Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: October 1992

October 1992

Authentic Sex is Never "Safe"

I was very pleased with the Thomas Lickona article on abstinence in adolescent sexual­ity education (Jul.-Aug.). I’d simply like to address a couple of related matters.

The “safe sex” ideology fosters an illusion that com­pounds the sexually transmit­ted disease epidemic. America is teaching a generation of teens to “love” in a physically protective manner as if it will not affect them intra- and inter-personally. Sexual inter­course in a Judeo-Christian value system is meant to be anything but “safe” — it is a symbol of vulnerability and surrender, of total, mutual self-giving, in a covenant of self-emptying love. “Safe” or pro­tected sex in this context is a contradiction, which explains in one way the Church’s con­cern about contraception. To promote “safe” sex is to handi­cap our young in the emotion­al, spiritual, and psychological context of marriage — namely, intimacy.

Lickona is evidently una­ware of a curriculum called Teen S.T.A.R. (Sexuality Teach­ing in the context of Adult Responsibility), which is in use in different regions of the country and outside North America. Over 5,000 adolescents have participated. Its un­planned pregnancy rate is less than 2 per 1,000 woman years as compared with Johns Hop­kins researchers Zelnik and Kantner’s findings (of 15- to 19-year-olds) of 88 per 1,000 woman years. Why is Teen S.T.A.R. so effective? Fertility awareness is taught in a values context, in partnership with parents. Teen S.T.A.R. found­er, Dr. Hanna Klaus, says, “a premise of the program is that decisions about sexual respon­sibility will arise from inner conviction and knowledge of the self or they will not at all. Instead of simply preach­ing and saying you should do so and so, we say ‘let’s discov­er who you are.'” Teen S.T.A.R. teaches that fertility is a gift and a power to be respected. Its behavioral data is impressive. More than half who enter the program sexual­ly active cease genital activity; very few initiate.

Teen S.T.A.R. should not be confused with a suspicious­ly named Planned Parenthood of Maryland program called Teen S.T.A.R.S. (Students Tak­ing Responsibility About Sex­uality). Over a three-year per­iod the program has received $450,000 in grant money. Re­search consultants have already identified participant attrition as a major problem, with only 50 percent continuing until the end of the sessions. Even those teenagers who continued were no more likely to choose a partner based on HIV-risk or use a condom than they were at the beginning. It appears that the stated goals of the program have yet to be real­ized. (Note: since both Planned Parenthood and Klaus’s Teen S.T.A.R. staff members have attended meetings of the Mary­land Coalition for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention and Par­enting for the last five years, it is unlikely that Planned Par­enthood was unaware of the existence of the Teen S.T.A.R. program.)

Charles Balsam

Family Life Ministry, Diocese of Beaumont

Beaumont, Texas

Sex & Sacredness

Thank you for the splen­did article in the July-August issue, “Teaching Sexual Absti­nence to Teenagers” by Thom­as Lickona. Its comprehensive­ness was properly centered in the sentence, “Sexual behavior is attached to values, not mere knowledge.”

But apart from stating that such values are internally held, and usually derived from religion, the author had little help to offer teenagers in acquiring or identifying such values. I would like to offer a brief line of reasoning which could potentially be of help to teenagers in coming to grasp such values.

The postulate of the argu­ment is that all (or at least most) of us are profoundly convinced that each of us pos­sesses a worth or dignity that is deep, that is real, and that is or ought to be inviolable. To some degree most of us under­stand that this personal dignity is rooted in something beyond ourselves that is sacred. Even Thomas Jefferson — far as he was from being an orthodox believer of any kind — assert­ed that our essential dignity is conferred by a creator who gave us both human life and the inalienable rights that flow from it.

If a teenager can concur with what Jefferson stated in the Declaration of Indepen­dence, he or she might next consider by what means the cre­ator endowed us with this life, this dignity, and these sacred rights. We must point to an act of sexual union by the couple who became our parents. Admittedly we are our parents’ children, but we know that in a deeper sense we are our creator’s children.

If we ourselves then are sacred persons, and our par­ents along with us, and be­cause our ultimate creator is sacred, can it be disputed that the act of love union itself, and more broadly the very sexual powers of male and female, belong to the category of the sacred?

But if these acts and powers are divinely ordained, does it not follow that their exercise comes under divine ordinance? Every religion teaches that this is so, and I can think of no religion that has a more enlightened and long-standing set of sexual ethics than has Catholicism. I am sure that a gifted teacher could enflesh the bare-bones syllogism above so as to appeal to the idealism of today’s teenagers.

John Mahoney

Westmont, Illinois

Flannery O'Connor's Vision

The New Oxford Review Forum of Southern California held a seminar on the works of Flannery O’Connor on June 20 at Loyola Marymount Law School. It began with an analy­sis of O’Connor’s two short novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Shall Bear It Away, by David Killoran, Professor of English at Loyola Marymount University.

Killoran saw O’Connor’s vision of the modern world as one in which her central characters are often fools and madmen who suffer alone, facing the mysteries of faith and the soul. The fictional “heroes” of both novels are murderers. But their ultimate sin is their futile effort to prove there is no sin.

The passionate drive of these primitive heroes is to find a true belief, one that of­fers the ultimate choice of truth or falseness. O’Connor’s “misfits” initially strive to be­come “free forever,” to deny God by “creating themselves.” The epiphanies which trans­form them come unexpectedly, mysteriously: murder, the de­struction of a car, a rape.

Killoran concluded that O’Connor was a literary prophet, and her comic grotes­queries were deliberate. “To the deaf you scream,” and these books are screaming. Through the genius of O’Con­nor, God is sending a “wake up call.”

Leah Buturain, a lecturer and consultant at the Uni­versity of Southern California, spoke on O’Connor’s personal and literary background, and led a discussion of O’Connor’s short stories “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The Artifi­cial Nigger.” Buturain noted how O’Connor’s stories, placed in the “Christ-haunted South,” reflect the tension between her Catholic background and the Southern fundamentalist envi­ronment in which she lived. As a writer, she was open to the “mystery of making,” and often didn’t anticipate the endings of her stories.

The group discussion that followed dealt with several provocative themes in O’Con­nor’s work, such as the capaci­ty and need for grace, and O’Connor’s use of violence.

Flannery O’Connor said, “faith is my engine.” Her writ­ings offer affirmations of that faith in both redeeming laugh­ter and horror.

A special Forum seminar will be held in October on the California Institute of Technology campus in Pasadena. Robert John Russell, Director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berke­ley, will speak on the latest developments in cosmology.

Ronald Austin

Studio City, California

Nouwen & Bellah

We loved the first issue of our subscription (June). It was exactly what we’ve been looking for. My husband is both an Episcopal priest and a clinical psychologist, and the articles by Henri Nouwen (“The Duet of the Holy Spirit: When Mourning & Dancing Are One”) and Robert Bellah (“Small Face-to-Face Christian Communities in a Mean-Spirited & Polarized Society”) fed our minds richly. Thank you!

Sarah Wallace

Santa Monica, California

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