I was sitting in my room when my friend said, “Hey, did you read the article in the Defender?” I began to read Luke’s article and immediately became angry. I am the troubling “official representative of a Catholic college’s student organization” who fully supports safe sex when abstinence is not an option.
I believe that the stand SGAC and I have taken is compatible with Pope Benedict’s position. In an interview given by Pope Benedict to Peter Seewald in the book Light of the World, he says, "She [the Church] of course does not regard it [condom use] as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."
SGAC co-sponsored the abstinence speaker because we acknowledge that abstinence is the most effective way to avoid STDs/STIs. More importantly; we acknowledge that when abstinence is a choice, it shows true sexual equality.
I wish I lived in an ideal world where the question, “When is abstinence not an option?” could be legitimately raised. Unfortunately, I live in a world where I have been introduced to the consequences of non-consensual sex in both strangers and loved ones alike.
When I recognized that abstinence is not always an option, I was thinking of power dynamics in Africa (even though it is not always an option in America as well). Unequal male to female power dynamics have left women with few decisions when it comes to their sex life. Women often do not have the choice to say “no”, and it is even rarer for them to have the choice of safe-sex.
So, when is abstinence not an option? When rape happens. I know how hard it is to talk about rape. I understand it could bring back vivid flashbacks for those who have survived such a crime, but it needs to be talked about. It is important that anyone who could ask such a question be introduced to this concept so they can pierce their tiny bubble and let some knowledge in, especially since Luke is an RA (as he pointed out).
Here are some typical situations that occur in Africa. (To get a fuller understanding of the lives of women in Africa and their lack of choice regarding sexual contact pick up the book called 28).
A young man and woman fall in love. He is a complete gentleman and she is a perfect lady. They decide to get married and move in with each other after a few months of dating. She becomes pregnant with their first child, a girl. The husband must make a living to support his daughter and wife, so he leaves to go work in the mines.
The conditions are absolutely atrocious in the mine. In order to keep some sanity he spends money on alcohol and prostitutes. The husband comes home and has sex with his wife. She asks him to wear a condom, but he is angered with this request (the stigma against condoms is much greater) and beats her and then rapes her.
She becomes pregnant with a boy. The husband leaves to go back to the mine. The wife develops a terrible cough and spends hours waiting at a clinic week after week to find out she has AIDS and that she will die because there are no funds for treatment. She goes to the mine to tell her husband that he must also have AIDS. He beats her; she must be cheating. A couple of years later the husband comes home to die.
The wife forgives him for giving her AIDS, beating her, and raping her. She takes care of him until he eventually dies. Meanwhile, she is witnessing the painful death she will eventually have to go through herself some day. Two months later, she dies of AIDS with no one to take care of her while she drowns in her own blood. This is when abstinence isn’t an option. This is when safe sex could have saved two lives.
The two children are now orphans of AIDS and have no way of making money. Jobs are scarce and both are too young to even try to compete for a job. One of the children is an 11 year-old female and the other is a 7 year-old male. The boy is attending school because it is the only hope they have of achieving a better life. In order to pay for her brother’s schooling, food, and water the girl must have sex with men.
Is this rape? This girl is 11 years old; she does not want to have sex. She is forced to have sex with a man that will pay or else she and her brother will die. Let me repeat: two innocent children would die. In America, it would be called statutory rape. In Africa, it is a way of sustaining life. So yes, this is rape. She contracts HIV because safe-sex was not an option.
This is when abstinence is not an option.
This is why safe sex should be a human right.
The two children live in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their village is taken over by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). During this take-over, the LRA uses psychological warfare with the now 12 year-old girl. She is brutally raped. She becomes pregnant with the LRA’s soldier’s baby. She and the child die during birth because of complications due to her age and her HIV status.
This is when abstinence is not an option.
This is when safe sex is not an option. This is what happens to 1,000 women and girls a month in the Congo alone.
It is cyclical. Man to wife to child to man to wife to child; on and on and it seems as if it will never stop. Every time I think of this I become infuriated. After the anger fades, I just break. I sit and I cry. If you cannot feel pain for these people simply because they are human, then imagine if this were your sister, your mother, your daughter, your cousin, your friend, you.
Can you feel it now?
The inequality in sexual relations is something that will never get resolved if someone refuses to even accept its existence. Abstinence is not always an option. So please, I am looking for some common ground. I hope that we could all agree with the Pope and say that God doesn’t want us to put abstinence over the lives of these people. I am not debating the use of condoms on the Saint Michael’s Campus; that argument has been had.
I am asking you to dig deeper and see that no matter your stance on safe sex, these situations are unacceptable. I want to fight side by side with you and the people of Africa to change the lives of these people for the better.
I want us to work within the understandings of Bishop Kevin Dowling of South Africa who, when asked about the HIV/AIDS crisis in his own country, said: "You should come up with a position which makes sense and which is in sync with the values we espouse, a nonjudgmental God and the infinite worth of a human being. Moral injunctions do not help people.
This situation calls for a rethink of the traditional pro-life stance, and the acceptance of an authentic pro-life stance. The issue becomes: How do you protect life in this pandemic?"
I ask for your help, as a Christian, or simply as a human being who is part of the human family, in answering this question: “What can we do as students of a Catholic college deeply invested in social justice work to help these people?”
A pro-life stance must be in support of ALL life and so the lives of women who have no options when it comes to sexual contact cannot be excluded from our circle of compassion.