When I was a kid, condoms were called prophylactics, prophylactics were called rubbers, and rubbers were called scumbags. My friends and I would find used scumbags in a vacant lot or in the alley between buildings. Once, while snooping, I found a large package of unused prophylactics in my father’s sock drawer. It must have held a dozen. Now there were nine left. Each was tightly rolled, bound by a miniature cigar band. I selected one, took the band off, and carefully unrolled it.
There was a legend imprinted on the prophylactic: “Sold in Drug Stores Only For the Prevention of Disease.” What hypocrisy! They were sold for the prevention of pregnancy, which is a condition, not a disease. The irony is that now condoms don’t carry that message, but they are used for the prevention of disease. Anyway, I tried to re-roll my father’s prophylactic and stuff it into the band, but it was a losing battle, so I decided not to put it back in the package, figuring that my dad wasn’t counting and would never know.
As an adolescent, I found that purchasing condoms was a traumatic experience. I would buy other stuff to avoid being embarrassed. “I’d like a Batman comic book, and this Snickers candy bar, and [whispering] a pack of Trojans, and a tube of Crest toothpaste, please.” But four decades later there were huge billboards, warning: “If you can’t say no, use condoms.” However, an executive of the Gannett Outdoor Advertising Company confirmed that they held off putting up those signs until after a visit by the Pope.
Members of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy have been faced with an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, they are opposed to condoms as an artificial method of birth control. On the other hand, they are aware that condoms can serve as a protection against AIDS. My modest proposal: a theologically correct condom, with tiny pinhole pricks in the reservoir tip, to give the spermatozoa a fighting chance.
However, a group of bishops issued a statement that educational programs which include information about condoms should also stress that they are morally incorrect. That’s sort of like in the Watergate scandal when Richard Nixon said, “We could get the million dollars—but that would be wrong.”
Coincidentally, in November 2010, while the porn industry in California was being pressured to require male actors to wear condoms to prevent AIDS, in the Vatican it was revealed that, for the exact same reason, Pope Benedict—in his official capacity as the Church’s chief spin doctor—went on record proclaiming that under some circumstances the use of a condom by male prostitutes might be acceptable.
“There may be a basis in the case of some individuals,” he rationalized, “as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility,” adding that, “In this or that case, there can nonetheless in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”
Conversely, in March 2009, during a trip to Africa, he had stated that the AIDS epidemic could not be resolved with the distribution of condoms: “On the contrary, it increases the problem.” Responding to this flip-flop, Daniel Maguire, author of Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions, observes that the Pope’s change in policy represents a significant “crack in the dike” of Catholic opposition to condom use. The opposition stems from Catholic dogma that sex is for reproduction, and nothing should interfere with that.
But in fact there was indeed such a radical reversal of that rule—a case involving men’s control of women’s reproductive systems. In 1962, three influential Roman Catholic theologians expressed their opinion that, in times of revolution and violence, it is lawful for women, particularly for nuns, to take contraceptive pills and precautions against the danger of becoming pregnant through rape. Cases in Roman Catholic Missions in Africa had triggered their taking that position.
Father Francesco Hurth, of the Pontifical Gregorian University, thought that it was not “evidently or absolutely unlawful” for nuns to take contraceptive pills as a “preparatory defense” against the consequences of rape, and that the same ruling must apply to other women in a similar position, but not to wives who submit unwillingly to their husbands.
Msgr. Ferdinando Lambruschini, Professor of Moral Theology, recalled Pius XII’s ruling that the use of contraceptive pills is legitimate for the treatment of infection but not to prevent the possible or probable ill effects of pregnancy. Msgr. Lambruschini considered that the same rule must be extended to sexual relations outside marriage but not to cases of rape. The time factor troubled him slightly because the pills had to be taken before the rape occurred.
It didn’t bother him, though, that so-called “flying saucers” are actually diaphragms being dropped by nuns on their way to Heaven. Okay, I made that up, but who could ever have predicted that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks—spreading through cyberspace the truth behind international criminality—could be indicted for not using a condom?