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Erica Macilintal
Erica Macilintal

Away from glare of politics, one woman's struggle to balance faith and sexuality

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This week, North Country Public Radio has been talking to religious leaders and politicians in our region about the national debate surrounding birth control and sexuality. It's become a big issue for Republicans in the 2012 presidential primary.

Republicans in Congress are also advancing national legislation that would allow all employers, not just religious groups, to deny health insurance coverage for things like contraception if those services violate the beliefs of the company's owners.

These culture-war debates could shape big races here in the North Country this November, including the battle for the 23rd district congressional race. Republican challenger Matt Doheny has accused Democratic congressman Bill Owens, of working "to violate the free exercise of religion."

Republican Assemblywoman Janet Duprey from Peru is also expected to face a strong primary challenge, in part because of her support for same-sex marriage, which is now legal in New York.

This political debate may, at times, seem disconnected from the reality of modern American life. According to the widely-respected Guttmacher Institute, roughly 90% of fertile, sexually active women in the United States are using contraception. But for some women, religious teachings play a profound role in shaping and defining their sexuality. Away from the glare of politics, faith and intimacy can be closely intertwined.

Our Plattsburgh correspondent Sarah Harris sat down recently to talk in-depth with Erica Macalintal. She's a 22-year-old nursing student at SUNY Plattsburgh who will graduate this May. Macalintal is a devout Roman Catholic who says her sexual life has been deeply influenced by the theology of her Church.

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Macalintal: “My Mom is a very devout Catholic, and my Dad comes to church with us every Sunday, but he doesn't really do any more than that.”

Harris: “Do you feel like you have a strong, sort of, guiding faith?”

Macalintal: “I do feel like I have a really strong guiding faith, I've been going to mass every Sunday for as long as I remember and my Mom would always take us to confession, you know, once every two months or so. When I came to college my freshman year I kind of lived life without it, I found that I didn't like who I was becoming. So now I go to mass twice, three times a week and I go to confession twice a month. I feel like it really helps me be who I want to be.”

Harris: “So what I'm kind of wondering about is how you feel about contraceptive use. A lot of statistics show that a lot of Catholic women do use contraceptives and would want to have access to them through their healthcare, through their employers. So I'm sort of wondering how you feel, I mean I'm sure you've followed the news about that.”

Macalintal: “Definitely. I mean I've read up on my faith, and I don't think many Catholics do that. I really searched for answers, especially with sexuality.  I have a boyfriend and I've been dating him for a year and a half. He's not Catholic, so there's a lot of friction there.”

Harris: “Can I ask how that is? Are you sexually active? I know that's a really weird question to ask you, but I'm kind of curious because a lot of people, you know, can believe something and practice another.”

Macalintal: “Currently I am practicing abstinence. I have been for several months. Like you said it's not easy and it was defiantly something that we had to work on, and act a certain way and avoid certain situations and things like that. But I find that it really affirms who I am. I feel like I have control of myself. I'm not just giving into whims; I'm not just open for anybody. I don't do that. Sex wasn't meant to be this thing where people can just lose control and just go crazy. That's not what sex is supposed to be. The Catholic view on sexuality is something that's very selfless, and I feel like with the kind of social life nowadays and how young adults live nowadays it's not as selfless as it should be.”

Harris: “So this is really interesting. You’re practicing abstinence after not practicing abstinence for some time?”

Macalintal: “Yeah. I had a boyfriend for three and a half years and we weren't abstinent. It definitely took a toll on my spiritual life, and it definitely took a toll on how I saw myself.”

Harris: “In a university setting is it harder to uphold that, you know what I mean? As you say this is not the way the culture works. People aren't, young people, aren't necessarily practicing abstinence in a really intentional way.”

Macalintal: “I think it really depends on what kind of university, because I've heard of some universities where they have clubs and stuff promoting abstinence and people are like excited about it you know? I mean it hurts me when I see my friends getting sloppy drunk and sleeping with random guys. It hurts me when I see my friends getting sloppy drunk and sleeping with random guys. It hurts me because I know that's not going to fulfill them.”

Harris: “I'm wondering then about family planning and what methods of contraception can you and can't you use, and is there a moral take on when and if you can use them?”

Macalintal: “The Catholic Church is very adamant on promoting natural family planning, which pretty much a woman takes her temperature every morning and maps out her cycle, her fertility cycle based on her temperature because your temperature I think goes a little up.”

Harris: “What about birth control pills and condoms and other methods?”

Macalintal: “Well how we see that is like Christ's love for his church we define it as free, total, faithful, and fruitful. So when you are purposely engaging in sex that isn't all four of those things, it doesn't mirror Christ. So when a woman is on contraceptives she isn't being fruitful and she isn't being total, because to give yourself totally to your husband is to include your fertility. And in that way it's not mirroring Christ’s sacrificial love. As far as condoms how are you giving yourself to your husband when you have a barrier in-between you. It just doesn't work like that. With sterilization your changing your body, there's no openness to life, and that's a big problem because Christ gave himself for there to be life.”

Harris: “The Catholic Church is huge and there are lots and lots of types of people in it, and I know people have this sort of breakdown where they can be like 'Ok I can be pro-life when it comes to abortion but I do want access to contraceptives.'”

Macalintal: “I think your right. Not all Catholic women follow that, but it's kind of sad I think. They're missing out on something.”

Harris: “You're going to work in healthcare, you’re planning to be a nurse and there are people in this world who will use contraceptives and you may be in a position that like your employer provides them to people who need them or you could be put in a position of prescribing someone something.”

Macalintal: “Well that's one of the main reasons I don't want to go into OBN. I don't want to really be working in maternity or anything like that because it is against my religion and I wouldn't really be comfortable with prescribing people contraceptives.”

Harris: “Well thank you so much is there anything else you want to add?”

Macalintal: “Thanks for having me! This is awesome!”

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