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FF Podcast 58 (Audio): That Abstinence Video

FF Podcast 58: That Abstinence Video

Are you a bobo boy or a gaga girl? This week, we talk about the Department of Health’s abstinence dance video.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, HIV/AIDS, Politics, RH Bill, Science, SocietyComments (0)

FF Podcast 58: That Abstinence Video

Are you a bobo boy or a gaga girl? This week, we talk about the Department of Health’s abstinence dance video.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Advocacy, HIV/AIDS, Podcast, Politics, Religion, RH Bill, SocietyComments (1)

Meet a Freethinker: Ana P. Santos

No two freethinkers are exactly alike; a group of freethinkers contains a great diversity of perspectives, so there is no one, official perspective shared among all of them. This makes the freethought community a truly vibrant source of ideas and opinions!

In this light, Meet a Freethinker is our series featuring freethinkers of all backgrounds and perspectives. We want to introduce you guys to the people who make up the proverbial melting pot of this growing movement.

Our next freethinker is Ana P. Santos. Ana is a freelance journalist who focuses on women’s sexual health rights. She is the fabulous femme behind Sex and Sensibilities, and the Rappler column Dash of SAS


ANA P SANTOS1) How would you define a freethinker?

I think a freethinker is someone who chooses to live by their own rules and belief system rather than be constrained by a structure–religion or otherwise–manufactured by someone else. A freethinker is critical and questioning; a freethinker is unafraid of standing apart as an individual and standing up for what he/she believes in. I love the way that last phrase is said in Tagalog: may paninindigan. It has so much more feeling in it. There are just some words that like curse words, are better said in one’s mother tongue. : )

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

My own. And I would best describe that as a cocktail of different principles and beliefs that I picked up from various philosophies, life experiences, books, cultures, and interactions. It’s unconventional at best, I admit, but I reached a point where I’m unapologetic about my beliefs so it kind of evens things out.

3) What was the funniest or most interesting reaction you got from a person after you told him or her that you were a freethinker; and
4) In what way has being part of a freethinking community benefited you?

I believe in showing not telling. I’ve never really had to tell someone I was a freethinker. I think they figured it out after reading what I write or Tweet about. Being part of a freethinking community is so very liberating. There’s really no other way to say it. I remember in my high school English class, we were asked to prepare a persuasive speech. So while my other classmates wanted to talk about the post-cold war era, and the US bases (yes, I am totally dating myself), I wanted to talk about pre-marital sex. I thought then, as I do now, that sex is but natural in the context of a committed relationship between two consenting adults. When it was my turn to present the topic of my speech to my teacher, I told her point blank, “My topic is pre-marital sex. I’m not against it.” She was so shocked and asked me, “You’re kidding, right?”

The other girls in line snickered in a “told-you-so” kind of way…and I cowered. I softened my stance to no to pre-marital sex, but ended my speech with, “It’s only you who can make that decision.”

I got deductions for the last phrase because my teacher said I was fence-sitting when the paper called for a definitive stance. I always kind of look at that memory and feel a tinge of regret–especially in light of what I do know in terms of sexual health advocacy. I have no excuse except that I was 14 and probably the lone freethinker in a school that prized conformity more than critical thinking.

5) What are the most common questions you get with regards to sex?

The usual: How big do I have to be to please my girlfriend/wife? from the boys and from the girls, it’s how not to get pregnant. I also get off-beat questions like: Is it true that the penis can get stuck in the vagina during intercourse, and a question posted on Twitter: Can I get pregnant from oral sex? That question spawned a witty retort from my friend, Alvin Dakis, another freethinker, who said, “Sabihin mo, hindi sya mabubuntis pero mabubusog sya!” In a column called “The Problem With Virginity”, the girl was asking about oral sex; she was avoiding penetrative sex because she wanted to preserve her virginity and wanted me to assure her that she would not get pregnant via oral sex or if he boyfriend just slid his penis outside her vagina but never put it inside. I told her neither I, nor science, could give her that assurance.

As you can see from the questions, we have a long way to go in terms of understanding not just sex — but biology, even.

6) What have been the greatest obstacles to freethinking in your life as a parent?

I can’t really think of any, honestly. Oh, maybe how my daughter would perceive it. Would she expect me to be normal like the other moms? Or would she think I was being too radical? All the hypotheticals. I’d like to think that I’ve managed to negate some of that by showing her that I respect her views and she should thus, respect mine. During one dinner conversation, we were discussing the RH Bill and I found her echoing some of my points. I asked her if that was really what she thought and assured her that it was okay for her to have an opinion different from mine. What is important is she has her own opinion!

7) Why do you think it’s important to be sex positive? 

I have my own definition of being sex positive: it’s acknowledging each person’s divine right to give love, show love, and make love. It is a mistake to separate our sexuality from our humanity. Sex positive is just the opposite of how we’ re treating and talking about sex now–as dirty, as taboo and restricted to married people. A lot of our problems in population and development and even gender stem from the sex negativity. Isn’t the very definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome? So if things are not working under the current status quo, then we should try something different like sex positivism.

Posted in Meet a FreethinkerComments (0)

Ten Good Reasons to Pass the RH Bill Now

Just a few years ago, say “RH” in ordinary talks and you’ll get blank looks. Now, most Filipinos know that RH is reproductive health. It has entered presidential debates, topped the news, been surveyed to death. Moreover, majority have plainly said their piece: “We support RH.” Why? Loads of reasons—from the practical “We need help” to the proud “It’s my choice!” But 10 good ones should be enough to convince rational people and thoughtful policy-makers. So here are our top picks.

1 RH will: Protect the health & lives of mothers

The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that complications arise in 15% of pregnancies, bad enough to hospitalize or kill women. From the 2 million plus live births alone, some 300,000 maternal complications occur yearly. This is 7 times the DOH’s annual count for TB, 19 times for heart diseases and 20 times for malaria in women. As a result, more than 11 women die needlessly each day.

Enough skilled birth attendants and prompt referral to hospitals with emergency obstetric care are proven curative solutions to maternal complications. For women who wish to stop childbearing, family planning (FP) is the best preventive measure. All these are part of RH.

2 Save babies

Proper birth spacing reduces infant deaths. The WHO says at least 2 years should pass between a birth and the next pregnancy. In our country, the infant mortality rate of those with less than 2 years birth interval is twice those with 3. The more effective and user-friendly the FP method, the greater the chances of the next child to survive.

3 Respond to the majority who want smaller families

Times have changed and people want smaller families. When surveyed about their ideal number of children, women in their 40s want slightly more than 3, while those in their teens and early 20s want just slightly more than 2.

Moreover, couples end up with families larger than what they planned. On average, Filipino women want close to 2 children but end up with 3. This gap is unequal, but shows up in all social classes and regions. RH education and services will help couples fulfill their hopes for their families.

4 Promote equity for poor families

RH indicators show severe inequities between the rich and poor. For example, 94% of women in the richest quintile have a skilled attendant at birth, while only 26% of the poorest can do so. The richest have 3 times higher tubal ligation rates. This partly explains why the wealthy hardly exceed their planned number of children, while the poorest get an extra 2. Infant deaths among the poorest are almost 3 times that of the richest, which in a way explains why the poor plan for more children. An RH law will help in attaining equity in health through stronger public health services.

5 Prevent induced abortions

Unintended pregnancies precede almost all induced abortions. Of all unintended pregnancies, 68% occur in women without any FP method, and 24% happen to those using traditional FP like withdrawal or calendar-abstinence.

If all those who want to space or stop childbearing would use modern FP, abortions would fall by some 500,000. In our country where abortion is strictly criminalized, and where 90,000 women are hospitalized yearly for complications, it would be reckless and heartless not to ensure prevention through FP.

6 Support and deploy more public midwives, nurses and doctors

RH health services are needed wherever people are establishing their families. For example, a report by the MDG Task Force points out the need for 1 fulltime midwife to attend to every 100 to 200 annual live births. Other health staff are needed for the millions who need prenatal and postpartum care, infant care and family planning. Investing in these core public health staff will serve the basic needs of many communities.

7 Guarantee funding for & equal access to health facilities

RH will need and therefore support many levels of health facilities. These range from health stations that can do basic prenatal, infant and FP care; health centers for safe birthing, more difficult FP services like IUD insertions, and management of sexually transmitted infections; and hospitals for emergency obstetric and newborn care and surgical contraception. Strong RH facilities can be the backbone of a strong and fairly distributed public health facility system.

8 Give accurate & positive sexuality education to young people

Currently, most young people enter relationships and even married life without the benefit of systematic inputs by any of our social institutions. We insist on young voters’ education for events that occur once every few years, but do nothing guiding the young in new relationships they face daily. The RH bill mandates the education and health departments to fill this serious gap.

9 Reduce cancer deaths

Delaying sex, avoiding multiple partners or using condoms prevent HPV infections that cause cervical cancers. Self breast exams and Pap smears can detect early signs of cancers which can be cured if treated early. All these are part of RH education and care. Contraceptives do not heighten cancer risks; combined pills actually reduce the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers.

10 Save money that can be used for even more social spending

Ensuring modern FP for all who need it would increase spending from P1.9 B to P4.0 B, but the medical costs for unintended pregnancies would fall from P3.5 B to P0.6 B, resulting in a net savings of P0.8 B. There is evidence that families with fewer children do spend more for health and education.

You may want to copy this (or expand the list) and send to family, friends and acquaintances until it reaches our legislators. We need the support of everyone we can reach and convince.

Posted in SocietyComments (19)

Church and Contraceptives: Stripping off the Rationalizations

Pope Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae "On the Regulation of Birth" in 1968

A few days ago the CBCP issued a statement exhorting the proposed bills on sex education and reproductive health, saying that “the foundation of the moral society is a central religious truth” and that “to disregard moral and religious truths…is to be defenseless to the onslaught of corruption.”

At first I thought about refuting those claims by challenging the following:

  1. the credibility of the CBCP as guardian of morality considering the scandals within the clergy’s own ranks
  2. the unspoken assumption that the pope from whom the church gets its dogma is a true recipient and infallible interpreter of divine revelation
  3. the unspoken assumption that their particular brand of deity/Lawgiver exists

But then I realized that others have already done that so I moved on to another part of the CBCP statement and found the following assertions:

a. The failures (sic) rates of contraceptives against sexually transmitted diseases are high.

b. Oral contraceptive pills are classified as Group I carcinogenic, i.e., “there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity.”

c. With its very liberal sex education programs and its aggressive attitude in pushing contraceptives and condoms for safe sex, the United States still has the highest teen birth rate, 93.0 per 1000, and one of the highest rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) among teens in the industrialized world.

Again I considered countering these assertions or at least putting them into proper perspective but I figured that my fellow freethinkers could do a better job and so I started a thread in the FF forum and I am very greatful for their insights.

The debate on contraception has become convoluted with all these talks of morality, STDs, and poverty that we’ve digressed from the real issue: More than 40 years ago a pope wrote in an encyclical deemed infallible that ‎”an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will.”

Now unless someone comes up with a sophisticated interpretation, I guess the bottom line here is that sex must be kept open for procreation. Lest we muddle the issue with arguments on contraceptive pills that have an abortifacient effect no matter how improbable, let us narrow it down by using condoms as a concrete example, particularly the use of condoms between married couples versus natural family planning. Since the CBCP condemns the former but approves the latter, one is compelled to ask if it isn’t against Humanae Vitae to have sex during the wife’s infertile period considering they are using this “divine gift while depriving it…of its meaning and purpose”. I couldn’t have said it better than fellow freethinker Igme:

What is the difference between ejaculating sperm in latex and ejaculating it in a uterus in its monthly off switch? The intent is the same!

In both cases, the intent is to enjoy the divine gift of sex while depriving it of its procreational purpose. Again, it would be interesting to hear those elaborate arguments that would tell me I’m interpreting Humanae Vitae literally (and incorrectly), because it seems that those statements about condoms being ineffective in preventing the spread of STDs and contraceptives promoting immorality are all just rationalizations to protect the claim that a pope is infallible once he speaks ex-cathedra, which was the case when he wrote the encyclical.

Once we strip off these rationalizations, the real issue becomes clear. Condoms vs. rhythm. Both make sex possible while denying God’s procreational design. So why ban the former but not the latter? I think the answer on condoms is simple: it’s forbidden in Humanae Vitae. However, I’m not so sure why the Church allows rhythm, but I hope my assumption is wrong that they’re simply concerned they might start losing followers once they took away too much of a married couple’s carnal pleasures.

Posted in ReligionComments (58)

Is the CBCP violating the separation of Church and State?

The endless meddling of the CBCP in the affairs of the supposedly secular State from one presidency to the next drives people to angrily invoke Article II Section 6 of the 1987 Phlippine Constitution: The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. But as tempers cool down and rationality takes over, one begins to wonder if the CBCP is indeed violating this rule.

I am reminded of an article written by one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, Dean Emiritus of Ateneo Law School and amicus curiae Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., where he says:

It is sometimes thought by some that separation of church and state means that church people should not get involved in the hurly-burly of public and political life. In other words, they should confine themselves to the sacristy. But to understand the subject properly one must begin with what the Constitution says. The constitutional command says: “No law shall be passed respecting an establishment of religion …” Immediately it can be seen that the command is addressed not to the church but to the state. It is the state, after all, which passes laws.

And on other parts of the article he wrote:

That is the “separation part” of the constitutional command. The other part is the “free exercise clause.” Both are embodied in one sentence which says: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

…the negative command of the Constitution is addressed not to bishops or priests but to the state and those who exercise state authority. As to bishops and priests, the pertinent part of the constitutional command is the guarantee of the free exercise of religion.

It does make sense, at least to me. The command was for the State, not the Church, and it is the former that seems to be violating this command by giving weight to what the latter dictates, as can be seen from the following statement of Fr. Bernas:

The fundamental meaning of the clause is the prohibition imposed on the state not to establish any religion as the official state religion.

Of course, the state hasn’t really declared Roman Catholicism as the official state religion – just the official consultant on issues and policies that affect all Filipinos, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Fr. Bernas explains:

The constitutional command, however, is more than just the prohibition of a state religion. That is the minimal meaning. Jurisprudence has expanded it to mean that the state may not pass “laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.”

So it seems that we freethinkers have been barking up the wrong tree all along. While we’ve been making noise about the Church’s meddling, it is actually the State we should be blaming. (Besides, it is the Church’s moral obligation to meddle and try to impose its dogma.)

But the State is highly influenced by the Church, and we can’t touch the Church since it is merely exercising freedom of religion. The picture says it all. While there seems to be a wall of separation between Church and State, God is straddling that wall. This ought to be tolerable, but the problem is that this isn’t just the generic God as the creator of the universe; it has to be a particular brand of God even more specific than the Judeo-Christian God. It is, of course, the Roman Catholic God who says that contraception is evil because the main (sole?) purpose of sex is procreation between married couples and that overpopulation and poverty and the spread of STDs are all caused by immorality and can only be solved if people turn from their evil ways.

So what do we do now? Aside from taking the necessary legal steps to make sure the State observes the separation, I guess we could go for the source of the Church’s power. And I don’t mean God. I’m talking about the followers, who happen to make up the majority of the electorate and whose votes the state politicians are desperate to get. If we could open the eyes of enough people, we will be able to reach critical mass. It may be a long, uphill battle where we gain and lose ground one step at a time, but once we begin to weaken the Church’s influence, I imagine it will be all downhill from there.

Posted in Politics, ReligionComments (26)

Let’s Talk about Sex

The need for sex (education!) has been on my mind lately. You see this current furor about sex education to be done in schools. I don’t know what the fuss is all about – I remember being in Grade 5 or 6 and my homeroom teacher writing the words “penis” and “vagina” on the blackboard and proceeding to talk to the whole class about sex. And that was in a Catholic school run by Jesuits at that. I’ve been thinking about sex lately because of close friends having problems with their teenage daughters. I for one believe parents should talk to their kids about sex (please be more specific than just going on about the birds and the bees!). In these modern times when sexual promiscuity and having kids out of wedlock is no longer something to raise eyebrows about, I think the debate in the news about sex education in schools is way too much hype. For one, talking about sex does not mean condoning a sexual lifestyle. We can’t deny the fact that we live in quite modern times, and yes, more and more people are having sex (starting at a younger age than my 25 years!ahem.abstinence until absolutely, cannot completely control!). I remember a TV show about the sex education debate and a panelist putting it quite succinctly, “If you put a swimming pool in your backyard, shouldn’t you teach your kids how to swim?”

At a practical level, kids need to be taught about sex for their own good and protection. With sexual molestation and sexual perversion on the rise, sex education at its most basic level starts with telling kids that parts of their bodies are private. In a sense, I was teaching sex education to my Grade 2 students when I was handling Guidance classes as a Counselor several years ago (yup, me as a Sex Ed teacher!). The topic was teaching 8-year old boys about cleanliness and hygiene, but I segued the discussion to talk about how you keep your privates to yourself (the pressing incident at the time was that the kids were comparing their “soldiers” in the CR= funny, curious kids!). But on a serious note, I also tried explaining (ever so tactfully) how important it is that he is in control of his body, and that he has permission to refuse any unwanted touch. That if anyone does touch him, and it makes him feel uneasy or uncomfortable, he needs to tell that person, whether it’s someone his own age, someone he knows, or even if it’s an adult he might know, to stop. Then, he must go to a parent or someone older that he trusts, and tell about what happened. Horror stories abound about strangers in the mall, even older relatives, or cousins playing seemingly “innocent” childhood games, that I think such a talk is one a parent should have with one’s kids.

But what about teen-agers? Take out all the talk about spirituality and morality (though these are important mind you!) but at a practical, reasonable level, and what for me are my own personal views, I would stress 3 things about sex:

(1) It’s normal that we think about sex. Growing up means we have all these sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen) raging inside us, and sex is nature’s beautiful way of keeping the human species alive and reproducing. I remember a co-teacher in HS (a Guidance Counselor) asking me (since I studied psychology daw = as if I had all the answers!) what he should tell students in Guidance Class about masturbation. I forgot what I told him exactly (!). But I do believe kids should be told that what they feel is normal, and that all those feelings are not “sinful” or not be taught to see sex as dirty.

(2) Take responsibility. Since the very nature of sex is for reproduction, then getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant IS a consequence when having sex. Basically, my personal take on the matter is (moral issues not withstanding), have sex if you believe you are old enough, mature enough, financially responsible enough to have a child! If there’s one thing that irritates me to no end aside from the question of sex education, is that other debate about birth control. I do remember Theology class on marriage and being taught about the Catholic Church’s premise on the rationale for natural family planning methods (and to a certain extent I do agree). But I also think we should be realistic. I believe women should have a choice about their own bodies, and that they be taught about other methods as well, so in this case, yes I am pro-choice (stopping short of abortion, I have seen from personal experience with close friends how the guilt one goes through is just not worth it). Girls, birth control is also your responsibility (don’t leave it up to the man! and I’m telling you – a month’s set of Trust birth control pills costs only Php49!). I also strongly believe Filipino men would do well to be informed about using condoms! (tsk, tsk, there ARE condoms of the ultra-thin variety where you can still feel pleasure!). So be safe!

(3) What about feelings? Ahh, a note of caution here. Sex increases attachment with someone so choose your partner carefully. Studies show the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin are released during orgasm, hormones that deepen feelings of attachment and make couples feel much closer to one another after they had sex. In a sense, sex does confuse the issue, in that you might not be sure altogether if you really love the person. Physical intimacy should be an expression of love, not the other way around. Sex definitely does complicate men-women relationships. Yup, maybe the old folks had it right: fall in love, get married, then have sex. Yeah right.

I really don’t profess to be an expert on sex. Or even love for that matter. But the above sentiments are indeed something I feel very strongly about. At the end of it all, all I can say is, instead of having sex….. Make love!

Posted in Others, SocietyComments (10)