By Janet E. Smith
DETROIT, Michigan, DEC. 1, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Most people remember their grandmothers at some point telling them that pointing a finger at someone means that three fingers are pointing back at you. The media are obsessed with the issue of the Catholic Church and condoms because they seem to believe that condoms are the solution to preventing the transmission of the HIV. Might it be time they began to think about other organizations, such as themselves, that might bear some responsibility?
Who can deny that if people were living by the Church’s teaching on sexuality, if people were having only married heterosexual sex, there would be no problem with the HIV (and a host of other problems)? Certainly, in this fallen world, that is not going to happen everywhere. But why doesn’t it happen more often? Why does it seem that so many people think sex outside of marriage and homosexual sex is perfectly acceptable? That people should be allowed to have whatever kind of sex they want to have? Benedict XVI calls this the “banalization of sexuality.”
I have been teaching on sexuality for many decades. When I started, nearly three decades ago, even though promiscuity was in full swing even then, I could generally count on young people agreeing with me that sexual intercourse was meant to be an expression of love. In fact, “making love” was a euphemism for “having sex,” but who says that anymore? When I would speak about “sex” they would naturally think of an act performed by spouses. Some argued that if you were in love and intending to get married, it could be moral to have sex before marriage. Even so, there was also fairly widespread agreement, that if you weren’t ready for babies, you weren’t ready for sex. Few were arguing that it was moral to have any kind of sex.
How things have changed since then! Now, when I speak of “sex” people think of a profoundly pleasurable sexual act that has no connection to love, commitment or babies. Young people are a bit surprised when I maintain there is a natural connection between sex, love, commitment and babies.
Why has this change come about? Well, as I have argued incessantly for years, the introduction of the contraceptive pill changed everything. Suddenly people thought removing the baby making power of the sexual act meant they were free to engage in sex without a second thought about any new life that might be conceived. And then we all went wild. As a result, 41% of babies are now born out of wedlock; one of four pregnancies is aborted; and nearly 70% of all children in the United States grow up in households affected by divorce or unwed pregnancy. Worldwide, millions of people are dying of the HIV. And the media continue to fixate on condoms as a solution to all these problems?
I blame the media, and to a great extent, the entertainment world. It is a rare parent who doesn’t find the media to be tremendous threats to forming their children well, especially when it comes to sexual morality. All of us are bombarded daily with seductive sexual imagery and the glorification of sexual immorality, from advertisements to nearly every TV show and any nonanimated film. Some films do show the terrible life consequences of irresponsible sexuality, but most entertainment presents irresponsible sexuality as normative and falsifies the all-too-common consequences.
Why don’t reporters harass script writers and producers and others responsible for what appears in the media, instead of further harassing the Holy Father? Why don’t they ask questions such as, “Aren’t you concerned that the way you portray casual sex as exhilarating and satisfying will lead young people to engage in sex recklessly?” “Don’t you feel responsible to some extent for all the unwed pregnancies, abortions, sexually transmitted infections, broken hearts and broken lives?” This would focus our public debate on how those who create our cultural icons are tearing down family values brick by vital brick.
There is also a dearth of reporting about the consequences of unwed pregnancy for the people involved, for the economy and the culture. There is a lack of reporting about the reality of the homosexual lifestyle; the number of lifetime partners, of anonymous sex, of shortened lifespans. Without full information, people can’t make good choices.
If any food or drug led to the amount of disease, poverty, and general human unhappiness that is caused by reckless sexuality, there would be a full-fledged media campaign attempting to alert people to the danger. Is global warming a worse danger than reckless sexuality, which may be said to create an imbalance in our personal and culture moral “ecosystem”? Is overeating a worse danger than reckless sexuality, resulting as it does in a warped and cynical self-image? Is lack of recycling or oil spills worse than reckless sexuality, which trains us to disrespect and ignore our bodily dignity?
Why can’t the media see what is in truth one of the worse threats to human happiness that lurks right under our noses? Why do they continue to fixate on the Pope and condoms, when the world needs to hear about sexual responsibility? Why?
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Janet E. Smith is the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. She is the author of “Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later” and “The Right to Privacy,” and editor of “Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader.”