A: Have you seen that wall-size condom ad at the corner of the street?
B: Well, yes. Have you done something about it?
A: What do you mean?
B: Do you think it is good to have it posted there for everyone to see, as if it were the most normal thing to see? It reminds people not to forget to use condoms in a place where many young single workers pass everyday.
A: Of course not! Most of those yuppies work in a call center nearby. I heard that the toilet of one of these places got clogged one day and when repaired, it was full of condoms. That’s awful.
B: Then it means that the ads worked.
A: I guess so. But how do I complain to the mayor’s office about removing that poster if I do not know the reasons why it is wrong? I could not even explain it to my friends convincingly. They end up making fun of me. They actually called me “outmoded” when I tried to explain it to them the first time!
B: You mean you believe that condoms are 100% effective?
A: Of course! Why would government allow such rabid advertisements? They say that as long as we use condoms, we are safe.
B: Safe from what?
A: Well, from pregnancy and HIV.
B: Why? What’s wrong with pregnancy? Is it a virus like HIV?
A: C’mon. You don’t want to get your girlfriend pregnant…
B: So, why are you having sex with her?
A: I am not. I am just telling you what my friends say.
B: So, why don’t you tell them not to have sex with their girlfriends if they do not want them to get pregnant?
A: I have tried and they told me that they love each other very much. And so, why am I trying to stop them from expressing their love to each other?
B: No, you are not stopping them from expressing their love to each other. You are, in fact, helping them love each other better. There are other ways of expressing love outside of sex. This applies to married couples also.
A: Sorry, I could not ‘connect’. What do you mean?
B: Since they are not yet married, the best way for them to express their love for each other now is not to touch each other.
A: Oh, I can’t say that to them.
B: You can’t if you don’t know why.
A: So, why?
B: Because sex is an act proper only to married couples. Sex—or any human act for that matter—has consequences. It has to be carried out with a sense of responsibility, not just for the fun of it. The possible consequence of sex is pregnancy, and that is a good thing in itself, but within the context of marriage.
B: That’s because the ‘product’ is a child, and is best nurtured in a family. The personality of a child is enriched both by the father and the mother. This is why people who are not married to each other should not have sex.
A: But they tell me, “That’s why there is a condom.”
B: Then you tell them that they do not really love each other—what they claim to be the reason why they want to have sex outside marriage. Love is always total and unconditional—it is the gift of oneself to another. The use of contraception—and in this case, condoms—breaks that internal language of love between couples.
A: Can you explain a bit more?
B: Let me read to you this analogy: “A woman who is blind wants to talk to her husband each evening and tell him about the events of her day. He, meanwhile, wants to relax in the evenings by listening to baseball on the radio. He decides that while listening to his wife talk, he will at the same time plug in headphones and follow the game, so his attention will be divided between his wife and the game. He will occasionally say things like ‘yes, dear’ and ‘uh huh’ to give the impression that he is listening with full attention.”
A: Okay. How is that connected to contraception?
B: It continues: “A woman on the pill similarly gives the impression that she is receiving her husband fully in the marital embrace, while, in fact, she is shutting down her own fertility in order to ward off his fruitfulness. On a deep level, she is rejecting his life-giving masculinity and speaking a false language to him with her body, much as the sports-minded husband is speaking a contradictory language with his headphones and ‘yes, dear’ responses. If a man uses a condom with his wife, or even if both spouses agree to use contraception, they still speak a false and inauthentic language to one another right at the core of their intimacy.”
A: It is more clear now. But what if they need to space the birth of another child?
B: You are now talking about married couples, right?
A: Oh yes, that’s right. I was earlier talking about my friends who just want to have free sex. I am just curious because of the analogy.
B: Okay. Perhaps you want to know if it is all right to space births?
B: It is all right if there is a serious reason to do so.
A: But then you told me they cannot use contraception?
B: They can but they should not. There is such thing as a natural way of regulating birth.
A: Is that what they call Natural Family Planning?
B: Yes, NFP.
A: So, that’s like natural contraception, right?
B: Of course not!
A: Why not? It also means preventing birth, but this time using natural methods.
B: NFP respects the purpose of sex. It does not interfere with it like what happens in artificial contraception. Let me go back to the analogy I mentioned earlier. The author continues: “Suppose that on alternating days of the week, the sports-minded husband agrees to stop listening to the radio and instead visits with his wife in a direct and focused manner. Both spouses agree to delay their gratification (he practices ‘sports abstinence’; she practices ‘verbal abstinence’), on alternating days, rather than acting against the good of their personal communication by employing countermeasures like headphones. This is similar to the case of a couple using NFP. On some days, they fully share with each other in the conjugal act; on other days, they delay sexual gratification and freely choose abstinence, so as to avoid speaking inauthentically to each other through contraceptive sex. In sum, contraceptive intercourse always represents a radically different kind of act than intercourse during a known infertile period.”
A: That’s a clever analogy.
B: Yes it is. But let me say it very clearly: NFP is not a form of contraception, although it could be used as one.
B: NFP can be used as a form of contraception by couples who do not want to have another child for selfish reasons, like for example, preferring a new car for a child. It can also be used by non-married couples to prevent pregnancy. In both cases, the same good act is used for the wrong motives. And so, the act becomes immoral in its totality.
A: So how do you differentiate a couple using NFP for the right from those using it for the wrong motives?
B: It’s their attitude and disposition. Those who practice periodic continence—refraining from sex during the woman’s fertile period—require dominion of mind and will over the sexual urge. It actually helps them gain virtues, which contribute to their betterment and perfection. Everything we do should contribute to the building up of our virtues—in this case, the virtue of chastity, both when we are single and when we are married. The opposite of that is the development of vices, which only leads us to misery and therefore, unhappiness. As Jason Evert puts it succinctly, love (virtue) can wait to give but lust (vice) can’t wait to get. It also trains the couple to respect each other and learn to express their love in other ways. What more, this lack of virtue can easily lead to contraceptive mentality.
A: What is that?
B: Contraceptive mentality refers to a mode of thinking, and for some people a way of life, that avoids conceiving human life at all cost. And so, one who is not married can also have a contraceptive mentality if he sees babies as burdens—as mouths to feed instead of human beings who have hearts and minds that love and think, who have hands and feet that help for work. It is like seeing pregnancy as a disease that one should avoid.
A: Is that why you asked me earlier what’s wrong with pregnancy?
B: Partly, yes.
A: You want to see if I have contraceptive mentality?
B: Again, partly, yes. But do you really believe that condoms are effective in preventing pregnancy and AIDS?
A: As I told you, that’s what all these ads say and since the government allows them, so they must be telling the truth.
B: That’s the reason why a friend and I took pains to do research on the effectiveness of condoms. I also thought the way you did.
A: What changed your mind?
B: Data. The facts.
B: As regards pregnancy, failure rates that have been reported range from as low as 6% to as high as 33%. Even a journal promoting the use of condoms noted that they are effective at 95-98% if perfectly used. But in actual practice or what is called typical use, its effectiveness declines to 79-85%.
A: What’s the difference between perfect and typical use?
B: Perfect use also means theoretical effectiveness, that is, by-the-book consistent use. That rarely happens and so the concept of typical or actual use which is translated to real effectiveness or what happens in real-life situations is more realistic to use. Naturally, the failure rates in the latter are higher than in the former. But in both cases, there is failure and hence, risks.
A: Oh, that could be the reason why this lady I heard about got pregnant. The parents of the guy are known to be ‘liberal’ and so they do not mind him using condoms.
B: I am not inventing these figures. You can check them out yourself in the paper I mentioned to you. But do you also know that condoms are not that safe in protecting you from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or infections (STIs)?
A: I didn’t know that. What I know is that they are precisely advertised for ‘protection’?
B: Let me discuss first the word ‘protection’. First, you protect yourself from what may cause you harm or from something or someone dangerous. And so you cannot use that for pregnancy because a baby means no harm and is not harmful. As regards diseases or infections, which are harmful, condoms do not actually protect you completely.
A: Really? Do you also have statistics for that?
B: Yes, they are all in the paper I told you about. To make it simple for you to understand, if you have a failure rate for pregnancy, how much more will there be for infection? Because the sperm cell is much bigger than microorganisms.
A: You mean there are holes in the condoms?
B: There have been studies that show how the natural pores in the condoms are much bigger than HIV and other disease-causing microorganisms. There were also studies showing that condoms are not exempt from manufacturing defects which may allow passage of bacteria and viruses. But what I would like you to consider is that these disease-causing microorganisms are not limited to the area that is covered by the condoms.
A: What are these?
B: These are organisms that are transmitted through skin-to-skin or sore-to-sore contact like the herpes simplex virus (HSV), syphilis and the human papillomavirus (HPV), among others. What are called sore-to-sore pathogens are usually found throughout the external genital tract, which is not completely covered by condoms.
A: You mean that there are many other possible diseases aside from HIV/AIDS?
B: In fact, HPV and HSV, which are both sore-to-sore pathogens, are among the two most common STDs in the world.
A: And condoms do not completely protect you from them?
B: Yes. As I said earlier, it is because they are usually found in the external genital tract that is not covered by condoms. This may be one reason why the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that at least 50% of sexually active men and women have been infected with HPV at some point in their lives.
A: What diseases are caused by HPV?
B: It causes a variety of genital cancers in men and women, including cervical cancer, which is the second most common cancer among women worldwide.
A: That’s scary!
B: I am not trying to scare you. I am just stating the facts. In fact, Dr. Edward Green, Director of the Harvard AIDS Prevention Research Project said that “adding condoms to high-risk behavior does not seem to have much impact on the consequences of the behavior. Condoms evidently do not protect against HIV infection as well as they are supposed to.”
A: So, what’s the best way to avoid getting all these infections and diseases?
B: The answer is very simple and it has been credited for the success of lowering the incidences of HIV/AIDS in Africa: Abstinence and Fidelity. They are actually the first two components of what they called the “ABC method” to HIV/AIDS prevention: Abstinence, Be faithful and use Condoms. But as I mentioned earlier, the promotion of condoms—especially in low-risk populations like the Philippines—may even contribute to increasing infection.
A: What could be the reasons for that?
B: Those who have been studying this issue call them cumulative risk and risk compensation. They are used to explain why HIV prevalence rates continued to rise in countries wherein condom promotion and use have been rampant, like in sub-Saharan Africa.
A: Can you explain these two concepts?
B: Cumulative risk refers to “the likelihood of an outcome occurring at least once, given a repeated number of risk exposures.” As explained by another author, it means that “an intervention that is 99.8% effective for a single episode of intercourse can yield an 18% cumulative failure rate with 100 exposures”.
A: So the more you get into the act with infected persons, the more chances of infection you will have?
B: You got it.
A: And how about risk compensation?
B: Risk compensation happens when people engage in riskier behavior because they were assured of safety. This may happen when a young person, because of condom ads, begins to think that as long as he uses a condom, he is safe and so he becomes more daring in his sexual behavior.
A: Is that the reason why you are against these condom commercials?
A: You mean you have another reason?
B: Well, I have two more. The first one is that the Philippines is considered an “HIV mystery” since HIV levels have remained extremely low since the first AIDS case was diagnosed in 1984. I am afraid that the rampant promotion of condoms may worsen the situation. Look at Thailand. We had roughly the same number of HIV/AIDS cases in the 1980s: 112 for Thailand and 135 for the Philippines. In the early 1990s, the government of Thailand enforced a 100% condom use program. Almost 15 years later, the Philippines remained low at 1,935 cases while Thailand rose to 750,000. Besides, the population of the Philippines is larger than Thailand’s.
A: I heard about that. They even had a ‘condom king’ there. I hope we won’t follow their example.
B: I hope so, too. But government has to do something to regulate these ads so that they do not mislead people, especially the young.
A: What do you mean?
B: Require condom companies to clearly label their products with something like, “Condoms are dangerous to your health” or “Condoms do not protect you completely from STDs”.
A: Oh, just like cigarettes. That’s right. At least it warns people and it does not provide a false sense of security as how it is actually advertised now.
B: Let’s see what happens to the rate of HIV prevalence in the Philippines—what with all these ads on condoms—unless our legislators do something to protect our people from this possible danger as experienced by other countries. At the very least, they should require these companies to put warnings in their labels and ads.
A: I cannot agree more. But you said you have two more reasons, right?
B: Yes, that’s the first one. The second is the main one actually. I got it from the German philosopher, Josef Pieper. Pieper wrote that early exposure to sex—like in these condom ads—could result in the young confusing sex with natural love which he called eros. He wrote that “seduction and commercial manipulation, which, contrary to the natural course of things, acquaint [them] sooner with isolated sexual lust than with falling in love and love—so that sex enters youth’s consciousness and life before eros does, and in such a way that experiencing real love is hampered if not blocked permanently.”
A: What did he mean by hampering or blocking real love?
B: That is actually what concerns me most. He said that if young people are exposed to sex without having learned what real love means, they may begin to live a distorted and confused life, which is rather miserable. They may not be able to understand what real love is all about because it has been confused with sex. This is the worse thing that could ever happen to a person because what we all long for is love, that is, to love and be loved. And the moment you confuse that with sex, it destroys the way you view relationships and it will destroy not just your eternal happiness but your happiness in this world as well.
A: That is quite alarming.
B: It is. That is why we have to remove all these ads that sell sex, as if it were just one more commodity to be bought, like chocolates. If we will not do anything about that, the demand for abortion will just be around the corner.
A: Aren’t you going too far in your conclusions?
B: That is just a logical conclusion from contraceptive or condomized sex. Contraceptives are used to avoid pregnancy and if they fail—and they do fail as we discussed earlier—demand for abortion comes next. That is why Dr. Peter Kreeft calls abortion as back up contraception. In his country where contraceptives abound, abortions are in the millions. It all starts with indecent ads, with ads that sell sex. They dull our ability to differentiate real love from lust. And all this will lead to the gradual destruction of our families.
A: And it’s the strong Filipino family that we all brag about…
B: If our ad agencies, company executives who fund these ads, and government officials do not do something to protect us from these family-destructive messages—which all start by promoting sex outside marriage—then the destruction of our well-cherished Filipino family won’t even take too long to happen. I have actually been telling you about the content of a letter to the editor I wrote regarding this issue when a big action hero started appearing in condom ads.
A: What else did you write there?
B: Let me read it to you: “Instead of teaching the youth self-integration and how to dominate their passions as investments for the building of a family founded on love, these ads are encouraging them to let loose their lust as long as they use contraceptives. In the West where sexual images and contraception abound, the problem is not teenage pregnancy anymore, but the demand for abortion in whatever stage of pregnancy, which they now call not just ‘reproductive health’ but ‘reproductive rights’ as well. We have started to roll down that slippery slope because of government neglect, the West’s influence and money, the hunger for profit at the expense of values and, well, the passivity of the youth. Unless each of us react and until those in charge become truly ‘response-able,’ we will end up in the same ‘abortion pit’ and ‘reproductive rights’ mindset.”
A: I think I got the point. Let me now write my own letter…