Contraception: Why Not?
Posted by Tony Listi on April 20, 2008
Dr. Janet Smith explains why the Catholic Church keeps insisting, in the face of the opposite position held by most of the rest of the modern world, that contraception is one of the worst inventions of our time.
My topic for tonight is the Church’s teaching on contraception and various sexual issues. As you know, we live in a culture that thinks that contraception is one of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind. If you were to ask people if they wanted to give up their car or their computer or their contraceptive, it would be a hard choice to make. It’s really considered to be something that has really put us, greatly, into the modern age and one of the greatest advances of modern medicine and modern times. Yet, there’s this archaic church that tells us that, really, this is one of the worst inventions of mankind. According to the Church, contraception is one of the things that’s plunging us into a kind of a disaster.
So we have this great polarization: a world that thinks contraception is one of the greatest inventions of our time and the Catholic Church that says it’s one of the worst. I am going to try to help people see tonight why the Church’s teaching certainly deserves serious consideration.
Most people don’t know that every Christian church up until 1930 taught that contraception was wrong. There was a universal teaching against contraception within Christian churches. It was only in 1930 that the Anglican church first broke with that unbroken tradition and approved contraception within marriage for serious reasons. In 1931, Pope Pius XI wrote the Encyclical, Casti Connubii, which is usually translated On Christian Marriage, and there he reiterated what had been the constant teaching of the Church. Within the Catholic Church there was virtually no debate on the issue until the mid-1960’s. The debate starts about 1963. There was really a great acceptance of the Church, of those in the Church, of the teaching of the church. In 1960, some 66% of Catholics were living by the Church’s teaching. Sixty-six percent. Now they say some 80% of Catholics are contracepting. Thirty percent of Catholics are sterilized, which is the same rate as the rest of the population. Only 4% of Catholics are using Natural Family Planning. I personally think that might be a high estimate.
So, how have we in the last 30 years gone from 66% compliance to at best 4% of compliance? One reason was that there really weren’t very good contraceptives in the early sixties. The pill was not yet really on the market. It had just begun to be developed. Most contraceptives were illegal in most states – at least for interstate purchase. The laws that made contraceptives illegal were put on the books by Protestant legislators. Contraception was always seen to be the source of great sexual license in society and considered to be something that a morally upright society would ban. But as you all know, because of the doctrine of the “right to privacy” found in the “penumbra” of the Constitution, those laws were thrown out in the early 1960’s. The Supreme Court decision that threw out laws against interstate sale of contraceptives really was the precursor to Roe v. Wade. The right to privacy is found in Griswold v. State of Connecticut and then is reiterated in Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion. It was also at that time, for Catholics at least, that obedience was considered to be a virtue. It was not yet seen to be a pathological condition. So, Catholics were prepared to accept what their Church taught simply because it taught it, whether or not they understood it.
In the 1960’s, the pill became available and that’s really when the revolution in contraceptives began. The pill was considered to be a great salvation of mankind for several reasons. It was at that time that people began to think we were headed for disaster as far as population was concerned. In fact, when I was in high school, we had posters of globes with human beings falling off the globe, it was projected to be so crowded. But there actually have been no two people who have been more wrong than Malthus and Paul Ehrlich, who both predicted huge famines and wars because of population.
I don’t have time to go into the “myths” of overpopulation, but I can recommend a few books: one by a man named Julian Simon and another man, Ben Wattenburg, who are demographers. And there’s many others – Jacqueline Kasun – who have critiqued the work of Malthus and Ehrlich.
Malthus said that the population would increase geometrically and the food supplies would only, at best, increase arithmetically. It is true that population has increased enormously. That’s not necessarily bad news. That’s just a fact. It has increased enormously. The good news is that the food supply is wildly better off than Malthus ever dreamed. The United States could quite easily feed the rest of the globe. It’s not a problem. Modern agricultural techniques have exponentially increased our food supply. And they say we haven’t even begun to mine the ocean for food. And as for limited mineral resources, Malthus thought we would certainly run out of coal and copper and precious metals, but we actually have more coal and more copper now per person on the globe than Malthus thought we had at his time. We’ve discovered more resources and we need them less, because we have discovered such sources of energy as atomic energy.
Again, I’m not here to argue against the population scare. I’m just here to tell you that there is good reason to doubt it. Yet, you might wonder why we see these emaciated children on TV starving. It is easy to think we must be overpopulated – look at all these starving children. Yet, the starvation of children has little to do with population, really. It has a great deal to do with one tribal or ethnic group hating and starving out another tribal or ethnic group. It has a great deal to do with corrupt governments and the failure to distribute food. It has a great deal to do with natural disasters that we have little control over. But still, concern about overpopulation has been one of the reasons for thinking the pill to be a great advance for mankind.
Feminism has also contributed to the enthusiasm for contraceptives. Feminists believed we had to have contraceptives because women couldn’t get in the work place and find their fulfillment unless they were having fewer babies and the only way they could have fewer babies is if they had good contraceptives.
It was also believed that a contraceptive, especially the pill, would make for much better marriages. Much better marriages. Because, clearly, people could now use contraceptives within marriage and get rid of the fear of pregnancy that was dampening the spontaneous and blissful sex lives that spouses hoped that they could have. It would take the tension out of the sex life that was there because of the fear of pregnancy. And it didn’t take people long to catch on. Well, gee, if you could take fear of pregnancy out of sex within marriage, you could wipe out the fear of pregnancy out of sex before marriage, and surely it would make sense to have sex before marriage.
I was a teenager in the 60’s and this came to be the wisdom of the times. Surely, none of you would buy a car unless you took it for a test drive. It’s just as idiotic, of course, to get married without having sex with your prospective spouse. And none of you would really buy a car without test driving several cars, right? That would also be idiotic. You want to find out what model you like. You want to see how it drives. It was the same thing in the 60’s. This was wisdom at the time. For the earlier generations, it was unfortunate that they, more or less, had to restrain themselves before marriage and sort of plunged into marriage because they were desperate for sex. Now we could be free from that kind of desperation by having sex outside of marriage and thus we could make a calmer, cooler, more collected assessment of our future spouse by being able to have a sexual relationship before marriage. This was considered to be a great wisdom.
We also thought that contraceptives would make for an enormous decrease in the number of unwanted pregnancies. Surely contraception would help people not get pregnant when they didn’t want to get pregnant. And, concomitant with a decrease in unwanted pregnancies, there would, truly, be a decrease in the number of abortions. Now, these were the expectations for the contraceptive pill in the 60’s. I think none of these were stupid expectations. For all my sarcasm, it seems to me, on the surface, there is a great deal of logic to this and a great deal of plausibility to these expectations.
But the Catholic Church at the time said no, that won’t be the case. Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae in 1968. It looks like some of you might have been alive and aware at that time. You might remember that it fell like a bomb on the Church and the rest of society. It was a shock to everyone that the Catholic Church reiterated its constant teaching against contraception. Pope Paul VI, in Section 17 of Humanae Vitae, made several predictions about what would happen if contraceptives became widely available and widely used in society.
He said, first of all, that there would be a general lowering of morality in society. Now, for those of you who were here in the 60’s and were awake and aware and are here in the 1990’s, I don’t know that I have to do a lot to convince you that there’s been a general lowering of morality. I remember watching TV when I was a teenager in the 60’s. We saw the Donna Reed Show, I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, The Spin and Marty Show – all sorts of great family entertainment. And now, I can hardly watch the advertisements on TV without being offended, let alone afternoon soaps which are surely soft porn, let alone the talk shows that introduce perversions into my mind that I hadn’t even imagined, let alone MTV which approaches being hard-core porn. I call this “the frog in the water effect”. Some of you might have heard that if you put a frog into boiling water, it will actually jump out. But if you put a frog in a pot of lukewarm water and gradually raise the temperature to boiling, it will quite happily boil to death and not notice. And I think that’s what has happened to us. In the 1960’s, my father and every other father on the street, I think, would have taken the TV and smashed it on the pavement if MTV would have come into our homes. But now we are quite happily boiling to death with the TV that we have. Not to mention, of course, crime in the streets, not to mention drive by shootings, not to mention gangs and all the things we are all frightened about. You might say, “How can you trace any of that to contraceptives?” And I’ll do it for you in a minute. But first, I want to go through Pope Paul VI’s predictions.
Secondly, Pope Paul VI predicted that there would be a general disregard for the physical and psychological well-being of females by males. Pornography is a great assault on a woman’s psychological and physical well-being. There seems to be an enormous outbreak of sexual abuse of women. The statistics are just overwhelming for how many women have been sexually abused by someone in their household. Let us also consider the fact that 60% of poverty in the United States is accounted for by single women with children. Most of those living in poverty in the United States are single women with children. That seems to me to be clearly psychological and physical abuse of women. And how did it happen? How did we get all these single mothers with children? I’ll talk about that in a minute.
The third prediction was that governments would use family planning programs for coercive purposes once contraception became widely available. It’s outrageous what’s going on in this world in this respect. Some of you have been watching the efforts of the UN, highly backed by the United States, to say that all economic aid to third world countries will now be tied to aggressive population programs. These countries must have aggressive distribution of contraceptives, sterilization, and ready access to abortion if we are going to feed and take care of the poor. I don’t know if you’ve seen this in the news, but it’s been in the Catholic press, that women delegates to the UN are outraged at this. They find this insulting and demeaning. They feel like they’re being treated like breed cows. What they want is better prenatal care. What they want is better medical care. What they want is more access to education and food for their children that’s not tied to contraceptive programs. And some of you may be familiar with the work of Steven Mosher – it’s very well documented – that there are forced abortions in China. In many areas of China, if a woman has more than one pregnancy, more than one baby, the second pregnancy will be forcibly aborted. Women are actually dragged out of fields late in a pregnancy and forcibly aborted. Now we’ve all lived through several weeks of seeing the national outrage because an adolescent is being caned in Singapore, as a great violation of human rights. But do any of you hear or have you seen any sort of national outrage for what’s gong on in China?
Pope Paul VI’s fourth prediction was that we would begin to treat our bodies as though they were machines. We would no longer have respect for the human person as an integral unity of body and soul, but the body would now be a machine that we can treat however we like. Now there is no greater evidence than that of our use of reproductive technologies, or surrogate motherhood, for instance, and many of the in vitro procedures. Some of you may have heard the story around Christmas time of a fifty-nine year old woman in England who conceived a child through in vitro fertilization. Erma Bombeck said that this would never catch on. She said that fifty-nine year olds will leave a baby in a room and forget where they left it. Or show up at a high school graduation and not know what they were doing there or why they were there. But, the point is that any woman can buy a baby. Any woman can go to an in vitro clinic and simply buy herself some semen and get herself impregnated and get the kind of baby she wants. It gives a new meaning to the word “designer genes”. If you want a Nobel laureate, you go to Stanford. If you want a hot whiz kid from MIT, you go to a clinic outside of MIT. If you want an east coast, Ivy League whiz kid, you go outside of Harvard. Any woman – married, unmarried, homosexual, heterosexual – can buy herself a baby, any woman who has money. Tell me we are not treating our bodies like machines.
Well, who was right? The secular world or Pope Paul VI? What about the predictions of the secular world who thought contraception would be so great? What about the prediction that marriages would be better? I think, in some respects, marriages are better, but the divorce rate shows us that there are a lot of very bad marriages, or at least marriages that end because people think they are very bad. In fact, the divorce rate doubled between 1965 and 1975. The divorce rate had been sort-of sneaking up all century long until in the mid 1960’s it was at 25%, and then in 1975 it had got up to 50%. In a short ten year period, the divorce rate doubled. There’s a social scientist at the University of Stanford named Robert Michael who was intrigued by this and he wondered why it was that the divorce rate doubled in a ten year period. He actually discovered that as the contraceptive pill became more and more available, divorce became more and more popular. In about 1975-1976 when about every woman who wanted access to the pill had it, that’s when the divorce rate leveled off.
In this statistical scientific investigation, he’s discovered three reasons why he thinks the use of contraceptives have contributed to this massive increase of the divorce rate. He says he can attribute 45% of this increase to increased use of contraceptives. These are his reasons. There are three. I think there are others, as well.
Michael’s first observation is that the statistical data show that those who use contraceptives have fewer children and have them later in marriage. His statistical data show that those who have the first baby in the first two years of marriage and another baby in the next couple years of marriage, have a much longer lasting marriage than those who don’t. Now I’m sure everybody here in this room can tell me of someone they know who’s been married for twenty-five years with eight or ten kids who’s gotten divorced and it’s all very sad but that’s the rarity. It’s the rarity. His data shows that those who have babies sooner in marriage have a longer lasting marriage than those who do not.
I’ll give you about three seconds to figure out why. He gives no explanation. I think there are several. One is that, again, some of you look like you’ve been around for a while, some of you are actually pretty newly married, and it might become clear to you for as blissful and as happy as those early years of marriage can be, they can also be very difficult. You’ve got two people with different habits and different expectations and different modes of communication trying to build a life together. I’ve noticed with my friends who are newly married, at some point in that first year or two, it seems that one or the other gets in a car and goes for a drive around the block and around the highways and you don’t really know if you are going to come back. You’re pretty damn mad about something. But if Junior’s in the house, there are somebody’s smiles you don’t want to miss in the morning. So, you go back and you work it out with the person you’re mad at. There are two people in the house you love – one you’re mad at and the other whose smiles you can’t think of missing. If you have another child, there are two people whose smiles you really want and one you’re mad at. You’re mad, but you go back and you work it out. And that’s very important in marriage – to work those things out early in the marriage.
I think it’s also the fact that people who have children, become better people, I want to say, almost instantaneously. Almost instantaneously they become better. It’s been my good fortune to have met several of my male friends as they’ve exited from the delivery room. And some of you may have experienced this or seen others. Such individuals are generally delirious and they babble and they say things like, “It’s incredible. It’s the most miraculous, marvelous, mysterious thing I have ever been a part of in my whole life. It’s the best day of my whole life. I can’t believe it.” And somewhere along the line they say, “Everything’s different now. Everything’s different now.” And that’s absolutely true because yesterday they could care less who the mayor was or who was chief of the police force or who was president of the school board and whether the playgrounds were safe or how they spent their money or how many movies were rated PG and what was on TV. But today they care. And today everything’s different and now they’re going to be careful about all these things. When you’re single, who cares about all these things. It doesn’t affect you. When you don’t have any children it doesn’t affect you. When you have a child you’re sending out to the world, all of a sudden you become protective of this child and you know that all these influences need to be attended to. You also become more patient and generous and kind and hardworking because this baby is very demanding. It takes a lot of your time and a lot of your effort. And so you become a better person and you’re married to a better person and that makes for a better marriage.
So that’s Michael’s first reason. People who contracept have fewer babies later in marriage and their marriages are weaker and it seems clear to me why that’s the case.
Secondly, he says since contraceptives have arrived on the scene, there is much more adultery than there was before. I’ll give you two seconds to figure that one out. People have been tempted, for the history of mankind. It’s easy enough to think about wanting to have an affair but wanting a child out of wedlock is another story. But if most every woman is contracepting, then most every woman is available in a certain sense and there is no real reason to say no. Adultery is absolutely devastating to marriages.
The third explanation is that women are financially more independent. They do have fewer children. They do go into the work place. And, again, when they have difficulties in the marriage, it’s much easier to say, “Take a walk,” than it is to work it out because they need their husband for one fewer reasons than they did before.
Now, I think there are several other reasons why contraceptives are damaging to marriage. It’s hard to get really clear statistics on this but just recently in USA Today, I read that one poll shows that 37% of high school students are sexually active. Another said 57%. I saw another that said that 87% of college students have been sexually active. I think that most of you know that there are very few people going into marriage as virgins anymore. They’re harder to find. And I think all this sexual activity before marriage is not good for marriage. Most people have been lied to at some point. Most people have made promises and broken those promises and had promises made to them and those promises have been broken. And they’re marrying someone who has lied and made promises and had promises broken and they don’t trust each other quite as much. They don’t even trust themselves quite as much. “I’ve said these things before, I’ve made these commitments before – can I keep them? He’s said these things before, he’s made these commitments before – can he keep them?”
I’ve seen lots of people actually just slide into marriage. This whole notion that by having sex before marriage you could make a better choice of a spouse – I think is absolutely erroneous. It seems to me that the sexual passion can obscure things rather than clarify things. You get used to the sexual relationship and it makes you ignore whether this person is selfish, or lazy, or egotistical – things that, another two years from now, might really bother you. Right now, because of the sexual relationship, you overlook these things. I had a friend who had a boyfriend. There was an enormous sexual attraction between the two of them. They started to have a sexual relationship but found out that it was making both of them miserable. But, they couldn’t really get away from each other. That relationship went on for about five or six years even though they lived on opposite coasts. They would telephone each other and have these very heated phone conversations. At one point, I asked her, I said, “Are you going to marry this man. I mean, it’s just going on forever. You’ve been more or less not seeing anybody else because he’s been in the picture for the last five or six years.” And then she finally said, “You know, I just couldn’t see him being a parent to my children. I can’t see that. He’s crazy. We have very different values. I’m a committed Catholic. He hates Catholicism.” And when she said this she finally realized that she had to break it off. But, that sexual attraction and attachment, for years, had obscured this until she finally figured it out.
I’ve seen a number of people live together before marriage. And, as a matter of fact, cohabitation is another of the real clear signs that marriage isn’t going to work. I heard a statistic the other day, I’ll have to check it out, but a priest told me that he did a workshop with his parish on cohabitation and in his studies he discovered that 75% of those who live together before marriage, not just have sex together before marriage, but live together before marriage, get divorced within the first three years. I’ve seen people who do this. They’re twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight years old. They’ve been living together for two or three years, and everybody’s bugging them, “Why don’t you get married?” So, they ask each other, “Why don’t we get married?” And they figure that they’re not fighting that much and they certainly don’t want to start all over again and decide they might as well get married. They think “this last two or three years was hard enough and who wants to start all over again and we might just as well get married. It seems to be time.” That’s not the best path into marriage. So, contraception hasn’t made for better marriages.
Has it made for fewer unwanted pregnancies? The statistics on this are wild. In 1960, some 6% of white babies were born out of wedlock. Six percent. In 1992, 22% of white babies were born out of wedlock. Almost a four-fold increase, and it’s rapidly rising. Rapidly rising. In 1960, some 22%, same figure, 22% of black babies were born out of wedlock. Anybody know the percentage now? Sixty-eight percent. Sixty-eight percent of black babies are born out of wedlock. That took thirty years. I don’t think it will take thirty years for the 22% of whites to go up to 68 if we follow down the same path we are currently following. Now, here’s my connection: First of all, the world tells us that if we have more and better contraceptives we can solve these problems. There will be fewer unwanted pregnancies. But the point was, in 1960, there were almost no contraceptives available, especially to teenagers. You had to know some tacky gas station somewhere and have a few quarters and that’s about the best you could do. But any teenager now can get contraceptives from the guidance counselor, in fact, from some welcome-to-school kits in some schools. We live in a culture in which condoms can be handed out in schools and Bibles can’t. And I think that tells you everything you need to know about our society. So, it seems to me that clearly, more and better contraceptives aren’t going to help. Teenagers have incredible access to them. But teenagers are just as good at using contraceptives as they are at making their beds and doing their homework and doing their chores, at about the same degree of reliability.
I used to help with a pregnancy help center in South Bend. We would talk with these young girls and we’d ask them, “Did you use a contraceptive”, and they would say, “No, no. I wanted to buy a Prince album this month and I had to use my money for that”, or, “I didn’t like the side effects so I stopped”, or, “We broke up and I thought we weren’t going to see each other again but he came around again.” And they get pregnant and they’re surprised. And, of course, we have a million and a half abortions a year. And how did these happen? Fifty percent of women who go to abortion clinics tell us that they’re there because of contraceptive failure. Fifty percent. Eighty percent tell us that they are contraceptively experienced, that they know about it and they’ve used it before, but, again, for one reason or another, they’ve stopped.
But the real point, in my mind, is that contraceptives have launched people on a lifestyle that makes for sex outside of marriage – makes for sex in which babies and bonding are not welcome likelihoods. And when pregnancies occur, disaster strikes. People now say, when they’re having sex outside of marriage and they get pregnant, what do they say? They use this wonderful phrase, “I got pregnant by accident.” And I always was mystified by this phrase and I would say, “Tell me, how did that happen again?” I know I’m rather naive but I caught on to this some time ago and I know you can’t get pregnant by accident. You can get hit by a car by accident, fall off a cliff by accident, but you can’t get pregnant by accident. It actually means something’s gone right with an act of sexual intercourse, not that something’s gone wrong. But because people are using contraceptives, they get pregnant and they’re surprised. “My gosh! We got pregnant! We didn’t have that in mind. That wasn’t part of this picture. So, we have to do something about it. What’ll we have to do? We have to trot down to the abortion clinic.”
Now, I’ll give you the highest authority of our land, the Supreme Court says so. There’s an article out there, which I wrote on the table you can have for free. It’s called, “The Connection between Contraception and Abortion” and I cite Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In that decision (this is not quite verbatim but it’s close) it says that “in several important respects, the decision to use contraceptives is the same as the decision to abort.” Or the decision to have an abortion is the same as the decision to contracept. And it goes on to explain. It says that, “For two decades, couples have based their intimate relationships on the availability of abortion should contraceptives fail.” For two decades, couples have based their intimate relationships on the availability of abortion should contraceptives fail. Now in this whole Supreme Court decision, which is on abortion, there is not one mention of the humanity of the unborn child, not one mention of whether the fetus was a person or not. It’s not even dismissed as a question. It’s not even considered. But it does say we must have abortions because we have contraceptives. It’s a necessity. For two decades, couples have counted on it should their contraceptives fail. The Supreme Court says so.
Now, again, I think in the 60’s, it was not a stupid expectation that contraceptives would make for better marriages, fewer unwanted pregnancies, fewer abortions, but I think the cultural evidence today shows absolutely the contrary. And it’s very hard for us to see because again, our culture, our president, his cabinet tell us that more and better contraceptives and more and greater access to abortion is absolutely necessary in this society, it’s a good thing.
The Church said otherwise. As I told you, Pope Paul VI didn’t predict this in great detail, but he certainly predicted the broad strokes of what happened. And you might say, “How did he see it when the rest of us couldn’t? How did he see it? What did he know that we didn’t know?” Well, he had a whole history of the Church behind him, some two thousand years. And some of us, of course, believe he had the guidance of the Holy Spirit and he couldn’t miss because he wasn’t using human wisdom here. Human wisdom showed something quite different and I don’t think that human wisdom was implausible, but it’s turned out, I think, to be dead wrong.
What did he know? Well the Church has always based it’s teachings, not on something private to Catholics but on what is known as the natural law. And, I’m going to give you about a three minute course here on natural law. Natural law says that if you want things to prosper, you have to use them in accord with their nature. If you want to grow good tomatoes, you have to treat tomato plants in accord with their nature. You have to give them sunshine and water and fertilizer and a good soil. And if you want your car to run you have to put oil and gasoline in it. You can’t put your tomato plant in the closet and expect it to grow good tomatoes. You can’t refuse to water it and expect to grow good tomatoes. You can’t put molasses in your car and expect it to run. The Church has said human sexuality has a certain nature and unless you live in accord with that nature, chaos will result. You won’t get your tomato plants and you won’t get from here to Cleveland. It won’t work if you don’t live in accord with the nature. The Church says that its teaching on sexuality is not revealed wisdom. It is something that man can discover by the basis of his own reason if his understanding is not obscured by his culture – and ours is an obscuring culture.
What is the purpose and meaning and nature of sexual intercourse? It seems to me to be quite clear. It’s for two things. It’s for babies and it’s for bonding. And that’s what happens when you have sexual intercourse – you have babies and you bond. My view is, if you don’t want to have babies and you don’t want to bond, then you shouldn’t be having sexual intercourse. My view is that the babies and bonding that comes with sexual intercourse belong only within marriage. I would love some “rap group” to put together a little song for me on this. “If you don’t want babies and bonding you shouldn’t be having sex. You shouldn’t be having sex if you’re not married because that’s where babies and bonding are appropriate.” We have a whole culture that says that having sex, and having babies and making bonds, are two different things; absolutely two different things. Today one can say, “I want to have lunch with you, I want to play tennis with you, I want to go to the movies with you, and I want to have sex with you.” No big deal. It’s the contraceptive that allows us to do this. Again, if a woman finds herself pregnant, she’s shocked. If two individuals find themselves attached to each other, they’re shocked. We all know all these really wonderful women who seem to be attached to these terrible men. “How does this happen?” She can’t let him go. She’s engaging in sex with him – that’s bonding.
So, our society has this view that these three things – sex, babies, and bonding, are separate and the Church says, “No, they’re together.” Now some people want to say, “Well, no, no, no. You’ve left something out here. Clearly, sex is for pleasure. And those who are having sex, they’re doing what sex is for; they’re having pleasure.” And I’ll say, “No, no, no. You’ve missed the point.” There are lots of things that have pleasure attached to them. Pleasure is not the purpose; pleasure is the motive; pleasure is the consequence; but it’s not the purpose. As a matter of fact, God attached pleasure to the things that he really wants us to do, that are necessary for our survival and for our happiness. So, it’s pleasurable to eat and it’s pleasurable to drink and it’s pleasurable to sleep and it’s pleasurable to exercise, and it’s pleasurable to have sexual intercourse. It’s pleasurable. That’s not the purpose. That’s not the reason we eat though some of us do. That’s not the reason we sleep though some of us do. That’s not the real purpose for these acts. They’re restorative in many ways. They’re necessary for our survival. So, God attached pleasure to everything he wanted us to do for, not our salvation, so much, as just our well-being. But we have to do it at the right time, and the right place, and in the right manner, with the right person, etc., etc. – in the right way. Sure, eating is pleasurable, but there are limits to what you should be eating. Sexual intercourse is pleasurable, but there are limits to what you should be doing, and you have to seek that pleasure in accord with the nature and reality of what you’re dealing with.
Now in many ways the modern world is completely at odds with the Church in their thinking. We live in a culture in which human life is considered of absolutely insignificant value. Otherwise, we would not be able to have abortion clinics. My students, at the University of Dallas, are wonderful students. It’s a good Catholic school. We get wonderful students. But they are as confused as the rest of the world about things. They absorb, as we all do – everyone of us absorbs – the views of our culture. I was teaching on Darwin one day and I was making the point that humans are radically different from animals. We may share common characteristics, but there are things we can do that are so far out of reach of animals that it can’t even be compared. And afterwards, this one young girl came up to me, she said, “Professor Smith, I don’t see why you’re so obsessed with the differences between human beings and animals. They’re just not really all that different.” And I said, “All right. Let me try to help you see this.” So, I did a kind of “Far Side” thing for her. I said, “Have you ever gone home and found your dog painting the ceiling of his doghouse like the Sistine Chapel?” She said, “No. I’ve never seen that.” “Have you ever caught your cat pounding out a Mozart sonata?” She said, “No. Never seen that.” I said, “You know, I bet you’ve never seen pigs playing rugby and that’s at least a minimal human activity.” She said, “No. I’ve never seen that”, and I said, “That’s about it for a minute.” I said, “Why do you think they don’t do this? ” And she said, “Because they’re just not interested, otherwise, they would. I mean, surely they could do these things if they were interested.” She’s with our society on this. This is what we think – that there’s no big differences between human beings and animals. We have a whole animal rights movement to “Save the Baby Whales”, but human beings can be taken into an abortion clinic and terminated.
Now, it’s on this point of the value of human life that you can see the huge difference between the Catholic Church and the rest of the world. Or Christians and the rest of the world. Or most religious traditions and the rest of the world. Because we see every human life as a new soul, as a new soul that God has brought into this world, that’s meant to exist with God for an eternity. You see, we don’t really see human life as our culture does. Our culture now thinks, of course, people can have babies. That’s OK. We somehow have this primitive need to reproduce ourselves, so it’s all right to have two. Certainly, we can understand you wanting your boy and your girl. We understand that. But you have more than two, and everyone begins to look a little bit suspiciously at you. What are you doing? We now think of babies, really, as environmental hazards – as little threats to the rain forest. I mean, my friends have told me they’re pregnant with their third child and the receptionist will say, “Mrs. So-and-so, your pregnancy test is positive. Do you plan to continue this pregnancy?” Do you plan to continue this pregnancy? Or, “Mrs. so-and-so, would you like to schedule a tubal this time because surely you and your husband aren’t going to have more than three.” Or, “Here’s a stack of pamphlets (that you get when delivering your third) on different contraceptives because obviously you and your husband don’t know what you’re doing. You need some help here.” And those who have a third child or more will tell you that in elevators, or in doctor’s offices, or in grocery stores, people will approach them and say the most astonishing things: “Don’t you and your husband know how to control yourselves?” “Lady, are these all yours?” Or, “How many are you going to have?” And they’re just astonished that anybody would want more than two children. You are allowed to have three if your first two are girls or first two are boys because obviously you want your boy and girl, but more than three – it’s just out of sight in our society.
But, of course, the Christian view is not this. The Christian view is that the whole universe actually exists for us. It’s our support system. We’re supposed to be here. God made the universe for human life. And He wants souls. He wants lots of them. “Go forth and multiply and fill the face of the earth.” Go forth and multiply and fill the face of the earth. Now, a little piece of evidence for this is what most women will tell you that their greatest sexual desires are when they’re ovulating. Just like God giving you a shove in the back. Go for it. This is what we want here – Nature’s way. God made nature.
Now, this is the most amazing thing when you think about it. Sperm, this little sperm, it does not have an immortal soul. The little sperm does not have an immortal soul. It has a short and sometimes very happy life, but it does not have an immortal soul. And the ovum, you see, it does not have an immortal soul. It can have a short and happy life, but it doesn’t have an immortal soul. And when the two come together, where does that immortal soul come from? The sperm doesn’t carry it. The egg doesn’t carry it. Where does it come from? It comes from a new act of creation by God. In each act of conception, there needs to be a new act of creation by God. One of my priest friends says that “When a new human life is created, the whole universe is changed because something has come into existence which did not exist before and will exist forever.” It’s just like when God made the whole universe, He made something from nothing. And now, He’s made a new soul from nothing. It didn’t exist. There’s not a whole group of souls out there that are sort of waiting around for a landing place. God actually performs a new act of creation. So, when male and female participate in the sexual act, they have opened up this arena which God has designed for bringing forth new human life. And when they contracept, they are slamming that door in God’s face. They’re saying, “We want to enjoy this pleasurable act that You gave us, but we do not want to let You perform Your creative act.” Now, I’m not saying that couples who are contracepting, are conscious that this is what they’re doing. But, this is what the act itself means. It’s much like drinking a little bit of poison in your orange juice. You might not know it’s there, but it will have it’s effect on you. You’re not intentionally doing that, but that’s what the act itself means.
So, in the first place, the Church objects to contraception because it refuses to let God perform His creative act in the arena in which He chose to do it. You know, God could have created new human life in different ways. In fact, He has before. I’m afraid I’m going to do a little male bashing here, but you’re all used to it, so you can take it. You know, God did create new human life before in different ways. He made the first man, the first male, out of mud. And He made the first female out of the rib of a rational creature. Now, this explains a lot when you think about it. One male, after one of my talks, came up to me and he said, “Yes, certainly it explains a lot.” He said, “It explains why I’m treated like dirt a lot.” So, anyway, our society has a great disregard for the value of human life. We do not understand what a great gift it is to participate in this act with God. God has chosen spouses as His vehicle for bringing forth new human life and new human life is precisely what He wants in this universe. As a matter of fact, every one of us should be putting forward most of our efforts, all of our efforts, to getting ourselves to heaven and helping others. That’s our job. And, spouses play a major role in this by bringing forth that new human life that all of us are meant to be forming. It’s an amazing task that God has given us. It’s not something to be dallied with. It’s not something that should be happening as an accident. Having sex, having babies, as an accident is not in God’s plan. Having babies is meant to be within the loving act of spouses because God wants the parents to love the children in the same way in which He loves all of us, which means in a committed and unconditional way. God loves us in a committed and unconditional way and He wants parents that are committed to each other for a lifetime relationship who are going to love these children in an unconditional way. And our society can’t begin to see that. Babies are just options, burdens, environmental hazards, something to be taken down to the abortion clinic and terminated.
Now, along with our disregard for the value of human life, there is an enormous disregard for fertility. We don’t have any high estimation of fertility. Contraceptives are manifestly related to a hostility to fertility. Think about the word contraception. It means “against the beginning”, against the beginning of a new life, and what makes a new life possibility is fertility. So, we talk about “the pill.” It’s one of my favorite words – the pill. When do you take a pill? You take a pill when you’re sick. But pregnancy is not a disease and fertility is not a disease. Fertility is a healthy condition in an adult person. It’s those who are infertile who need assistance in becoming fertile. They are the ones who need the medication. Fertility is a perfectly healthy condition. I would like to challenge doctors in this way, and anyone else who wants to straighten me out afterwards, you’re welcome to have a shot at it. But when I think of a fifteen year old boy who goes into the doctor’s office and says, “Doctor, you know, I want to get the girls. I want the girls,” he says. “And the way to get the girls is to have big muscles. So, would you please give me some steroids.” Any doctor worth his salt will say, “Son, get out of here. Join the wrestling team. Lift weights. Do push-ups. I’m not going to give you steroids. They’re bad for you. They could ruin you. I’m not giving you steroids.” But, a fifteen year old girl trots into a doctor’s office and says, “Doctor, I want to have sexual intercourse with my boyfriend or boyfriends.” And the doctor says, “I’ll write you a prescription.” It’s a whole lot worse for her health psychologically and physically in the long run, to be launched on the kind of lifestyle that a contraceptive launches her on than that steroid is for the young man and I want to know what’s going on here. Why has our culture told us that this makes sense? Why has our culture told us that this is a sensible thing for a doctor to do?
There’s a wonderful book out by Dr. Ellen Grant called The Bitter Pill. She was very much in on distributing contraceptives in the 60’s in London, but she saw woman after woman coming in with different pathologies that she found were pill-related high blood pressure, blood clots, cysts in the breast, all sorts of things. So, she said, “I’m not going to prescribe these anymore.” She looked into this and she discovered, that when they were first testing for the pill, they were trying to find a male contraceptive and a female contraceptive pill. And in the first study group of males, they found that there was some slight shrinkage of the testicles of one male, so they stopped all testing of the male contraceptive pill. You might notice that there is no such thing in the first study group of females. Three females died and they just readjusted the dosage. Now, I don’t know what that tells you, but it tells me that there’s something sinister going on here. Women are still dying from the pill.
If you look at the insert in any set of pills, you can get this from a pharmacist if you can’t find it elsewhere, it says such things as the pill will cause blood clots, high blood pressure, heart disease, greater increase of some kinds of cancer, infertility. Now, these are very small percentages where this happens, but there are some sixteen million women in the United States on the pill. Sixteen million. And even a very small percentage is still a very large number of women. Not to mention the day by day side effects. These always fascinate me. Most women, in fact, 50% of women who start on the pill, stop within the first year because of unpleasant side effects. So, these side effects are really largely those of the sixteen million who continue, so you can imagine how bad they must be for the 50% who stop. But, what are they? Most women complain of:
* increased irritability
* increased propensity to depression
* weight gain
* a reduced libido
Now, I don’t know about the rest of you women, but I’ve been looking for a pill that will make me more irritable, more depressed, help me to gain weight, and reduce my libido so I can have sex. And I’m sure all the men would like the woman he’s dealing with to be more irritable, more depressed, gain weight more easily, and have a reduced libido, don’t you? Now, why does the pill do this to a woman? Why does it do this to a woman? Well, the fact is that the pill makes a woman’s body think it’s pregnant. It gives it hormones that are there the first couple months of pregnancy. And women in the first couple months of pregnancy get irritable, depressed, gain weight, and have a reduced libido. And women are in this condition when they’re on the pill, for week after week, month after month, year after year. It’s an astonishing thing.
Now, I haven’t really told you the worst reality about the pill which really is that it’s an abortifacient. I’ve been talking about it as though it were a contraceptive, but it also works as an abortifacient. At least it says so in the insert that’s in with the pill. It says that it works in three different ways: One is it stops ovulation, and again, that’s clear enough. If it makes your body think it’s pregnant, the body will not ovulate because when you’re pregnant, you can’t get pregnant. When you’re pregnant you don’t ovulate because you have a new baby growing inside of you and there’s no reason to ovulate. Or if that doesn’t work, there may be a breakthrough ovulation, and no woman knows when that’s happening in her body. Women have the most complex hormonal system, as you know. If you’ve ever looked at the chart of a female hormonal system, there’s three major ones as far as their reproductive system is concerned. And they go up and down like peaks and valleys and they crisscross. And I showed this to one of my friends and she said, “You know, I’ve never felt like the same person from day to day and now I see that I’m not. I’m dealing with a whole new chemical system every day.” And as you women know, you wake up in the morning and say, “Gee, am I going to be the sweetest person in the world today or am I going to be the meanest person in the world today? How do I know? Let me see how I feel after my coffee.” And it mostly has to do with your hormones. You know the male hormonal system, it’s just wonderful. You know how much fluctuation there is in that? There’s two of them. Straight line, all month long. This guy seems steady day by day, same guy yesterday, today and tomorrow, and you don’t know who you are yesterday, today and tomorrow. There are explanations for that. They’re called hormones.
A woman doesn’t know month by month, how her hormones are acting, whether she’s not ovulating when she’s on the pill or if there’s breakthrough ovulation. The pill can change the ‘viscosity’ of the mucus. There’s a certain mucus that helps the sperm get to the egg and a certain mucus that prohibits the sperm from getting to the egg. The pill sometimes changes the mucus. Or, it will prevent the nidation of the fertilized ovum. That means, the fertilized ovum, new little human being, working down the fallopian tube, try to implant itself in its mother’s uterine wall but fails to nest. Nidation. The pill prohibits that and then the uterus sloughs off the new fertilized ovum. A woman doesn’t know how the pill is working in her system. Norplant works as an abortifacient, the IUD and Depo-Provera do as well.
And think of the other forms of contraception, true contraceptives, the barrier methods. It’s a wonderful word. I want to make love to you, but I’ve got to get my barrier in place. Sounds a bit like making war not making love. I have to go get my spermicide. Spermicide means kill the sperm. I want to make love to you, but I’m going to kill any sperm that come my way. There’s something hostile in that act, but I claim that contraception is fundamentally hostile especially to a female’s fertility. Because, you know, it’s the males who can have sex and not get pregnant. So, what the pill does and contraceptives do is make a female like a creature who can have sex and not get pregnant. But, that’s not what we are. And it’s not a great burden and a great defect to be a person who can have sex and get pregnant. That happens to be a great gift. But we treat it as though it were a great deficit – something that needs medication, devices, etc.
So, for now I’ve given you two reasons why the Church teaches that contraception is wrong. One is that it locks God out of His procreative act. The other is that it treats a natural gift of life and fertility as if these were not gifts, as if they were burdens and defects. The third reason is John Paul II’s observation that contraception violates not only the procreative meaning of the sexual act, but also the unitive meaning of the sexual act. It prevents not only babies, but it also prevents bonding.
I’ll give you another Adam and Eve joke just to lighten you up a bit here. Adam and God are in the garden. They’re having a little conversation and Adam says to God, he says, “God, I’d like to thank You for this creature Eve You made for me,” he says. “She’s just wonderful.” He says, “Thank You a lot.” God says, “You’re welcome, Adam.” Adam says, “But God, I do have a complaint.” God says, “All right Adam, what’s your complaint?” He said, “Well, why did You have to make her so beautiful? You know, she’s so beautiful that I think about her all the time, I get distracted, I can’t get my work done. You didn’t have to make her so beautiful. Why did You make her so beautiful?” And God says, “Well, Adam, I not only wanted you to have a helpmate.” He said, “I wanted you to have someone to love and you’d be happy.” And Adam says, “Well, gee, how about it. Thank you, God. That’s very thoughtful.” He then said, “But I do have another complaint.” And God said, “All right Adam. What’s your second complaint?” Adam says, “Well, God,” he said, “Why did You have to make her so dumb?” He said, “You know, she’s just so dumb, she doesn’t make any sense, she’s irrational, you talk to her and I don’t know what she’s up to. One day I’m the greatest guy in the universe, the next I’m the worst guy in the universe.” He said, “Why did You have to make her so dumb?” And God says, “Well, Adam, I not only wanted you to love her, I wanted her to love you.”
Sorry guys, but, you know, it cuts both ways. That one cuts both ways. But isn’t that the point, that God made male and female to love each other, to have babies, and to bond?
Well, let’s think about how violating the procreative meaning of the sexual act is also violating the bonding meaning of the sexual act.
Pope John Paul II has very profound and beautiful things to say about the meaning of sexual intercourse and I can only give you the briefest of descriptions of it here. He says that the sexual act was meant to be an act of total self-giving. You want to give everything you’ve got to someone you love. And when you’re withholding your fertility, you’re withholding something that belongs in the sexual act, something that actually belongs there. To withhold it means that you’re not giving of yourself completely. I heard someone compare contraceptives to someone who says, “You know, you’re having a bad hair day. Would you mind putting a paper bag over your head? You know, I want to make love to you, but I can’t stand looking at that hair. It’s driving me crazy.” That’s what a condom is and that’s what a contraceptive is. It says, “I love you but I don’t want a very important part of yourself here, something that actually belongs in this act.”
Think of the difference between these two phrases: “I want to have sex with you.” and “I want to have a baby with you.” It’s awesome – the difference. Our society says, “I want to have lunch with you, I want to go to movies with you, I want to play tennis with you, and I want to have sex with you.” No big deal. But if someone comes up to you and says, “I want to have a baby with you,” you should be knocked off your feet. Because, if they have any idea what they’re saying, they’re saying: “I want to be with you from now till forever. First of all, we’d be bringing forth a new immortal soul and we have an immortal link through this immortal soul that wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t engaged in this act. It also means, I like you eyes and your smile and the way you walk and I want to bring another one of you into this world. And I like the way you think and I want my children to think like you. And I’m willing to be there for midnight feedings and breakfast and PTA’s and weddings and the long haul. I want to have a baby with you.” That’s an incredible thing to say to someone. “I want to have sex with you.” We say that with the greatest of casualness. “I want to have babies with you.” If you know what you’re saying, it’s an incredible statement. You are expressing the desire for an incredible bond with a person when all of your acts of sexual intercourse leave open the ordination to procreation. Whether it’s literal or symbolic, at least it’s there and preserved in some sense.
I’m now moving to my last point. You’ve been patient but I still have to say some more. And this is it, you all want to wait for this part. You’re not ready to move yet. This is it: “The differences between contraception and natural family planning.” Now, a lot of people say, “What’s the difference?” You have two couples who don’t want to have a baby and want to have sex and they’re doing the same thing. They’re trying to have sex without trying to have babies or without wanting to have babies. They’re doing the same thing. And that’s a very common confusion and a very common complaint, and I’m going to try and help you think about it.
The first thing I want to say to such couples, such people, is, “Well, if contraception and Natural Family Planning are the same, why not just use Natural Family Planning?” And you know what they say, “But that would be completely different. I’d have to change everything.” I say, “Wait a second. You just told me there’s no difference and now you tell me it’d be completely different.” But, of course, what they mean is no moral difference, but they recognize that there’d be an enormous lifestyle difference. I say, “But wait a second. If there’s an enormous lifestyle difference, then that may be a hint that there’s some kind of a moral difference as well.” At first, I try to point out to them this simple principle in ethics that the ends do not justify the means. Stated another way: “You must have good means to good ends. Not only your goal must be good, but also the way you get there must be good.” So consider a couple who doesn’t want a child for probably a very good reason. A couple who is contracepting. Another couple using Natural Family Planning. Consider two men, or individuals, who both want to support their family. One robs a bank and one gets a job. They’re both doing the same thing – they’re both supporting their family, but they’ve chosen very different means.
I’ve tried to indicate why I think contraception is wrong. It says no to God in His creative act. It says fertility is a bad condition as opposed to a wonderful condition. It puts a wedge between the giving between a husband and wife. And it has dreadful consequences for society. I want to claim that Natural Family Planning is not open to those same kinds of objections. It does not do those same things.
Most couples are frightened about using Natural Family Planning, and frightened is the right word. They are frightened of using Natural Family Planning and largely for two reasons. One is they think it doesn’t work. But they are wrong. In an article in the British Medical Journal, September 18th, 1993, a doctor reviews the evidence on Natural Family Planning and says it’s more effective than the most effective contraceptive. More effective! He cites studies from, of all places, Calcutta. And you know who it is who is teaching Natural Family Planning in Calcutta? A diminutive Catholic nun. The author has found out that most of those whom she teaches are Muslims and Hindus. Natural family planning has what is called, a virtual zero pregnancy rate, .004 pregnancy rate.
Still, such information doesn’t seem to convince people. Many confuse NFP with the old ‘rhythm method’, which was some 27% ineffective. There is a huge difference between the ‘rhythm method’ and the modern methods of Natural Family Planning. I will give a review course on them in a minute.
The second reason that couples are afraid is the abstinence that is required. They think the abstinence will just be too hard. It’s mostly the women who are afraid of it and they’re afraid of it because of the males. They think, “My husband will get too irritable, he’ll get too grumpy. He’ll be removed and distant and won’t be affectionate and will stay away from me during that time. And, how will we make up our fights? And, how will we talk? And I’m nervous about what’s going to happen.” Men think they will feel greatly deprived. “Who can go that long; who can go seven to twelve days. It’s not right. That’s not what I got married for.” These fears are most common among those who have contracepted before marriage. Those who have used contraception before marriage and used contraception within marriage are very frightened of the abstinence because sex has become key to their relationship. They think that when you take the sex out of a relationship, where’s the love going to be? Where’s the intimacy going to be?
Couples who’ve abstained before marriage, have little or no problem with Natural Family Planning. Little or no problem. In fact, they think that abstinence is a way of expressing love. It’s not this huge deprivation. The reason that they abstained before marriage was not because they weren’t attracted to each other, not because the hormones weren’t raging, but because they loved each other. They said, “I’m not going to have sex with you before marriage because I love you. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to have a stronger commitment than I’ve made here. I don’t want to put us in danger of having a baby when we haven’t really prepared for that baby. Marriage is preparation for those bonds and marriage is preparation for that baby. And I love you and I can wait. That’s how much I love you.” Within marriage, abstinence has that same aspect. “It’s not a good idea for us to have a child right now. We can abstain. We did it before. We know how to show our affection at this time. We know how to be loving to each other at this time because we’ve done it before.” And they can do it.
Women who use Natural Family Planning have an amazing sense of self-respect and well-being. They think that their fertility is revered by their husbands and they think that they’ve got themselves particularly good husbands. “I’ve got my husband who’s particularly good. He’s a wonderful man. He’s got high moral standards. He doesn’t treat me like a sex object. I can trust him. He likes me even when we’re not having sex together. He’s a great guy. I got myself a good one.” And males have a great reverence for their wives, for their fertility. They don’t want to damage her body. The don’t want her to take all these pills and use these devices. They say, “No. I love her. I wouldn’t put her through those risks. And this willingness to have a baby for me, that’s a wonderful thing. What a woman puts herself through! And I am going to respect that.” So, there is this deep bond between the two of them.
And NFP doesn’t say no to God. You see, NFP respects a woman’s fertility, has no bad social consequences (in fact wonderful ones – there’s almost a non-existent divorce rate among couples using Natural Family Planning) and NFP doesn’t say no to God because God has said, “I want to be there at the fertile time. I made the fertile time for bringing forth new human life. If you engage in the sexual act, I want My option of making new human life. But I gave you a half of a month, three quarters of a month, where you’re infertile and if you want to pursue the bonding power of the sexual act without babies, do it then. I’m asleep. I’m out of town. I don’t expect to be invited at that time. I’m not around. You can’t even make Me come. I won’t come. I can’t. I made your body in a certain way.” There’s no saying no to God. NFP couples respect the fertile period as if they’re on sacred ground. You don’t walk there unless you’re prepared for the consequences.
People say Natural Family Planning is like dieting. We have this phenomenon now of bulimia. People eat and they throw up. That’s a bit like contraception. You want the pleasure but you don’t want the consequences. You engage in the act and you violate the act. Whereas Natural Family Planning is a lot like dieting but a lot better. When you diet, you can’t eat the chocolate cake; you have carrots and celery. Sex during the infertile time apparently is a lot better than carrots and celery. The options are better. There’s a pinch in it. It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible and it does great things for marriage.
Couples will tell you, they’ve always told me this, you read this in all the NFP literature: Those who use Natural Family Planning communicate better with each other. I’ve always wondered what that meant. Does it mean that people are either having sex or talking, but not both and because they’re not having sex during the fertile time does that mean they’re talking more? But there’s something to that. I read somewhere that couples, I’m not married and, of course, I’m envious in many respects of marriage, especially for companionship, but you read something like people say there’s twenty-seven minutes a week on the average that couples talk to each other. And I say, “Gosh, if that’s all it is, it’s not worth it.” Twenty-seven minutes!
But, anyway, these Natural Family Planning couples must use that twenty-seven minutes well. I’ve figured this out, what they’re talking about. It goes something like this. They have this conversation once a month maybe twelve times a year. And it happens on that weekend when the mother-in-law takes the children or you have a nice little business trip and you’re looking forward to this nice weekend together. A little quiet lunch, maybe some shopping, a movie, a romantic dinner, and a nice evening of relaxed lovemaking with no children, no stress, just a nice night. And the woman gets up in the morning and says, “Darling, I’m afraid I’ve entered the fertile phase.” So, there’s this deflation, this disappointment. The weekend is not going to be everything they thought it would be.
This little conversation ensues which usually starts with the question, “Why are we doing this? Why are we abstaining?” And sometimes that provokes a conversation about contraception and why or why not, but usually that’s settled. And usually the question means, “Why did we decide it’s not a good idea to have a baby? Why are we abstaining?” And the husband might say, “Well, you know, the reason we decided not to have a baby right now is you said you’re too tired. You’ve got too many little ones or you’ve got a job now and you’re really fatigued and you really can’t imagine having another child. Are you still tired?” And she might say, “Well, no. As a matter of fact, I’m not too tired right now. The younger ones are a little bit older and you know I think I may be able to handle another baby. Let’s take a risk. Let’s really enjoy this day in the way we planned.” Or she might say, “Of course I’m still tired. You never help. You said you’d give the kids a bath; you don’t give them a bath. You said you’d let me have Saturday afternoons free; I’ve never had a Saturday afternoon free. Of course I’m still tired.” And he might say, “I’ll start bathing them tomorrow, dear.” Or she might say, “The reason we’re not having a child right now is you said your financial burdens are too great. You can’t imagine supporting the family we already have, let alone any more. Are you still financially burdened?” And he might say, “Well, no, I’m not. We refinanced the house and I was kind-of panicking. I’m getting a promotion. Things are OK. Let’s take a risk.” Or he might say, “Of course I’m still financially burdened. Your friend, Jane, gets a fence around the house, you have to have a fence around the house. Your friend, Jane, gets a new kitchen, you need a new kitchen. Your friend, Jane, gets new dishes, you need new dishes.” And she might say, “I don’t need those new dishes.” But the important thing is that they’re having this conversation and it’s a conversation that’s focused around the most important things, which is why they’re having babies and why they are not having babies. And how their life is going together and are they sharing the burdens or not.
Couples using contraception tell me they can go for a very long time without having that conversation. They can say, “We’re not going to have babies for another three to five years and we’ll talk about it then,” and that’s when they talk about it. And they go apart. They go to their jobs and come back for dinner and go to their jobs and come back for dinner. And that’s about all there is.
So I’m saying Natural Family Planning does not have bad social consequences. It’s very difficult to use outside of marriage. It does not say no to God in His procreative act. It treasures a woman’s fertility and it enhances, not alienates, the relationship between spouses. It is not subject to the same objections as contraception.
Now, I’ll close with one final story and then give you a chance to ask some questions. I give talks on premarital sex to my students with some frequency, and I’ve discovered that they are absolutely terrified at the notion of divorce. They hate divorce because they’ve either been children of divorced households and have experienced the pain and trauma themselves or they’ve seen their friends go through it. And they don’t want it. When they get married, they want to be married for good and they’re not all convinced it can happen, because they’ve seen so much divorce around them. I have a brother-in-law who is the son of a divorced household. When he was very young, his father left the family. My parents have been married now for coming up on fifty years. And he follows my father around. My father is this huge curiosity to my brother-in-law. You know, like where did this man come from who could be married to the same woman for fifty years? And how did he do it? And he can see how happy we all are with this wonderful intact household – that’s what we now call them. So, I make my students this offer, and either someday I’m going to be a very poor woman or I’m going to be hailed as a prophet in my own time.
I make them this offer: I say “I will give them a thousand dollars if they get divorced if they followed the formula that I tell them.” I really like to tell people what to do and this is what I tell them to do. I say, “First of all, I’m glad you’ve heard my talk. That’s not necessary, but it helps. But these are the four things you need to do if you want to get married and never get divorced. First of all, you can’t have sex before marriage. If you’ve started, stop. And stop for at least a year and a half to two years before you get married and start thinking about sex and what it’s all about and why it’s a good idea not to have sex before you get married. Secondly, when you get married, get married in a church and go to church every Sunday and pray while you’re there. Get married in a church. Go to church. Thirdly, use Natural Family Planning and do not contracept within marriage. And fourthly, tithe – give ten percent of your money to church or charity.” I tell them, “If you get God, sex, and money in the right place, everything else is easy.”
Well, I’ve gone on and on and on as I promised. I’m only through about the second step in the twelve step program in our non-stop talkers support group. What I would like to say, again, our culture thinks that contraception is one of the greatest things going. It’s very hard to escape that perspective in the culture in which we live. But when one sees the deeper reality that the Church sees, you can begin to see why the Church has an explanation for the chaos that has resulted because of a contraceptive society and the rest of the world can’t even see the chaos, let alone know what the causal connections are. I thank you very much and I’d like to take any questions you might have. Thank you for being so patient.
How is your message received by Catholic clergy?
The Catholic clergy. How am I received by the Catholic clergy? That’s rather a sad question. They’re my hardest group to talk to. I’ve received maybe half a dozen to ten invitations to address Catholic clergy and deacons and this is the mandate of their bishop. Now, even in these meetings, a lot of the ones who are really opposed to me, don’t show up, so I’m already starting out with a fairly sympathetic audience. Again, the statistics on this are hard to come by and they’re variant, but some studies show that only 35% of Catholic priests support the Church’s teaching on this. I’ve seen as high as 47%. I expect it’s as low as 35% or lower. I could be cynical. I think there are reasons for their lack of support. Reasons why they might not be as culpable as we might judge them to be. Before 1968, in the 1960’s, as I said, 66% of Catholics were living by the Church’s teaching. Priests who were trained before Humanae Vitae were not trained to defend the Church’s teaching or explain it. They were simply taught to assert it and Catholics, for the most part, accepted it. After 1968, very quickly dissenters got control over most of the seminaries and most priests who taught after 1968 were taught that the Church was going to change it’s teaching someday and that Catholics in good conscience could dissent from the Church if their conscience told them this was all right. The question of conscience is a whole other question. I mean, how many Catholics have really consulted their conscience on this issue, but let’s leave it at that. So, when speaking to priests, I’m speaking to an audience that has been, largely for twenty-five years, been actually doing what they were told – telling people that contraception is all right if their consciences tell them so.
And I can feel a real resistance from the priests when I start out, to say the least. In fact, usually, the priests who support the Church’s teaching, I can identify them quite quickly. They’re marginalized and they actually sit on the margin. I can find them. I often find that about twenty minutes into my talk, I sense this real drop of certain defenses and this could be entirely subjective on my part, but it’s what I experience. I sense them thinking, “All right, there’s something here. I better listen to this.” And about another forty-five minutes into the talk, I get this sense like, “Whoa! She’s really starting to make sense. Maybe I’d better be nicer to those couples who use Natural Family Planning and give them more support.” And that’s about as far as I think I get. I’m much more confident about the upcoming clergy – those under forty years of age. I’ve found that they are much more likely to be supportive of the Church’s teaching on this topic. Partly because they have seen the consequences of a contraceptive culture. Many of these young men have stood on the picket lines protesting abortion and you don’t have to stand on that line for long to make the connection between contraception and abortion and then other things start to unfold from that. And a lot of them are much more inclined to think that this Pope has some wisdom and are ready to line up behind him and he has really made the Church’s teaching on contraception a major part of his pontificate.
So, I think there’s hope in both respects. Priests have become priests because they want to lay down their lives and serve others. They’re good souls. Their permitting contraception is not because they want to lead people down the garden path, but because they are actually doing what they’ve been taught, for the most part, and I think that it’s up to the laity to help them see what contraceptives have done to marriages. Thank you for your question.
Is there an impact of the loss of grace for couples who contracept?
That’s a very good question. Is there an impact of the loss of grace on marriages. And I think that the fact that 50% of marriages are ending in divorce, among Catholics as well as the rest of the population, suggests that there’s an impact of the loss of grace in this. I think that those who contracept, even if they’re confident that what they’re doing is right, can’t feel quite as enthusiastic about their Church as otherwise. They can’t be quite racing to be full-fledged members of this Church. Many of them are very active in their parishes and love their Church, but they’ve got this view, “My Church teaches something that’s wrong.” And you can’t have that full embrace. You’re not confessing contracepting because you don’t think it’s wrong. You won’t get the healing graces and the empowering graces from confession that you would get. Couples who use Natural Family Planning will tell you that prayer and the sacraments are at the heart of what they do. They need that help to be faithful to what they believe to raise the children that they have. I think that it’s always hard to measure the impact of grace because it’s an unseen reality. It’s there, but to measure it… But I think the loss of grace can be seen as far as what is happening with marriages. Again, I think that if you’re around couples who use Natural Family Planning, you really do sense a quite spectacular closeness that they have and self-respect and mutual admiration that I think is not as clearly there in couples who contracept.
I think most contraceptors are what I would call subjectively innocent. They’re doing something that is objectively wrong, but they are not getting up in the morning and saying, “I want to perform an offense against God, I want to be hostile to my family, and I don’t want to give myself to my spouse completely.” They’re not saying that, but, again, their act says that, and I think that they’re going to be suffering harmful consequences from what they do and be surprised at, somewhat surprised at the bad consequences.
Let me just give this little anecdote. I have a friend who has seven brothers and sisters. They were all raised Catholic and very few of them are practicing Catholics now and all of them are contraceptors except one couple. The couple that is not contracepting but using Natural Family Planning, had four children, all planned, etc. The other couples, again, have no children, all contracepting, two income households, lots of disposable income, lots of time for romance and fun. And one night the eight of them were having a very open discussion about their sex lives. And all of the women, the contracepting women, were complaining that they felt that they were just being used in the sexual act. They felt that this was just one more thing that was expected of them and they felt used. And the men were complaining. They were complaining that they had been reduced to begging for sex which they found demeaning and that they were engaging in sex with a woman who just wasn’t all that engaged. She might just as well be watching TV. And they’re having this conversation and the couple using Natural Family Planning, were looking at each other quizzically and saying, “What are they talking about? Is sex not interesting? Is sex not as interesting as TV? Begging for sex? I don’t know what this is all about. We’re doing just fine.”
Now, if you were to look at these couples: The contracepting couples – two incomes, fitness clubs, designer clothes; the couple with the four children – getting pudgy, gray, financially stressed, not as much sleep, etc. Which couples are having a satisfying sex life? It’s amazing, but it’s the opposite of what one would expect. And I think there’s something there, in Natural Family Planning, that causes this kind of closeness and love between a couple that is really the heart and soul of what makes sex good. It’s not having a designer body and designer clothes and lots of disposable income. That won’t buy you a good sex life. It’s really trust and love and tenderness and really knowing and communicating with the individual with whom you are having sex. And that’s what Natural Family Planning brings about.
It would be astonishing for the contracepting couples to think that contraception might be the source of the problem in their sexual lives. But there is good reason to think that maybe, in fact, that is what is making things flat in their relationship.
Do you think there should be sex education classes?
Oh, yes. The abstinence message is not enough. It seems to be the advice just to refrain – largely because of either unpleasant consequences or some sexually transmitted diseases – which, of course, should not be underestimated. Certainly there is the death dealing AIDS, but also some thirty-five other strains now, of sexually transmitted diseases which are extremely damaging. The huge increase in the amount of infertility is mostly traceable to these sexually transmitted diseases. Women are having sex with more than one partner, getting these diseases, having scarring in their fallopian tubes, etc. All these things young people should know. They definitely should know all these things.
But teaching about chastity is much more than teaching young people to abstain. Chastity really is understanding what the sexual powers are for and, in a certain sense, ordering one’s life in such a way that those sexual powers will be reserved to the time when it’s appropriate. This is something that Natural Family Planning, I think, really helps with.
As you’ve all noticed, our society is absolutely saturated with sexual stimuli. Absolutely saturated! It’s hard to go about an hour in the morning without having something assault your senses. You drive to work and you see three billboards with scantily clad individuals. You turn on the TV, you see people engaged in some sexual activity. I went to Dillard’s, which is a department store, the other day, to buy a coffee pot. In every single aisle, there was a perfume ad with a naked man and woman in this passionate embrace. And I’m thinking, “I want to buy a coffee pot. I do not want to see pornography and here it is. I’m assaulted by this. God did not hang these things from trees. It isn’t part of His design that we are going to have this assault on our senses.” I know friends who get up on Sunday morning and take the lingerie ads out of the newspaper because they are just as bad as Playboy. There’s no point in having their fifteen year old boys assaulted with this. But you can’t avoid it. The music, etc.
Consider the male who has been at the office all day long. He has been assaulted by sexual stimulation all day long; when he drives to work, when he turns on the TV, when people tell dirty jokes, when there’s scantily clad women in the office place, his imagination starts to run. All day long, he’s fantasizing about some woman. He comes home at night and he’s really ready to go. And there’s a female in the kitchen, you see, who’s quasi available. And now he has sex with this woman. He doesn’t make love with this woman. He has sex with this woman. He’s fantasizing about some other woman, hasn’t thought about his wife all day long. Natural Family Planning puts a stop to that kind of impersonal sex. With NFP, couples have to abstain some seven to twelve days a month. It won’t work to come home like that. You’ve got to start shutting these things out. You’ve got to say, “I don’t want to listen to that. I don’t want to see this. I don’t want to look at this magazine. I don’t want to watch this movie. Because it fills me with thoughts I’m not going to be able to act upon and they’re not fair to my wife anyway. I’ve started to appreciate this complex woman that I’m dealing with and when I do make love, I want to make love to her.”
Pope John Paul II says that Natural Family Planning brings about, what he calls, the virtue of self mastery which is the same as the virtue of chastity. He says it actually makes people better lovers because now they’re making love to the person they love rather than to some fantasy. Instead of satisfying some sexual urge, they can control those sexual urges and now they’re acting, again, upon a love impulse and not a sex impulse. Chastity education should help young people learn that they are virtually assaulted by their culture. They also need to learn about original sin, that all of us have disordered appetites in almost every aspect of our lives. We want to eat more, sleep more, drink more, and have more sex than is good for us in ways, with people, etc., that aren’t good. And that’s a result of our fallen nature. We can expect this, so we shouldn’t be startled and astonished and upset that these things are happening to us. It’s part of the course of things. But we have to learn to re-order ourselves. And, I say to young people, “Yes this sexual disorderedness is going to happen to you. A lot of it’s not your fault. It’s the fault of your culture. The other problem is you’re a human being. But you have to work at chastity and the rewards are great.”
The couples I’ve known who’ve gotten married and who’ve been chaste before marriage, have this innocence and euphoria in marriage which is absolutely enviable. There is a real trusting of each other and a real sense that sex is clean and not dirty. With premarital sex, people often come to think of sex as being something dirty. It’s something naughty. It’s something you sneak around and do. Whereas couples who wait until they get married, for them sex is good, it’s clean, it’s pure, it’s something I saved for this person. Young people don’t know what they’re missing out on when they’re letting culture just sweep them along. Young people just have not been taught well by adults. We’ve gone down some of the paths of life and some have been dead ends. We need to warn them: “It’s not any good, we tried that. Don’t you try it, it’s not worth it.” Teaching chastity is very different from the simple abstinence message. Our culture doesn’t know how to teach abstinence because every single moment of the day, it works against chastity.
How can we evangelize friends and family with this information?
Oh, I think I’m going to count on you to do that. You sound like you’re very capable of doing that. It’s very hard to evangelize, especially one’s own friends and family. A good way of doing it is to start giving them tapes and documents. “Listen to this, read this,” instead of talking yourself. And say, “After you’ve read this and listened to this, let’s talk.” I think that’s the first step. Just open up a line of communication. Very few people have reflected on the evils of contraception and understandably so, because nothing provokes them to reflect upon it. Few Catholics have ever read any encyclical, let alone Humanae Vitae. We are the most literate society in the history of mankind, but we read “Newsweek” and “Consumer’s Report” and “People Magazine” and never a Church encyclical. Well, this is a good one to start with. And Familiaris Consortio is also great. They’re all great. Once you get started, you start to learn how to wade through them and they’re wonderful. So, I would start with that. Young people should start study groups. Get your friends together. Meet once every other week and go through Familiaris Consortio together. Get together and read it – page by page. Don’t make people read it ahead of time. Get together, read two pages and talk about it. Married couples should do the same thing. Invite some of your friends in and say, “Let’s read this together.” You’ll be amazed at what emerges from sessions like that. That’s only one small suggestion, but I’m sure seminarians like you are going to make the difference for us.
Thank you all very much.
Smith, Janet. Contraception: Why Not? is the transcription of a talk given at a Catholic Physicians Guild meeting at the Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio in May, 1994.