Wednesday 8 April 2009

The Great Condom Con Part Three: Open systems theory and unintended consequences

I have had occasion before to write about open systems theory. But it is less well understood than it needs to be. The basic premise is that in an open system (any natural or social system, for example) actions lead to (often unforeseen) reactions, which may modify, negate, or accelerate the impact of the original action.

One fascinating example of this is the wearing of bike helmets. It seems that drivers respond differently to cyclists with or without helmets, giving those without helmets a wider berth. Thus, paradoxically, wearing a helmet may not actually make you safer: you may be more likely to be knocked off (though it is also likely that you will come to less harm if you are wearing a helmet when knocked off).

The promotion of condoms and ‘safer sex’ (note the change from the original ‘safe sex’...) follows the same pattern. In order to reach those they want to reach, the health and education people insist that we are non-judgemental. And as the policy doesn’t have the impact they hoped for, they insist we get more and more explicit, and push it at younger and younger kids.

The result is to take out any positive pressures (eg social disapproval, stigma etc) that may incline children (because that’s what many of them are) to restrain their urges; and vastly to increase curiosity and acceptability around sexual experimentation and promiscuity.

There are other unintended consequences, too: we trust the health professionals less, and a whole industry grows up around ‘sexual health services’ which may not be in society’s best interests: and that’s the subject of my next post in this series (cue The Archers theme tune...)


George Carmody said...

Just because the comments aren't flooding in, don't think we're not reading your articles on this subject! You're stating what should be obvious to most people...but isn't. It's good stuff.

The non-judgemental thing fascinates me. For whose benefit is it really? As you point out, it's ostensibly to remove barriers between the "sexual health professionals" and their victims, er...clients. In other words to make the children trust the SHPs and listen to their words of wisdom about condoms. Well of course it won't work. No normal child is going to trust complete strangers who want to talk about their private parts with them.

No, the reason for the non-judgementalism is more to do with the SHPs themselves. The truth is they feel very guilty (in an unhealthy liberal way, as opposed to a healthy Catholic way where you can do something about that guilt) about allying themselves with traditional moral notions, such as right and wrong, self-restraint and, ahem, guilty feelings that might affect behaviour. In other words, they feel guilty about telling children what to do. Why? The most likely reason is because they're in no position personally to talk about sexual restraint. If they were Catholics and had strayed from the narrow path, there would be a simple solution: Sacramental Confession. The SHPs have no equivalent in their armoury. That of course is based on the notion that right and wrong are not merely the invention of a human, or group of humans, but are objective standards coming from our Creator. And that is the nub of the matter. The problem is atheism/agnosticism. Hence non-judgementalism. Hence a useless anti-AIDS/STI/teen pregnancy policy.

Ben Trovato said...


There is much in what you say!

One of the interesting things about the non-judgemental approach is that it only applies to things about which we do not have any strong convictions.

You will not find the non-judgemental folks being non-judgemental about, say, racism or any other discriminatory behaviour.

So all it really says is that they have no moral standards (in the realms of sexuality) to which they are at all committed: and these are those entrusted to educate and look after our young people.

Ben Trovato said...

Oh, and GM,

Thanks for your comments about people reading. I used to wonder about this, when some items got no comments, but reflected on how few things I comment on, even when interested; then I installed site meter, and was gratified to see how many visitors I get - and where from!