I accessed a number of articles on the internet regarding the subject of artificial birth control (ABC). I discovered that many of the the reasons why the Catholic Church believes that ABC is against God’s plan for us can be linked to this observation: Artifical birth control goes against natural law or rather against the God-given nature of our bodies and God’s purposes for sex. Here are two points made in the articles I read:
1) Fertility is the natural state of a healthy body. It’s not an illness or disorder for which you need to take a pill or alter the functioning of your body with physical devices or through surgery. [The Bible makes it clear that fertility is a gift not a curse.]
2) The sexual relationship between husband and wife has three natural purposes: Pro-creation, marital unity/bonding, and pleasure.
Part of the Catholic position on artificial birth control is based on this proposition: When you intentionally deny and do not respect these natural purposes of sex you distort the God-given and natural purpose of the sexual relationship between husband and wife and do harm to marriages, families and ultimately society.
This discussion of natural law and the natural purposes of sex intrigued me. One article I read offered an analogy that really made me think. Here’s my summary of that analogy:
If I were to ask “why do we need to eat?” The number one reason given would be for nutrition and sustenance. It’s a law of nature that our bodies must take in calories in order to survive. Now as someone who enjoys good food my next answer would immediately be because food tastes good. Pleasure is indeed a natural part of eating (unless of course, we’re talking about Brussels sprouts!).
There are natural, God-given reasons for eating. So, what do we call it when we distort or try to deny the natural purposes and consequences of eating? For example:
- What’s it called when someone who wants to enjoy food but deny their body the natural consequences of the calories they just took in by binging and purging? It’s called bulemia and it’s known as an eating “disorder.”
- What’s it called when someone denies the body’s natural need for calories by not eating enough food in order to be thin? It’s called anorexia. It too is known as an eating “disorder.”
- Finally, what’s it called when someone takes in more calories than necessary by elevating the pleasure of eating above the natural limited number of calories needed in order to be healthy? It’s called gluttony and it too is “disordered” in relation to our nature and God’s purposes for our bodies.
I could see where this analogy was heading and it scared me because it started to make sense. And it begs the question: What happens when we distort the God-given purposes of sex? What does this disorder or distortion look like?
When it comes to certain distortions or disorders with respect to sex there is one that most Christians can agree upon: Illicit sexual relationships outside of the covenant of marriage.
Illicit relationships obviously deny or distort the unifying nature of the marital sexual relationship. It is safe to say that of the three natural purposes of sex, the illicit sexual relationship is most often for the sake of pleasure (emotional and physical). This, we know, is out of order from God’s plan for sex and our bodies.
Most Christians, Protestants and Catholics alike, see the damage done to individuals, families and society as a result of this disordered use of sex when it occurs between two people who aren’t married to one another (think broken families, children born to single moms and raised without a father, promiscuity, STDs, abortion, etc.).
Protestants and Catholics also agree that sexual behavior between two people of the same sex is a distortion of the natural, God-given purposes of sex. It’s obvious that homosexual behavior inherently denies the union of marriage between a man and woman and the pro-creative nature of sex which leaves pleasure to be exalted as the primary purpose of sexual behavior.
In addition, many Christians and non-Christians alike are appalled by other cultures that perform procedures known as “female circumcision” in which the woman’s body is surgically altered so she can’t experience any pleasure during sex. Why? Obviously because of the inhumanity of this act, the pain and harm it does to the women. But at the root of this is the fact that this too goes against the God-given nature of our bodies. It goes against the natural law of things. God created our bodies in such a way that pleasure is to be part of the sexual union between a man and woman.
All of these distortions Christians can agree upon. However, what’s interesting is that there is one distortion of the God-given purposes for sex that most Christians have come to accept. That distortion is with regard to the procreative nature of sex. Most Christians believe it’s perfectly acceptable to take the gift of sexual union and whenever they see fit artifically alter their bodies or the sexual union so that the procreative nature of sex is rendered sterile.
The question these articles asked was how is this any different than distorting one of the other natural purposes of sex? Aren’t all three God-given natural purposes for sex? We know that when we distort the marital unifying nature of sex it leads to all kinds of problems. We also know that when we don’t respect the mutual gift of pleasure in marital sex there can be problems in the relationship. Wouldn’t it “naturally” follow that distorting the God given pro-creative nature of our bodies might cause some problems too.
At first glance most people don’t see the problems with artificial contraception. I sure didn’t. My thinking went something like this, “So, what if people want to avoid having a child, isn’t that their God-given right? Shouldn’t we be prudent and not have more children than we can “afford” (whether that means affording it financially or emotionally)?”
The answer, according to the articles I read, was that people should use wisdom and prayer when growing their families. And if there is a need to avoid pregnancy then God has provided them with a reliable means of doing so, it’s called abstinence.
Interestingly one gentleman pointed out that the real motivation for ABC isn’t avoiding pregnancy; it’s to be able to have sex whenever one pleases without experiencing the possible natural consequence of a pregnancy. If the goal were to simply avoid pregnancy then the couple could avoid sexual intercourse during times of fertility and experience the bonding and pleasure of sex during natural times of infertility. So the real motivation behind ABC is pleasure without consequence.
Instantly my mind argued that artificial birth control allows for the natural purpose of bonding in the marriage without worrying about becoming pregnant. But I quickly realized that distorting one purpose for the sake of another is akin to saying God made a mistake when He gave us the gift of fertility and sex and we must rectify it by altering our bodies or the act of sex.
The articles I read pointed out that abstinence can actually strengthen the bonds of marriage. The argument goes like this: When a couple wants to avoid a pregnancy and chooses abstinence and self-control during times of fertility, instead of ABC, their bond is strengthened because it requires open discussion, self-control and mutual respect. It requires a willingness to die to self for the sake and benefit of the family. If abstinence can strengthen the marital bond then it speaks volumes about the true purposes and motivations behind ABC and sterilization. Because there are other ways to strengthen the marital bond then ABC (including sterilization) isn’t about being able to have sex whenever one wants in order to strengthen the marital bond. Instead, ABC is about being able to have sex whenever one wants for the sake of pleasure. That really made me think.
My mind was racing. The logic of this natural law argument was beginning to take hold in my heart and in my head. How could there not be a problem with artificial contraception? It’s goes against the natural order, the gift of fertility and God’s intention for our bodies. It literally requires some kind of distortion of our bodies (i.e. chemical, surgical, invasive implants) or the distortion of or interference with the act of sex in order to avoid the natural procreative consequences of sex.
I realized that contracepted sex is a lot like the disorder of bulemia. The bulemic wants to enjoy eating all of the food she can without experiencing the possible natural consequences of ingesting so many calories? Contracepted sex is really no different. But how much more disordered is contracepted sex given the life-giving creative power of sex. The effects of disordered eating are obvious. Eating disorders, left untreated, lead to death. So what are the consequences of distorting the pro-creative purpose of sex?
Some might and have argued that ABC is actually a good thing for marriages. I sure thought so. But as these articles pointed out we really only have to look to the advent of the birth control pill and the coinciding sexual revolution to see one of the most obvious effects of ABC.
One of the little discussed effects of birth control in marriage is the fact that sexual temperance or self-control is no longer necessary nor expected. This is true within marriage and outside of marriage. With the risk of an “unplanned or unwanted” pregnancy done a way with, pleasure is for the having whenever one wants. And often this happens at the expense of what one spouse might want or might need in the relationship (either emotionally or physcially). How often do we hear about women who feel sexually used even in their marriages because of their husband’s uncontrolled desires? This speaks to the issue of respect and self-control.
One article I read asked, “Is it any wonder that the message of abstinence and self-control is lost on this generation of youth?” Many adults want to make sure that teens have access to ABC because in they don’t believe that the youth can/will control themselves and abstain from sex. In our society, when it comes to sex, humans have been reduced to mere animals without the ability to reason and have self-control over their bodies.
Now this may not be the case in Christian circles but as a single woman, I can remember on more than one occasion hearing single Christian men (and even some women) comment about how they couldn’t wait to marry and have sex whenever they wanted. It was as if the fruit of the spirit, self-control, was applicable to single men only or to married men who might be considering an adulterous affair. Otherwise, all bets were off. These articles pointed out that ABC puts the desire for pleasure above the self-control necessary to abstain when a woman is fertile and a couple wants to avoid pregnancy.
Other points made in these articles about artificial birth control:
The fact that the pill and IUD can cause abortions.
The harmful effects of the pill on women’s bodies.
The way in which pregnancies and children are viewed and talked about (planned/unplanned, wanted/unwanted).
The increased acceptance of abortion (especially after the advent of the pill). The motivation for which is not far removed from the reasons people are using artifical birth control [i.e.” no one is going to tell me what to do with my body,” financial security, career planning].
It was at this point that I turned off my computer. I turned it off and told God I didn’t want to know anymore. [As if turning the computer off would somehow make the truths I was reading go away and no longer be true.] It lasted for a day or two. I tried to avoid this topic but the Holy Spirit just wouldn’t let go of me on this one.
You may be wondering why I’m spending so much time on this topic in my story. There are several reasons:. Two of which I’ll share here:
1) I want my girls to have a record and understanding of this part of our journey. This is a huge topic and teaching and I want my girls to know their parents did not take it lightly. I also want them to seek to understand this teaching as they grow up.
2) It was becoming clear to me that this was no longer a “Catholic” issue that I was studying. It wasn’t about whether the Catholic Church was right or wrong. And it wasn’t about whether some old celibate man in Rome was going to tell me what to do with my body. It became clear to me this was about knowing God’s will for my life, my body, my marriage and my family. It was about what the Holy Spirit was speaking to depths of my heart about God’s design for sex.
As it turns out I’d only just begun to understand why the Catholic Church was against ABC. The natural law argument and eating analogy showed me the disordered nature of using artificial birth control. To me this arugument was compelling in and of itself. But there was more to learn about the Biblical and theological truths as well as the beautiful affirmation of marriage and sex found in this teaching.
Although I was slowly giving mental assent to this teaching on artificial birth control my emotions were slow to catch up. If I truly accepted this teaching that meant there would be real change for my life and there was someone else involved in this decision too, Scott. And I had no idea how he would react to this information…
Coming soon…Scott’s reaction and where God would take us next on this journey.