Safe Sex For the Catholic Student in a Public High School
The teachings of the Catholic Church regarding sex are unequivocal: Catholics should abstain from sex until marriage and then practice monogamy in marriage until they are separated by death. It is the Catholic Church's understanding that all sex in this context is "safe". Hence, in the sexual ideology of Catholic dogma "safe sex" means abstinence and nothing else. And yet despite this, every Catholic in the United States knows what is popularly meant by safe sex. American popular culture is inundated with references to safe sex on television, in popular literature, and in schools, which promote the use of condoms as a way for those who are "sexually active" to reduce the risk of the transmission of STDs, including HIV. Although the sexual ideologies underlying these sexual references vary, most of them tacitly approve of, or at least condone, sex outside of wedlock. As a Catholic student growing up in a suburban public high school, these competing safe sex messages created a tension in my understanding of safe sex: they were mutually inconsistent and yet also individually inadequate. Ultimately, my understanding of safe sex has developed as an amalgamation of these competing ideologies.
In her book, Fatal Advice, Cindy Patton describes how white, middle-class society in the 1908s sought to preserve the sexual integrity and innocence of their youth by labeling their HIV-positive adolescents as Others, i.e. as members of some deviant subculture or group. The Catholic Church approaches safe sex and the transmission of STDs, particularly HIV, in an analogous manner. The Catholic Church reasons that those who need to practice safe sex in order to protect themselves against contracting STDs such as HIV are necessarily sexually active. But once an individual becomes sexually active, he or she has departed from Catholic teachings and is no longer really Catholic. In this way, the Catholic Church maintains its sexual integrity and does not need to consider safe sex messages that are based on the assumption that people are sexually active. Unfortunately, a policy that refuses to address safe sex in the context of preventing disease transmission inadequately addresses the practical needs of adolescent American Catholics.
There are at least two reasons why the Catholic Church should consider the reality of STDs like HIV in the Catholic community. First, sex is the not the only mode of transmission for some STDs, such as HIV. The Catholic Church erroneously assumes that all sex performed according to its standards is "safe". The possibility of contracting HIV through blood transfusions or needle sharing is never taken into account. It is conceivable that a wife could contract HIV from her husband, who was infected through the blood supply, even though both abstained from sex until marriage and remained faithful thereafter....