“As love matures, we focus less on how the other person makes me feel and more on the unrepeatable value and dignity of the other person. And this is a love for the other person as he or she really is, not as the person of our imagination, not as the person we wish him or her to be, but the real person–warts and all. ”—Christopher West
Marriage and Contraception
The following passage is from Christopher West’s book The Good News About Sex and Marriage. In this part he explores the logic of contraception within marriage. All italics, etc, are in the original formatting.
After pointing out that marital vows by nature require openness to children, he explores the consequences of the various objections people raise:
Some might respond: “A copule can be ‘open to children’ over the course of their marriage without each and every act of intercourse needings to be.” But that makes as much sense as saying: ‘A couple can be ‘faithful’ to each other over the course of their marriage without each and every act of intercourse needing to be with each other.” If we can recognize the inconsistency in claiming a commitment to fidelity but not always, we should be able to recognize the inconsistency of claiming a commitment to being open to children but not always.
Looking for a way out of the dilemma posed by this logic? You have a few choices:
Option 1. You can claim that sex doesn’t have to participate in the “I do” of wedding vows at all. OK, then the logical conclusion is that it doesn’t have to be between people who have exchanged wedding vows at all. In this view, sex has no real meaning whatsoever, other than the exchange, or even solitary experience, of physical pleasure.
This opens the door to the justification of any and every means to orgasm, whether by oneself, between to people, between any number of people… or even with animals. This, unfortunately, is the way much of our contraception culture already things.
Option 2: You can change the definition of marriage to exclude “openness to children” as an integral part of the commitment. OK, but then we become the authors of marriage, rather than God, and the definition of marriage becomes completely arbitrary. You want to have a “dissoluble marriage” just in case it doesn’t work out? Sure, we can do that. You want to have an “open marriage” just in case you get bored with each other? Sure, we can do that….
Marriage is all or nothing. Sex, as an expression of the marriage commitment, is all or nothing. There is no avoiding the fact that an intentionally sterilized act of intercourse changes the “I do” of the wedding vows to an “I do.. not.”
This “I do not” affects not only the commitment to being open children. A closer look reveals that it also affects freedom, totality, and fidelity as well. Let’s take a look at each of these again through the lens of contracepted intercourse.
Freedom. This truth may strike you as odd at first, but vive it some time to sink in: contraception was not invented to prevent pregnancy. There already existed a perfectly safe, infallibly relaible way of doing that; it’s called abstinence. Upon deeper reflection it becomes clear that contraception was invented to indulge sexual instinct. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. The necessity that mothered contraception was our “need” for sex.
“Sexual freedom,” in the popular sense, means the license to have sex without ever having to say no (this is exactly what contraception affords.) But only those who say no to sex (only those who can abstain) demonstrate that when they say yes, they do so freely. Contraception, promoted in the asme of “sexual freedom,” actually fosters self-imposed slavery. It creates a culture of people unable to say no to their hormones.
Totality. As we noted in the last chapter, to the degree that we knowingly and intentionally reserve any part of ourselves from our spouse in the sexual act, we canot speak of a total self giving. This includes our fertility. Contracepted intercourse contradicts the “language of love” by saying, “I give you all of myself except my fertility. I receive all that you are except your fertility.”
The choice to withhold one’s fertility during intercourse, or to refuse to receive it as a gift in one’s spouse, is a contradiction of the deepest essence of conjugal love right at the moment when it should find its most sincere expression. Precisely at marriage’s “moment of truth,” the truth is exchanged for a lie.
Fidelity. Being faithful to one’s spouse does not only mean refraining from adultery (in deed or in fantasy.) It means living what you promised at the altar through thick and thin, no matter how difficult, no matter how challenging, no matter how much sacrifice is required. Couples who succumb to sterilizing their acts of intercourse have consciously or unconsciously decided that fidelity to their vows is too demanding. Consciously or unconsciously, they choose to be unfaithful to the promises they made at the altar.
West then answers some common questions:
Are you saying couples who use contraception don’t love each other?
They may love each other in many authentic ways. But despite any accompanying amount of sentiment, emotion, and feeling, an act of contracepted intercouse can never be an act of authentic love. Love is not arbitrary. Love is not whatever we want it to be. Love is not merely an intense feeling or the sharing of pleasure. Love is to live according to the image in which we’re made. Love is to give ourselves away freely, totally, and fruitfully in imitation of Christ. Contracepted intercourse contradicts all of this.
So what the heck is a couple supposed to do, just have twelve kids? Gimme a break!
Let’s think about it. Supposed there is a couple who has internalized what it means to renew their vows through intercourse and are determined to never violate those vows (as every married couple should be.) Suppose they also have a just reason to space their children, or even not to have another baby at all… What could they possibly do that would not violate their vows?
Every time a couple chooses to have a sex they must speak the “I do” of their vows. But couples aren’t always obligated to have sex. In fact, throughout the course of a marriage there are many occasions when a couple might want to have sex but have good reason not to. Perhaps one or the other spouse is sick. Perhaps the wife just gave bith. Perhaps the couple is staying with one of the in-laws and there are thin walls. Or perhaps they have good reason not to have another baby. These are all good reasons not to have sex, even if they want to.
So here’s the answer to our question: If a couple had a good reason not to have another baby, and they were firm in their resolve never to violate their marriage commitment, the only thing they could do would be to exercise their freedom to say no and abstain from sex. Human dignity and the meaning of sexual intercourse dictate that the only acceptable birth control is self-control.
Why do people spay or neuter their pets? Because animals can’t say no to their urge to mate. But we can. If we can’t, then we’ve stooped to the level of Fido and Fidette.
The science of NFP can pinpoint with 99% accuracy, depending on the method you use, when the very small window of a woman’s fertile period is each month. For couples with just reasons to avoid having children, abstaining from sex during that short time periods is the moral and healthy way to regulate family size. Again, more information here and in this tag.
“Most people look at Christian morality—especially sexual morality—as an oppressive list of rules to follow. How far this misunderstanding is from the "living morality" proclaimed by Christ! The Gospel doesn't give us more rules to follow. The Gospel is meant to change our hearts so that we no longer need the rules... To the degree that we experience this change of heart, we experience "freedom from the law"—not freedom to break the law; freedom to fulfill it.”—Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West
“Mohandas Gandhi, the famous Indian nationalist leader and a Hindu, insisted that contraceptive methods are like "putting a premium on vice. They make men and women reckless." He predicted that "nature is relentless and will have full revenge for any such violation of her laws. Moral results can only be produced by moral restraints....If [contraceptive] methods become the order of the day, nothing but moral degradation can be the result...As it is, man has sufficiently degraded woman for his lust, and [contraception], no matter how well meaning the advocates may be, will still further degrade her.”—Christopher West, The Good News about Sex and Marriage
Cool Catholics that you should check out
Christopher West~ This dude knows the Theology of the Body inside and out. He is the 2nd greatest teacher of TOB ( 1st was JPII duhh btw its his feast day today!)
Matt Maher~ Wonderful Catholic Singer. So cool and chill. Love him!
Mike Mangione~ He is a great singer. He has a solo cd out. Currently he is in a band called Mike Mangione and the Union. Check out their album. Cool story he knows Christopher West. And Chris uses a lot of his songs in tob. I actually had the chance to see Christopher West do a teaching of TOB and the Union was there. Check out their song “At Your Gate” So good!
Audrey Assad~ Such a lovely Catholic singer. I love her music :-)
Me aka Tammy ~ I’m pretty cool I think. Jesus does too :-). I’m a young Catholic who is still living a Catholic life. I’m in college and didn’t let the liberal secular life change who I am.