Christians, Sex and Misery


‘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.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 10-11

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8 thoughts on “Christians, Sex and Misery

  1. Thank you for your kind review.

    There is always room for improvement, and I love hearing comments and suggestions. To that end, may I ask what exactly you think is a straw-man attack on religion in this citation? I see a number of factual statements about the spread of HPV, HIV and other venereal diseases; I also read an apt example of someone opposing vaccination and a truth about the dangers of teaching teenagers abstinence only.

    If you are concerned that this citation is referring to “too many Christians” (that is to say, takes too broad a view in condemning certain religious dogmas and practices, and that Harris should be more specific in his allegations when referring to Christians) I should refer you to the first post in this particular series in which I cite Harris’ introduction in the comment section – in this introduction Harris explains to which Christians (and to some extent Muslims, Jews, et cetera) he is referring.

  2. Reblogged this on Ash (the Mighty) and commented:
    I have blogged (briefly) about the HPV vaccine and how utterly necessary it is.

    Here’s a bit more on the topic from one of my favourite blogs.

  3. I did a study in college on HPV (back in 2011 to be precise so you know the date of the information I am sharing). If you are under the age of 40- if you do not already knowingly have HPV, then it has not shown up yet. It can be and is most likely dormant. Certain things trigger the virus to evolve (so to speak) and show its ugly effects. I interviewed a gynecologist who works with MTV’s teen mom show and he said 99% of people have it some how, some way. It is the same virus that causes warts on the skin (for those who do not know). It can be spread to genitals in other ways than sex (even more frightening). There are over 100 strains of the virus. It is an epidemic far worse than you even state (nothing to do with the small group of radical Christians who blame immorality on the spread of this disease). It is not just sex that harbors the spread of the virus (contrary to the stigma and popularly held belief). Unfortunately the vaccine only covers 5 strains- and they are only the most common. Everyone is susceptible to the other 95 plus strains. Not to mention, a vaccine is not recommended for anyone over the age of 26. The gynecologist I interviewed said that though the number of sexual partners increase your risk- it does not make someone with only one sexual partner immune. He has seen a woman who had only one sex partner that had HPV; and she had the vaccine. It is beyond scary. It is showing up in men as throat cancer (of which I have witnessed personally when I worked for surgeons). Also men have no test to detect (other than showing up as throat cancer and other forms of cancer in the genitalia) for HPV when they get tested for STD’s. It is too late to fix by the time men discover the virus. Like anything else in the medical world- there is no money in the cure…so everyone hold on to their hats- we must wait out the pharmaceutical companies taking advantage of this until a scientist unravels the cure. Just like we have a cure for leukemia…ironically on another spectrum- viruses have been shown (specifically HIV- even stranger) to be the cure for some cancers in 90% of the cases studied since 2008 (see documentary produced by Bill Maher on HBO recently). Glad you are raising awareness of this epidemic- but what would make it more valid is leaving religious zealots out of your awareness- though they may seem lunatic in their stances- it still does not take away this epic disease.😉😎

  4. On a blog like this, you will find an older post by scrolling down the list of publications. Posts that are part of a series usually contain one or two links to focus your search; should you be interested in reading other posts in the same series, look out for those links.

    To help you out, I will repost the comment I made in reply to the discussion that was sparked after the first post in the “Letter to a Christian Nation” series was published. You will find the repost here:

    ‘[T]he “Christian” I address throughout is a Christian in a narrow sense of the term. Such a person believes, at a minimum, that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that only those who accept the divinity of Jesus Christ will experience salvation after death. Dozens of scientific surveys suggest that well over half of the American population subscribes to these beliefs. Of course, such metaphysical commitments do not imply any particular denomination of Christianity. […]

    I have set out to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms. Consequently, liberal and moderate Christians will not always recognize themselves in the “Christian” I address. They should, however, recognize one hundred and fifty million of their neighbors. I have little doubt that liberals and moderates find the eerie certainties of the Christian Right to be as troubling as I do. It is my hope, however, that they will also begin to see that the respect they demand for their own religious beliefs gives shelter to extremists of all faiths. Although liberals and moderates do not fly planes into buildings or organize their lives around apocalyptic prophecy, they rarely question the legitimacy of raising a child to believe that she is a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew. Even the most progressive faiths lend tacit support to the religious divisions in our world. […]’

    – Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 2

  5. Thanks – I feel dumb in still not getting what you mean about ‘publications’ or being able to find the original post, but thanks for reposting it above. I see what Harris now means, and agree that he has sensibly targeted his criticisms.
    BUT – “the respect they demand for their own religious beliefs”: I’m not sure if I demand anything like this.
    “[liberal Christians] rarely question the legitimacy of raising a child to believe that she is a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew”: I think I do (question the legitimacy), but would also question ideas of class and national identification – all (or most) labels seem to be harmful, in that they, by creating a group identity, automatically a supposedly bad other.
    Thanks though.

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