on a mission, because I understood the epidemic. And I understood how easy it was to stop yourself from getting this disease. And I've also watched too many people die."

Dr. Sack, 44, moved to Miami from troubled South Africa in 1976 with her husband, who is an anesthesiologist, and their two sons.

In 1983 she shared office space in Kendall, Fla., with Dr. Allan Stein, who was treating gay patients who were suddenly turning up sick.

They had swollen lymph nodes. They had a form of pneumonia called PCP, or pneumocystis carinii. Day after day, Dr. Sack and Dr. Stein puzzled over the symptoms on charts over the desk they shared.

The symptoms, they would learn, had a name: AIDS.

Once more was known about AIDS, their office became a state-funded testing site. When people came for tests, Dr. Sack took them behind closed doors to ask why they were concerned about AIDS.

"And they would tell me what they were doing," she recalls. "It became apparent to me how they could be infecting other people. It became clear that this was not a gay disease, that this was going to be a sexually transmitted disease. And I began to wonder, 'What about the women?' "

The book outlines sexual practices, from the least to most risky. The book also encourages abstinence and "born-again virgins," people who were once sexually active but have modified their behavior to avoid sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS.

At the least, Dr. Sack says, two people about to enter a sexual relationship should be tested, practice safe sex for six months until they can have a second test to be sure, and then may choose to stop using condoms -- if the relationship is monogamous.

And it's the age of frank talk, she says. Women should tell their mates that if they cheat, they should wear a condom and be honest enough to say so. "If you don't trust him enough to trust your life in his hands, you should use condoms," Dr. Sack says.

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