While everyone agrees that preventing AIDS is imperative, why do so many object to telling kids about abstinence?

“Because of the HIV virus I have obtained, I will have to retire from the Lakers today.” Those words, coming from the mouth of basketball superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson, have probably done more during the past two months to raise awareness of AIDS than years of lectures by public-health officials. In the days that followed Johnson’s announcement, AIDS information lines were jammed with callers. Requests for AIDS tests doubled and tripled at some clinics. Even sports-talk radio programs featured doctors dispensing AIDS facts.

But as welcome as all that consciousness-raising has been, it has often fallen short of telling the whole life-and-death story of Magic Johnson, and of AIDS.

Johnson himself handled his shocking announcement with the same poise, courage, and spirit that pushed him to the peak of his sport. His desire to turn his personal tragedy into good for others is inspiring. But the message “safe sex is the way to go” does not say enough.

The 32-year-old athlete’s initial statements skirted the issue of how he contracted the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that leads to AIDS. Before long, however, the rest of the story came out: In Johnson’s own words, he never lacked for female companionship. In other words, he was sexually promiscuous.

Safer, But Not Safe

Some commentators have argued that how Johnson contracted HIV doesn’t matter. Nothing could be further from the point. His life story is the only thing that can give substance to his message. How he became infected is important, not for the sake of condemning the man, but for the sake of educating others against the disease. AIDS is spread by behavior—most ...

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