Thursday, September 23, 2010

NFP and Contraception

Q - I am looking for an explanation for why NFP is not the same as chemical contraception, such as the pill. Particularly, what about when there is severe pregnancy-related illness for the woman, and NFP is being used not just to delay pregnancy but to prevent it long-term?

A - Thanks for the question. I have written previously on NFP and contraception, but instead of just pointing you to those answers, I thought I would compile them into this post. I hope this helps.

I will focus on several areas – History, Sociological, Relational and Theological. Before I do that, we have to answer this question. What is love? Many people think it is a feeling or something that comes and goes.
How about these two definitions:
1 – Love is a gift of the whole person given to another.
2 – Love is choosing what is best for another regardless of the cost to myself.

Can we agree that these are good descriptions of what true love really is? Christ gave us one new commandment -"Love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 13:35). How did He love us? He gave everything He had to each of us on the Cross. It is the perfect gift of His whole person. He also wanted what was best for us and offers it to us even though it cost Him His life. So, Christ is our model of love. Keep this in mind.

All of Christianity rejected Contraception until 1930 – where the Lambeth Convention of the Anglican Church allowed it in narrow circumstances. A few years later a Protestant group of denominations (the Federal Council of Churches) allowed it. A day after the Federal Council of Churches declaration, a shocked Washington Post wrote the following:
"Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee's report, if carried into effect, would sound the deathknell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraception would be 'careful and restrained' is preposterous."
Can you imagine the Post writing that today? Regardless, they were right. The government knew it as well which is why contraception was outlawed until the 60’s. The Protestant reformers also knew it was bad.
Martin Luther:
"[T]he exceedingly foul deed of Onan, the basest of wretches . . . is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime.”
"The voluntary spilling of semen outside of intercourse between man and woman is a monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order that semen may fall on the ground is doubly monstrous. For this is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before he is born the hoped-for offspring."
Our choices in light of this history is this:
1 – Either 1,950 years of consistent Christian tradition (and the current stance of the Catholic Church) is wrong or
2 – All of Christianity had it correct until 1950 (and the Catholic Church still does).

Here are some of the common predictions about what would happen once contraception was legal and widely used:

1 - Marriages would be better - Unwanted pregnancies would decrease - Abortions would decrease
But, what has happened?

  • Divorce rate doubled between 1965-1975 from 25% to 50%
  • One demographer has shown that access to the pill paralleled the increase to the divorce rate
  • Those that use contraception have fewer children and later in marriage.
  • Early years of marriage are fun, but there is a change in attitude
  • But, children are harder to walk away from - They also make you less selfish
  • Also showed there was more adultery because a women is more “available” and the natural consequences (babies) aren’t as easy to achieve.

2 - Less unwanted pregnancies?

  • In 1960 some 6% of white babies were born out of wedlock - 22% in 1992 - higher today.
  • In 1960 22%of black babies were born out of wedlock - 68% in 1992 - higher today.
3 - Fewer abortions?
  • 50% of women who have abortions go because contraception failed.
  • “I got pregnant by accident”…how? This means something went RIGHT not something happened by an accident.
  • Even the phrase “unwanted pregnancies” was never known before contraception. Because humanity knew that pregnancy followed sex. But, now that people have tried to separate the two (and have a false sense of control), when contraception fails, they are shocked that babies happen.

Pope Paul VI’s predictions
In his groundbreaking encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI predicted the following would happen if contraception was widely used:
1) “how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality”
- he got this one right
2) “It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”
-The other person is no longer a person, but an object for pleasure.
3) “Who will stop rulers from favoring, from even imposing upon their peoples, if they were to consider it necessary, the method of contraception which they judge to be most efficacious? In such a way men, wishing to avoid individual, family, or social difficulties encountered in the observance of the divine law, would reach the point of placing at the mercy of the intervention of public authorities the most personal and most reserved sector of conjugal intimacy.”
-Forced abortions in China and other "reproductive rights" around the world.

So, how did the Pope know that this was going to happen? 3 reasons
1) He had Christian tradition
2) He had the Holy Spirit
3) He used natural law - We should use thing according to their nature.
  • If I want grass in my backyard, I better not pave it.
  • If you want to have a car run correctly – Don’t put oil in the gas tank.
  • If you don’t use your bodies and sex according to their nature, then it is going to mess things up.

Most people never ask the question, “what is sex intended for” or “what is the purpose of sex”. They merely assume it is for pleasure. But, God didn’t create us just to have a good time in bed. Sex has two purposes:
  1. Procreation – babies
  2. Union of the Spouses – bonding

If we take either out, then sex loses its meaning and becomes something it isn’t intended for. For example:
-Rape – the purpose of rape is neither for babies or bonding.
-premarital sex – It certainly isn’t for either thing, though many disguise it as bonding. Why isn’t it bonding?

Because is it a loving act (remember how we defined love above before you answer) to take a risk with getting someone who isn’t married pregnant? Is it loving to risk the emotional, spiritual, relational, or physical harm that comes with premarital sex (break-ups, sin, disease, broken hearts, self-esteem, etc)?

When sex loses it’s intended purpose, then it becomes something that isn’t good.
In fact, as Catholics we say sex is even better than good – which we will explore below.

How does society view children and portray them?
  • More children will take our money
  • More children take our freedom
  • More children will use up the earth’s resources
In other words, they are a burden.
But, the Bible has a different view.
  • Fertility and children are a blessing from God. To be cursed is to be barren, in the Bible
  • Children are Gifts, not burdens
  • That the Earth was made for humans to properly use
  • As immortal souls that we participate with God in creating. WE CREATE WITH GOD (pro – create)
God designed sex to be open to life. When one has sex and contracepts, they are, in effect, telling God that they want to have the effects of sex (pleasure) without the purpose. “NO THANKS GOD, WE DON’T WANT YOU TO BE A PART OF THIS”.

3 things that contraception does
  1. It attempts to block God out of the sexual act (violates procreation)
  2. It treats children as a burden, not a gift.
  3. It prevents bonding between the spouses.

Love = Total self-giving of yourself. To withhold your fertility from another, is a partial gift at best. And at worst it is using your spouse for your own selfish pleasure, which is the opposite of love.

Think of these two different phrases:
-I want to have sex with you vs I want to have a baby with you

One says I want to pleasure myself and use you to do it the other says I want to spend the rest of my life with you.

When a couple has sex they are worshipping God with there bodies when done in the proper context of chaste love between one man and one woman in marriage.

God the Father and God the Son love each other so much and so powerfully that the result of their love is the third person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. This is why John could write that “God is love”.

We are made in God’s image and likeness. We image God in our relationship with our spouses and in sex. When the husband and wife come together as one, the result of their love is their children. Sex then becomes worship of God, which is why it is so much more than just pleasure. It isn’t just good. Sex is sacred.

How does the pill work? Makes the woman’s body think it is pregnant
1) Stops ovulation
2) If that fails then - it changes the mucus so that the sperm isn’t in a good environment
3) It prevents implantation of a fertilized ovum into the Uterus - ABORTION
the Pill can cause blood clotting, and liver tumors among younger women. Fatal heart attacks are approximately twice as frequent among women who take the Pill. It can cause weight gain, decreased libido, depression, etc.
Moreover, all chemical forms of birth control can act as abortifacients – that is, a chemical abortion.

How does a condom work? It physically blocks fertility from being shared.
You wouldn't kiss your spouse through a plastic bag, but you would have sex with a condom? This isn't sharing of all you are.

So how does NFP work?
NFP experts say that when a couple understands and follows the method, NFP is about 99 percent effective in avoiding pregnancy.
-Billings method uses signs of cervical mucus
-Sympto-Thermal Method monitors the cervical mucus, changes of the cervix and uses temperature as a cross-check. A second kind is ecological breastfeeding, which uses frequent suckling and longer feedings.

What is the difference between the two?
The difference is that using contraception is like speaking a lie with the body. When we have sex, we are saying with our bodies “I give everything I am to you, except my fertility”.

To use NFP is not to say anything with the body, because it is merely avoiding sex during the fertile times. In other words, the integrity (wholeness) of the sexual act is not broken when you are not having sex. But, in the case of contraceptive sex it is.

Remember that you can’t justify the ends by the means. The “end” of contraception as well as NFP (to not have a baby) are the same. BUT, the means are completely different.
  • The Church affirms that efforts at birth regulation "must be done with respect for the order established by God" (Humanae Vitae, 16).
  • We may not act against our created human nature in pursuing some purpose or pleasure.
    • When you have sex you are saying, with your bodies, that you love another person. You sacrifice yourself for them. You give yourself, ALL of yourself to them.
  • NFP is like taking the 5th in court. You can’t be held guilty for doing something if you never acted.
    • Think of Euthanasia -Active killing vs. passively letting another die.
    • NFP passively lets nature run its course while contraception acts against procreation (thus CONTRA)
  • Now think about Praying. It is good. The Church says to pray. But, we aren’t called to meditate on the Cross of Christ all the time. But, when we do…it should be done with reverence. At any time it is okay to pray or not to pray (that is our choice), but we are never to blaspheme. To have contraceptive sex is to say one thing and do another.

Some of the Benefits to NFP
  • -More sex on average.
  • -Women have more self-respect for themselves
  • -Sex isn’t about just feeling good and therefore the women don’t feel like objects
  • -More satisfaction
  • -Better communication and marriages. Must talk for it to work
  • -Marriages last longer (less than 2% get divorced)
  • -Freedom from guilt and sin
  • -Grow closer to God
  • -Cheaper than contraception
  • -No side effects

Does using NFP take sacrifice? Yes.
Does it mean you have to have self-control? Yes. But, you can't give yourself away, if you aren't in control of yourself and love is giving yourself away.

The Church gets the final word in answering the questions above. From the Catechism:
2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self- observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil:
Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality.... The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.
Another issue that some Catholics have a problem with is understanding how the Church deals with couples who are infertile due to health reasons or age. The Catechism has a short paragraph on infertile couples:
2379 The Gospel shows that physical sterility is not an absolute evil. Spouses who still suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord's Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity. They can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others.
Only those who are intentionally infertile by means of surgery, drugs or device are doing anything wrong. But, even then, the vocation is not determined by this. Even in your example nothing was wrong, because the intent was not to make the woman infertile, but rather to treat an illness.

Not every marriage must will bear children. This does not mean that it isn't a valid or good marriage. Many sterile couples are more free to devote themselves to the works of mercy or other apostolates. Children are a gift from God, but not every couples is blessed with this gift. This is not the fault of the couple that is infertile and therefore has no bearing on their vocation.

The question above says - "Particularly, what about when there is severe pregnancy-related illness for the woman, and NFP is being used not just to delay pregnancy but to prevent it long-term?"

If the woman's health would be in serious danger because of getting pregnant, then using NFP to prevent pregnancy until she is no longer able to get pregnant (menopause) is morally licit. Think of it this way. To use NFP licitly in normal circumstances, a couple needs to discern that there are serious reasons to postpone pregnancy. These reasons would exist throughout the woman's life in some circumstances and thus it is just to use NFP in these cases.

I hope that this helps.


Kevin said...

I’m glad that you addressed contraception again. There are a couple of issues with the collection of ideas that you present that I’d like to discuss.

I guess the first one is about the history of contraception. The idea that it is the pill is responsible for the turbulent change of the past half century has always seemed problematic to me. There was so much going on – turbulent social change, civil rights, women’s rights. How do we know that more divorces, fewer children, more adultery happen because of the pill? Can we really lay all of this at the feet of the pill, even with everything else going on?

Think about long-term demographic changes. The decline in birthrate began in the middle of the 19th century, coinciding with an increasing industrial society and the rise of the middle class. You need a lot of children to run a family farm; not so many when the father works in an office. Historians have pointed out how well the decline in birth rate parallels the rise of the middle class. After all, when you have to send your kids to school for their social advancement, it makes more sense to have fewer kids – you’ll be able to lavish more time and attention on them. Given that the decline in family size is a long-term demographic phenomenon, how can we blame it on the pill, which has only been around for 50 years or so?

Another point that bothers me is the idea that the increase in pornography is a result of loss of respect for women, which is, itself, the result of the use of the pill. It’s hard to see pornography linked with the pill. After all, pornography has been around since people learned to draw or sculpt. It was a very early subject of the camera and film, each invented in the late 19th century. It grew with the development of magazines in the middle of the 20th century. Indeed, it seems that the growth in pornography today has more to do with communication technology than contraception. Without the Internet, it’s hard to believe that pornography would be any more prevalent today than it was in the 1940s and 50s.

There are other points that might be worth challenging. It’s not necessarily that I find the essence of the Church’s teaching wrong. But I find that the justifications that are often presented for it… Well, let’s say that I wonder if the discussion was set in a broader historical context, would we find that the social, cultural, and historical arguments justifying the Church’s teaching would be found far less convincing than the theological ones?

Marcel said...


I admit that not all of the blame of today's problems can be laid at the feet of contraception, and I could have been more clear in my assessment of the situation. But, there is a clear correlation, in my opinion, between contraception and the problems we have today. Let me see if I can address the two you raise.

The decline in birthrate certainly has to be partially attributed to the change in lifestyle. People are not in "need" of as much help when they are not living an agrarian-based lifestyle. But, the change has been too dramatic to base it solely on that criteria. Look at Western Europe, they are not even replacing their population via procreation. They are demographically contracepting themselves into oblivion.

The point is that contraception made limiting births more convenient and easy - thus divorcing sex and procreation. Once sex doesn't have anything to do with babies, then the entire purpose becomes something else. It can quickly become something that is completely self-serving - almost masturbation with another person.

This is where pornography comes in. Yes, pornography has been greatly helped by technology and ease of access, but it has existed in different forms from the beginning. Pornography is a natural outgrowth of the contraceptive mentality = sex is about my pleasure. Sex is about me.

When sex becomes self-serving, life itself is at stake. I don't think I am speaking in hyperbole here either.

patina said...

Another benefit of NFP is that the woman can be much more in tune with her body & therefore, be more likely to know when something isn't right. NFP also allows more accurate determination of a baby's due date, rather than the traditional method of assuming each woman ovulates on the same day each month.

Great article!

bilbannon said...

As for there being 1950 years of consistent tradition, I'd urge you to check that. There is a sense in which it is true and a sense in which it is deceptive. If you go to footnote 4 of Humanae Vitae, you'll see 4 Popes mentioned prior to Paul VI (and then separately there is one after him...making 6). Try someday to find any others out of the 265 Popes of history. You may find three or four but only in fragmentary comments like Gregory I and Sixtus V... despite there being contraception since the Roman empire.

What seems to have happened was there were fragments from early saints and the Didache, then early Councils along with several Fathers and in the 12th century the issue enters the decretals where it simply gets the automatic backing of any Pope who takes office even if he does not give it a thought but does not seek to change it and what Pope would seek to change the decretals if they do not factor into his reign and its particular problems. Being in the decretals, it would then be enforced in the confessional.
Unfortunately the enslavement of the child of a slave mother sat in the canons or decretals (noted by Aquinas in the Suppl. to the ST on marriage) just as long and apparently was not even looked at by the several Popes who objected to slavery in bulls.

That is....what is counted really as tradition is something that would embarass us in other areas....i.e. the rubber stamp nature of any issue in the decretals which is not really a living tradition if no one can touch it or would if it did not factor into their reign.
The only extensive writing on birth control by authority figures of great renown rather than fragmentary comments like the Didache or Jerome is three people: Augustine, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. That is partly why perhaps several 20th century theologians had problems with it and I am not referring to Curran and Kung but those of a more serious reputation....Rahner, Fuchs and Haring.

Must a Catholic obey in this area? Yes unless like Haring and Rahner and Fuchs, he goes through a process of sincere prayerful and studious and counseled disagreement which concept is in even Grisez' "Christian Moral Principles" page 854 (vol.1 of "The Way of the Lord Jesus")and is an approved and conservative tome that postdates Lumen Gentium 25's "religious submission of mind and will".
Paul VI had indicated in Jan.12,1966 audience that such parts of Vat. II were not infallible anyway but LG 25 is true but incomplete and the approved moral theology tomes which postdate it...complete it's uncompleted thought which Bishops and Rahner had objected to in its LG 25 statement.

Marcel said...

Bill - Tradition is not authoritative due to how many Papal decrees that have been promulgated or how many Church Fathers explicitly mentioned it.

Also, while Rahner, Fuchs and Haring might be more "serious" there is no counter-magisterium in theologians, regardless of how good they are.

makeoatmeal said...

You did not address the question.

"Particularly, what about when there is severe pregnancy-related illness for the woman, and NFP is being used not just to delay pregnancy but to prevent it long-term?"

Sometimes using NFP can be bad. Delaying pregnancy for justifiable reasons is fine. However, if one does not have a good reason to not have children, using NFP can be morally wrong.

I'm not quite sure what "severe pregnancy-related illness" is referring to.

Marcel said...

You are right. After all of that, I didn't get to it. I will edit.

Sarah said...

What I do not appreciate is people touting NFP like it's some blessing and literally a godsend, and they fail or refuse to recognize what a STRUGGLE it actually is for most couples. NFP is a HUGE leap of faith--which can fail!-- and practicing it can cause a lot of stress and trouble and confusion in a marriage. Nobody talks about that. But it is so real. I love the Catholic Church, but I do NOT like NFP or those like yourself who do not acknowledge the full truth and difficulty of it's practice.