Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hey Pope Francis, it's the 21st century, what's up with contraception?

One of the most difficult Catholic teachings to accept - for believers and non believers alike - is the Church's position on contraception.

I imagine (actually no, it's not imagined. I get these questions all the time) that people are confused primarily about the motives behind the teaching, all while simultaneously reeling in disbelief that anyone could - or would - live without birth control in the modern world.

First, let's start with a couple reasons why the Church doesn't forbid contraception.

It's not because:

- The Pope is attempting to raise a standing army of believers to vanquish the Islamic state

- Catholic women are being imprisoned by the productivity of their own uteruses and prevented by perpetual morning sickness from running for office or owning small businesses

- The Church doesn't want sex to be enjoyable

- Screw the environment, let's have a crusade


Whether or not you agree with the Church's teaching on this matter, know that it has NOTHING to do with the above reasons, promise. And you're not being particularly funny or original when you insist otherwise at a cocktail party or in the com box. 

Now how about some of the reasons why Catholics are forbidden from using contraception?

- Most forms of hormonal contraception are abortifacient (capable of causing abortion) in addition to being contraceptive

- The introduction of contraception into the marital relationship opens a pathway for mutual use of the other and makes truly selfless love really, really hard ... and unlikely.

- Contraception is fundamentally anti-woman and anti-child. It says, in effect, that the female body is broken/in need of suppressing/better off poisoned than functional, and that the child is disposable.

- It makes a woman "on" 24/7. And if you're available for sex 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you better be ready to perform ladies, or else he's gonna look elsewhere to have his "needs" met.

This last point is worth expanding on, because in the oft-maligned and eerily prescient bombshell encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI warned about 3 very specific things which would result from the introduction of widespread contraception:

1. A decline in the moral standards of the young leading to greater marital infidelity in entire generations (more premarital sex, more promiscuity, more teen pregnancy, more divorce.)

2. A lowering of respect for women as men see them more and more as tools to to use to serve their own desires. (more spousal abuse, more domestic violence, rise in sex trafficking and sex slavery)

3. Contraception will become a tool in the hands of amoral or immoral states seeking to control populations and repress entire classes. (Aid dollars tied to contraception and sterilization campaigns, "benevolent" foreign governments seeking to sterilize poor, indigenous populations "for their own good,"Western-style contraceptive campaigns undermining traditional values in non-Western countries)

So basically, check, check, check.

Every single thing the Church warned about has happened. 

And every single time the culture tries to fix the above issues by calling for "better access to women's healthcare (aka suppressing or mutilating the female body), better access to condoms and birth control for poor, indigenous populations who just don't know any better and who there really should be fewer of, anyway (aka eugenics), and younger and more aggressive introductions to the Pill for adolescent girls, the problems get worse.

You can't fix all the things contraception has helped to bring about with more contraception. 

But there's good news, too. Really good news, I promise.

But you're going to have to come back later this week because I'm not even joking, a certain 2-year-old just projectile vomited all over the couch. Biological/spiritual warfare or hilarious irony? You be the judge. 

Click here to read the rest of the series.


14 comments:

  1. I am looking forward to when you cover this topic from the male's perspective - condoms and vasectomies - since most Christian women I know are are against birth control pills and IUDs.

    Thank you for doing this!

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    1. Definitely coming your way later this week, Bonnie!

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  2. I think I'm going to have to disagree with you on some points:

    - Most forms of hormonal contraception are abortifacient (capable of causing abortion) in addition to being contraceptive

    This may or may not be true. It's certainly not the primary mechanism of most forms of HBC. If ovulation is suppressed-- which HBC does quite efficiently-- the question of implantation is moot. Moreover, there are enough women who have had perfectly healthy babies conceived while on HBC which indicates that once conception has occurred, implantation is still possible. Saying that all HBC is forbidden because of a minute chance of a zygote failing to implant is missing the big picture.


    - The introduction of contraception into the marital relationship opens a pathway for mutual use of the other and makes truly selfless love really, really hard ... and unlikely.

    That seems to be a matter of opinion, not fact. I know so many couples, Catholic, non-Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, gay, straight, who would disagree with you. Incidentally, I personally think that the Catholic church's insistence on vaginal intercourse makes truly selfless sexual expression difficult, since this is an act that rarely brings women to orgasm.

    - Contraception is fundamentally anti-woman and anti-child. It says, in effect, that the female body is broken/in need of suppressing/better off poisoned than functional, and that the child is disposable.

    This may be the case for hormonal contraception, but I'm not sure that this is true for other methods of contraception, especially barrier methods. I especially am not convinced that contraception means that children are disposable-- I honestly think that making the conscious decision to space children, regardless of the method, demonstrates that we think that children are precious and an enormous responsibility that should not be taken on lightly.

    - It makes a woman "on" 24/7. And if you're available for sex 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you better be ready to perform ladies, or else he's gonna look elsewhere to have his "needs" met.

    IMO, the particular cruelty of NFP is that it robs women of the ability to have sex during the periods when they are actually "on." But I digress. If a man believes that his partner is ready and willing to have sex 24/7, this couple has problems that have nothing to do with the decision to contracept or not.


    As for the results of widespread contraception as outlined in the Humanae Vitae...

    1. Teen sexual activity has been falling since roughly the 1980s and apart from a brief spike around the time that the Humanae was released, teen pregnancy rates have fallen significantly. The divorce rate is pretty atrocious, I admit, but I'm not convinced that it has anything to do with contraception, other than both of them being the results of second wave feminism.
    http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/tgr/05/1/gr050107.html
    http://www.aei.org/papers/society-and-culture/poverty/trends-in-teen-sexual-behavior/

    2. The problem with information about sexual abuse in all of its permutations is that it is underreported and difficult to quantify. Sex trafficking is a particularly interesting example: while it has become much easier now that transportation technology is faster, I'm not convinced that it hasn't existed all along. We have only to look at the experience of black women during slavery in the Americas to see that this is not a vice caused by access to contraception.

    3. Forced sterilization is a huge problem, but it has its roots in the pseudoscience of eugenics, not in contraception. And I think it's interesting that you talk about Western civilization imposing its mores in the developing world-- there are plenty of grassroots organizations in the developing world that are pro-contraception as it reduces the huge burden of child-rearing traditionally put on women.

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    1. The Catholic church insists that the marital act culminate in vaginal intercourse, but it is entirely permissible for a woman to be brought to orgasm before, during, or after vaginal intercourse. That only addresses one small point you made, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

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    2. See, as a non-Catholic, I find that level of involvement in the sex lives of the faithful to be strange. What happens when one or both of the parties involved doesn't feel like vaginal intercourse, but wants to express intimacy in another way? Why can't couples have sex in ways other than vaginal intercourse during their fertile periods if they're avoiding getting pregnant? Where in the Bible is this even coming from?

      There are so many things that I respect about the Catholic church, but I find the church's stance on all things sexual to contradict everything we know about the God-given gift of human sexuality, and I can't help but wonder if that's the result of a celibate male hierarchy interpreting scripture.

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    3. Small point, but I just want to distinguish between teen pregnancy rates and teen birth rates. Though people tend to talk about the former, official numbers are usually only provided for the latter. It's harder to tell pregnancy rates than birth rates, of course, because they include miscarriages and abortions. Which are, in many cases, unreported.

      If teens are getting pregnant at the same rate as they were earlier but giving birth to fewer babies because they're aborting the rest, there is, of course, no reason for celebration.

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    4. @wyldlittlepoet, I understand your point about the celibate male hierarchy, I really do, and my answer to this (as a non-expert, and I am sorry if it appears to be a cop-out) is my experience: I resisted the teachings of the Magisterium as much as I could every time, and every time I looked into an issue and their reasoning for it all, I have had to admit that it was right. It was often hard, but it was right.

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  3. One critical distinction worth noting here is that we're talking about sex, as in sexual intercourse, which is necessarily and by definition vaginal intercourse. Anything else can be loosely termed "sexual" in nature, but is not, as even president Clinton understood, sex, properly defined.

    Sex, as we're discussing it, can always lead to babies, because it involves genital intercourse between male and female, necessarily. And what the Church sees that most of the rest of society fails to recognize is that sex must never be parsed into false psuedo-categories where sometimes sex can make babies but other times, by our own intervention and intentional mutilation or frustration, it can not possibly do so.

    We're not saying sex should always lead to conception and a new human person, but we are saying that it fundamentally contains the possibility of new life, so that even if a couple is intentionally abstaining during periods of fertility so as to avoid pregnancy (hella lot more effective than any contraceptive on the market) there is always, always an element of openness to life and surrender to God's design - not our reinterpretation of it - for human love.

    So I think we're talking about two different things here. Sex, on the one hand, and mutual masturbation, on the other.

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    1. I'm having trouble with the fact that in four paragraphs, you've just erased a HUGE part of human sexual behavior. I have to wonder what the authors of the Song of Solomon would have thought of this definition of sex! I find this especially frustrating since I grew up in a generation where my peers engaged in all sorts of wildly unsafe and irresponsible sexual behavior because it wasn't "real sex" and was therefore okay, or at any rate, more okay than having vaginal intercourse.

      But anyway, if vaginal intercourse is what we're talking about, then why can't married couples have intimate relations in other ways during their fertile periods?

      I'm truly sorry if I'm coming across as snarky, but I really just can't wrap my mind around this.

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    2. I don't know if this will help at all, but understand that we're not saying other acts are wrong (talking within a marriage here) - foreplay, etc. is not wrong. Just that we believe that whatever "turns you on" when your married should be ordered towards sex as Jenny has described it, ie vaginal sex. If you're focus is just on pleasuring your self and/or your partner than you're only experiencing part of the grand design for sex. This is why Catholic refer to masturbation, homosexual sexual relations and other sexual acts that don't result in this ultimate act of sex as "disordered". They are disordered because they don't allow the person or couple to come full circle in the grand plan of sex, which is the potential for procreation.

      We simply believe it is out of the grand ideal order to only focus on the personal pleasure parts of sexual behavior without the rest; and even though many people have good intentions (pleasure of a spouse, being "responsible" for procreation, etc.) that focusing only on the one side of it opens the door (as JPII warned) to many other bad situations.

      If Catholic married couples can have sex constantly without children by way of other sexual behavior or birth control than they're not even trying to fulfill the Catholic role of marriage; they're lying about their vows (which is different than a couple trying or being open and not conceiving or carrying to term).

      If a person's intent for their sexual behavior is their own pleasure than at what point to they stop carrying about the way their sexual pleasure is provided to them - ie pornography, prostitution, etc.

      We're not saying that married couples can't enjoy each other in other ways, but that the proper "order" of those desires should culminate in sex as it's the ultimate "giving" of self that a man and a woman can give to each other - it is the ultimate act of love to open yourself to the possibility of creation.

      p.s. The Song of Songs is understood by most Christian and Jewish scholars to be an allegory for love of God and his people.

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  4. So if Catholic sex has to culminate in intercourse, "mutual masturbation" is not an option for the fertile period if practicing NFP? Just looking for clarification.

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    1. Truth. If you are using NFP to avoid a pregnancy, you would be abstaining from sexual activity during the fertile period. "Mutual masturbation" is fine as foreplay in the context of sex, I.e. as long as it leads to actually having sex.

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  5. Jenny - please keep this up!!!! I am a newlywed. I converted to the Catholic Church about 8 years ago, but didn't understand (or even want to practice) NFP until *THIS* year, when I had to take a class for marriage preparation. I was the typical person who (as a Catholic,even) thought that we were supposed to have as many children as possible and that NFP was basically another way of saying "parents." Thank God, my heart had already been softened due to learning more about Theology of the Body, and by the time I learned about NFP in marriage prep, I actually took the plunge, threw out all birth control/barriers for future use, and we have been happily and successfully (so far) been practicing NFP within our marriage. Not only that, but learning NFP uncovered some imbalances going on my MY body, and I am now able to treat them more successfully than before. I scoured the internet this past year, trying to find Catholic women who actually practice what the Church teaches and are willing to talk about it on their blogs. I have even thought of adding some NFP stuff to my little blog for this very reason. I didn't realize how brainwashed I had been by our culture, but I do feel like the blinders have been removed now, and I "get" it a little better now. Our bodies are innately ordered with meaning, purpose, and reason, and our Catholic sexual teaching/morality flows from that. All love comes with sacrifice (a cross), and with that self-giving love, there is FREEDOM. Please keep writing! Thank God for our wonderful faith, may we all have the courage to practice it, and the willingness to take her claims seriously.

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  6. To wyldlittlepoet's question above, "why can't married couples have intimate relations in other ways during their fertile periods?" because if the love or love making isn't life giving, then it's not illicit. It's that sample. All acts of love & love making must be selfless & life giving. This is what it means to be open to life. So during a women's fertile time, we are encouraged to practice abstinence. A woman is only fertile for 24 hours, though sperm can live for up to 5 days in the fallopian tubes. We're not talking weeks of abstinence here. Also, self control is a virtue and a husband and wife will inevitably grow closer when they practice any virtues, especially self control. I suggest picking up a copy of Kimberly Hahn's Beloved & Blessed: Biblical Wisdom for Family Life. It's an easy read; extremely insightful; and scripture-based. She answers all of these questions quite thoroughly in layman's terms.

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