Spain’s government took at look at how well comprehensive sex ed works and decided to include obligatory courses covering basic topics regarding sexuality to the nation’s curriculums. That means Spanish teens will get exposed to real world facts and figures, very likely delay their first sexual encounters, and end up with both lower pregnancy rates and fewer STDs, much like their counterparts throughout Europe. Good news, right? If you’re living with thousand year old puritanical dogmas of the Vatican, not at all. In fact, Pope Ratzinger took a break from protecting pedophile priests, blaming atheists for the Nazi movement, and declaring that it was perfectly acceptable to be a pedophile a few decades ago, to denounce the idea of required sex ed classes as an affront to religious freedom itself. Problem is that he does have a point. You should allow for opt-out policies to respect people’s beliefs. However, you also need to give students a sound education that will help them in life rather than pretend that with enough stigma in shame, teen pregnancies will drop while they often end up doing the exact opposite when facts are discarded in favor of pious and dangerous absolutism.
Sex and sexuality is an area where religion and science often intersect in the worst possible ways. Scientists strive to bring detail, accuracy, and facts to the table while the faithful want to run away to remain ignorant of a fact that may offend their sensibilities and go against what they read in their holy books. I mean what if some believers listen to biologists, decide that homosexuality just happens and there’s nothing we can do about it, then decide to treat gays and lesbians as they would any other human being? I know, cats living with dogs as fire falls from the sky while up becomes west and down becomes white. But those worries aside, is there not some sort of societal obligation for us to at least try to hand down some valid facts to those who need them in the near future? If we stick to abstinence-only education, or worse, leave teenagers to be educated about sex by those who may not know much about it past some dangerous myths, or so repressed on the subject that they shirk their duties altogether, we know for a fact that these teens will be worse off and endure more STDs and pregnancies. And we also know for a fact that the more they know and understand about the basics, the more likely the are to make better choices. What Ratzinger is asking us to do is to value the freedom of those who want to remain ignorant and pious above our need to make sound public health decisions.
And really, there’s something bizarre about basing health policies on the guidance of a person who seems to think that priests abusing their authorities in heinous ways is less of an affront to religion than teaching teens not to view sex as something horridly shameful or potentially lethal until marriage suddenly makes all those hazards or sins suddenly vanish into thin air. Let’s remember that his lieutenants’ fear mongering conspiracy theories are actually contributing to the global death toll of AIDS by encouraging patients to forgo condoms and medication, and place their fate in their belief. This is about as responsible as telling drivers not to wear their seatbelts, feel free to drink and drive, and just play the odds on whether they’ll get home intact or without killing someone along the way. Sure, if all of us only had one sexual partner in our entire lives and we were all zapped with divine knowledge of anything sexual when we got married, Ratzinger’s proclamations about how sex ed should be taught might have some grain of validity to them. But we don’t like in a world where this sort of thing happens. We live in a world where people are wired for promiscuity and need to actually learn what it is they’re doing to stay safe and be responsible in their actions.
You see, Ratzinger and his supporters believe that if only everyone were to follow what they preach, everything would work out as neatly and wonderfully as they envision it in their dreams. To them, it’s not their fault that an abstinence-only program discouraged teenagers from using contraception by lying about its efficacy and this amorous duo caught a nasty disease as a result of this pedagogic negligence. If those teenagers didn’t have sex, they would’ve never gotten that STD and everything would’ve worked out great. But just like declaring that all it takes to end global hunger and poverty if for everyone to be rich won’t suddenly make people across the world millionaires, demanding that all of us be abstinent and properly pious won’t turn us all into prudes. And to pretend otherwise only inflicts misery on countless people who certainly don’t deserve to be the victims of a dogmatist in colorful robes who places his beliefs above the value of his followers’ lives.