by Matt Kaufman
Condom ads are nothing new for MTV, but on Valentine’s Day the network ran one for free. Unlike the raunchy spots they often run, this one was draped in respectability, delivered by a high government official in a suit and tie: Secretary of State Colin Powell.
If you didn’t see the show — a 90-minute “global forum” where Powell fielded questions from a mostly college-age audience in seven countries — here’s the upshot. Asked by an Italian woman about the Catholic Church’s opposition to condoms, Powell said “I not only support their use, I encourage their use.” Everyone who doesn’t like it should get with the program, he said: “It’s important that the whole international community come together, speak candidly about it, forget about taboos, forget about conservative ideas with respect to what you shouldn’t tell young people … protect yourself.”
I guess we’re all for being “candid” and opposing “taboos” — the sort of thing that makes you think of primitive people dancing around a fire. But if he’d really been candid, Powell would’ve delivered a different message.
He might’ve started by mentioning a well-publicized study from the federal government’s National Institutes of Health, released last July. It found that, contrary to all the hype we’ve been hearing for years, there’s only flimsy evidence that condoms prevent most sexually transmitted diseases — diseases like chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, genital herpes and human papillomavirus. That last one’s especially nasty: It’s the cause of nearly all cases of cervical cancer; there are 5.5. million new ones each year, and more women die of it than AIDS (5,000 per year in this country alone).
Contrary to all the hype we’ve been hearing for years, there’s only flimsy evidence that condoms prevent most sexually transmitted diseases.
With that in mind, Powell might also have taken a different approach to those conservative folks he dismissed. For in truth, their prescription — abstinence until marriage, fidelity afterward — is the only proven way to “protect yourself.” And that’s not only protection against a variety of diseases; it’s protection for hearts and souls.
Of course, had Powell taken that course you can imagine the bad press he would have gotten. He’d have been labeled a puritan, a fanatic, a pawn of the “religious right.” As it is, he got gushing headlines in The New York Times (“With Candor, Powell Charms Global MTV Audience”) and plaudits from The Washington Post (Powell is “straightforward and remarkably sensible;” his critics are “hysterical,” “polarizing,” “backward.”).
Not that Powell necessarily made his remarks with an eye toward media reaction. It’s more likely that he’s just uncritically repeating the conventional wisdom: that people of high school and college age are inevitably “going to have sex no matter what,” so hey, all anyone can do is make it “safe.”
But it’s that very conventional wisdom that needs to be challenged. And not just because extramarital sex isn’t “safe,” but because it sets such low standards.
Human beings aren’t rutting dogs, helpless in the grip of the mating urge. We’ve always had sexual impulses, but we haven’t always let them rule us. Not so long ago, most people really did reserve sex for marriage, for reasons both moral and practical. It can be done — not just by rare individuals, but by whole societies. For a long time in a lot of places, it was positively normal.
Not so long ago, most people really did reserve sex for marriage, for reasons both moral and practical. It can be done — not just by rare individuals, but by whole societies.
And let’s be honest: People who respond that “you can’t turn back the clock” really don’t want to turn back the clock. When liberals seriously oppose something, they don’t facilitate it and declare it “safe”: They’re forever declaring “war” on one thing or another (poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia). But they don’t want sexual morality back. They want all the things they like about sex with none of the burdens—stuff like disease, pregnancy and (here’s a scary item) lifelong commitment. And they want it all guilt-free, which is why they like to suggest that using some latex rubber makes you “responsible.”
Such people like to pose as “realists,” but they’re really avoiding reality. They’re desperately trying to preserve something — the Sexual Revolution of the ‘60s — that has proven, in practice, to be an unmitigated disaster. They’re trying to divorce sex from the context for which God designed it (marriage) and from its natural results (children). And like students who skip class all semester and get upset when they flunk, they’re trying to pretend that somehow it’ll just all work out. Condoms will prevent pregnancy and disease. If they don’t, abortion will fix the pregnancy and medical treatment the disease. And if babies do come along but fathers are unwanted or (more often) unwilling — well, someone will pay the bills. There’s always the taxpayers. They’ve got plenty of money, right?
Abstinence until marriage, fidelity afterward — is the only proven way to “protect yourself.” And that’s not only protection against a variety of diseases; it’s protection for hearts and souls.
Enough already. God made us for better things than this; He made us to find sexual fulfillment in permanent unions, not shallow hookups or passing “relationships.” If we’re going to deal with the real world, we’d better accept that God’s plan is the only one that works—to say nothing of making us far happier than any extramarital sex can. It’s a pity, if not a surprise, that Colin Powell didn’t say that and MTV wouldn’t air it. But I can, with or without an MTV audience. And so can you.
Copyright © 2002 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Sex in the Real World, Revisited
Matt Kaufman, “Sex in the Real World,” Boundless, 2002, 11 February 2004.