Opinion by Richard Bleil
Teaching in an all-women’s Catholic college presents something of a challenge to somebody who believes in being open and honest like me. People who have been readers for a while know that I try to be open in my blogs, and don’t believe in holding anything back. I hope that this approach is not offensive; that is certainly not the goal, but honestly, if I ever do write something offensive, maybe it’s just an indication that it is an area where I need work.
I’ve taught at Christian colleges before. I managed to get myself a personal invitation to the office of the president at a Seventh Day Adventist college when I suggested that the argument often used against evolution of the second law of thermodynamics (everything tends towards higher entropy) is not a valid argument. I didn’t address evolution versus creationism, but rather I felt that anybody using that particular argument needed to understand the ramifications.
Nope, not good enough. It was a creationist believing college, and don’t ever question that, or the arguments therein.
Now, “The” Church has done a lot of good things. It helped to create society from chaos, and does a lot of fine charitable work. It’s a guide for many people who follow their teachings, and provides structure and comfort for those who need it. But, they’re also rather, oh, let’s say “rigid” in certain teachings. Even today they are unwilling to waver in the teaching that birth control is a sin. Sex is for procreation, only procreation, and nothing but procreation so sayeth, well, God, I guess. It’s not a terribly realistic or helpful stand in a society wherein sex is such a huge component. I’m not going to say if they are right or wrong, but just that it’s a very limited view to preach “never never never”.
In my opinion, such a closed view of the world leads to problems. Open and honest discussion allows for education, debate of ideas, and helps to protect people from, well, Chlamydia, along with other things like pregnancy. In my humble opinion, it’s better to teach, “here is why we believe you should wait.” In so doing, there is far more flexibility in the follow up discussion, “but if you decide to, then here are some things to be aware of and how to better protect yourself from them.”
I don’t know what they teach here, but in my previous institution, they taught the vile horrors of social diseases and unwanted pregnancy, and that condoms are not 100% effective. No, they’re not 100% effective; I’ll give you that, but they are far more effective than nothing at all, and horror stories don’t hold a candle to the sex drive of teenagers. Or, people in their twenties. Or thirties. Forties. Fifties.
Today, in my office (or rather a waiting room in the suite of offices where mine is), a student of mine (remember, an all female Catholic college) informed me that Chlamydia is on the rise, and how surprising it is that few boys carry condoms.
How do I respond to this? I believe that discussions of sexual topics is important. She had to have learned this from somewhere (she even told me the zip code here in this city where it has the highest infection rate), but as a single (well, divorced) male infidel professor, do I talk about this with her? I mean, I didn’t bring it up, after all, but believe me when I say it’s a very VERY thin line for men in my position.
So, we discussed sexually transmitted diseases and condoms.
I’ve written about this before. I’ve lost more than one job doing what I believe to be the right thing to do, and this is exactly the situation of which I speak. The safe way out would have been to insist that the topic is inappropriate and scold her for having such thoughts at all. Or, I can speak with her openly, honestly, directly, without bashfulness. Between the two approaches, the latter, the one I chose, the one that could end my career gives her an ally with whom she knows she can speak candidly and honestly, spreads knowledge and protects the students. It also helps her to feel more confident in having such dialog, and models the openness that I believe to be healthier and safer in our society. And if I lose my job for doing so, well, I did what I believe was the right thing to do.