My problem with condoms was always a very different confusion from that which apparently afflicts the Pope. It was simply that I felt sure they would be far too large, like putting a tea cosy on a soft-boiled egg. And so I never used them, to spare the embarrassment. Also, I was never entirely certain they quite fitted in with my romantic illusions about the sexual act, especially not the prophylactics you can buy from vending machines in pub toilets and are advertised as being ‘cheese ’n’ pineapple flavour’ — not really Keats, is it? I know plenty of men who feel likewise, too, and are apt to use any number of excuses when, so to speak, push comes to shove. One girl I once knew told me about a chap she’d become most enamoured of and whom she eventually, after a few drinks, took to her elfin grot. He had no condoms and refused to wear them anyway, telling her: ‘But don’t worry — I cannot ejaculate, for I am a Buddhist.’ Who could resist that? A few moments later, though, she became very distressed indeed and hurled understandable accusations at her lover, who just sat there, shaking his head and with a look of wide-eyed wonder kept muttering: ‘A miracle, it’s a miracle. You must be so special.’
The world would be a happier, if more chaotic and unhealthy, place if there were more girls around like that. My disaffection with condoms became absolute in the late 1990s when the Spice Girls had a hit with the song ‘2 Become 1’, a supposedly sultry tale about the consummation of a loving relationship that included the unspeakably hideous line, ‘Be a little bit wiser, baby — put it on, put it on.’ The thought of these mentally impaired Tory chavharridans preparing for the act of sex and, worse, immediately prior to the act turning into pug-faced anorexic versions of Sir Liam Donaldson, put me off not merely condoms but also sexual intercourse, full stop. It has taken me a long time to regain my appetite for the latter, so long in fact that the opportunities, I’m afraid, have passed. Maybe I should sue.
The Pope’s confusion is scarcely less risible, mind. In what was seen as an historic break with Roman Catholic tradition Pope Benedict XVI suggested last week that it might be OK for male prostitutes to use them. I would have thought that the fact that a male prostitute used a condom was, in ecumenical terms, pretty much immaterial, given that he was a male prostitute — the profession is generally frowned upon by the Holy See. But either way, this has sparked off the sort of debate which we have not seen since the Canadian Roman Catholic bishops issued their famous Winnipeg Statement (the only time Winnipeg has been famous) in 1968, wherein they stated that people might find it ‘extremely difficult or impossible to follow the teachings of the Encyclical’ and so condoms might be OK in certain circumstances. The encyclical mentioned was Humanae Vitae, issued a few months earlier from the Pope and asserting continued opposition to all forms of contraception.
Now, people who care very deeply about the utterings of some septuagenarian German religious bloke are demanding clarification of the position. A chap called Father Federico Lombardi, speaking on behalf of the Vatican, and by extension on behalf of Jesus Christ, has only muddied the waters. On the one hand he has said that the Pope’s comments were not ‘revolutionary’ but applied only to ‘exceptional’ circumstances. So it wouldn’t have applied to that girl I mentioned previously because, bringing some bloke back to her flat for a quick shag was not, in all honesty, what one might call an ‘exceptional’ circumstance. On the other hand, people who know a lot more about the Vatican than I do have insisted that the exceptional circumstances might well apply to women too, if they were seeking not to prevent conception but to protect one or another party against the transmission of life-threatening disease. If this is true then it is, in a limited sense of the word, revolutionary, because it brings the Roman Catholic Church into line with most of the other major religions; to wit, that while they don’t actually approve of prophylactics, if they save a life they may be just about acceptable.
Eight of the nine schools of Islamic thought, for example, make no prohibition about contraception — but then they are rather more vigorous in their regulations regarding male homosexual prostitutes, per se. Even the most stringent of Islamists accept that contraception is OK if it is used to prevent a fatality — e.g., in the case of a woman for whom pregnancy posed a lethal risk. Hindus, meanwhile, have no prohibition at all against contraception and nor do Buddhists. My own beloved church, the Church of England, reversed its stance on contraception in 1930 and has loosened the noose still further ever since; it is probably OK right now to use condoms while pleasuring a goose, providing that you and the goose are in a consensual loving relationship and you have a wind turbine on your roof.
The Pope has succumbed to the relentless bullying, one suspects, by the NGOs and politicians who insist that the Church’s approach to contraception in the third world leads directly to death, via Aids, for a multitude of both adults and children. Hence this equivocal statement which is, for sure, a break with traditional teaching. It is undoubtedly true that the spread of Aids has been exacerbated, particularly in Africa, because of a reluctance to wear condoms. It is equally true that the spread of Aids has been exacerbated by people having sex when, according to the teachings of the Church, they shouldn’t be having sex. In other words the Pope’s cautious statement seems to be derived from pragmatism rather than theology. However slowly, the world’s religions eventually succumb to pragmatism.