Wednesday, March 18, 2009

memo to the pope: ummm, you're NOT helping!!!

I've been a lapsed Catholic for quite some time (as you all know by now from my constant complaining). And one of the many reasons why I'm dissatisfied with the Church is the Vatican's stance on condom use to prevent HIV.

Most of us know why the Church feels that condoms are bad. If you don't know, sex is for procreation purposes ONLY and anything that prevents procreation from happening is wrong (except for the rhythm method, which is ok, even though it allows Catholic partners to have sex for the purpose of intimacy and NOT procreation, but whatevs. Cognitive dissonance is the Church's MO).

The keys to HIV prevention, according to the Church, is to be abstinent and to be faithful to your partner. The abstinence requirement is laughable, seeing as that some priests couldn't keep it in their pants when abusing children. If these men of God cannot be abstinent, how are mere mortals expected to be? The faithfulness requirement is noble. Really it is. However, what are you to do if your partner is unfaithful and you don't know it or you do know but you're a woman in a patriarchal society therefore you can't speak up? Hey, if he's cheating on you with the sex workers on his truck route (and doesn't use condoms since they are bad) and brings the virus into your bedroom, apparently, you are SOL. So if abstinence isn't possible, and your partner is unfaithful, what does that leave you with? Hey, Church, is there a plan C? If plan A and plan B don't work, where is that Plan C to make sure the Church is SAVING LIVES?

*crickets chirping*

That's what I thought.

Ok, moving on, the Pope was on his way to Africa yesterday (Cameroon, maybe) and reporters were allowed on Pope Force One to answer questions that had been submitted for approval prior to the trip (naturally). Pope Benedict declared that the Catholic Church is in the forefront of the battle against AIDS. (hahahahaha...OMG, that's a good one...oh wait, the Pope is serious?)

He then followed that joke declaration with, "You can't resolve (the AIDS problem) with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem."

Whaaaaa??? So not only are condoms bad, but they also help spread the disease?

I'd like to refer the Pope to these studies on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission: 1997 , 2000 , and 2002.

I'm not surprised that the Pope would make such a statement. However, I am appalled that he would do this on his way to Africa. Two-thirds of the world's HIV cases are in Africa alone.  Africans make up 75% of the world's AIDS deaths. The only place where Catholicism is actually growing is Africa (they might want to look into why their numbers are dwindling elsewhere). More Catholics = more people to influence. There are some countries in Africa with double digit HIV prevalence rates.

There is already so much stigma about condom use in Africa. The leader of the Catholic Church preaching lies about condom use doesn't help matters. If using them is seen as negative and then the Pope tells you that condoms actually help spread HIV, what is the motivation to use one?

You know what I would like to see? I would like for the Catholic Church to take a small village in Africa and test their Plan A and Plan B (by the way, all of Uganda did this, but they had a C, condoms, and the combined strategy helped lower the HIV prevalence there). I want them to study these people and take relevant data on a regular basis. And then after three years of tracking, I want them to see how their plan didn't work. That a lot of their subjects got infected. That unmarried people kept having sex but didn't use condoms since they think condoms help spread HIV. That married couples sometimes were unfaithful and brought the virus to their unsuspecting partner.

And then I want the Church to realize that their methods are to blame for the eventual deaths of their subjects because they didn't speak the truth about condoms.

What the Church needs to realize is that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is not a moral issue. It's a public health issue. And you, Pope with all of your lies refuted by Science, are not a public health expert.

UPDATE: Apparently, I'm not the only one mad at the Pope.  The whole HIV field is up in arms.  Oh and the NY Times put the Pope on blast today. 

UPDATE 2: Wanna do your part to help fight HIV in Africa?  Please consider donating to FHI, an agency that uses scientifically proven methods to fight HIV, TB, and malaria in developing countries. 


Juliet said...

I am not going to disagree with most of your post, but I just want to comment on the first two paragraphs:

It is clear if you've read Humanae Vitae (I would expect you to have done so because you're usually pretty informed--it's in English right on the Vatican website, so go read it if you haven't) that the purpose of sex is BOTH unitive and procreative. So one of the purposes of sex is, in fact, intimacy. It's not optional; it's as inherent to married sex as procreation is. I don't suppose the Catholic Church has always taught this, but it has at least since 1968. I also find some cognitive dissonance in the Church's position on contraception, but at least I know the reasoning behind it, however flawed. For the sake of your argument please don't fall for the stereotype that the Catholic hierarchy doesn't even want married couples to enjoy sex. As someone who has actually read the relevant encyclicals and gone through Catholic wedding prep--and as someone who likes sex, thank you!--I hate to see it perpetuated.

Second, as you know, the rhythm method doesn't work, and that's why the Catholic Church no longer promotes it. In wedding prep they teach natural family planning. My husband and I have been using NFP/Fertility Awareness (the difference being whether you abstain or use barrier methods when you're fertile--we don't usually use condoms, but more out of laziness/dislike than anything else) since the summer of 2005. We have one kid and a reasonably healthy sex life, I'm not currently pregnant, and I only went a year without menstruating that whole time. So you do the math. And I figure I know more about my body and how it functions than most women do, which is a plus (it's also useful knowledge for couples who want to conceive but have difficulty doing so). I don't think anyone besides stable monogamous couples should use NFP/FAM, but 1. it's not the same as the rhythm method--I rarely have a consistent 28-day cycle, so that wouldn't work for me, and 2. there is a place for educated use of NFP for couples who don't want to use other methods of contraception, for moral reasons or otherwise. (I actually learned how to use NFP from Taking Charge of Your Fertility, a non-religious book I highly recommend to anyone who's interested.)

anOCgirl said...

juliet: so glad you commented, as always.

re: your first point. actually, in my 13 years of catholic schooling, i was never taught that sex was for intimacy purposes too. i believe that sex feels good (i know i'm not alone here) and since God created everything, He meant to make sex pleasurable and helpful in connecting with your partner. i haven't heard that the Church hierarchy believes that sex is enjoyable, but if they do believe that, surely they understand why people would want to have sex and why abstinence is hard for some/most people.

also, i meant to say NFP. my previous agency worked with the RH department at G-town and they were big fans of NFP. i wouldn't exist had it not been for the rhythm method which is NOT NFP.

actually, there are studies that show that NFP is pretty helpful in helping couples conceive. i'm not knocking NFP at all. after all, it's a form of birth control and i'm a fan of birth contol and one's ability to choose the bc method that is right for you.

Generation Next said...

Pope Force One--LOL

Natural family planning is a good idea up to a point. But the problem is, our bodies are not perfect instruments, and even those who have been following its signs for years get pregnant unintenionally A LOT. It's not a reliable method if your intention is not to get pregnant. If your intention is semi not to get pregnant, but if it happens, then okay, then consider NFP.

Related to this is an article I read this morning about how smart women are botching birth control and why. Some points are that women wrongly assume they know everything there is no know about bc, and they say they intend to prevent pregnancy, but not doing anything to actively prevent it. Very interesting points.

Lexiloo said...

I giggled at Pope Force One :)

I have a question though, I hope it doesn't sound dumb, because I really am unsure. How readily available are condoms in rural areas of Africa? Are they easy to obtain? Are they expensive? I'm just wondering about the logistics of it...

anOCgirl said...

gen next: oh no. NFP certainly doesn't work for everyone. the failure rate is anywhere between 2-25%. 25% is a bit high for me, but to each their own. :)

thanks for the article. i read it and, good lord, did it frustrate me. i had a friend who ran out of birth control and was traveling with her partner and didn't think to call for a refill. so she went a month w/o birth control, thinking that the hormones just kinda stay in your body for awhile. needless to say, she got preggers. i'm not sure why anyone would think that the pill works even after you stop taking it, especially in the world of google.

lex: well, the popemobile has a special name. why not the plane? :)

in rural areas? not very. they are almost always available in public health clinics but these clinics are few and far between in those rural areas. they are free thanks to generous donations from durex and trojan as well as some of the non profits that work there like FHI.

Juliet said...

Okay, I'm glad we're on the same page about NFP. :) I think I've just programmed myself so all my alarms go off whenever I hear "rhythm method." Like most birth control methods, there is a difference between the method failure rate (done correctly, NFP is pretty effective) and user failure rate (there is obviously a lot of room and incentive to err!). So the 2% failure rate is probably for correct, disciplined use of NFP and 25% is how it actually works out in reality--and I would guess people using NFP are generally less concerned about avoiding pregnancy than users of other methods, so are not as motivated to do it correctly. I think NFP gets knocked unfairly when it's like any other method of contraception in that its efficacy depends on knowledge and discipline--it's just that the stakes are lower for most users of NFP.

Anonymous said...

I just don't understand at all how he could do something that seems so EVIL. You really hit the nail on the head - HIV/AIDS IS NOT a moral issue, it's a heath issue and the Pope really has no right to talk about, especially if he's only causing more problems.

Pope = Epic Fail.

anOCgirl said...

juliet: i agree 100%. and yes, the low number in the failure rate range indicates correct use and the high number indicates incorrect use. there's a range for every BC method.

instatick: i wish the Church would just stick to helping the sick and the poor and NOT PONTIFICATE on things She (yes, the Church is a She) knows nothing about.