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Thanks for nothing, Cecil. At first your column on condoms seemed long overdue: a concise rebuttal to the Christian right’s disinformation campaign about how HIV supposedly can readily pass through “pores” in latex condoms [May 6]. Too bad it took you only a few paragraphs to lapse into the kind of tired, false propaganda about “abstinence” and “high-risk partners” that would fit quite comfortably alongside the vitriolic bigotry in the pages of the Washington Times.

You point out that the 5-micron “intrinsic pores” scare is based on the latex in rubber gloves, not condoms, and you point out the vast differences in manufacture of the two. Good. You cite studies about correct, consistent use of condoms, a distinction the anticondom, antisex troops never make while making the rounds of talk shows. Fine.

But why skip the biggest hole in the “porous latex theory”? HIV isn’t some free-ranging microscopic bug; it’s an intracellular virus, and it’s these cells that would somehow have to squeeze through those fabled 5-micron holes.

And then, for you, it’s back to the same old idea that “only bad people get AIDS”; and for the self-satisfied schmucks behind Cecil Adams, bad people are evidently those who have sex outside the confines of a heterosexual monogamous marriage contract. “If you’re a gay male and in a high-risk group to start with, at least stay away from IV drug users”?! It must be quite reassuring to think of all queer men as inherently diseased and of all drug users as inherently self-destructive. Too bad that’s a crock. The queer men who have made safe sex a consistent part of their sexual lives and the IV drug users who make a point of cleaning and not sharing their works are exercising a hell of a lot more self-restraint and self-protection than the idiots who think they’re immune because they’re not in a high-risk group. I guess it’s called the Straight Dope for a reason: it’s heterosexist . . . and stupid. –P.B., Chicago

Great letter, P. In more than 20 years of writing this column it’s the first defense I’ve gotten of IV drug use, which to be honest I did think of as “inherently self-destructive.” But I did not say “queer men” were “inherently diseased” and you are vulgar to suggest that I did. I said they were in a high-risk group, which no one seriously disputes, and that while condoms significantly reduce the risk of infection, no one should think they will render you immune to AIDS. Discretion in your choice of sexual partners is a sound strategy regardless of your sexual orientation. That said, by all means use condoms as well.

As for the substantive issue you raise, it’s true “the transmission of HIV by genital fluids most probably occurs through virus-infected cells since they can be present in larger numbers than free virus in the body fluids” (Jay Levy, “Pathogenesis of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection,” Microbiological Reviews, March 1993). But it would be wrong to construe this to mean that HIV is transmitted only by cells. When I spoke to Dr. Levy he readily conceded that HIV may be transmitted by free virus as well. He did add that the viscosity of semen may hinder the passage of virus through the latex barrier.

We could debate the technical stuff all day. My point is this: for whatever reason–pores, improper use, etc–real-world research shows condoms don’t offer 100 percent protection against AIDS. Maybe not, say the AIDS experts, but if you tell people that, they’ll use it as an excuse not to use condoms. To which I reply: the arguably greater danger is that they’ll use condoms the way some weight watchers use Diet Coke–as an excuse to continue dangerous behavior (e.g., promiscuous sex, not gay sex per se). A friend of mine who died of AIDS attributed his illness to a wild weekend he’d once had. It is hardly antisex to wish he’d stayed home.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustrationSlug Signorino.