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Sex vs. God in the Philippines

From CNN Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa

Condoms are stacked at a warehouse in Manila. Artificial birth control methods are frowned upon by the politically-influential Roman Catholic church in this country, where about 80 percent of the country's 75 million population subscribe to the religion
Condoms are stacked at a warehouse in Manila. Artificial birth control methods are frowned upon by the politically-influential Roman Catholic church in this country, where about 80 percent of the country's 75 million population subscribe to the religion

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A conflict is brewing over the use of birth control in the predominantly Roman Catholic country of the Philippines. CNN's Maria Ressa reports.
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(CNN) -- For centuries, the Philippines was the only predominantly Roman Catholic nation in Asia, a position that has had an effect on its family planning program and its use of contraceptives.

Still with Asia's largest Roman Catholic population, access to sex education and artificial birth control in the Philippines is hampered by a conservative culture and by, what many say, is the hypocrisy fostered by the all-powerful Catholic Church.

The problem is even more dangerous because this generation, while giving lip service to their parents, is actually more open and experimental about that three letter word few in the Philippines publicly discuss -- sex.

"The reality is people are having sex, and they're enjoying it but they don't want to talk about it," says Kia Sison, from women's group UP Sappho Society.

The Church has taken a public stand against condoms and other contraceptives -- which it says destroys society's morals.

"Catholicism actually gave us the idea that to do that, to do sex, it should be done in a very conservative way. Conservative way would mean not using any methods," sociologist Josephine Aguilar says.

And groups like DKT, which markets condoms in the Philippines, say they feel the pressure of the Church.

Condom usage has plunged in recent years -- after an aggressive campaign that has made it even harder for Filipinos to find condoms in stores.

Women's groups say that's put the pressure on young women -- who often pretend they're not having sex. If you're not having sex, you don't carry condoms.

"When you have sex, it's making love, and it's supposed to be spontaneous and how many times have I heard my friends say they don't use condoms, just to prove it's love," Sison says.

That attitude worries health workers, who fear low condom usage may mean more unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexual diseases including HIV.

The Catholic Church here the way to stop the spread of HIV is chastity and marital fidelity.

But health workers say that's unrealistic and leaves this generation vulnerable -- left on their own in this country's battle between sex and God.



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