Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Contraception: In the Beginning It Was Not So

Lots of people think the Catholic Church is crazy for claiming that contraception is immoral.

I would have, except no one had ever presented contraception to me as an issue before at all until the Church did.  And when I read her reasons for rejecting it, I was without an answer.  She provides dozens of reasons, but what was most compelling to me was the argument that contraception makes it impossible to be truly “naked and without shame”:

Naked. Completely exposed.  Nothing held back. All of me given to the other.  Sexual intercourse is the physical manifestation of the love between husband and wife, a love that declares and promises “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”  In intercourse the husband and wife give themselves to each other completely, binding them together in a physical and metaphysical way.  It is an act of mutual self-donation, complete gift, nothing held back…supposedly.  But contraception denies the “nakedness” of the sexual act, for contraception necessarily implies changing the body of one spouse or withholding part of the body of the other.  A pill which changes the physical makeup of a woman’s body to render her infertile robs her of the opportunity to give herself completely; she now gives an altered version of her body.  A barrier method imposes a “barrier” between the union of husband and wife.  By withholding part of one’s body from the other, contraception clothes the couples’ “nakedness” in artificiality and renders void the gift.  Now, the gift is of only part of me, or of an altered version of me.  
Without shame.  The Hebrew word for “shame” denotes an embarrassment resulting from unmet expectations.  Contraception, by its nature, introduces certain unhealthy expectations and conditions to the sexual act.  “I accept you as long as you’re infertile.”  Contraception destroys the reception of the gift of the other; it changes the message of sex from “I accept you” to “I accept this part of you.”  It is no longer a reception of the other person; it is now the reception of the part of the person that I want.
But wait—withholding fertility does not really affect the gift of self to the other; if both consent to the withholding, a true gift is still made.  Yet, sex is the physical manifestation of the love between husband and wife; to accept merely a spiritualized understanding of the gift of self in sexual intercourse is to deny the very meaning and purpose of sex itself.  A spiritual intention does not suffice for a physical manifestation; sex itself is a declaration that the physical matters. To reject my spouse’s fertility is to reject part of my spouse.  To put a barrier between physical union is to put a barrier between spiritual union.  

Every Christian church had rejected contraception until the 1930s; less than 100 years later, every church has accepted it and even ceased to consider it an issue—except for the Catholic Church.  This startled me; how could 2000 years of Christians consider contraception equal to adultery, and now we don’t even blink at the thought of it?  Was my understanding of the life God had designed for his people really rooted in Scripture and Christian principles, or had I unknowingly accepted the philosophies of the world?


  1. Look at the harm contraception has caused in our society's understanding of sex. Homosexual marriage would never have been possible if sex had not been almost completely dissociated from procreation in the mind of the general public. Now defenders of marriage are forced to rely on other criteria to justify why marriage is only possible between a man and a woman, since most people don't see procreation as being an integral part of marriage. As far as I'm concerned, if a man and a woman get married with the intention of not having children, their marriage is invalid. The way I see it, a marriage is only on standby until the spouses have children, and then it's retroactively confirmed as valid.

  2. This might be the best explanation of the problem with contraception that I have ever read. Keep up the good work.

  3. Daniel, you cannot mean this, "The way I see it, a marriage is only on standby until the spouses have children, and then it's retroactively confirmed as valid." Do you mean to say that people who are naturally infertile cannot be married? You cannot mean to say that Zechariah and Elizabeth, that Abraham and Sarah were not really married until pregnancy occurred!

  4. Well put...God really has given you a gift :)

    My wife and I were recently discussing the issue of contraception and she came up with a good argument for why it should be distinguished from the rest of medical science. Have a read of it here if you are interested:


  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Tom, I think Daniel was referring to couples that are intentionally changing the nature of the conjugal act in order to make it infertile, not couples who are naturally infertile. It's not a valid marriage if the intentions which make a valid marriage are absent. Is that correct?

    Anon, thanks for the encouragement!

    Justin, I'll check out your page!

  6. Speaking of the physical significance of sex, notice that thus far it seems that peoples who embrace contraception will eventually become extinct.

    In other words, the original 1930s contraceptive idea of moderating childbirth inevitably leads to the reality of generations failing to reproduce themselves.

  7. I love this post! Thank you so much!
    Rachel B