Bad Catholic’s Grating Paternalism

I want to take a moment to address one more thing from Marc’s recent post on chastity and contraception, written as a rebuttal to one of my own posts:

I can think of quite a few other reasons contraception could be, at the very least, a contributing factor to marital dissolution, though I don’t have the studies to back me up. For instance, consider that the weight of contraception falls unfairly on women. Men have to wear a free condom. Women have to suppress their menstrual cycles with hundred-dollar pills. There is one contraceptive device for men, and it comes without health risks. There is no end to the contraceptive devices we’ve developed for women, no drop of ingenuity wasted on developing the plethora of caps, sponges, pills, IUDs, patches, rings, and female condoms that have become “a woman’s responsibility.” This gender inequality inherent to contraception would be bad enough even if most female contraceptives didn’t include health risks (like decreased sex drive. (4)(5)(6)(Not exactly a key to an easy marriage.)) So no, it’s not ridiculous to think contraception could be linked to a greater risk for divorce.

How does a couple using a birth control method like the pill or an IUD, which are taken by or inserted in women, lead to a higher risk of divorce? Even if we’re honestly concerned about the health risks artificial contraception poses to women (which are, by the way, far, far, far lower than the health risks of pregnancy), how does that lead to a greater risk of divorce? I’m seriously not seeing the mechanism here, and I’m not trying to be dense. I think the argument must be that women would end up resenting their husbands because they face health risks while their husbands don’t, but I think that’s something people like Marc must imagine happens, because I’ve never felt it and I’ve never seen it.

But if Marc really is worried about the burden of contraception falling on the woman, why is he pushing Natural Family Planning? Is he unaware of how much more work NFP is for a woman, or that the vast majority—vast, vast majority—of the effort of NFP falls on the woman? I have used NFP. I used it for the first four years of my marriage, actually. And in the end, I concluded that using NFP is like making your birth control into a hobby. That is how all-consuming it is. So I honestly don’t buy that Marc is actually concerned about the fact that the burden of contraception falls primarily on the woman. If he were, he would actually be advocating for male forms of contraception, or for making contraception even more effortless for women (spreading awareness of the effectiveness of IUDs, for instance) rather than advocating for NFP.

This whole thing about how contraception being designed for women being some sort of “gender inequality,” or that contraception somehow oppresses women is something Marc does this a lot. He frequently tries to turn feminist rhetoric back on itself, and it never works out well. In the past, for instance, Marc has tried to warn women about the health dangers of contraception, as though women don’t hear the litany of possible side effects from doctors and yet choose to take the pill anyway. It’s like Marc thinks we’re children who need hand holding, not big girls who know that contraception has health risks and yet choose to take it anyway for some reason Marc can’t comprehend (Hint: We like being able to have sex and not get pregnant—shocking, I know!).

I don’t see Marc running around warning women not to get pregnant because of all the health risks associated with pregnancy, or talking about what a problem it is that the burden of procreation falls on the woman and not on the man. The health risks of pregnancy are far higher than the health risks of contraception, but plenty of women run those risks anyway. It’s not that they don’t know the risks, it’s that they choose to face them anyway because they have decided the end result is worth it. And it’s the same with contraception. Similarly, with regards to Marc’s concern about the burden of contraception falling on the woman, would someone please remind Marc that all of the effort of pregnancy is on the woman? And pregnancy is not easy. Nor is labor. Is Marc concerned about the fact that all of that work falls on the woman, and about the “gender inequality” that represents? I highly, highly doubt it.

Now let me address Marc’s claim that (artificial) contraception lowers women’s sex drives (which, by the way, can be a side effect of some hormonal birth controls but is not always, and is not for every woman). What Marc seems oblivious to is that some women might be just fine with a lower sex drive if that’s the price they have to pay to choose when and if to become pregnant (once again, Marc’s paternalism comes into play as he assumes that women are children who are unaware of the trade-offs they may make when using birth control). He also seems oblivious to the fact that the risk of pregnancy might actually inhibit some women’s sex drives—or that having small children taking up time, attention, and energy might lower a woman’s sex drive.

I’ve written before about how, when I used NFP (and I used it for four full years), my fear of messing it up and getting pregnant severely inhibited my sex life and my enjoyment of sex. One way I could tell how strong this effect was that each time I got pregnant (both were planned) those first few months of pregnancy were an amazing haze of sexual bliss. All of a sudden my husband and I could have sex and enjoy it, without the constant worrying about pregnancy. The difference was incredibly, incredibly huge and undeniable. I’ve since gotten an IUD, and it’s the same sort of thing—I now don’t have to constantly worry about pregnancy, or to scan my chart over and over trying to decide whether to risk it or wait another day. And that’s mindblowingly amazing. (And for the record, my IUD has not caused me a single health problem.) And I’m not the only one who has had these experiences, either.

Look, if Marc is honestly concerned about the health risks of female contraception, and the relative dearth of male contraceptive methods, I am all for him starting a campaign for female contraceptives that have fewer health risks, and for greater variety in male contraceptives. These are both things I’m in favor of, too. But then, I suppose I shouldn’t have added that “too” there, because I seriously doubt Marc is actually in favor of either of these things. He’s a Catholic who totally embraces the Church’s ban on (artificial) contraception, so when he pulls out the bits about (artificial) contraception having health risks or about how there’s only contraception for women, he’s not doing that because he actually wants to fix those problems. He’s doing it because he wants to throw out (artificial) contraception altogether. And I suppose that’s why his twisting of feminist rhetoric makes me rather angry.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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