Several years ago, after I had retired from full time work, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon a week with a young relative and her best friend. We did all sorts of things: poetry, philosophy, debates and so on. We were focussed on the higher aspects of culture which were missing from their convent education.
Being in their mid teens I asked them to write a joint paper on sexuality. I pointed them towards useful sources, and off they went. It was clear to me that they would be better prepared for the next stage of their life through finding the facts in this way than through the mistakes which accompany ignorance. When I asked them how what they had learnt meshed with their convent information they said “We were taught what the Church teaches, but now we know more about real life.”
The memory came back to me this week because of a recent article in Scientific American (September 2018). The author (Michel Shermer) was looking at several studies over the last decade on the relationship between sexual education and likelihood of abortion. I just give you a quote which convey the sense of the article.
“(Among American adolescents ages 15 to 19) abstinence-only education did not reduce the likelihood of engaging in vaginal intercourse…adolescents who received comprehensive sex education had a lower risk of pregnancy than adolescents who received abstinence only or no sex education.” Other studies from a variety of countries showed complementary results.
The information from the studies was insufficient to allow me to question the quality of the quoted studies so I have to rely on the reputation of the magazine for its broad accuracy.
The conclusion and indeed the point of the article is that we should not rely on the law alone to control abortions. Rather, we should work to increase the practical knowledge of sexuality among the young. And particularly on contraception.
My immediate reaction, and perhaps yours, was that the advent of artificial contraception – and particularly from the pill in the ‘60s when women got personal control – has altered society’s views on sexual intercourse. From broadly considering it as belonging to marriage alone, and only used outside by default, it seems now to be considered as a proper expression for any couple who share a serious wish for intimacy.
But we are where we are. This clock will not be turned back. And occasional remarks on this Blog suggest that the young of many Catholic families are no different from their peers. What are the choices? Sniff and take no notice? Ensure a broad realistic sexual education combined with orthodox Catholic teaching? Simply teach orthodoxy and leave it at that? And I would want to take into account which approach affects the likelihood of abortion. I hope you share my view that artificial contraception is small beer compared with that.