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God hates condoms?

CONFIDENCE PILLS? Researcher Trevor Hart says gay men's beliefs about HAART therapies affects their sexual behaviour. Credit: RJ Martin

Religious leaders and sex educators take note: There’s an overlooked young demographic at increased risk from HIV/AIDS.

York University researcher Trevor Hart has published a study which suggests someone’s religion is more important than their ethnicity as a predictor of their decision to have unprotected sex.

“Quite frankly, we were surprised,” says Hart.

His survey of 500 heterosexual university undergrads shows that while religious students were less likely to have sex than nonreligious students, among those who do, Catholics, other Christians and Jews were less likely to use protection.

“Toronto is a very diverse city, not only about race and ethnicity, but also by religion, age and socioeconomic status,” Hart says. “We often see people in the media talking about groups being more at risk and often based on skin colour.”

Non-Catholic Christians were 7.8 times more likely to engage in unprotected vaginal sex than those who don’t identify as religious. Catholics were up next at 6.9 times more likely. The study also concluded that “some groups that appear to be engaging in less risky sex may actually just engage in intercourse less frequently.”

Hart’s study doesn’t explain the reasons behind the decision to have unprotected sex. Though one might speculate about papal decrees, Hart is careful not to critique of religious leaders.

“There are different ways of handling a problem and more than one way to protect your congregants if you’re a religious leader,” Hart says. “The question is: how to best do that in a way that’s effective and sensitive to your congregation.

“It doesn’t help us to deny the epidemic.”