If you were in a high-trafficked part of a major city in one of 26 countries last Wednesday, you might have caught a "Condom Flash Mob" dancing to a safer sex version of PSY's international hit "Gangnam Style" - only these catchy lyrics by a Psy impersonator say: "Stroke 'em condom-style."
The flash mob demos were in celebration of International Condom Day (ICD) - "an informal annual celebration of safer sex held on February 13 in conjunction with Valentine's Day," according to Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the world's largest AIDS organization that produced the video below. The participants handed out AHF's LOVE-branded condoms. "Last year on International Condom Day, we took part in activities in 30 cities scattered throughout 15 countries worldwide," AHF President Michael Weinstein said in a press release. "The fact that we have more than doubled the numbers of cities taking part in this normalization, encouragement, and education surrounding condom use shows how much these countries value safer sex as a preventive measure in the fight against HIV/AIDS."
Normalizing condom use and making safer sex fun has a renew sense of urgency with the new CDC reports on the "ongoing, severe epidemic" of STDs in America - which is costing taxpayers roughly $16 BILLION a year in medical costs. According to the CDC, "Each year in the United States, there are nearly 20 million new STIs - half of them among young people (ages 15-24)."
In large part, those stats are a result of the failed Republican-pushed "abstinence-only" sex education in schools, which Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) hope to reverse through their newly re-introduced "Real Education for Healthy Youth Act."
Right now, sexual education standards vary widely across states. Just 12 states mandate that sexual health curricula must be medically accurate -- which means that young people across the country are receiving false information about birth control's effectiveness, the right way to prevent STDs, and the way that HIV is transmitted.
"Ultimately, we have a long way to go when it comes to sex ed," [Sarah Audelo, the Domestic Policy Director for Advocates for Youth] pointed out. "The United States has some of the worst sexual health outcomes in the developed world, and we can't blame young people for their poor decisions when we don't teach them how to make the right choices for their bodies."
Young people between the ages of 13 and 24 represent more than a quarter of new HIV infections each year (26 percent) and most of these youth living with HIV (60 percent) are unaware they are infected, according to a Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most-affected young people are young gay and bisexual men and African-Americans, the report says....
Overall, an estimated 12,200 new HIV infections occurred in 2010 among young people aged 13-24, with young gay and bisexual men and African-Americans hit harder by HIV than their peers. In 2010, 72 percent of estimated new HIV infections in young people occurred in young men who have sex with men (MSM). By race/ethnicity, 57 percent of estimated new infections in this age group were in African-Americans.
"That so many young people become infected with HIV each year is a preventable tragedy," said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. "All young people can protect their health, avoid contracting and transmitting the virus, and learn their HIV status."
Additionally, these new STD and HIV infections are happening at a time when non-profit AIDS service organizations and support groups are closing or strained for funding - especially since government grants are now contingent upon providing HIV testing and a gateway to clinical treatment. The 30-year old National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) declared bankruptcy on Feb. 14, though the Washington Blade reports their financial problems may be more tied to organizational issues than the required shift from support to testing.
(Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, Michael Callen, Richard Berkowitz in the early 1980s. Photo courtesy Richard Berkowitz)
In the early 1980s, when the scourge of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic might still have been prevented or at least contained, Dr. Joseph Sonnabend (see his blog AIDS Perspectives) and his two AIDS patients Michael Callen and Richard Berkowitz published a booklet entitled "How to have sex in an epidemic" (posted in its entirety on Berkowitiz's blog) that pioneered the common sense approach to safe sex. It should have been a no-brainer, given a "traditional" upbringing: heterosexual men and women knew to use a condom to prevent pregnancy and sailors disembarking after long months at sea intending to have sex with someone at some foreign port knew to bring condoms to prevent getting STDs. But that's before condoms became a political tool of the ideological right and left: conservatives wanted abstinence-only before marriage, so condoms were superfluous; liberals - or more specifically post-Stonewall gay liberationists - felt condoms constricted authentic sexual freedom.
The result: the CDC's Dr. Frieden agreeing with what Dr. Sonnabend has said for more than 30 years - "That so many young people become infected with HIV each year is a preventable tragedy." With the apparent establishment rejection of HIV/STD prevention through condoms and safer sex education - maybe AFH's Condom Flash Mob will get attention and make a difference.