Culture at the Crossroads
The McDonaldization of Sex 2 (Sex and Christianity 11)
Second, we have colluded in making women's bodies an enemy to be overcome rather than a gift to be cherished. An early ad for the first birth control pill expressed this negative attitude toward a woman's body in striking terms:
From the beginning woman has been a vassal to the temporal demands... of the cyclic mechanism of her reproductive system. Now to a degree heretofore unknown, she is permitted normalization . . . of cyclic function. This new method [of] control is symbolized in an illustration borrowed from ancient Greek mythology—Andromeda freed from her chains (cited in Lara V. Marks, Sexual Chemistry: A History of the Contraceptive Pill [Yale University Press, 2001], p. 132).
Early proponents of birth control like Margaret Sanger were eugenicists, whose theories of population were based in the (frequently challenged) Neo-Malthusian fear of uncontrolled growth. The woman's body was seen as an enemy of economic prosperity, and so it had to be subdued at all costs.
Here again we see remarkable paradoxes. Most obviously, in the contraceptive age population has continued to expand. But more importantly, what the Malthusian model assumes is uncontrolled growth as a result of economic laws about fertility. But that assumption has been criticized by many, including the economists Gary Becker (a Nobel Prize winner) and H. Gregg Lewis, who argue for a more rational model of childbearing, rooted in a correlation between quantity and quality of children. As populations are lifted out of poverty and women enter the workforce, the cost of childcare rises and so the fertility rate will naturally decline. In contrast, McDonaldized sex that results from easy contraception fosters a rise in risky sexual behavior, leading to greater rates of fertility.
Further, contraception is one of the hallmarks of the modern feminist movement, and yet support for contraception rests on shaky assumptions of what promotes the flourishing of women.
- The most common form of contraception, sterilization, involves the disabling of a healthy biological process through surgery.
- Oral contraceptives, containing artificial estrogen and progesterone, carry significant health risks such as increased likelihood of cervical cancer, liver cancer, and breast cancer, even though they may reduce the likelihood of cervical cancer. And with serious medical questions raised about even recent contraceptives like Yaz, there is reason for concern about what new science will reveal about introducing chemicals to interfere with a healthy biological process in a woman's body. Further, users of the Pill may be disrupting the normal biological processes that govern attraction and mating (more evidence here).
- Use of barrier methods increases the risk of vaginal infection, urinary tract infection, and toxic shock syndrome.
- The Depo-Provera shot may trigger weight gain.
- Failed contraception affects women more profoundly than men, due to the possibility of pregnancy and a greater susceptibility to certain sexually transmitted infections.
Tim Muldoon holds a Ph.D. in Catholic systematic theology and is an award-winning author and Catholic theologian of the new evangelization.