At any rate, the Holy See's mild change of heart came a little too late for the millions of Africans who were infected with the disease while the Church preached abstinence. (22.4 million adults and children were living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa at the end of 2008.) As parents of teenagers know quite well, abstinence as the only prophylactic method is a dangerous, ineffective, and incomplete proposition. People are practicing abstinence only until temptation overtakes them, and leaving them without an alternative to protect themselves is irresponsible teaching. But, from a feminist perspective, the major problem with the Church's position on AIDS prevention is that it ignores how little a woman may succeed in practicing abstinence, or control the faithfulness of her partner.
As Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS said, the AIDS epidemic unfortunately remains an epidemic of women. 16 million women across world are infected with the disease, while another 850,000 die of it every year. It is easy to understand why: The AIDS epidemic has had a unique impact on women, which has been exacerbated by their role within society, and their biological vulnerability to HIV infection. As to women's role in society: in most developing countries today, women do not choose their sexual partners. Their parents choose with whom they are allowed to have sexual relationship, and, when married, their husband controls all the details of their sexual relationship, i.e., the frequency of intercourse, whether she may decline his sexual advances, whether she may use prophylactic, etc. And last but not least, their husband controls whether he has any sexual relations with women other than his wife, while women are enormously constrained in investigating his fidelity.
Of course, there is an elephant in the room: we also need to get a grip on the population of this planet. The biblical mandate to "go forth and multiply" has been fulfilled splendidly: we populated this planet to the hilt. Nevertheless, the Church will probably continue to deny that there is a real need in our world to increase our responsibility in caring for our existing populations, and to raise the next generations well, with as much love and care as we should. And preventing our existing population's disease and hunger should be now our primary concern.
For centuries, the Church's preaching for monogamous catholic family life has proved ineffective. Facing a deadly pandemic is not the best time to engage in more of the same wishful thinking.