The Miami Herald
Fri, Feb. 20, 2004
Sex theme toned down in Rio's carnival

After a Catholic church complaint, a samba school in Rio's carnival tones down its floats depicting the history of sex and promoting condom use.

Knight Ridder News Service

RIO DE JANEIRO - In this city of not-so-forbidden pleasures, where Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction wouldn't raise an eyebrow, Rio's Carnaval this weekend will feature the improbable: a sex controversy.

At issue are the super-sized floats of the Academicos do Grande Rio samba school. They depict the history of sex and promote condom use. The school's 80-minute parade Sunday will feature a giant float of Adam and Eve caught in the act of original sin, as well as same-sex kissing and couple-swapping. All will be singing the school's theme song, Let's Dress with a Condom, My Love.

There's no offense meant, said Joaozinho Trinta, Grande Rio's creative director. ``Having sex is part of nature. There is no sin in it.''

By promoting condom use, ``we are focusing on an epidemic [AIDS] that has killed millions of people and will kill millions more. To prevent this epidemic from spreading, there are prophylactics.''

There will be a little less ribaldry than Trinta planned, however. After a visit from juvenile court prosecutor Andrea Rodriguez Amim, Trinta agreed Thursday to add some leaves, vines and roots to cover the action on Grande Rio's floats. Amim was acting on a complaint from the Association of Catholic Legal Scholars but didn't press the matter after Trinta yielded.

The condom theme appalls Roman Catholic church leaders in Brazil, the world's largest Catholic country, as do Trinta's depiction of Adam and Eve and the general sexual spectacle.

''It is an incentive for sexual activity. It is propaganda and not prevention of illness,'' complained Rev. Jesús Hortal Sánchez, a Spanish-born priest and rector of Rio's Pontifical Catholic University.

In Brazil, he added, ``Anyone who speaks of abstention and chastity is looked at as if they are from another planet!''

Trinta, 70, Carnaval's senior and most irreverent creative director, bristled at the suggestion that he's promoting sex.

''We don't have any intent to promote indecencies or sexual deviance. We believe we are carrying out a politically correct parade,'' Trinta said. ``It is medieval to be against the use of condoms in an underdeveloped country. . . . It is a crime against humanity and that's why we are challenging the Catholic Church with such vehemence.''

As to his depiction of the world's first sexual partners, Trinta responded: ``We show them doing exactly what the Bible says they were doing.''

Grande Rio's pro-condom theme arrives just as Brazil's federal and state governments are battling the church over a planned expansion of condom giveaway programs to include public high schools. Church leaders say they have a special concern for teens and that free condoms encourage them to have sex.

Brazil's federal government already distributes more than 300 million free condoms a year through public health clinics and street giveaways, and it has pilot projects under way in numerous school districts to provide students with condoms. Federal health officials expect to give away 10 million condoms across Brazil during Carnaval week.

Brazil has South America's highest AIDS rates -- almost 238,000 documented cases since 1980, a number far lower than actual infection rates. Many more Brazilians refuse to seek AIDS testing and die from AIDS-related illnesses never classified as such.