Prophylactic Soda

+AMDG+

coca-cola-aluminium1This comment may be a bit passé, but I’ve only just started to blog.  I have a backlog bottled-up ideas.  So here’s an observation about the law of unintended consequences—a law that prevails wherever deeply human problems are given a purely technical solution. For some years now studies have correlated diet soda with weight gain.  Though counter-intuitive, the claim has provoked little opposition.

A January blog entry of the Washington Times, for instance, reported precisely these findings, yet received no comments.  It explained the psychological origin of this phenomenon as follows:

Diet soda has 5 calories or fewer per serving, of course, but emerging research seems to suggest that drinking sugary-tasting beverages, even artificially sweetened ones, appears to develop a preference in the human body for a whole range of other sweet things. And when we consume sweeter cereals, snacks, breads and desserts, we tend to consume more calories, and eventually put on pounds.

The article additionally claims diet soda can give a false sense of security:

People who are starting to put on weight think choosing diet soda alone will stop the process. But, the experts say, this is false logic, because it ignores the true cause of weight gain – overeating and poor eating.

Prophylactic Disinhibition

Prophylactic Disinhibition

As a rule, when the technical solution of “safe” consumption replaces the human solution of disciplined consumption, the human person nonetheless finds his way to harm.  Animal desire usually finds its limit in pain, and always presses its case with urgency until it butts up against a disincentive of the same order.

As a thought experiment, let’s apply this rule to an issue of greater moment: AIDS in Africa.  A few substitutions suffice to clarify the structural similarity:

sweet taste = sexual pleasure

consuming diet soda = prophylactic sex

weight gain = HIV/AIDS

overeating = sexual excess

poor eating = infidelity

The rewritten statements would look something like this:

Prophylactic sex greatly reduces contagion, of course, but emerging research seems to suggest that pursuing sexual pleasure for its own sake, even artificially protected sex, appears to develop a preference in the human body for a whole range of other sexual pleasures/partners.  And when we have sex more often with more partners, we tend to be more exposed to contagion, and eventually contract HIV/AIDS.

People who are starting to worry about HIV/AIDS think choosing prophylactic sex alone will stop the process. But, the experts say, this is false logic, because it ignores the true cause of HIV/AIDS – sexual excess and infidelity.

As it turns out, experts who follow the problem of AIDS in Africa most closely, do claim to see this sort of false logic operative in Western prevention strategies.  The false security that condoms provide creates a powerful “disinhibition” to the human libido, thus “disproportionately erasing” any public health benefits of condom use.  Note that perspective here is only one of public health–though it does confirm some of the age-old insights of Christian moral psychology.

If the Washington Times blog, applying the same logic, had expressed as much skepticism about the long-term effectiveness of condomitic sex as it had about the long-term effectiveness of diet soda, I wager it would have generated at least a comment or two.  Just ask Pope Benedict.

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25 Responses to Prophylactic Soda

  1. John Dunkle says:

    Ingenious! Ah, Aron, this goes right into my newsletter. JD

  2. Andy Jaspers, S.J. says:

    Brilliant article, Aaron.

  3. David says:

    Aaron and others

    Nice work on the blog. My prayers for you all.

    David Nowaczewski

  4. jd says:

    This is very clever.

  5. David Nickol says:

    There is a profound difference between Pope Benedict XVI and AIDS-prevention experts like Dr. Edward Green on the issue of condoms. If you read Dr. Green’s piece in the Washington Post, or his other writings, you’ll find statements like this:

    Let me quickly add that condom promotion has worked in countries such as Thailand and Cambodia, where most HIV is transmitted through commercial sex and where it has been possible to enforce a 100 percent condom use policy in brothels (but not outside of them). . . .

    Don’t misunderstand me; I am not anti-condom. All people should have full access to condoms, and condoms should always be a backup strategy for those who will not or cannot remain in a mutually faithful relationship. This was a key point in a 2004 “consensus statement” published and endorsed by some 150 global AIDS experts, including representatives the United Nations, World Health Organization and World Bank.

    Briefly put, Dr. Green is saying condom use has its place in AIDS prevention, but often promotion of condom use is not the strategy approach and can be counterproductive as the sole strategy. He advocates the ABC approach in Africa — Abstain first, Be faithful if you do not abstain altogether, and use Condoms if you do not abstain and are not faithful.

    Dr. Green is not anti-condom. Pope Benedict XVI is. The pope’s message is not to use condoms, ever, even in situations where they prevent AIDS transmission.

  6. brettsalkeld says:

    I don’t think it takes much imagination to understand where the difference between Pope Benedict and Dr. Green lies. Dr. Green says condoms are necessary for stopping AIDS where promiscuity is rampant, like in areas where sex-trade workers are the primary transmitters. I don’t think the Pope would have any qualms with a statistic showing that AIDS transmissions goes down when brothels enforce condom use. His concern in such a situation, however, is a little different than the UN or whichever organization is monitoring AIDS stats. He thinks that the best way to address such a problem is to stop systematically exploiting and abusing human persons.

    The real question isn’t whether or not there are some situations where condoms are the best form of AIDS prevention. Of course there are. The question is how much effort should we put into getting those people condoms and how much should we put into getting them out of terrible situations. Intelligent and well-meaning individuals may disagree about the best approach in such situations. Nevertheless, if someone absolutely refuses to consider a lifestyle that does not put them at serious risk for contracting AIDS, it seems doubtful that the Catholic Church’s endorsement or non-endorsement of condoms is going to be a real defining factor in their subsequent decision making.

  7. Alan Phipps says:

    “His concern in such a situation, however, is a little different than the UN or whichever organization is monitoring AIDS stats. He thinks that the best way to address such a problem is to stop systematically exploiting and abusing human persons.”

    Yes!

  8. brettsalkeld says:

    I should have been a touch more precise. In the middle of my second paragraph when I said “best approach”, I should probably have said “most pragmatic approach”. “Best” can have many meanings. In one sense, the ideal/moral, it is clear that the best approach is to get people out of exploitative situations. When intelligent people disagree is when this does not seem possible or likely. They disagree, then, about the most pragmatic approach. Granting that intelligent, well-meaning people can differ on questions of pragmatism is usually essential to maintaining Christian charity in a debate about such serious life and death issues.

  9. David Nickol says:

    Alan and Brett,

    Without getting into a discussion about what is the “best” way to deal with the AIDS epidemic, I stick by my point: “The pope’s message is not to use condoms, ever, even in situations where they prevent AIDS transmission.” The pope’s message and Dr. Green’s message overlap ever so slightly, and Green has chosen to call attention to the overlap to emphasize that it is insufficient, and perhaps even counterproductive, to rely on condoms alone to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa. The headline from the Catholic News Agency about Green is “Harvard Researcher agrees with Pope on condoms in Africa.” Being as charitable as possible, one can say that if the headline is true, it is true in a very limited sense.

    The question is how much effort should we put into getting those people condoms and how much should we put into getting them out of terrible situations. Intelligent and well-meaning individuals may disagree about the best approach in such situations.

    Absolutely. The only thing I would point out is that an epidemic is by its very nature an emergency situation.

    Nevertheless, if someone absolutely refuses to consider a lifestyle that does not put them at serious risk for contracting AIDS, it seems doubtful that the Catholic Church’s endorsement or non-endorsement of condoms is going to be a real defining factor in their subsequent decision making.

    This is probably correct. However, it seems to be a bit defensive. Some people believe the Church is to some degree responsible for people dying of AIDS because of its opposition to condoms. What you seem to be saying here is that even if the Church is wrong, it’s a moot point, since these people ignore anything the Church has to say anyway.

  10. Gabriel Austin says:

    David Nickol Says August 2, 2009 at 6:08 pm
    “Some people believe the Church is to some degree responsible for people dying of AIDS because of its opposition to condoms”.

    Speaking for my clients, Some People, I deny this to be true. Among other things, it is a hedge upon a hedge: “Some people…to some degree…”.

    To change the perspective, suppose one were to speak of syphilis, or gonorrhea. Does the use of condoms prevent their spread? The effect is unknown. But it is known that abstinence is 100% effective.

    Am I wrong in detecting a note of unspoken condescension to “natives” who cannot control their sexual urges?. Catherine MacKinnon writes that condoms [and abortion] are male tricks to maintain authority over women and to shun responsibility for one’s actions.

  11. brettsalkeld says:

    “The pope’s message is not to use condoms, ever, even in situations where they prevent AIDS transmission.”

    David, I’m afraid this can also be called “true in a very limited sense.” The Pope does indeed believe this. Still the way that our culture hears this is far different from what is said. The hearers think sex with the possibility of AIDS infection is an inevitability.* The Pope believes that human persons can actually make the decision not to sleep with people whose sexual history is ambiguous. (I am excluding, of course, questions of rape here.) Because of these divergent opinions, your claim loses its bite. To capture more of the ‘truth’ it must be added that the Pope doesn’t think people should have sex in situations where AIDS transmission is possible.
    If you think killing people is wrong, you aren’t going to invest a tonne of energy debating whether it should be done by gun or by knife.

    *On my local public transit system the provincial government of Ontario is advertising for young women to get the HPV vaccine. It claims that 3/4 of young people WILL contract HPV, but makes absolutely no mention as to HOW. The young people are told that they have an extremely good chance of contracting HPV with no reference to behaviour. But the virus’ spread is 100% behavioural. It is, to my mind, criminal to omit this essential information in public health advertising. We’re not even allowed to tell kids, oh, if you don’t sleep with people with an ambiguous history you’re safe. We’re told that this is enforcing our religion on others. But really, in terms of enforcing my values on others, giving young people this information is less invasive than making people where seatbelts.

  12. brettsalkeld says:

    I don’t think anyone is denying this is an emergency. I suspect both sides would be happy to say that “Because this is an emergency we don’t have time to try your silly plans.” The urgent nature of the problem makes the rhetoric burn a little hotter but (however much that makes people suspect that those who disagree with them are not only stupid, but ill-intentioned) it doesn’t actually weigh in favor of one solution or the other .

  13. David Nickol says:

    The Pope believes that human persons can actually make the decision not to sleep with people whose sexual history is ambiguous. (I am excluding, of course, questions of rape here.) Because of these divergent opinions, your claim loses its bite.

    Brett,

    You have to exclude much more than rape. I am not attempting to write an exhaustively researched piece here, but just to give a couple of examples of why the kind of choices you are talking about are not available to millions and millions of people, most of them girls and women. For example, here’s a brief excerpt from a very disturbing article from the Centers for Disease Control:

    Child marriage, defined as marriage of a child less than 18 years of age, is an ancient, worldwide custom. Other terms applied to child marriage include “early marriage” and “child brides.” Early marriage is vague and does not necessarily refer to children. Moreover, what is early for one person may be late for another. Child bride seems to glorify the process, implying a celebration and a bride who is happy to start a loving union with her spouse. But for the most part, girl brides do not know—and may have never met—their groom.

    In 2002, approximately 52 million girls less than 18 years of age were married. With approximately 25,000 girls less than 18 years being married each day, an estimated 100 million will be married by 2012. Child marriages occur most frequently in South Asia, where 48% of women aged 15–24 have been married before the age of 18; these figures are 42% for Africa and 29% for Latin America and the Caribbean

    And here’s the abstract of an article titled Early Marriage and HIV Risks in Sub-Saharan Africa:

    This article examines the effects of girls’ early marriage on their risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS. By comparing several underlying HIV risk factors, it explores the counterintuitive finding that married adolescent girls in urban centers in Kenya and Zambia have higher rates of HIV infection than do sexually active unmarried girls. In both countries, we find that early marriage increases coital frequency, decreases condom use, and virtually eliminates girls’ ability to abstain from sex. Moreover, husbands of married girls are about three times more likely to be HIV-positive than are boyfriends of single girls. Although married girls are less likely than single girls to have multiple partners, this protective behavior may be outweighed by their greater exposure via unprotected sex with partners who have higher rates of infection. These results challenge commonly held assumptions about sex within marriage.

    Telling 50 million “child brides” a year that they should just count on marriage and fidelity to save them is not a solution to the AIDS epidemic. Of course, we definitely should be working to give women the freedom not to be child brides or to work in brothels. But millions of them don’t have that freedom now, and AIDS is a deadly global epidemic.

  14. David Nickol says:

    The urgent nature of the problem makes the rhetoric burn a little hotter but (however much that makes people suspect that those who disagree with them are not only stupid, but ill-intentioned) it doesn’t actually weigh in favor of one solution or the other.

    Brett,

    I would say that there are two extremes in AIDS prevention. One would be massive distribution of condoms as the sole approach, and the other would be exhorting all the people of the world to live by Catholic sexual morality as the sole approach. Neither of those approaches would end the worldwide AIDS epidemic.

  15. brettsalkeld says:

    David,
    I just mentioned the ‘rape’ issue so I couldn’t get rung up for it by the next person who happened by this blog. In any case, I agree that there are awful situations like those you describe and that, in such cases just telling the young girls to be faithful doesn’t cut it. Of course, as your next post implies, neither does giving them condoms and wishing them well. There are serious systematic issues that need to be addressed. I think you will find that the Catholic Church has actually put in significant energy in this direction. One group I know of that has done some such work is the Society of Jesus. I hope they will continue in this vein and be joined by many others.

  16. Gabriel Austin says:

    David Nickol Says:
    “Brett,
    I would say that there are two extremes in AIDS prevention. One would be massive distribution of condoms as the sole approach, and the other would be exhorting all the people of the world to live by Catholic sexual morality as the sole approach”.

    Why is it only a “Catholic” sexual morality? Seems to me that more than a majority of people and more than a majority of cultures throughout the world disapprove and have disapproved of promiscuity.

    It is a neat trick to call a Catholic morality, and thereby attempt to make an isolated opinion. Seems to me that Islam has a decidedly narrow view of promiscuity. What does Hinduism say? Buddhism? [I dare not, of course, mention Protestant churches which also disapprove of promiscuity].

  17. David Nickol says:

    It is a neat trick to call a Catholic morality, and thereby attempt to make an isolated opinion.

    Gabriel,

    It’s not a trick at all. We are discussing the views of the pope regarding condoms and AIDS prevention in a Catholic forum sponsored by Jesuits. I don’t find it objectionable to speak of Catholic sexual morality here.

    Concerning Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and a great many Protestant denominations — they may object to promiscuity, but they do not object to the use of condoms.

    Remember also, that promiscuity is not the whole issue. As I noted above, the risk of AIDS for young African women is higher when they are married than when they are sexually active and unmarried. The husbands are promiscuous, but the wives are not, and yet the Vatican — after an official study done for the pope and presented to him — remains silent on the issue of condoms to protect married people from being infected by AIDS from an HIV+ spouse.

  18. Gabriel Austin says:

    David Nickol Says August 3, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Reply
    “It is a neat trick to call a Catholic morality, and thereby attempt to make an isolated opinion”.

    “It’s not a trick at all. We are discussing the views of the pope regarding condoms and AIDS prevention in a Catholic forum sponsored by Jesuits. I don’t find it objectionable to speak of Catholic sexual morality here.

    Concerning Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and a great many Protestant denominations — they may object to promiscuity, but they do not object to the use of condoms”.

    Islam: Although that is permitted, it is nevertheless makrooh and intensely disliked. Muslim (1442) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) was asked about coitus interruptus and he said: “That is the secret burying alive of infants.” This indicates that it is strongly disliked.

    Buddhism: A Buddhist may accept all contraceptive methods but with different degrees of hesitation. The worst of all is abortion or “killing a human to be.”

    Hinduism: Hinduism, as in other religions, does not totally approve of condom usage.

    Of the many “Protestant” sects, which is [which are] to be taken as exemplary. Certainly not the C of E which got the contraceptive ball rolling; and was long supportive of eugenics until the Nazis.

    So it is all not as simple as you suggest. But you [permit me to say, as usual] sidestep the point I made. Criticism of the use of condoms and of birth control is deliberately made to appear to be but a Catholic issue.

    The Church disapproves of theft. The Church disapproves of murder, of lying &c. Are these Catholic issues?

    I refer you to the many feminist who regard condoms [and abortion] as but new methods of male control of women.

  19. David Nickol says:

    So it is all not as simple as you suggest. But you [permit me to say, as usual] sidestep the point I made. Criticism of the use of condoms and of birth control is deliberately made to appear to be but a Catholic issue.

    Gabriel,

    There may be some truth to what you say, but I think it is much more due to the fact that when the pope speaks, he speaks as the leader of over one billion Catholics. There is no other religious group of anywhere near comparable size in the world that speaks with one voice.

    Name another religious leader who, if he or she said, “I have decided the use of condoms is licit in certain limited circumstances,” would make headlines around the world.

    I refer you to the many feminist who regard condoms [and abortion] as but new methods of male control of women.

    Name five.

  20. Gabriel Austin says:

    David Nickol Says August 5, 2009 at 9:43 am | Reply
    “So it is all not as simple as you suggest. But you [permit me to say, as usual] sidestep the point I made. Criticism of the use of condoms and of birth control is deliberately made to appear to be but a Catholic issue”.

    Gabriel,

    “There may be some truth to what you say, but I think it is much more due to the fact that when the pope speaks, he speaks as the leader of over one billion Catholics. There is no other religious group of anywhere near comparable size in the world that speaks with one voice”.

    “Name another religious leader who, if he or she said, “I have decided the use of condoms is licit in certain limited circumstances,” would make headlines around the world”.

    The thought is confused [if you will permit me to say; and even if you will not, it is still confused]. You seem [as usual] to be impressed by numbers. Do you not know the teaching of the Church that there are many many more sinners than saints in the world?]

    “I refer you to the many feminist who regard condoms [and abortion] as but new methods of male control of women”.

    “Name five”.

    I realize that librarians are not regarded highly in the academic world. [We are too conscious of plagiarism]. But you must go gingerly in attacking them. For your five, I suggest you begin with Susan B. Anthony and her colleagues. Take then Catherine MacKinnon. And have a look at the membership of Feminists for Life.

    [Style note: you should eliminate “some” from your vocabulary. It almost sounds as if you are making a point. “There is some truth…”. The Irish in me will always ask: “ah well, and how much would that be? 5%? 20% 50? 75? 100?]

  21. David Nickol says:

    Take then Catherine MacKinnon.

    You said, “I refer you to the many feminist who regard condoms [and abortion] as but new methods of male control of women.”

    A librarian should do more reasearch. Read the following:

    Obama Is the Way Forward for Women
    Abortion rights and equal pay are at stake in the election.

    By CATHARINE A. MACKINNON

    Women are at a crossroads in our struggle for legal equality as a means to social equality. Having women in politics matters, but it is crucial to have the policies women need. At this moment we risk losing ground gained, but we also have the opportunity to advance. At stake in this presidential election are the federal courts.

    Despite inroads, women’s status remains characterized by sex-based poverty and impunity for sexual abuse from childhood on. The next president will appoint scores of lower court federal judges who will have the last word in most cases. One, perhaps three, justices may be named to a Supreme Court that in recent years has decided many cases of importance to women by just one vote. Equality can be promoted in employment, education, reproductive rights and in ending violence against women — or not. . . .

    Since 1980, when the Supreme Court permitted exclusion of medically necessary abortions from Medicaid coverage, poor women (disproportionately women of color) have not had effective access to abortion because they cannot afford it. This was when many women lost the right to choose.

    Last year, a slim majority upheld a federal abortion ban on a specific procedure that had no exception for protecting a woman’s health, ominously eroding the rights of even financially privileged women. Should the abortion ban on the ballot in South Dakota prevail this fall, its challenge in court would place any federal decriminalization of abortion in jeopardy. Of all issues that affect women as women in this election, who sits on the Supreme Court may determine this one, along with the fate of a new possible civil remedy for violence against women. . . .

    Neither presidential candidate has taken a position on all of these issues. But the decision, in Mr. Obama’s words, on “what kind of America our daughters will grow up in” could not be more urgent. At stake is nothing less than whether women will be, finally, equal.

    MacKinnon is not merely supports abortion, she was upset by the ban on “partial-birth abortion.” I can find no statement from her in which she regards contraceptives as tools of male control over women. But she sees women largely as victims who have no choice but to submit sexually to men a great deal of the time, which is why she supports abortion.

    This is a quote attributed to her which she did not say, “All sex, even consensual sex between a married couple, is an act of violence perpetrated against a woman.” However, she clearly believes that a great deal of what is considered consensual sex is actually rape.

    And have a look at the membership of Feminists for Life.

    As if it would be a good argument if I said, “I refer you to the many Catholics who believe that homosexuality is healthy and moral — take a look at Dignity!” Or if I said, “I refer you to the many Catholics who believe in a woman’s right to choose — take a look at Catholics for Choice!”

  22. Gabriel Austin says:

    David Nickol Says: August 5, 2009 at 6:40 pm | Reply
    “You said, “I refer you to the many feminists who regard condoms [and abortion] as but new methods of male control of women.”
    To which you replied “Name five”.

    And I named Catherine MacKinnon [despite the fact that I believe she is a bit off center]

    And you replied.
    “A librarian should do more reasearch. Read the following:
    Obama Is the Way Forward for Women
    Abortion rights and equal pay are at stake in the election.
    By CATHARINE A. MACKINNON”
    Women are at a crossroads in our struggle for legal equality as a means to social equality…”.

    To which I quote:
    “Politically, I call it rape whenever a woman has sex and feels violated… * Feminism Unmodified (1987) p. 82”

    I have read most of Prof. MacKinnon’s books. [Penance for my sins, which are many].
    You side step Susan B. Anthony, Feminists for Life, &c. You said “name five”. I named many more.

    At which point I end my part in this pointless discussion. Catholics for Choice, Dignity, & hoc genus omne claim to be Catholic. Have they an imprimatur?

    I am sad and sorry, David, that you wish to continue your dislike of the Holy Father; what the French call having a tooth against him”. Now, as Don Bosco said, one arrives at the point in which there is nothing more to be said.

  23. c matt says:

    If I understand correctly, the Holy Father’s objection to use of condoms is twofold:

    (1) as in the prophylactic soda example, it simply encourages higher risk behavior, thus counteracting any benefit of use; and

    (2) condom use itself is an immoral act, and therefore an improper means, regardless of whether it works or not – to carry the diet soda example, it would be as if yes, the diet soda may help lose weight, but drinking it is in itself bad because the phosphoric acid dissolves your bones.

    I don’t know David’s position on the morality of artificial contraception. But it can hardly be held against the Holy Father that he does not approve of immoral means (under Catholic doctrine for two millenia) to reach a desired end. That is, asssuming one agrees consequentalism (or proportionalism) is not morally licit as well.

  24. Paul Cat says:

    So Pidelian! I love it.

  25. […] “make the problem worse” (for the logic behind the Pope’s claim in the case of condoms, see my earlier post).  A global uproar might […]

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