Safe Sex

The photographs show men dying of AIDS, the contours of their skeletons accentuated by the black newsprint. How articulately those eyes convey their suffering! Just a few years ago these were young men. Now, in a room of a San Francisco hospice provided for dying AIDS victims, they are counting their final days. The average length of stay here is less than one month.

Most homosexual men know someone who has died or is dying of AIDS. There are approximately forty-five thousand cases in America, most resulting from homosexual encounters. To reassure the general public, health agencies have deluged us with information about "safe sex," which will presumably allow homosexuals and heterosexuals alike to pursue active sexual lives while avoiding the AIDS infection. With a little prudence, even the most promiscuous can feel fairly well protected.

Yet reports are coming from the heart of the gay communities that even this little bit of restraint is too much. Health care officials report that it's still difficult to convince many men to abide by the "safe sex" guidelines or discuss the possibility of infection with potential sex partners. As one homosexual man said, "Sometimes I have several drinks, and then alcohol or desire just takes over. Then I think, 'Oh, God, what have I done?' "

Another man explains, "I just try to go on with the basic realization that it could happen to me, but I feel it's healthy for me just to go on [having sex]."

Dr. Neil Schram, former chairman of the Los Angeles City-County AIDS Task Force, observes, "There's a tremendous difference between education and behavioral change. Look at cigarette smoking or seat-belt use or drunk driving. People are educated about the dangers of all those things; they just never think it will happen to them. The key word is 'denial.' "

Karen Pataky, a nurse working with AIDS victims, notes, "Nothing is risk-free except abstinence, and that is simply not a viable option for most people."

People often ask us why Krsna conscious devotees consider illicit sex (defined as any sex other than that within marriage and only for procreation) to be irreligious. What's wrong with something that makes people feel good? The answer is illustrated by these men who are unable to curb their sexual appetites even in the face of contracting a deadly disease. When persons, regardless of gender or sexual preference, are so entranced by the pleasure of sex that they are unable to think rationally, then that sex desire is seriously detrimental.

If a person can't resist a few moments of pleasure even when it threatens to ruin his marriage, create unwanted children, or kill him, then surely his intelligence is stunted. Such an unfortunate, unintelligent person becomes a slave to the genitals, just as a junkie becomes hopelessly addicted to the temporary thrill of a drug. Thus the scriptures advocate restraint. Complete celibacy is best. If that is impossible, then one should be married and have sex only to produce good children.

Sexual control is not only beneficial in that one avoids the problems of AIDS or abortion or divorce, but celibacy contributes much to our physical well-being also. Srila Prabhupada, commenting on the Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.26.57), explains:

It is understood herewith that the faculty to discharge semen is the cause of death. Therefore, yogis and transcendentalists who want to live for greater spans of life voluntarily restrain themselves from discharging semen. The more one can restrain the discharge of semen, the more one can be aloof from the problem of death. There are many yogisliving up to three hundred or seven hundred years by this process, and in the Bhagavatam it is clearly stated that discharging semen is the cause of horrible death. The more one is addicted to sexual enjoyment, the more susceptible he is to a quick death.

To appreciate the beauty of celibacy requires a higher vision, a vision rarely promoted in this world. People are woefully shortsighted; thus so many tragedies seem unavoidable because sense control appears impossible.

But by following the spiritual practices recommended in this age, especially the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, the members of the Krsna consciousness movement are able to refrain from illicit sex, thus protecting themselves from its adverse reactions.

In today's society, on the other hand, people lack spiritual training and often act on instinct, like animals, seeking quick pleasure. Says Dr. Schram, "It can take years to develop AIDS, and in the meantime people look and feel healthy. It's not like being able to see a tangible result of your actions the next morning." And because people are unable to perceive the horrific results of their sinful acts, thousands more will die of this disease called AIDS.