Reading bits of a book Torrentor was pulling out of an old box got me going again on the topic of marriage and sexuality. It's called "The Love Killer", a "value added" book that is both story and sermon (the sermon bits have dedicated sub-chapters throughout the story, to make sure you get the already obvious points.) The title for this article comes from the book, where you're told you've been brainwashed by the safe-sex message and need to be re-educated.
This book, speeches given at the World AIDS conference, the speech given to highschoolers (audio available from this site), and many other sources have all done the same thing: they've tried to push an unnecessary agenda along with a useful message, and managed to mess both up. The agenda is to promote monogamous marriage with no extra-marital sexual contact, for religious reasons. The other message involves the risks of pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), and the innefficacy of condoms, birth control pills, the rhythm method, and anything else you might have thought to use to mitigate those risks -- and particularly how naughty doctors, evil governments, and greedy pharmaceutical companies don't tell you about these risks.
The basic fallacy in all cases is a false dilemma between sex-before-marriage which (they will tell you) will almost assuredly result in pregnancy, disease, and unhappiness, and monogamous marriage and belief in a loving God which will prevent disease, benefit your career, and ... don't worry about the kids, at least they'll be born into a happy couple. (I kid you not.)
I always despise messages presented this way, because you create a dependency that will bite you in the arse later on. If you tie the message of safe (no) sexuality to God, then those who do not believe in your God may refuse your message, and those who accept it for now may reject it later if they reject your religion. If the goal is to help people by educating them, then it seems logical to present each bit individually and hope each of them does some amount of good.
So if it's a false dilemma, what are the actual facts? Well, they're still not good. I don't disagree with the authors in most cases involving statistics. Most birth-control methods (short of surgery or abstinence) fail to be 100% effective. The book (named above) gives what seem to me to be the "worst case" statistics, based on what I've found elsewhere. The effectiveness of birth control methods varies greatly by age, correct use, quality of products, consistency, and margins of errors, and of course the method chosen. I'm not sure it matters, but I've yet to see attached to these statistics any mention of "multiple methods at once" or "average number of sexual encounters per [time period] per person". I don't know about you, but I intuit there should be some statistical difference between people who have sex every day and those who might have sex once a month. But I'm just guessing.
Similarly, the effectiveness of condoms (male or female versions) or dental dams (or any other physical barrier) in preventing the spread of STD's also varies. Most sources make a point of reminding you that condoms do not always prevent the spread of AIDS, which seems consistent with the statistics at hand.
The book mentioned above went so far as to assert that the only ways to avoid AIDS were abstinence and a mutually faithful monogamous marriage with no extra-marital sexual contact. And that's just wrong. Maybe you don't remember, but people have in fact gotten AIDS from blood transfusions at hospitals and re-using needles (mostly in the case of illegal drugs.) Perhaps the authors think that abstinence and faithful marriages mean you'll never need a blood transfusion, but that kind of false message shouldn't be allowed to go unchecked. You can get AIDS other ways. And you may not necessarily get AIDS even if you're not perfectly faithful or abstinent. Go figure.
So here's the real set of facts, and the ones that matter in this case.
- Birth control methods may not necessarily prevent pregnancy. Plan accordingly. If you're going to have sex, recognize this as a risk you're taking, and understand that the methods you're using are only there to slightly reduce (but not eliminate) the chance that you'll have a kid on your hands. Ladies, understand that it's easier for the guy to ignore the child than it is for you.
- Condoms and other barriers will not necessarily prevent the spread of diseases between partners. As above, plan accordingly. If you don't want to get a disease via sexual intercourse, make sure you don't have sexual intercourse with anyone carrying the disease. Get tested, ask others to get tested, and even then accept that the tests aren't perfect. If you assume that the disease can only spread via sexual contact, apply basic graph theory: cut those with diseases off from those without, don't have sex with anyone who's had sex with anyone (etc.) who might have had it at the time.
- Even if you never have sex, you may still get one of these diseases. You could get it from your parents, blood transfusions, or some other vector. Some sexually transmitted diseases are not exclusively sexually transmitted, and there are plenty of diseases out there that are not at all sexually transmitted that will still kill you. You may now take the time to reflect on how dangerous our world is at the microbial level.
- Even if you're married, you may still have unwanted pregnancies.
- Even if you're not married, the same things apply to you as to married couples when it comes to the risks of sexuality and pregnancy. (With the added stigma of "out of wedlock" births, and the scorn that people feel they should direct at you for them. But that's not quite sticks and stones and diseases.)
- Even if you have sex with a million different people, you may avoid pregnancy and disease. Part of it is luck, part of it is planning. Knowing it's not all planning, you can still make use of what you know to help reduce the risk, lower the cost. Birth control methods do that. Physical barriers do that. Abstinence does that. Smart relationships do that.
Abstinence until marriage (and the same for your spouse) is just a short-cut, an easy way of applying some of the obvious principles above. It is neither guaranteed to be effective, nor the only semi-effective method out there. Understand it is only that: a short-cut.
And if you want to push for marriage because it makes people happier, results in better kids, "is just the way our society has been" (tradition), "because God says so", or any other reason ... please, feel free to do so. But do so independently, and don't rely on confusion to tie these issues together.
I also wouldn't mind it if authors would refrain from saying that STDs appeared out of nowhere recently, or even better, that sexual promiscuity is something new. I have a feeling there's some correlation without causation here: we probably only recently discovered STDs that had existed for a while, as they spread through existing channels of promiscuity. The issues are linked, but ... dang. (Plus, they're left saying either that some evolution of new strains of diseases does happen, which they likely won't like because it might support some forms of evolutionary theory, or they could say God's creating them ... and then you get to hear babbling about God punishing people for their promiscuity by creating new diseases that take advantage of this vector. But that's all just a bonus.)
[Sorry about the 'rythm' typo -- we got a lot of hits from people ignoring google's spellchecker. They deserve more reliable information.]