Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why the Church is right about Condoms

Over the past few days, much hoopla has been made about the pope's most recent comments where he spoke about condom use. As I've mentioned in previous blog posts here and here, the pope did not say condoms are now permissible.

In this article I will explore why the Church's stance on condoms is the correct one.

The Church is officially against the use of artificial contraception, including condoms. It is important to make some distinctions here. Officially, the church is only concerned with marital relations, because sex outside this context is considered grave matter. This means objectively it is sinful, although subjectively it may not be. Therefore, official teachings concerning the specifics of a gravely immoral act would usually be superfluous. For example, the Church has not yet made any comment on the use of a condom during a homosexual act, because homosexual acts are considered gravely immoral anyway, and the use of a condom is irrelevant in this case.

Having made those clarifications, let's explore the main point of this article. The pope said last year that condoms are not the solution to AIDS in Africa. He was met with outrage over these comments. The reason is many people rely on the following mentality when dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic:

1) HIV and AIDS is a serious problem in Africa
2) People spread HIV through promiscuous sex, which is human nature and thus unchangeable
3) Condoms reduce the risk of transmission in a given sex act
4) Condoms are the solution to the problem.

Anyone would agree, which includes the pope as well I would assume, that the first and third premises are correct. It is scientifically shown that a condom reduces the risk of transmission of HIV/AIDS in a particular sex act vs. not using one. Nobody believes that the rate of transmission stays the same with or without condom use. Of course, everyone also agrees that HIV and AIDS are a serious problem in Africa.

It has been shown that condoms are 85% effective against HIV/AIDS, so naturally if there is a given sex act, there is a reduction in the risk of transmission.

Above, the conclusion (4) that condoms are a solution, automatically follows if the other three premises are correct. However, I believe, as does the pope, that premise #2 is false, and that is the specific premise that is being challenged by the pontiff. He believes the only real solution to the AIDS crisis in Africa is through a change in behavior.

This change includes not having sex outside of marriage. Just imagine if the rate of AIDS in a country started off at 1%. If everyone followed the rule of waiting until marriage to engage in sex, at most the rate would go from 1% to 2% and then drop. The disease could only spread to another partner and that's it. What happened in reality though was that the 1% infected many others who then infected many more and so on until the rates grew exponentially.

If condoms were introduced, the exponential growth would not stop, but would only be slowed. There is an 85% rate of effectiveness with condom use, and therefore a 15% failure rate. That means that with everyone using condoms, AIDS would be spread at 15% the normal rate, assuming behaviors do not change. This may sound great, but really it is only delaying the inevitable. Also, I am assuming a lot here. I am assuming a 100% rate of use within a country from a 0% rate to begin with, which is unheard of. However, this is the goal of many organizations such as the UN. Many people believe that with complete condom use, AIDS will decrease. It will not. Even if the rate of transmission slows, it is still there. Their perfect solution just reduces the rate of spread, based on the assumption that behavior is unalterable. Plus, it will continue to grow exponentially by definition.

Let's take the rate of HIV transmission for heterosexual sex without a condom of around 0.75%. The UN and others' perfect solution is to reduce this rate to 0.1125% and leave it at that. Of course, once again, this is assuming the country goes from 0% use to 100% use. The main problem with this "solution" is that the rate will continue to increase. Think of it like interest rate. If you are getting a 0.75% interest rate, your money will grow faster, but with 0.1125%, your money will still grow and continue to grow faster and faster. This "perfect" solution does not solve the problem at all.
On top of this, using condoms have been promoted as "safe sex". They are not presented as offering a reduction in the risk of infection, but rather as solving the problem. People use them as complete security against disease and therefore people are far less inhibited when it comes to sex. It gives them a sense of invulnerability.

Of course, everything I've said so far has been based on the assumption that people are incapable of changing behavior. That going from promiscuity to fidelity is impossible. But I disagree. I have much more confidence in people than others do. I think society can change for the better.

What the pope is proposing is a perfect solution. If people waited until marriage to have sex with a single partner, there would not be an exponential growth of the AIDS epidemic. It would flatline and eventually disappear.

Some may ask about married couples where one partner has AIDS. The Church would say that the loving thing to do is NOT risk infecting one's partner with a terrible illness. Whether that risk is one in 150 or one in 900, putting someone at risk of contracting a lethal disease is always immoral.

Therefore, if people listened to the Catholic Church, AIDS would cease to spread COMPLETELY. It is not an 85% solution, it is a 100% solution.

In order to really understand the Church's stance vs. the rest of the world, we must look at real world examples. In Uganda, there was a dramatic reduction in AIDS cases, unlike anywhere else in Africa. Why? Because they started to employ the ABC strategy, which is Abstinence, Be faithful, and if necessary, use a Condom. This is unlike other African countries whose main focus was the distribution of condoms. The countries with the highest use and availability of condoms experienced an increase in infection rates. Only Uganda which focused on Catholic values saw a reduction.

In this case, we can see that people really can change behavior, and the impact is positive. If condoms were the solution, Africa would have been rid of HIV and AIDS long ago, or at the very least there would be no new cases. However, that scenario is a mere dream. The rates have actually increased. They say it is easier to find condoms than it is to find clean water in Africa. Billions of Western dollars flood Africa with money for condoms every year with little impact.

What the pope is constantly saying is that the real and sustainable solution to the AIDS epidemic is a change in values and actions. If people were faithful to marriage and those with HIV/AIDS did not infect others, the disease would disappear completely. Why must we have such little confidence in humanity?

Some believe that the pope is unconcerned with AIDS in Africa, but the fact is most people suffering from AIDS receive treatment from the Catholic Church. Many scientists have explicitly or implicitly confirmed what the pope is saying. A Stanford University study found that the ABC approach was the most successful because it emphasized abstinence and faithfulness, as the pope has.

Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, said the evidence shows that the pope is correct in his assertion that condoms are not the solution.

This debate is rarely about science, it's about ideology. Condoms are seen as sexually liberating. No longer must a couple be completely committed in order to have sex, but sex can be enjoyed as a casual activity between people. Condoms in some way undermine the old paradigm of sex being connected with birth and have "liberated" us sexually. It's a fairytale that, despite the evidence, has continued to survive. To suggest that the solution lies in sexual morality is anathema to modern society's notion that sex is only about self-gratification. I believe most of the attacks on the pope are motivated less out of concern for HIV and AIDS patients in Africa but more out of a fear of religious conservatism which argues that not all sexual activity is permissible. If you doubt this theory, I suggest you read comments on articles concerning the pope on condoms. Nearly all of them are personal attacks on the pope and refer to his age or position and say he has no authority on sexual matters. Rarely do these comments reflect a concern for the people of Africa unless they are accusing the pope of somehow indirectly killing them.

The world needs a strong moral voice instead of more condoms. I hope the pope continues to speak up for what is right despite voices of opposition.


  1. Awesome post. The confusion over the Pope's recent statements is an amazing opportunity for Catholics to explain the truth behind the use of contraceptives. Thank you for all the work you put into this post.

  2. What frustrates me the most is not just that the Pope has been misinterpreted and falsified, but that so many people are now under the impression that the Catholic Church permits condom use. We are not consequentialists, but you wouldn't know that by reading the mainstream media.

    Thanks for this post!

  3. somedumbcamel (AW)12:02 pm, November 29, 2010

    I understand but I've got one problem.
    I can see that abstinence and sex within the confines of marriage would statistically out perform condoms.
    Very good and I agree would be the best solution to that problem.
    But this requires near total cooperation of the entire population at once - which could be a possibility in theory if you could convert the entire nation to that ideology TODAY.
    The problem is this isn't happening overnight.
    So in the mean time, what of the people here now? Those who aren't turned on to abstinence yet and the entire population who requires abstinence education and instruction? What of the people between now and the future utopia of marital bliss? Are we supposed to just let 'em go and not try ALL means of prevention on the road of progress toward an abstinent nation?
    The people who don't adhere immediately are just supposed to die of AIDS?

    I can see the final goal of the church and that the church does not OK condoms, but I am not seeing a clear from here to there path that works to save as much as possible. Maybe I missed something, maybe not :/

  4. somedumbcamel (AW)8:20 am, November 30, 2010

    oh just to be clear, I'm not saying the church wishes these people to die. I don't think genocide is the plan, that would go against the values of the church far more than condoms.

  5. So the Church, which teaches that other religions (which allow sex before marriage and condoms) have some truth and which teaches that discrimination on the grounds of religion is absolutely forbidden (despite some questionable passages in the Old Testament with suggestions that apostates should be stoned to death), truly believes that an entire continent of people, most of whose primary concerns are not starving and not dying of illnesses which are curable by Western medicine, can instantly convert to its belief system, with no real reason why, and change their entire moral compass at the drop of a hat?

    Get real.

    Abstinence is certainly the most effective method. That is not questioned. What is questioned is how it could be brought about, and while the Church struggles with this, condoms could be preventing 85% of HIV transmission.

    Once again, the Church fails to realise that not everyone shares its outdated beliefs. The Bible may say that sex before marriage is wrong. But it also says that anyone who tries to convert you from Catholicism should be put to death and that a dead man's brother is obligated to marry his widow. Times change - deal with it. There is no compelling moral reason why two people in a committed relationship should not have sex before marriage, and the Church also seems to be overlooking the possibility that one person might actually have more than one such partner before getting married.

    It may be possible for the Pope, living in luxury in the Vatican, to describe "perfect" solutions. But when you've seen the situation in Africa, you begin to look for real solutions instead.

    P.S. I'm a Catholic, believe in God, just got back from a 4-day Kairos retreat and go to Mass every week - but that doesn't stop me recognising stupidity and delusion when I see it.

  6. lol this guy is your "HOLY FATHER" when i take a look in those eyes i see a life time of regret, he knows what he is doing to the world is wrong. look at all the recent pope s of the 2o-21st century every single one of them when you look in their eyes is a feeling of like they are taking your very soul from you, they know what they are doing is wrong but they are gettign so much money why stop now?