In Ruby Slippers, I talked about the way a woman is vulnerable, to alcohol, to rape, to pregnancy, to abuse, and I have one more to add, to STDs.
There is a discouraging, though not altogether unsurprising, statistic making headlines. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 1 in 4 teenage girls have a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The New York Times covers the findings, "Sex Infections Found in Quarter of Teenage Girls". My thoughts kicked into high gear when I heard that. What are my friends and sister's friends going to be inheriting in the coming years? Infertility will continue to rise as infections from disease destroy the fine-tuned fertility micro-climate in a woman's body. For an excellent book on how women's fertility is beautifully and wonderfully made (Ps 139) go out immediately and buy Toni Weschler's Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement and Reproductive Health.
If 1:4 Caucasian women and 1:2 African American women have an STD, we ought to ponder the bitter irony of sexual freedom and how it preys on the more vulnerable. Many believe that safer sex needs to be taught. I read yesterday a huge Wall Street Journal advertisement, nearly full page, that read "America is Not a Sexually Healthy Nation" citing the CDC's findings and offering some steps like "Evolve education- Schools should teach comprehensive sex education that includes both abstinence and condom use." That's sort of strange, I thought. I mean you really don't need a condom is you're chaste. Then I noticed who paid for the ad, Trojan Brand Condoms.
Now I'm not going to climb up on a soap box and tell you that I think condoms are terrible. They're not. They're actually fairly effective at preventing pregnancy. So by all means some married couples should feel free to use them if they'd like to wait for children. But we're not even talking about pregnancy, we're talking about disease. Are condoms really enough? If they don't work 100% of the time to keep out a tiny sperm from sneaking through, what makes us think they can stop all the other diseases lurking about?
But I suppose the thing that bothers me the most is that STDs are infiltrating the core of a woman's body, targeting her capacities for vulnerability in the future. You know how hard it is to raise your voice when you have a sore, inflamed throat? Or to laugh a deep, vulnerable belly guffaw when you have a cough? Well, that's a taste of how hard it will be for these young women to be vulnerable in intimacy when the sensitive parts of her body, her reproductive capacities, her sexual pleasure and recreation has been damaged, ravaged by disease, inflamed from infection. The physical pain is just a small slice of the problem. I haven't even touched on the psychological aspects of sex without the safety and freedom of marriage (see Is Porn Empowering, especially the Comments for a further discussion). In my mind "free sex" makes it more difficult for women to be vulnerable (it's hard to be vulnerable when you are diseased in the area of vulnerability) and that means she is no longer free to embrace a key component of her femininity. (For the link between women and vulnerability see Ruby Slippers pg. 109-117).
Vulnerability means we have places that can be touched, wounded or pleased. As I've written in Ruby Slippers, "Vulnerability requires that we have places that are tender, places we can be affected, touched and even destroyed. A sparrow is more vulnerable than a rock. But because a sparrow is alive, it whistles, and soars, even though it can also be caught by a cat and clawed to death." (p 112).
But what happens when a woman gets clawed half-way to death. What happens when the cat gets tired of her, leaves her for dead, but she doesn't die. When a woman moves on in life, bearing an STD, how is she changed? What does an STD do to a woman's vulnerability (and in my mind her femininity)?
The first Woman, Eve, began life unafraid of her vulnerability for none would take advantage of it. Women today seem so free, we boast of their self-actualization, their empowerment, but I think modern American women are enslaved.
Just as the women who undergo forced gender mutilation in tribal cultures are wounded, their bodies forever changed, so are women who experience sex without the protection, the freedom, the security and comfort of marriage. In female circumcision the knife cuts away the tender areas of a woman's genitals, but in America we're not all that different, for disease is cutting away at women in the very same area, effecting the very same results: guarded, fearful, damaged, ashamed females.
I agree with the Trojan ad. Yes, we can do better than this. Yes, America is sexually unhealthy. Yes, we need to become part of the solution. Yes, women are "at risk." But we're going to need a lot more than condoms. We need to acknowledge, value and respect the vulnerabilities inherent in women.