First of all, thanks for your encouragement about our decision to neither avoid or attempt to achieve pregnancy. And as a follow-up to yesterday’s post about our super rad birth control method (AKA: none), some lengthy and very incomplete thoughts on contraception:
Since the HHS Mandate, there has been so much press about Catholicism and contraception. SO MUCH PRESS.
You may be wondering: “What’s the big deal?! What’s wrong with birth control?”
I’ll briefly (super briefly) go into the practical issues and the broader theological considerations. But, this post wasn’t written to convince you to quit using birth control, or make you feel judged for using it. Nor is it a thorough apologetic of the Catholic view of marriage and fertility. It’s an explanation of why we’re living our life in this crazy, wonderful way.
For one, I’m kind of a natural gal. I like my meat local and organic (I can prove it by showing you our freezer which is filled with ½ a pig my husband butchered). I like my eggs to be from our front yard chickens. I like to eat veggies from our garden. I like real wood and glass instead of plastic. I don’t like taking antibiotics unless they’re necessary. I’ve been blessed to be able to birth naturally and drug-free. I breastfeed and make my own baby food. I like to consider the source of things: What was I created to eat? How was my body made to work? Why then, would I medicate my fertility, as if the natural state of my body is diseased and needs to be altered with drugs? I think my body is just fine as it is, thank you. I’m not interested in fighting my biology by forcing my body to be sterile. So, oral contraception like the Pill or any other hormone altering contraception is obviously out (you can read here about how miserable it made me feel physically, as well as the possible abortive properties of the Pill)
But what about barrier methods, like condoms, that don’t put nasty hormones into my body? Well, among many other reasons, I think they kind of ruin the aesthetic of what sex should be. In my opinion, they’re kind of gross and make sex less fun. So, no thanks.
As for surgical sterilization…do I even need to address it? Surgically altering my body just because it’s working correctly?
Anyhow, as for theological considerations, what is sex for? Sex was created to serve both a unitive purpose and a procreative purpose. To promote the intimacy of the marriage and to make babies. When the procreative aspect of sex is divorced from the unitive aspect, the potential problems are numerous and I can’t possibly cover them all. But here’s a few examples: first of all, the spouses cannot give themselves fully to each other when part of themselves (their fertility) is being held back. By severing my fertility from sex, I am holding something back from my spouse. By denying my fertility as part of what makes me a whole person, my spouse would be saying essentially: I want you…but not ALL of you. Not that pesky fertility.
The Blessed Pope John Paul II writes in Familiaris Consortio: “…Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death. The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving, in which the whole person, including the temporal dimension, is present: if the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding other wise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving totally. This totality which is required by conjugal love also corresponds to the demands of responsible fertility.”
My other issue is that severing procreation from sex contributes to the degradation of women. In our society we have promoted the idea that sex is created for pleasure and pleasure alone. In addition, every one is entitled to that pleasure without consequences. So, what happens when birth control fails (as it’s prone to do) after we’ve been taught that sex is for pleasure alone? Well, how about the rise of single motherhood we’ve experienced since the Pill became commonplace? After promoting the idea that sex is recreation, not procreation, do we really expect men to cheerfully accept the great responsibility of leading a family when birth control fails?
What about how we view women’s bodies? When we remove any procreative consequences from sexuality and emphasize pleasure alone, motherhood and fertility are no longer connected to female sexuality. Instead, pornography and the view of women as objects made for male sexual pleasure increases. Additionally, consider even the changes in what is considered a sexy female body type. Before the rise of the Pill as a commonplace drug, fertility was still part of the desired female sexual aesthetic. After the sexual revolution what kind of models do we have in advertisements? Stick-thin women without characteristics that even distinguish them as female. In essence, “the look” is for grown women to look like pre-pubescent girls. How creepy is that? It seems that a women is considered more attractive when she looks too thin to even menstruate. Because sex is just for pleasure! Let’s get that irritating fertility out of the picture!
But that mindset misses the fullness of what a sexual relationship should entail. What makes an intimate romantic relationship satisfying? An orgasm? Let’s be honest, just a climax of sexual pleasure isn’t going to satisfy anybody long-term. What makes sex awesome and satisfying is that it’s a central aspect of a full, whole, rich, and intimate marital relationship.
Well, what about NFP (Natural Family Planning)? It is definitely morally permissible. We’ve practiced it in the past and may do so again in the future. But, it’s just not for us at this time in our lives. And there are some practical negatives to NFP. For instance, taking my temperature at the same time every day after a good night’s sleep? Yeah right. NOT going to happen. Checking cervical fluid? Um, I’m sorry, that couldn’t be less appealing, not to mention confusing. Not getting to have sex with my husband because I might be fertile? Well, abstaining every month just isn’t super fun, is it?
Anyhow, prepare for TMI, sex is better when fertility is embraced. The Pill can kill your libido and condoms decrease sexual pleasure, but there’s an even bigger picture here. When you remove fertility, you remove some of cosmic nature of sex. There’s less mystery, less excitement, less trust, a diminished connection to something bigger than ourselves.
Also, I think of our fertility as an amazing gift. There are so many folks who struggle with the sorrow of infertility. We have had the blessing of being able to conceive easily. By denying our fertility, it seems that we are refusing an incredible gift from God. We love our babies and I cannot imagine life without them. If there are more little additions to our family that God wants to give us, they will be just as precious to us.
So there you have it: some very incomplete thoughts on contraception and why we don’t use it. I’ve probably used up my monthly quota of words like: condoms, cervical fluid, and fertility. So, I promise not to write another long-winded post about sex for at least…a couple of days.
I humbly request that in the comments you are respectful of our family’s decision not to contracept and the stance of the Catholic Church regarding contraception, although you are welcome to express disagreement in a kind and charitable manner!