‘Consider, for instance, the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is now the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. The virus infects over half the American population and causes nearly five thousand women to die each year from cervical cancer; the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that more than two hundred thousand die worldwide. We now have a vaccine for HPV that appears to be both safe and effective. The vaccine produced 100 percent immunity in the six thousand women who received it as part of a clinical trial. And yet, Christian conservatives in our government have resisted a vaccination program on the grounds that HPV is a valuable impediment to premarital sex. These pious men and women want to preserve cervical cancer as an incentive toward abstinence, even if it sacrifices the lives of thousands of women each year.
There is nothing wrong with encouraging teens to abstain from having sex. But we know, beyond any doubt, that teaching abstinence alone is not a good way to curb teen pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted disease. In fact, kids who are taught abstinence alone are less likely to use contraceptives when they do have sex, as many of them inevitably will. One study found that teen “virginity pledges” postpone intercourse for eighteen months on average—while, in the meantime, these virgin teens were more likely than their peers to engage in oral and anal sex. American teenagers engage in about as much sex as teenagers in the rest of the developed world, but American girls are four to five times more likely to become pregnant, to have a baby, or to get an abortion. Young Americans are also far more likely to be infected by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rate of gonorrhea among American teens is seventy times higher than it is among their peers in the Netherlands and France. The fact that 30 percent of our sex-education programs teach abstinence only (at a cost of more than $200 million a year) surely has something to do with this.
The problem is that Christians like yourself are not principally concerned about teen pregnancy and the spread of disease. That is, you are not worried about the suffering caused by sex; you are worried about sex. As if this fact needed further corroboration, Reginald Finger, an Evangelical member of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, recently announced that he would consider opposing an HIV vaccine—thereby condemning millions of men and women to die unnecessarily from AIDS each year—because such a vaccine would encourage premarital sex by making it less risky. This is one of many points on which your religious beliefs become genuinely lethal.’