The Pope recently (kind of) okayed the use of condoms for male prostitutes to guard against HIV transmission — now he's clarified that his stance applies to women too.
According to the AP, Pope Benedict still isn't exactly endorsing rubbers — rather, he's saying that using one "is the lesser evil than passing HIV onto a partner." In a recent book, he used male prostitutes as an example of people who could use condoms, and some thought he meant that the barrier method was only allowed if conception wasn't a possibility. But after talking to the Pope, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi has clarified his position: "This is if you're a woman, a man, or a transsexual. We're at the same point."
Of course, the Pope still condemns gay sex, premarital sex, and artificial contraception (his comments are only about the disease prevention powers of condoms, not that little side effect where they keep you from getting pregnant). However, his new stance is still a big improvement from just a year ago, when he said condoms worsen the spread of HIV.
This spread actually appears to be slowing, possibly as a result of those controversial condoms — a report says there were 2.6 million new infections last year worldwide, down 20% from the epidemic's peak in 1999. And an AIDS drug called Truvada, given preemptively, could reduce the spread even further — men who took it regularly had their risk of infection reduced by 73% (and, interestingly, their rate of risky sex declined, perhaps because of accompanying counseling). All that said, 2.6 million new infections is still 2.6 million too many, and the Pope's voice has a worldwide audience. The Catholic Church is still no bastion of sex-positivity, but his acknowledgment that people of all genders deserve protection from disease is a step in the right direction.
Vatican Pope's Condom Comments Apply To Women Too [AP, via Breitbart]
Study: AIDS Pill Helps Gay Men Avoid HIV Infection [AP, via Breitbart]
HIV Epidemic 'Halted', Says UN [BBC]
Pope: Condoms To Stop AIDS May Be OK In Some Cases [AP, via MSNBC]