Commenting on my remarks on what I called “the rigidity of the Roman Catholic Church on sexual issues,” Mary Edsall writes:
I always find that discussions of Catholic teachings on sexuality ignore the cost-benefit calculations made by Church theologians.
The costs of the sexual exploitation of one human being by another are enormous. This is a routine dimension of sexual relations between men and women, where women are reliably subject to sexual exploitation by men. The numbers here are truly staggering, and have to do primarily with the quotidian use and discard of women by men. This has to be weighed against the costs of sexual repression and the regulation of human sexuality which prohibits the human potentiation made possible perhaps only by sexual freedom.
The problem is that often one person’s sexual freedom is another person’s sexual subjugation. The suffering caused by the loss of another person’s attachment is immense, and sexual desire is the glue of much human peer-to-peer attachment. But desire is amoral and opportunistic. Thus the attempts of all world religions and ethical systems to regulate sexual behavior.
Intelligent discussions on this topic are non-existent. Even the Catholic church never makes its own case. So the issues are oversimplified.
All of that seems true, and important. And it seems that Catholicism is more successful than other Christian denominations at making an impact on actual sexual activity; Linda Loury has shown that, as the proportion of Catholics in a county’s population rises, the probability that an unmarried non-Catholic teenager gets pregnant falls.
I would add, however, that the costs of insistence on sexual purity — especially opposition to barrier methods of birth control — aren’t limited to missed sexual opportunities. They also play out in ruined lives for women who get pregnant when they don’t want to, the births of unwanted and therefore often unloved and ill-tended children, sexually transmitted disease, and population growth that presses up against resource limits, keeping people trapped in poverty.