Before you read this post, you should go to What Does The Prayer Really Say and read this heart-tugging question Fr. John Zuhlsdorf received, as well as his compassionate reply. I’ll be here when you get back.
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Let me start by setting up a hypothetical situation: You’re handed a pair of dice. To play this game, you roll the dice; if any number other than two comes up, you win $1; if you roll snake-eyes, though, you pay $40.
Now, elementary probability theory tells you that your odds of losing are 35:1 against on any given roll. Like any other casino game, of course, it’s structured so that over time people lose more money than they win. But that’s not going to happen to you if you only roll the dice once or twice, right? And, really, it’s possible to roll the dice sixty or seventy times before that costly deuce comes up, so you individually could win more than you lose, right?
And that’s how casinos make money off of suckers like you: the dice are under no obligation to conform to your optimistic expectations. A hot table doesn’t have to stay hot; a cold table doesn’t have to warm up. You could just as easily lose that forty clams on the first roll as on the thirty-second; you could roll deuces twice in just three rolls. Sooner or later, you will throw the two … you just don’t know when. The only way to prevent it is to step away from the table.
The odds of getting pregnant while you’re on the pill are 23:2 against. Oh, if you use it consistently and perfectly, the odds are better — about 332:1. Again, though, you could get pregnant the first time just as easily as the three-hundredth time. And consistently and perfectly isn’t “typical”.
Now, with sexually transmitted diseases, there are several problems that have to be considered when analyzing the effectiveness of condoms. A panel put together in 2000 by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reviewed the existing literature and found it to be largely inadequate due to the design of the studies. The panel agreed that the evidence showed a strong reduction of risk (85%, or 17:3 against) for HIV and gonorrhea for men, but for gonorrhea for women, chlamydia and trichomoniasis all they had were estimates based on the properties of the latex — nothing reliable from the field. As for genital ulcer diseases and HPV, the evidence wasn’t sufficient at all.
I have nothing more recent than that showing any better numbers. But just for the purposes of this thought-experiment, let’s assume that condoms now provide 90% protection across the board. Since that’s 9:1 against, that’s still worse than the odds against becoming pregnant.
Because not every person is infected with an STD, let alone all of them, the bulwark of protection lies in the rates of infection. In 2009, the rates were 14.7 per 100,000 for all stages of syphilis (≈ 6801:1), 409.2 for chlamydia (≈ 243:1) and 99.1 for gonorrhea (≈ 1009:1).
We don’t know how many men involved in these infection events were wearing condoms (properly or not), so we can’t say how much more these numbers could have been reduced. But that’s to miss the point entirely; the infection rates could have been reduced but not eliminated.
Putting the emphasis on the effectiveness percentages on contraceptives encourages you to believe it’ll be a long time before the deuce comes up … and to forget that the deuce could come up long before you’re ready to pay. Likewise, calling sex with condoms “safe” because of lower infection risk is misleading, especially if you’re sleeping with multiple partners over the course of the year. Promiscuity is inherently risky; no matter how consistently and conscientiously you wear rubbers, some risk is still there.
Condom or no; perfect use or imperfect; it doesn’t matter. You can still get a disease the first time — heck, the only time — you have sex.
So let’s go back to Father Z’s correspondent. How many times did she have sex before she met her husband? With how many men did she sleep before they met?
The question is irrelevant — she only had to sleep with one man one time to contract herpes. When something happens, it doesn’t matter what the odds against it happening are. Just ask Lee Trevino, who was struck by lightning three times in his professional golf career.
Now, in view of yesterday’s news about the pending congressional investigation of Planned Barrenhood, I could have used this cautionary tale as the springboard for a lecture on how the contraceptive industry, PB and their minions have lied to and misled us. But, as that’s not the center of my argument, I’ll just content myself with saying it and moving on.
No, here’s my point: bad sexual decisions remain bad even if you try to minimize the risks. It doesn’t matter if the sex is premarital or extramarital, if you’re practicing “serial monogamy” or you’ve got several lovers on a string or you actively seek out anonymous one-nighters — you’re exercising poor judgment by taking an unnecessary risk.
And a bad decision can bite you on the butt when you least expect it, long after you’ve made it and you think you’re in the clear.
If the contraceptive industry has duped us, it’s equally true that we let ourselves be duped. Casinos, three-card monte sharks and con men exist because we look for the easy payoff. And in our greed we fool ourselves into thinking we can’t lose.
That’s how the pharmaceutical companies and abortion mills make money off suckers like us.