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WASHINGTON, DC, July 27 (C-FAM) The UN Population Fund partnered with sexual and reproductive rights groups this week to push a controversial agenda of risky sexual behavior at a major international AIDS conference in Washington.

An opening-day event organized by International Planned Parenthood (IPPF) and co-chaired by the UN Population Fund, “The Politics of Condoms: Cock-ups, Controversies and Cucumbers,” aimed to “re-energize” the use of condoms as a moral and effective method of preventing the spread of HIV. The XIX International AIDS Conference convened more than 20,000 activists around the theme: “Turning the Tide Together.”

The event featured panelists from Catholics for Choice (CFC), The Pleasure Project and the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID). Discussion extended beyond HIV/AIDS prevention to a broader agenda including liberalization and social acceptance of pornography, contraceptives, and sexual promiscuity.

The Pleasure Project funded by DfID, and DKT International, one of the largest condom and medical abortion suppliers to developing countries, sponsored the event “Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know About Pleasurable Safer Sex but Were Too Afraid to Ask.” Viewing current safe sex campaigns as “too negative” due to their focus on disease, risk, and negative outcomes, the event’s organizers promoted a strategy emphasizing “pleasure” that is meant to “eroticize safe sex.”

Speaking at the IPPF event, Catholics for Choice president Jon O’Brien criticized faith-based groups that work to combat HIV/AIDS but don’t provide condoms. CFC dismisses abstinence programs in its project “Condoms4Life.” A CFC event, “Good Catholics Use Condoms,” included panelists from Planned Parenthood and Concerned Clergy for Choice that promoted “condom use from a religious and ethical perspective.”

Other efforts by sexual and reproductive rights groups included pushing for a change in laws for the removal of stigmas said to impede access to treatment, such as legalizing prostitution, decriminalizing sodomy, liberalizing immigration laws for sex workers and distributing clean needles to drug-users.

Novel marketing strategies for condom promotion permeated the conference hall. The UN Population Fund sponsored a “Condomize Zone” with the condom manufacturer Durex, UNAIDS and Bahamas Red Cross that featured a “condomize” dance troupe and daily “dialogue” sessions targeting young people and focused on topics such as sodomy.

Johns Hopkins University’s Edward C. Green, former director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, has argued that over-emphasis on condoms rather than behavior is dangerous especially among high-risk populations. “There is a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Surveys,’ between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates,” Green said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at Monday’s plenary session promising U.S. commitment to the conference agenda and then deviated from the topic to laud the recent Gates-UK Family Planning summit. “Every woman should be able to decide when and if she wants children whether she is HIV [positive] or not,” Clinton said. Then echoing Melinda Gates, Clinton added, “There should be ‘No Controversy.’”

Experts warn that the Gates plan to inject millions of poor women in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa with contraceptives ignores research linking the injectable Depo Provera and the spread of HIV. Dr. Denise Hunnell estimates the program “may double the transmission rates of HIV.”

The UN estimates that over 34 million people live with HIV, 7,000 contracting it each day. WHO estimates 30 million AIDS-related deaths since 1981 with 1.7 million in 2011 alone.

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