This Week in Sex: An HIV Shot, Cuts to Abstinence-Only Funding, and the STD Alphabet Game


This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

HIV Prevention in a Shot?

It’s not a vaccine, but scientists are closer to developing a shot that could protect against HIV for about three months. The shot would include a new version of the drug currently used in what’s called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Though studies thus far have only been in monkeys, the results are promising.

In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Truvada, which already existed to treat HIV, as a prevention method. Studies have shown that it is effective. For example, one study among men who have sex with men found that those who were given PrEP were 44 percent less likely to contract HIV than those who weren’t. Moreover, those who remembered to take their medication every day or almost every day saw a reduction in risk of 73 percent or more (some up to 92 percent). Studies of HIV discordant, heterosexual couples (couples in which one partner has HIV and the other does not) found that PrEP reduced the risk of the uninfected partner becoming infected by 75 percent, or as much of 90 percent among those who took the pill every day or almost every day. Of course, taking a pill every day can be difficult for some people, so scientists are working on a way to make using PrEP easier.

Two new studies with monkeys suggest that a long-acting, injectable version of Truvada could work to protect humans for three months at a time. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave six monkeys shots of the drug every four weeks; six others got placebo shots. The monkeys were then exposed to a human-monkey version of HIV twice a week for 11 weeks. Those who got the real shot were 100 percent protected, while the monkeys who got the fake shots got infected. In a similar study, researchers in New York gave eight monkeys two shots of the drug four weeks apart and gave dummy shots on the same schedule to eight other monkeys. They then exposed the primates to the virus every week for eight weeks. The results were the same: The monkeys who got the dummy shots were infected, but those who got the real shots were not. A second study done by that same group of researchers gave monkeys one shot at a time to determine how long it remained effective and concluded that a single shot protected them for about ten weeks on average.

Though there is a long way to go from the primate lab to the drug store, many experts are optimistic. Dr. Robert Grant at the Gladstone Institutes, for example, told the Associated Press, “This is the most exciting innovation in the field of HIV prevention that I’ve heard recently.”

Obama Budget Slashes Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Money

The budget that President Obama submitted to Congress this week—which many politicians and pundits declared dead-on-arrivalincluded major cuts to abstinence-only-until-marriage funding. Though we may have thought that funding for this failed form of sex education dried up when Obama, who supports a more comprehensive approach to educating young people, took office, the truth is a good deal of money is still being handed out to organizations that want teens to say no until they get hitched. In fact, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) included a $50 million block grant of money available for states to use to abstinence-only programs. The block grant was originally part of Welfare Reform in 1996 and stayed in place for over a decade, despite research that it was ineffective. The funding stream was allowed to expire when Obama took office, but Sen. Oren Hatch (R-UT) successfully resurrected by attaching it to the ACA.

A second funding stream for abstinence-only programs is called Competitive Abstinence Education and provides $5 million for certain programs. In order to qualify, programs must meet a strict eight-point definition of “abstinence education,” which was introduced as part of the block grants in 1996. Among other things, programs are required to have as their “exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity” and to teach students that “sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.” Though the fact that this definition remains in place is disheartening, one change from the heyday of the abstinence-only movement under President George W. Bush is that the programs must be medically accurate.

If Obama’s budget were to go through as is, both of these grant programs would be cut. The likelihood of this happening is, however, extremely slim, and it remains to be seen if this is one of the areas in which the House and/or Senate will attempt to make changes.

Many Americans Think HTML is an STD

Though I would like to blame abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for this latest indication that Americans have not leaned everything they need to know, the fault here may lie with a lack of computer science programs instead. You see, a new survey by the coupons website VoucherCloud.net found that 11 percent of Americans think HTML is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). In fairness, we do use a lot of acronyms to describe STDs, and, oddly, many seem to start with H: HIV, HPV, HSV-1, HSV-2, and Hep-B.

In honor of the 11 percent, we thought we’d pose our own quiz. Mycoplasma genitalium is: a) the flattest television screen available, b) a recently discovered STD caused by a very small bacterium, c) a computer programming language, or d) a new hit single by Miley Cyrus.

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    It’s not a vaccine, but scientists are closer to developing a shot that could protect against HIV for about three months.