Click here to read my introduction by Sex & Sensibilities founder Ana Santos…

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Hello, Sex and Sensibilities readers 🙂  My name is Joy Lynn Alegarbes, and I am a Filipina-American sexual health advocate living in New York City. I am also the Director of Global Operations for The Condom Project, an organization that works internationally to destigmatize condoms, to create peer condom distribution programs and to develop educational materials.  It was my pleasure to meet SAS founder Ana Santos while in Bali, Indonesia this past summer at the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific; she recently invited me to be a guest blogger on this site, and I could not have been more excited to contribute to the sexual health and sensibilities of Filipinas worldwide.

I emailed Ana with a few ideas about blog posts for the month of March, and she encouraged me to focus my first post on the benefits of condoms and their help in reducing HIV transmission in Asian communities.  Given the current controversy with Philippine Department of Health Secretary Cabral, I thought this to be a particularly relevant subject.

In a recent email, Ana wrote from the Philippines:

It was on the news yesterday that the HIV numbers for Jan 2010 are in and they are again the highest recorded number in a month — overthrowing Dec 09 the previously proclaimed highest number. It just means that the numbers are on a consistent rise and we may no longer be classified as a low-incidence country soon. =(

A simple Google search of the phrase “Condoms in the Philippines” yielded the following results:

“The Great Hypocrisy About Sex and Condoms in the Philippines…”
“Philippines sits on HIV time bomb”
“Philippines: Anti-Condom Policies Could Spark AIDS Explosion”

So if 1) HIV transmission in the Philippines is on an unprecedented rise, and 2) latex and synthetic condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV transmission during sexual activity… then why is there a such a controversy over making condoms free and available to the Filipino population, especially on a romantic holiday such as St. Valentines Day?

In my research for this first blog post I found much evidence on the positive effects of condom use in the LGBT community, among sex workers and with intravenous drug users in Asia.  While these are all wonderful findings, I was disappointed that I could not easily access more information about the benefits of condom use in other Asian populations.  My first post as a Sex and Sensibilities guest blogger is a personal attempt to make that gap of virtual information a little less wide 😉

Condoms are for women. Taking a condom with you for a night out should be as normal as taking your mobile phone, your keys, your purse.  We are responsible for our own health and well-being 🙂  Gender norms and attitudes about sex, particularly in relation to roles and responsibilities, have changed significantly in the past few decades.  We are living at a time when we can enjoy a happy and healthy sex life!  Women who carry condoms are not loose – we’re just smart. Like men, we cannot predict the future, but we should try our best to be prepared for it.

Condoms are for Catholics. An enormous part of being a good Catholic is caring for and respecting those around you.  By using condoms, you are demonstrating the deep care you have for both yourself and your partner.  You are showing that you respect the right to live a healthy and happy life; the right to family planning and to have children only when you are ready; the right to choose how, when and with whom to engage in sexual activity; the right to decide what is best for you.

St. Valentine is the Catholic Patron Saint of Love, Young People and Happy Marriages. In 496 AD Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as a celebration in honor of his martyrdom.  In 2006, National Condom Week was celebrated for the first time from February 14th to February 21st in California, a state that is populated by nearly 480,000 Filipinos.  As I was raised a Catholic and taught to pray to the Saints for strength and hope, I’d like to believe that St. Valentine helped to conspire in this happy, week-long observance 😉  Click here to download Sex in the HIV/AIDS Era: A Guide for Catholics and to read about why Good Catholics Use Condoms.

Condom are for everyone. We should all learn about condoms, their health benefits as a medical device and even their added benefits beyond prevention.  If you are sexually active, then you should know that condoms are highly effective in preventing both unintended pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.  If you are not sexually active, you should still know this life-saving information so that you can pass it along to the people in your life who are sexually active.  You don’t need to know how to drive a car to understand the benefits of wearing a seat belt, right?

Sex is a choice. You can choose to not have sex, and the people that truly care about you should respect your decision; but if you are going to choose to be sexually active, then you need to know the options you have to protect yourself and your partner.

Watch out for my next guest blog post for sexandsensibilities.com, The SASsy Woman’s Guide to Buying Condoms 😉

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