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Gather round, readers! I’ve got a real treat in store for you, because today the Roman Catholic Church is going to answer all your questions on dating and sex. Yes, that’s right – if you’ve ever wanted your raunchiest, most explicit questions about human intimacy answered in full, uncensored detail by a group of elderly white men who are also lifelong celibates, today is the day you’ve been waiting for.

First of all, a reader writes in with this dilemma:

When pregnant, I have am prone to receiving a type of bacterial infection that can cause pre-term labor, and my first child was born several weeks early because of it.

During my second pregnancy, I read that many doctors recommend the use of condoms during pregnancy to try and reduce the transition of the bacteria… I solicited opinions on a Catholic e-mail list as to whether or not the use of condoms during pregnancy under these conditions would be licit. I assumed that it would be. If I’m already pregnant, I am obviously not trying to contracept, right?

Well, reader, of course you can! I mean, obviously the use of condoms to prevent pregnancy is a grave sin in the eyes of God, but since you’re already pregnant, you can’t conceive again whether you use one or not. And since your intention is to prevent harm to your fetus, a laudable desire considering the church’s protect-the-unborn-at-any-cost attitude, surely a condom couldn’t be impermissible under those circumstances. This is just an obvious implication of the church’s teachings on… wait, what?

First, Catholic moral theology holds that the marital act includes both a unitive and a procreative aspect and that neither of these may be deliberately frustrated… The unitive aspect involves more than just the spouses giving each other the experience of sexual release. That could be accomplished any number of ways that would not be open to procreation. For the spouses to truly be united in marital congress that is open to procreation, at least some insemination must occur. Without insemination, one does not have a completed marital act.

…For this reason, even when a condom is not being used to prevent procreation, it could not be used on the grounds that it prevents the spouses from being united in marital congress.

Ah, of course. You see, I forgot something very important: the Catholic belief in Sperm Magic. Regardless of your intent, if you do anything during sex that prevents sperm from entering a vagina, you make Jesus angry (and you wouldn’t like Jesus when he’s angry). But never fear, folks, this writer has the perfect Catholic solution:

While it is necessary for some insemination to occur in order for the marital act to be completed, it does not appear that there is any set amount of insemination that must occur. Some orthodox Catholic moralists… have thus proposed the possibility of using a perforated condom that would allow some but not all of the seminal fluid to be transmitted.

Ha ha ha, perforated condoms!? You’ve got to be kidding me! That’s like a religion that believes driving is sinful but allows it as long as your car has a hole in the gas tank! But surely this is just one kook’s ridiculous notion, there can’t possibly be a whole community of Catholics who oh come on you can’t be serious:

The only morally acceptable way to collect a semen sample for analysis is for the man to don a perforated condom and make love to his wife. The perforated condom will allow some semen to escape, making conception possible, while retaining enough for analysis.

The logic here boggles my mind. If using condoms is morally wrong because it’s a violation of God’s plan for your marriage, how is it any different to seek medical tests and fertility treatments if you’re having problems conceiving? Wouldn’t that also be an attempt to subvert the plan God put in motion by making you infertile in the first place? (Note, the Vatican does declare IVF off-limits to Catholics, so clearly they accept this reasoning in at least some cases.)

The Catholic acceptance of perforated condoms is like the Islamic practice of “temporary marriage” – a logical contortion to get around a problem they created for themselves in the first place. The church believes that sex has both a “unitive” and a “procreative” purpose, and that’s fine, I agree with that. But what’s bizarre and arbitrary is the church’s insistence that both those functions must be served in every sex act, and any kind of sex that has one without the other is sinful. This is like saying, “The purpose of your eyesight is both to let you take in beautiful sights and also to help you find your way around. Therefore, it’s wrong to look at a painting, because you’re using your eyes just for pleasure and neglecting the navigational function of your vision.” (The “Catholic” solution, one presumes, would be to only look at actual beautiful landscapes and not mere reproductions.)

One last question for today, and this one, unlike the others, filled me more with pity than with amusement:

The other night… we were lying in bed after the kids were down and started to cuddle. The cuddling got pretty active and one thing led to another and I ‘went off’ (as we like to put it). I wasn’t trying to make it happen, but I didn’t really try and stop it either. I am familiar with Onanism and I am not sure if this situation qualifies. I know Onanism is wrong, so if what happened was that, then I would be in a state of mortal sin. But I don’t know if it is Onanism if it happens in the context of a husband and wife showing affection.

Like the Christian believer Contraskeptic, to whom I wrote a letter of advice a few years ago, this is a case of a well-meaning person hogtied by irrational rules, made to feel guilt, shame and fear for no good reason at all. And the other commenters in the thread didn’t help:

All forms of masturbation are inherently, mortally sinful, even within the context of marriage… you need to go to confession. Today.

When people say that religion gives them peace and happiness that atheism never can, I want to point them to stories like these. This is how so many theists decide what’s permitted and what’s forbidden when it comes to sex: not by judging whether it causes harm to any other human being, whether it fosters love and intimacy in their marriage, or whether it gives them pleasure and happiness, but by consulting a book of superstitious rules laid down by clerics. And because these rules are so arbitrary, so unconnected to human needs and desires, it puts them in constant fear of accidentally crossing the line and committing some imaginary transgression.

The Pascal’s Wager logic, which so often assumes that joining a religion is cost-free, hides the fine print: you will end up paying a price, and it may be a lot higher than you think. How can anyone be truly happy in the mental slavery of a religion that layers on the guilt and threats for breaking such absurd laws? And wouldn’t people like this be much happier if they abandoned these superstitious beliefs and instead adopted a rational, humanist alternative sexual ethics?

(HT for this whole post: my wife, the talented and lovely MissCherryPi, whom I didn’t believe when she first told me about the perforated condoms!)

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DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...