Getting Explicit about AIDS

January 09, 1994

No one expects public service announcements to stem the tide of AIDS. But at least the Clinton administration is getting aggressive about spreading what we do know to be true: Using a condom dramatically reduces the chances of contracting the AIDS virus.

It's true that condoms sometimes fail, and certainly abstinence is a much safer policy. But the fact remains that condoms can save many lives that would be put at risk by unprotected sex. The administration's series of public service announcements is a bold departure from previous public education campaigns that tiptoed around the blunt truth about sexual intercourse and AIDS.

The ads are aimed primarily at young people, 18 to 25 years old, who are at risk of contracting a number of sexually transmitted diseases -- AIDS, or HIV, being the most dangerous. Condoms can help cut transmission rates of these diseases.

So far in this country, AIDS has spread primarily through homosexual contacts between men and through needle sharing by intravenous drug users. In other parts of the world, however, AIDS is mainly a heterosexual disease, endangering a much wider population. Frank talk about sex and AIDS is one way to help keep that from happening here.

In the decade since AIDS came to public attention, it has become a hot political issue. Gay men, who have taken the brunt of the plague, have mobilized to demand that more research money be devoted to the disease. Their example has inspired other groups, such as those concerned about breast cancer, to lobby for more research money for their disease. But a cure for AIDS is nowhere in sight. Meanwhile, the allocation of funds for medical research is becoming increasingly politicized.

The public service ads bypass those thickets. They are far less expensive than basic research -- and if given enough exposure ** they stand a chance of saving many lives.

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