In light of the recent Planned Parenthood videos, I’ve been thinking about a group of pro-life friends who don’t fit the Catholic categories. These are staunchly pro-life Christians who believe sex should be saved for marriage, that marriage is a lifelong, exclusive union between one man and one woman, but who take contraception as the ‘default mode’ for marital relations, and sterilization as an acceptable way to avoid pregnancy indefinitely.
There are variations within that broad definition, but that’s the gist of it.
When Catholics talk about the connection between contraception and abortion, these couples do not quite fit the pattern. They use contraception (or sterilization) the way Catholics use NFP: If a pregnancy should result despite the couple’s attempt to avoid conceiving, they chalk it up to the will of God and joyfully accept the bundle of surprise happiness.
Why do these couples contracept? Because they’ve been told to, mostly. Keep in mind that even Catholics virtually never speak of the question, and we have Humanae Vitae. Christians of all brands tend to assume that if there is vast pastoral silence on a matter, then whatever the culture is saying must be right.
Thus these couples take what their pastors do have to say about love and marriage and sex, then fit the cultural norms into the gaps.
Do we have a problem?
I am not writing here a full argument against contraception. You can get started on that here, or here, or here. What I want to talk about is the one weird trick contraception plays on marriage, and how that trickles down to everyone else.
When we talk about contraception, especially methods with no abortifacient potential, people tend to say, “Well, NFP is the same thing. You’re preventing births. You’re just using time, rather than a physical barrier, as your thing to avoid pregnancy.”
This gets a little comical half a second later, when you say, “Gosh, if they are the same thing, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t switch.”
They are most definitely not the same thing. Choosing to abstain is radically different from choosing to have sex. It is much harder to play Scrabble while having sex, for one thing.
The whole point of contraception is that you intend to have sex but don’t want the consequences that might follow. The whole point of NFP is that because you are concerned about the consequence, you choose not to have sex.
What does this do to you as a person? To you as a couple? To you as a member of society?
The thing that contraception does is that it turns sex into something you are convinced that you need.
This is a problem because it is a lie, and a deadly one.
How To Kill A Marriage Quick
I’m a fan of the marital act. Not only can I show the goods to back up that claim, but longtime readers can attest that one of my intermittent themes is airing my suspicions about that handful of Catholics who fear that someone, somewhere, is abstaining for the pure pleasure of it.
The precise manner and frequency of intercourse is something each married couple has to work out for themselves, but two things tend to screw up a marriage fast. The first is a spouse who is resentful of the other person’s interest in them (a real problem for some, but not the topic of this post). The second is a spouse who is resentful of the reality that even married people can’t just drop their pants any time they want.
Related posts you might want to pause and peruse right now:
I am under no illusion that abstinence is easy, see “fan of the marital act,” above. Contraception first slid into the Christian world in response to that challenge: Maybe there’s a way that couples can make necessary abstinence easier by, you know, not abstaining.
We could argue that this (immoral) shift was merely a case of looking for a way to mitigate a difficult situation. Christians, after all, do like to relieve suffering when we can.
Perhaps so. But since that time, the availability and widespread use of contraception has persuaded couples that the devices aren’t merely a convenience but a necessity. We have become convinced that because abstinence is difficult, it is dangerous. We have become convinced that abstinence is a threat to our happiness, and thereby a threat to marriage. We are persuaded that if there exists a sexual drive, that drive must be satisfied. Self-denial is the new cyanide.
Marriage Really Is the Bedrock of Society
If abstinence is deadly to married people, the logic follows, then it must be bad for everyone.
Whereas NFP always reminds you that abstinence is a part of life we must make peace with, contraception says no, don’t make that peace. Very quickly we become persuaded we must have this thing that we want, because it is a necessity.
Thus the spiritual fruit of marriage extends outward to the wider society: If married people have to indulge-or-bust, then surely the same applies to engaged couples? To people dating seriously? To those who are just lonely and want some affection? To those who have no prospect of marriage, but have a sexual drive all the same?
After all, there is nothing different, biologically or psychologically, between a married person and everyone else. If a married person is going to combust for lack of intercourse, it follows that others might too. If a married person is incapable of maintaining healthy, balanced, rewarding relationships unless the sex drive is perpetually sated, it follows that others have the same need for satiation.
And if the married person, who has the advantage of a dear friend on hand for companionship and assistance and warmth and kindness, is unable to experience depth and emotional intimacy and chaste physical touch unless sex be a part of that relationship, it follows that others desiring close human connections have no hope — unless they, too, get the sexual gratification that is apparently necessary if there is to be any happiness.
These are lies of course. You won’t combust for lack of sex. You can have close, warm, satisfying relationships without having to include the sexual act in those relationships.
But these are the lies that contraception teaches us, whether we are intending to learn them or not.
Artwork: Mary Magdelene pouring ointment, Andrea Solari [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. I love her expression in this one.