February 17, 2006

Sexual Responsibility Week

As noted on our sidebar, this week has been Sexual Responsibility Week. I would like to conclude the week with a few statistics on HIV/AIDS and other STIs, pregnancy, abortion, and their relationship to sexual protection -- followed by some brief thoughts on Catholic moral and social teaching in a less than ideal world. This post will focus primarily upon these issues as they relate to the United States.

It must first be pointed out that young people are having sex, and that abstinence education just isn't working. By their eighteenth birthday, 60% of young women and 70% of young men have engaged in sexual intercourse, and a sexually active teenager who does not use birth control has a 90% chance of becoming pregnant within one year's time. 75% of teenage pregnancies are unintended, and 25% of these end in abortion. The United States has a significantly higher teenage pregnancy rate when compared with nations that employ comprehensive sex education -- twice as high as Canada and the United Kingdom, and nine times as high as Japan and the Netherlands. American teenagers are also more likely to have shorter and more sporadic sexual relationships but less likely to use birth control than are their peers in Canada, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

The Czech Republic, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Finland, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden all have an abortion rate between 10-20 abortions per one thousand teenage women, and most of these nations employ comprehensive sex education. The United States has a rate of 29 abortions per one thousand teenage women, maintaining one of the highest abortion rates among developed nations (the Russian Federation has the highest at 56 per one thousand teenage women).

Because they have more sexual partners and use condoms less, American teenagers have higher sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates than their peers in other developed nations.

Catholic moral teaching is clear in its opposition to premarital sex and the use of sexual protection. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that we do not live in an ideal world, as we have just seen in the above statistics. It is true that Catholic moral teaching speaks strongly against premarital sex, but that doesn't change the fact that American teenagers are having premarital sex with multiple partners. It is true that Catholic moral teaching speaks strongly against sexual protection, but it is also true that such sexual protection could lead to a decline in the rate of unintended pregnancies and subsequent abortions, as well as reducing the rate of HIV/AIDS and STIs.

The question is not whether or not we want our children to have premarital sex; for the vast majority of us, the answer is an unambiguous no. The question is not whether or not we believe in the use of sexual protection; among Americans, even among American Catholics, the answer to this question varies greatly and is complicated by a number of issues. The question is whether or not we want to continue watching our children suffer through unintended pregnancies, heartbreaking abortions, and life-shattering STIs. We do not want our children to have premarital sex, we may not believe in sexual protection -- but do we want our children to suffer, maybe even to die? This and this alone is the question we must ask ourselves when we discuss issues of sexual responsibility.