Fasting from abstinence

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Mar 21, 2004

A generation of classroom sex-education has produced a steady rise in teen pregnancy (partially masked by teen abortions), and a quiet epidemic of venereal diseases. Meanwhile abstinence-based programs are encourging young people to avoid sexual activity.

This, in the eyes of the sex-ed lobby, is a crisis. They need their government subsidies! How can they counter the threat of teen chastity!

Now we have the answer. The sex-ed lobby (which, you'll notice, claims to represent a "traditional" approach, although our grandparents would find it appalling) points out that when abstinence programs don't have a 100% success rate; some kids will still lose sex. And when they do, they're less likely to use condoms than their neighbors who have been battered for years with the safe-sex message. All perfectly true, I'm sure.

But the safe-sex approach is also considerably less than 100% effective. Some kids don't use condoms, despite the constant harangues. And condoms often fail.

So let's cut to the chase: Teenager A has been told that he can and should control himself, and avoid all extra-marital sexual activity. Teenager B has been told that he probably can't control himself, so he should use a condom. (But sometimes there won't be a condom handy when the urge strikes, and sometimes the condom won't work.) All things considered, who is more likely to engage in "unsafe" sex: A or B?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: John J Plick - Mar. 23, 2004 9:55 PM ET USA

    Dear Louis, I would think we have more than enough to do among our own Church and among our own youth FIRST before we start dealing with the estranged. A community immersed in hypocrisy is a miserable and even scandalous testimony to the awesome holiness of God. Rebuking strangers is easy...try it with family and friends...particularly the ones who go by the name "Catholic."

  • Posted by: - Mar. 23, 2004 2:40 PM ET USA

    Pseudo & John J: Phil has confined his discussion of the problem of teen sex (pregnancy, STD, etc.) to the practical benefits and shortcomings of abstinence-only vs. comp sex-ed. He is offering this as a challenge to socio-political advocates of promiscuity and as material support for chastity among the ill-begotten "heathen" youth.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 23, 2004 12:47 PM ET USA

    John J, I understand your point, but disagree with you on the remedy. The culture doesn't believe that they are deprived and is willy nilly heading down the path of The Abolition of Man. Just as Paul in Acts 17 at the Aeropagus didn't tear down the pagan temples, I believe that we have to argue with the culture at large from human reason, as the Holy Father has said in Fides et Ratio.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Mar. 22, 2004 4:45 PM ET USA

    Dear Pseudo, Two things; First, I must confess, I tend toward the protestant point of view in such issues; Preach the genersl depravity of man and Jesus as the solution and THEN get to finer issues. Second, I truly believe that Phil's approach merely results in "sanitizing" the heathen so that we Catholics can live one day "in Church" and then live the six other days in "the world" without feeling too uncomfortable. The reasonable fruits of OUR community obedience to this are NOT there.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 22, 2004 1:15 PM ET USA

    The answer is "B" because he is trusting completely in the mechanical efficacy and counterfeit guarantees of barrier methods. His maturity (self-restraint) has been successfully undermined by comprehensive sex-ed programs. "A", on the other hand, has been instructed to assume responsibility for the consequences of his behavior -- to trust in his will guided by grace to conform to the Church's teaching. His faith rests on practice of real "safe sex"!

  • Posted by: - Mar. 21, 2004 11:58 PM ET USA

    I disagree with you John J. The fact that an activity pursued purely for pleasure and NOT in conformance with Catholic teaching would have such a high probability of disease transmission is circumstantial evidence to the heathen that perhaps there is *something* to Catholic teaching -- specifically the subjugation of the passions to reason. From there a dialogue on the cardinal virtues and temperance can begin. I don't believe this is utilitarian; merely acknowledging things for what they are

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Mar. 21, 2004 3:15 PM ET USA

    Your argument avoids the central issue, Phil. The central issue from a Catholic perspective is NOT how to "modify" our arguments to conform with the liberal mentality, because whenever we degrade our argument to a utilitarian point of view (that is, the main reason to "abstain" is to prevent disease) we lose the moral high ground. Within the Catholic community, especially within Catholic schools, are position is that "free sex" is WRONG morally, and that disease is a consequence (original sin).