So our old friend Pope Benedict has come round to the idea that there are times when wrapping one´s penis in latex will not consign one to eternal damnation. According to the New York Times, he cited just one instance when it might be ok to use a condom.
Benedict said condoms were not “a real or moral solution” to the AIDS epidemic, adding, “that can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.” But he also said that “there may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility.”
Some are excited that the Pope seems to be opening the door, if only by a hair´s breadth, to a greater acceptance of condoms. Could this be a turning point in HIV prevention? I´ve been asked. I´d say certainly not. Catholics do all sorts of things the Pope forbids, including using contraception extremely liberally, as long as it suits them. The only time they really take any notice of what he says is when it gives them an excuse to do what they would probably rather do anyway, like not use condoms.
I´m much more excited that the Pope has opened the door for discussion of one of the most neglected issues in the sex trade: male prostitution. It´s not clear from his comments if the Pope had any specific gender of client in mind when he said rent boys would be taking a step towards
holiness responsibility by using condoms. Since he is a virgin, of course, any suggestions that male sex workers sprung to mind because of personal experience would be thoroughly scurrilous. But I´ll leave the discussion of the potential consequences of the papal embrace of male sex work to
One friend suggested that perhaps the Vatican should start marketing its own brand of condoms, under the brand name “Swiss Guards”. I like it.
For the news that really does have the potential to change the face of the HIV epidemic, watch this space. Tomorrow sees the release of the results of the first large trial of the use of antiretrovirals among uninfected people, to protect against HIV. Expectations are running high.
In passing, let me say that I think the Pope has more to worry about than latex. I went to mass yesterday in a small village church in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in northeastern Colombia. I expected the tiny church to be packed, and, arriving only 10 minutes after the appointed mass time, sat about half way back. By the time mass started 15 minutes later, there was only one other person on my side of the church. The whole congregation totalled fewer than a dozen, including the choir and the two dogs that spent the mass licking my toes. This did not stop the young priest barking at us through a massively over-amplified sound system, reminding us that to sin was to walk naked through the streets.
Really, these Catholic clerics. Each to their own fantasy…