Reuters has just published an article with a title that says a lot more than its content.
I didn’t like the title, obviously, which goes like this: “Losing virginity early or late tied to health risks.”
Well, we could have guessed the first part, but the second part – which leads to the equivalent secular perdition of “health risks” (the only modern hell there is) – is really interesting.
We’ll work from the study itself, and then to the questionable inferential process (while taking a gander at the even more questionable "inferrer"), and then see if there is any merit to the title as given by the good and unbiased people at Reuters Health.
First of all, the data is culled from a rather mildewed 1996 survey of 8000 adults. Apparently, they were all asked when they started to “have sex” (I used to know what that meant, but since the nineties, that term has become ambiguous: "have sex" as actual coitus? only once or a lot?). The average answer was around the ages of 17 or 18. Those who had their first sexual encounter at the age of around 14 were considered “early starters.” Those who started at age 22 or older were considered, you guessed it, “late starters.”
Then, the study ran a few statistical runs on the computer, using, I guess, some sort of correlation algorithm.
As one might expect, the statistical report showed that the “early starters” were “more likely to have certain risk factors for sexually transmitted diseases (STD) – including a high number of sexual partners and a history of having sex under the influence of alcohol.”
This is not surprising. But what is surprising is that the report in the American Journal of Public Health re-labeled STD under an even worse secular heading – “sexual dysfunction.”
“Sexual dysfunction” is a curious category, because it includes, on one hand, STD’s, and on the other hand, impotence and difficulty in reaching orgasm. It should not surprise anyone, given the inherent bias of the report, that “late starters” had to be indicted for some form of “health risk.” So that abstinence education would not be handed such a silver-platter endorsement by a public health institution, a “health risk” had to be found for “late starters” (i.e., virgins who waited until marriage) to achieve rhetorical symmetry with the bleak and undeniable threat to the “early starters”: all that could be found in the statistical matrix was a questionable correlation between “late-starting” and male impotence/orgasmic response.
[BTW, did anyone in Columbia check to see whether "late-starters" were also more likely to resist "self-reporting," especially about phenomena as intimate as erectile efficiency and excitation intervals? But I digress.]
“Sexual dysfunction,” as operationally defined by Dr. Theo G. M. Sandfort of Columbia and his crew, is also curious in that it excludes other clearly observable (and lamentable) dysfunctions, namely extra-marital sexual activity and non-heterosexual activity. I consider homosexual activity and extra-marital sexual activity just as “dysfunctional” as impotence. I would bet serious money that a fair study would reveal a strong correlation between “early-starting” and these particular dysfunctional activities.
It looks, nowadays, that the value of “healthy sexual activity” has been redefined operationally to mean “frequent sexual activity” that is unrestrained by sacrament or by gender.
The only sexual evil that remains in the West is physiological failure.
Here is what the study purports to have found:
Early-starters (i.e., those who have sex starting around 14) are more likely to have a high number of sexual partners, to have sex under the influence of alcohol, and to contract STD’s in the course of these behaviors. They, too, can expect a greater risk of impotence and orgasmic dysfunction.
Late-starters (i.e., those who have sex starting around 22) are more likely to have a greater risk of impotence and orgasmic dysfunction.
One might expect, from these findings, that abstinence-until-marriage programs should be given a real shot in the arm. It would appear, on the face of the data, that public policy would find it worthwhile to take the less damaging risk of late-starting and focus on abstinence, if only to avoid the certainly and more profoundly damaging risk of "early-starting."
But that's just me. I am obviously not on par with Dr. Sandfort, because it must have been a heart-breaking step for him to say something negative about "early-starting." It should be remembered that this academician wrote, in 1981, an infamous tract entitled Boys on their Contacts with Men - A Study of Sexually Expressed Friendships.
For that 1981 report, and as the co-director of the research program of the Department of Gay and Lesbian Studies at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands, Dr. Sandfort interviewed 25 boys aged 10 to 16 who were currently involved in sexual relationships with adult men. The interviews took place in the homes of the men.
[This means, by the way, that the N was 25, and that the interviews/observations were done in a corrupted environment, where the boundaries of the variables were completely "interpermeated" (to put the best face on things) ... And we have this same "researcher" forging public policy with similar small-N crap-studies. I guess his inferences drawn from correlative measures should be seen as an improvement from his earlier "groundbreaking" tenure-establishing N=25 study, so we should all be happy. But I digress.]
According to Sandfort, "For virtually all the boys ... the sexual contact itself was experienced positively..." Could an adult-child sexual contact, then, truly be called positive for the child? Based on the research presented, Sandfort answered that question in the affirmative.
Not to be outdone by reality this time, especially since the data did the discourteous thing by showing that bad things happen when children have sex, the research team leader Dr. Sandfort drew this inference instead (demonstrating the utility of operational definitions, and paying no attention to the real ones):
He and his team wrote that their findings "only partially support" abstinence-only sex education -- which encourages teenagers to save sex for marriage.
"Although our findings support an association between early initiation and long-term (STD) risk, they also suggest a more complicated picture of sexual functioning."
And just in case we didn’t get the point, they added that delaying sexual activity may even "create health risks by impeding development of the emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal skills that are crucial to satisfactory sexual functioning and general well-being."
The line of reasoning in that last paragraph seems to run like this:
1. Waiting too long for sexual activity impedes your development of the emotional, cognitive and interpersonal skills.
2. Somehow, these social skills that are picked up during sexual activity between the ages of 17 and 22 are crucial to "satisfactory sexual functioning" – that is, freedom from impotence and orgasmic poverty.
3. And “satisfactory sexual functioning” produces “general well-being” – the only “salvation” that is known in the modern world.
So, we are left with the more-than-implicit conclusion that our young people had better “have sex” at 17 or 18 in one form or another, preferably with another human being (or two or three). Any earlier might carry a few risks like an STD here and there (and maybe serial sex and abortions, but what’s wrong with that?).
But whatever they do, they shouldn’t wait until 22 (or, worse yet, marriage), because they might turn out impotent. And impotence, as the good people at Columbia want us to know, might interfere with our “general well-being.”
Viagra is the new sacrament. And the sooner you know this, the better.
At least, that’s what they should have stated in the title.
"Come, let us reason," it says somewhere by Someone. Let us look carefully at this secular gospel of "general well-being," and the ascetical actions and sacraments that are necessary for its actualization.
Is "well-being" produced by sexual experience? Is "mental health" -- even as impoverishly defined in the secular therapeutic culture -- a result of the "iconic" and "liturgical" activity as depicted in pornography and erotica?
Is there peace at the end of an X-rated movie? Can there be a happily-ever-after, ever, when an erotic narrative finally shuts down? Or is there only objectivization, bondage? Only an increasingly duller response, and a never-ending quest to find a more potent stimulus?
Is a man really "better off" only when he is "potent"? A woman when she is "responsive" or "orgasmic"?
Is it possible that impotence is significantly correlated with the predominance of pornography, and its presence and availability in everyday culture? That Viagra sales depend on Hustler and cyber-porn subscriptions?
Or, can a woman even survive being non-orgasmic? Can a man ever be a real man, even a happy man, if he is impotent?
This boils down to a question that tells you what time it is on the civilization clock: can a person be honored for his or her celibacy?
Or even this: can the Church say, any longer, that "it is better for a man not to touch a woman"? That celibacy is not just an equally valid calling, but an even higher one?
I am all for happy sexual activity within the confines of Christian marriage, not before or outside. I believe, like Victor Frankl, that the best love is made when one is "dereflecting," and not looking at himself (in demonic mirrors) or focusing on his own experience.
Sandfort's (and his friend Dr. Money's) "sexology" invention is doomed to comic frustration as is the hunt for a greased pig: love, not even its iconic and physical endeavor, cannot be the object of science. Once put under the microscope, the reality is affected by the observation itself, just like quantum mechanics.
Love shrivels under the dessicating heat lamp of self.
I believe, instead, that the best love is made when self is forgotten, when pleasure is not demanded, when a man can truly tell a woman "I love you no matter what I get in return."
Men and women were created with charisms, or gifts that are peculiar to their gender, and these gifts are celebrated in the Feasts of the Church. For women, of course, the Feasts that celebrate and sanctify them eucharistically are all the Lady Days of the Theotokos. She is the one who shows the way of Proverbs 31, who prays, loves and heals, fills and serves.
The Feast of Men is Good Friday, gentlemen, and that's what makes you gentle and a man.
I believe that the only way to grow men and women like this is to grow them up in virginity, and chastity, even risking those terrible scares of impotence and performance anxiety. Is it such a terrible thing that one cannot perform? That sexual activity is put away, shelved in memory or regretted as a vocation that never was? Is that possibility so unthinkable, so even blasphemous?
If one had to choose, is it not better to take the ecstasy of communion over the ecstasy of physical union?
Is it not better to love than to experience?
Better that than the potency, and fire, of spiritual STD.