The XX Factor

Could Anti-HIV Gel Actually Lead to Less Safe Sex?

At this year’s international AIDS conference, the world health community celebrated a new vaginal gel that decreases a woman’s risk of contracting HIV . “For the first time we have seen results for a woman-initiated and controlled HIV prevention option,” said the director of the UN’s AIDS policy. But could this option also be a burden?

The gel, used before sex, is intended for women who cannot convince their partners to use condoms, which, according to the UN, amounts to most women in the world. Critics say embracing such a gel as the solution cements the idea that a man has a right to condomless sex. In other words, huge amounts of money is going toward research simply to make sure men don’t have to wear condoms, instead of focusing resources on teaching safe sex and changing social norms.

While the gel’s original purpose does concede to men’s desires, it has the potential to give women a way to take control of their sexual health. Men have condoms, why can’t women have a gel? But it’s not there yet. The gel is 39 percent effective in preventing HIV, while condoms are 98 percent with perfect use and 85 percent with typical use. So for now, at-risk women in dire situations will use the gel to increase their protection-and that’s something to welcome.

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