Biblically, the story of Onan in Genesis Chapter 38 was a blunt enough message for the first nineteen centuries of Christianity: preventing children by artificial means was offensive to God. So much so that God summarily killed Onan for it (Gen 38: 8-10). Worse, after Christ’s resurrection, Catholics and protestant theologians gave Onan the dubious honor of having a particular mortal sin named after him.
Add to that, whenever a woman got pregnant in the Bible, it was because God had mercy on her, God opened her womb, or God blessed her. Children were seen as a blessing by God to be celebrated, not a chore to be avoided (Ps 127:3-5, Prov 17:6, to name a few).
But , I prefer not only to look at the Biblical reasons alone. I also like to look at common sense. I also like food. Food has two components, if we think about it: There is both a biological and an emotional aspect to any food we eat. Food is eaten with friends. It’s often pleasurable to consume. It’s also a necessity for life. Ancient Rome, however, was known for its pleasurable excesses. It was not unheard of for party guests to vomit their food up after dinner, and return for more food later. Cicero in his work Pro Rege Deiotaro noted Julius Caesar himself would take emetic drugs for the expressed purpose of making himself vomit after dinner. For ancient Roman partygoers, filling up on good food wasn’t considered a bad thing at all. And, if you found yourself too full, a guest just emptied the contents of their stomach, and then could return to the party able to consume more delectables.
Today, when someone tries to lose weight by vomiting the food they eat, we say they have an eating disorder. Just so, when the ancient Romans sought to separate the pleasure of eating from its biological purpose, we see it as disordered. Or we just call it gross. Take your pick.
If this sounds odd to bring up in an article allegedly about contraception, consider this: Artificial contraception of any sort, physical, chemical or behavioral, does with our sexuality exactly what the Romans did with food. There are two aspects to human sexuality as well: unitive and pro-creative. Sexual activity done right is unitive, bonding two people through pleasurable activity. There is also a biological purpose to sex, which (hopefully) any seventh-grader knows is the creation of children. Contraception separates the unitive from the pro-creative, insisting on having the pleasure of sex while cutting off its biological purposes.
Why do we care? Because separating the emotional from the physical leads to disorders, with sexuality as much as food. Skeptics may scoff, but consider this quote from Sigmund Freud (no friend of the Catholic Church, mind you!):
“The common characteristic of all perversions… is that they have abandoned reproduction as their aim. We term sexual activity perverse when it has renounced the aim of reproduction and follows the pursuit of pleasure as an independent goal. And so you realize that the turning point in the development of sexual life lies in its subjugation to the purpose of reproduction. Everything this side of the turning point, everything that has given up this purpose and serves the pursuit of pleasure alone, must carry the term “perverse” and as such be regarded with contempt.” [Freud, A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. New York, Boni and Liveright, 1920, p. 273]
Thus, where separating the pleasure of eating from the biological purpose of eating leads to eating disorders, the separation of the pleasure of sexuality from the biological purpose of sex leads to sexual disorders, or perversions. Does this mean every couple that uses contraception will become perverts? Not necessarily. However, the dangers to our culture of a contraceptive mentality are undeniable for one who looks honestly at our cultural history.
Until recently, all Christian churches, Catholic and protestant, were opposed to artificial contraception. Church fathers as early as Clement of Alexandria in 195 A.D. wrote against it in his work The Instructor of Children. Even the first protestant writers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin spoke against artificial contraception in their writings. Luther called contraception “…a most disgraceful sin…far more atrocious than incest and adultery,” and Calvin called contraception “wickedness is now as severely as is possible condemned by the Spirit.”
Less than 100 years have passed since the first protestant church accepted contraception at the Anglican Lambeth Conference in 1930. Since that time, Western culture has come to see children as problems to be avoided rather than blessings to be celebrated. If I sound off base, ask a mother of more than four children how often she’s heard cruel comments versus praises about the size of her family.
Some have argued that the use of contraception prevents abortion. Unfortunately thus far, the opposite has happened. Abortion for many is no longer seen as murder. Instead it’s hailed as a civil right only sexually repressed, women-hating foods would oppose.
This demand for a woman’s alleged control over her body is more than a desire to avoid morning sickness. For a person who will not acknowledge the existence of God or Heaven, the sexual act is the closest to the transcendent that they will experience. Abortion and contraception thus go hand-in-hand, for both allow those addicted to the pleasure of sexual activity to avoid its biological purpose, and both are seen as essential to enjoying sexual pleasure without its corresponding responsibility for new life.
Does this mean a couple needs to have a child each time they have relations? No.
Does this mean you have to try to have as many children as possible? Again, no.
The Catholic Church has been clear that using natural methods such as Natural Family Planning (NFP for short), which use women’s temperatures and other body signs, are acceptable means of planning one’s family.
“Isn’t that the same as contraception?” some argue, “What’s the difference?”
Good question. What’s the difference between saying no to an extra dessert, and making yourself vomit to make room for it? If you truly don’t know that, I can’t help you. But if you want to learn how to use NFP, try contacting your local chapter of the Couple-to-Couple League. If you want to know in more detail why artificial contraception is wrong, read Humane Vitae, the Catholic Church’s restating of it’s teaching in greater detail. Written in the 1960s, the predictions of its 17th paragraph are particularly insightful.
And if you want to stay emotionally and physically healthy, enjoy your married life. And keep your dinner down.