ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- Most words have clear and distinct definitions and for those that don't, context helps to delineate meaning. An example of a word with a definite denotation is "safe."

"Safe," according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, means "protected from or not exposed to danger or risk."

When the word safe is used to describe a product or activity, the message conveyed is that it will not cause harm to consumers or participants. Our government even goes to great lengths to ensure companies provide labels concerning a product's relative safety.

But for some time now, many government-funded public schools have touted "safe"-sex programs to their students. The message sent in the very title implies that by simply utilizing a condom, sex is risk-free.

Even though some safe-sex programs might mention the fact that condoms are not 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the very phrase, "safe sex," undermines the message.

When the concept of safe sex is coupled with free condom distribution, the message is further muddled. If condoms are not 100 percent effective, then why give them away free to teenagers?

The Philadelphia, Pa., school district began a program in November that makes condoms available in 22 of the city's high schools. The prophylactics are made available via plastic dispensers located on a wall in hallway. Teens can come any time during the day and take as many condoms as they desire.

The motivation for the Philly condom giveaway, according to the school district, is that 25 percent of new HIV infections in the city are among teens.

The Philly school district is sending a very clear message to the young people in The City of Brotherly Love: Condoms will provide you with a safe sexual experience so much so that we will give them to you, as many as you want.

Science, though, does not support the idea of safe sex -- at least not sex that won't result in pregnancy or STDs. Research in the past decade has found that while condom use does reduce the risk of pregnancy and the spread of STDs, they are anything but risk-free.

The June 2004 Bulletin of the World Health Organization included a report titled, "Effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted infusions." It quoted another study and reported that condom use "resulted in ... an 80% reduction in risk" of HIV.

While an 80 percent reduction in risk sounds impressive, would you call it safe? Safer than no condom at all, yes, but safe? No.

Eighty percent effectiveness sounds good until you realize that in the game of Russian Roulette, a person has an 83.4 percent of pulling the trigger and the gun not firing.

What if your favorite restaurant began advertising their food was prepared in such a way that it reduced the risk of E. coli bacteria by 80 percent? How would you feel about eating there?

HIV is a devastating virus with life-long implications that can result in death. Those contemplating sex outside of the monogamous commitment of marriage should know the truth about the real risks of sex.

"Safe" is a word with a very definite meaning. When it is coupled with the word "sex," it is not only oxymoronic, it is incorrect.

Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, www.baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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