The twentieth century witnessed so much bloodshed in the name of ideology you might think people would be ready to give it a rest. But no, we have a new ideology whose adherents believe will usher in a new heaven on earth. If only everyone would finally get on board, if only its adherents had the right combination of money and power, if only its Neanderthal opponents would surrender their squeamishness, this new ideology could solve the world’s problems. Poverty, environmental degradation and disease would be conquered at last. The name of this new ideology? I call it “condom-ism.”
Its adherents believe we could solve all these problems, if only we had enough condoms. I exaggerate, of course. They actually believe that human salvation will require all sorts of birth control including abortion, not just condoms.
A recent edition of the widely-read British medical journal, The Lancet, spells out some of the tenets of this position. The authors opine that “family planning” still matters because population growth retards economic growth, or exacerbates poverty. They themselves admit that the economic evidence for their position is slim, because “poverty reduction is also affected by many other forces.” Good point. Last I looked, the West developed economically sometime in the 18th century. That was before the Pill, wasn’t it? Gosh, maybe transparent government, rule of law, property rights and stable currency have more to do with poverty reduction than condoms.
Lower population growth is good, we are told, because it “provides countries with a unique, but transient opportunity to make rapid gains in living standards, because income can be used for productive investment rather than expended on support of young and old people.” Funny, I thought supporting the young was a productive investment and helping the old a duty of civilized people. No word from our authors about how countries with declining fertility rates, like Japan, Russia and Korea, are going to take care of the increasing number of dependent elderly people.
Environmental sustainability? Everyone knows that large populations are the scourge of the earth. But even our authors admit that richer countries take better care of the environment than do desperately poor countries. Never mind. More condoms will save the earth.
We don’t have to view contraception through this ideological lens. It is theoretically possible that contraception could simply be a morally neutral technology, which people could use to change the probability of any given sexual act resulting in pregnancy. While this is possible in principle, in fact, contraception in America has never been merely a technology.
Nor do its proponents view it as simply an option for the Third World. The authors lament the fact that many women, particularly in Africa, want large families, and that many people discontinue the use of contraceptives — at a rate of 12 per cent for the IUD and 47 per cent for the condom. These people are not ignorant or ill-informed; they quit using contraception because they want to.
Giving people choices has never been enough for the radical advocates of condom-ism. Contraception has always been part of an ideological package. Here are some of its major tenets:
- Every person capable of giving meaningful consent is entitled to unlimited sexual activity.
- All negative consequences of sexual activity can be controlled or eliminated through the use of contraception. Sexually transmitted diseases can be controlled through the use of condoms. The probability of pregnancy can be eliminated through contraception, properly used.
- No one is required to give birth to a baby, in the event of pregnancy. Abortion, for any reason or no reason, at any time during pregnancy, is an absolute entitlement.
- Any negative consequences of sexual activity that cannot be handled by contraception or abortion are not worth talking about. No one ever gets attached to a sex partner who turns out to be inappropriate. No one ever regrets a consensual sexual experience. The evidence linking teen sex to depression must be dismissed or discredited. Adultery and the disruption of an established family? Not to worry: follow your bliss.
And don’t forget, we could save the earth, end world hunger and bring peace and freedom to the entire world, if only we had enough condoms.
Many traditional societies resist this ideological tied-sale. Even if some of them would like contraception to be available, they don’t want to buy the whole Playboy, MTV bundle that seems to be attached to it. We in the developed world have no business foisting this cultural package onto our poorer neighbors.
Dr Jennifer Roback Morse is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World, available at her website.