Single mums and the curse of Catholicism

Old ignorances, the new moralising and Body Shop greenism are making young women ambiguous about contraception

Share
Related Topics
The season for celebrating birth is upon us. As Christmas card images of the Holy Teenage Unmarried Mother deck the mantelpieces, Britain remains the country with the highest number of teenage pregnancies in Europe.

Why? Because we remain deeply ambivalent about contraception - that greatest modern blessing, without which women would still be household slaves. The ignorance and stupidity of so many teenagers is the direct result of our ambiguous attitudes - surrounding them with sex, but denying them knowledge. The National Curriculum includes sex education half-heartedly in science lessons, with precious little useful contraceptive information, and parents are allowed to opt their children out of classes altogether.

If we were serious about teenage pregnancy there would be clinics with nurses available in every school. The Dutch have virtually no teenage pregnancies and they teach sex education from the first primary years. It does not promote more sex: their well-informed teen population embark on sex at a later age than ours.

But 35 years after the arrival of the Pill, we still have not learnt to love it as we should. The great liberator of the Sixties remains shrouded with fear, guilt and plain dislike. Much of that fear is deliberately generated by gleeful panics promoted by the moralising press and the Christian lobbies. But some springs spontaneously from the current woolly fashion for everything labelled "natural", homeopathic and non-invasive. Teenagers brought up on Body Shop designer greenism shudder at the thought of polluting their White Musk and Dewberried bodies with nasty chemicals.

The latest Pill scare last year, started by over-panicky guidance issued by the Committee on Safety of Medicines, lead to large numbers of women giving it up. As a result, abortions rose in the first months of this year by 3,000, at a time when the abortion trend was downwards.

Myths and half-truths still surround all methods of contraception, despite all those explicit magazine problem pages. Every survey reveals astounding fear and ignorance. Women look upon contraceptive options with less than glee: all that slimey rubbery stuff, nasty looking wire contraptions for the womb, elaborate "natural" methods with thermometers or computers and nightly urine tests - or the mighty Pill whose chemicals screw up your natural system, with God knows what long-term effects. Too many women flee to sterilisation, often the wrong drastic choice - 42 per cent in the US, (one fifth later regret it).

However, contraception is easy and, for virtually everyone, problem-free if women would only believe it. The unloved IUD, for instance, is a tiny little device nowadays. As for the Pill, its very low dose, compared with the early days, is extraordinarily safe. Yet the myths go on forever: it messes you up and might kill you through thrombosis. If you take it too young before your body is settled, it could screw up your fertility forever. It must not be taken for too long. Its effects linger on in the body after stopping, delaying the chances of getting pregnant. How many of these statements do you believe? They are all untrue.

Women can take the Pill forever. You can get pregnant within 12 hours of stopping - a fact that many forgetful women learn to their cost. There is no medical reason why very young girls should not take the Pill. Of the millions who take it in Britain, only four or five die of thrombosis - a far safer record than virtually every other widely taken drug.

But we are not good at risk assessment. And who talks of the benefits? The Pill protects against ovarian cancer, of which 4,300 women die a year. Women who take the Pill have half the risk of contracting this cancer and the protective effect lasts for 15 years after they stop taking it. But how often do you hear that fact promoted?

Last week Elof Johanssen, director of the Population Council, the leading US non-profit contraception research organisation, was in Britain castigating America's continuing catastrophic teenage pregnancy rate, with 57 per cent of all US pregnancies unintended. Britain, though not as bad, he says, is closer to the US in its confused attitudes and poor figures, than to the rest of Europe. He blames the religious and moral lobbies for obstructing effective sex education. (He is one of those Swedes we tend to mock for their earnestly open approach to sex: he gave menstruation parties for his daughters' coming of age.)

Whatever the social problems caused by failing to get contraception to all who need it in the West, the population explosion in the developing world is the great problem of the next century: world population will double in the next 50 years. Johanssen's research shows that wherever contraception is easily available to third world women, offered them by other women and not by doctors, women take to it at once. If it is left to men, nothing happens. In most developing countries it is the men who want more babies than they can support, not the women. In Ghana, for instance, men say they want 10 babies, women want five. "When you make contraception cheaply available to all women, they take it immediately. If women chose how many children to have, 95 per cent of the world population problem would be solved," he says.

Why, then, has so little been done? "The Catholic church and the Pope," he answers bluntly. Do they really have that much influence on governments? "In the key areas of over-population, especially francophone Africa and Latin America, the Catholic church may not control the government, but it runs most of the hospitals, missions and doctors." He expects growing wars over land, food and water, wars that will draw in the West as well, of which Rwanda was harbinger of far worse to come.

Fundamentalist Muslims and Protestants he also blames, but says it is parts of the world under Catholics influence where the population danger lies. He adds wryly that we may yet come to look back on Chairman Mao as a saviour of the world for his draconian one-child policy.

What can be done? "A new Pope, a new pro-contraception Catholic policy could change the outlook for the world overnight."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Renewable Energy Construction Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Wind Energy Due Diligence Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

A woman’s power is in her laughter – no wonder men are scared enough they want to silence it

Howard Jacobson
The new lobby entrance to the Hotel Majestic  

Errors and omissions: There’s strength in numbers – as long as they agree

Guy Keleny
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices