September 26, 2017

Damaris Zehner: Some Thoughts on Artificial Birth Control

Schwartz-Birth-Control-Development-1200

This is such a divisive topic.  I’ve tried for years to write about it and haven’t found the courage or the focus.  Here’s my claim:  I don’t like artificial birth control.  I think it is spiritually, physically, and socially harmful.  However, I don’t want to write a diatribe against it or try to persuade people with confrontational arguments.  I’d just like to explain myself well enough that those who commented on my last post can understand my “bass-ackward” and “troubling” point of view.

Definitions  

By artificial birth control, I mean hormonal treatments such as pills, injections, and implants; physical barriers such as the diaphragm and condom; withdrawal; chemical spermicides; irritants and abortifacients like the IUD and morning-after pill; surgical sterilization; and abortion.

There are three main options to the use of artificial birth control.

The first is celibacy, either temporary or permanent.  It is one hundred percent effective.  It may have some long-term health impacts – women who have never given birth, for example, seem to be at slightly higher risk for certain types of cancer, and several male sailors I’ve known described a painful condition called “blue balls,” which I will leave to the imagination of the reader.  Opinion is divided over the psychological impacts of celibacy.  Some claim it leads to madness, while others praise the focus and opportunities of the celibate life.  Permanent celibacy is always going to be a minority practice, though, so we’ll move on to the next.

The second is the – well, let’s call it the bunny option.  Some religious groups have made unrestrained breeding a holy activity.  There have even been people – I hope in the past, but nuttiness springs eternal – who disapproved of breast feeding because it delayed the mother’s ability to conceive again.  These groups hope to outbreed their ideological competition.  May I say, as firmly as possible without hitting Caps Lock, that these bunny breeders do not represent most people who have objections to artificial birth control.  God has asked us to restrain all of our primal appetites for our own good and the good of others, and our appetite to procreate is no exception.  Children are not weapons in an ideological war.

The third option is natural family planning (NFP).  The term is often greeted with scorn because of the failure of “the rhythm method.”  This was a primitive attempt to understand a woman’s natural cycles so as to avoid sex during fertile times if the couple didn’t want children.  It relied on counting days, but there is too much variation in cycles for that to be accurate.  So far as I know, no one still uses the rhythm method exclusively any more than bleeding, cupping, or phrenology.  (Okay, yes, sometimes modern medicine still bleeds patients, but my larger point stands.)  Modern natural family planning is an entirely different thing.

birth-controlEffectiveness

I won’t go into detail about how NFP works, but you can read more if you follow the links below.  Tracking fertility by using a variety of symptoms, NFP can achieve effectiveness rates between 99% (as claimed by advocacy groups) and 75% (as claimed by the US government).   Be aware that the government fact sheet lumps together all types of natural family planning, including the rhythm method.  The first document’s numbers only reflect the most effective combination of techniques and exclude the rhythm method, so these two rates are not as far apart as they seem.  The government document does state that tracking a variety of symptoms leads to higher effectiveness rates.  No method except abstinence prevents 100% of pregnancies or live births, but my experience over the course of the more than two decades I used NFP was that I never conceived when I wasn’t trying to conceive.

People who have gotten this far in the research about NFP point out that it is only effective when properly used.  Well, that’s true of all methods of birth control.  (Unless you are willing to discuss forcible sterilization and abortion – and those only work when leaders can find all the women.  Let’s not even go there.)  For NFP to work, both partners have to respect each other, know each other, be committed to each other, show self-restraint toward each other – in other words, be loving and responsible.  I could make the point that no one should be having sex with someone who isn’t responsible and loving; however, I can see the reality of dysfunctional and casual relationships all around me.  But when large numbers of people in a society have sex with people who aren’t loving and responsible, that society has bigger problems than just birth control – whether we’re talking about the rape of child brides in Yemen or the crazy rates of teenage pregnancy I see in my job.  There are caring people who try to reduce the effects of the societal problems by pushing artificial birth control.  When I consider my teenage community-college students who are struggling to get anywhere while caring for a toddler, I can understand why.  I have to say, however, that most of my students have access to birth control and choose not to use it for complex personal and social reasons.  Should America then forcibly require implants or other long-term methods of preventing pregnancy?  Should the government make contraception a requirement for receiving social benefits, as some have claimed?  These are not benign claims.  There are other aspects of artificial birth control we need to consider.

Health

Artificial birth control has been implicated in many health problems.  It’s a tangled issue, so I’m not sure who to believe when I read studies and statistics, but artificial birth control has at minimum caused allergic reactions, high blood pressure, infection, urinary tract problems, hormone imbalances, infertility, and possibly cancer.  These problems overwhelmingly affect women, not men.

NFP uses no hormones, spermicides, surgery, or latex; it does not break the skin or insert anything into the body beyond the occasional thermometer.  Once couples get the original training, they don’t need to make regular visits to a health care provider.  Not only does NFP do no harm, it also promotes health.  Couples who use NFP are quicker to notice changes in the woman’s cycle that can indicate health problems.  They tend to be more in touch with their health and understand it better.

NFP, unlike condoms, does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, and that can be considered a point against it.  However, STDs are one of those bigger problems I mentioned above and need to be addressed more holistically than just handing out condoms.  If NFP promotes loving and responsible sex, it will necessarily reduce the chances of STDs.

Cost

Depending on how it’s done, NFP costs little or nothing.  There are virtually no ongoing costs.  That independence is a good feeling in America; it’s essential in poorer countries.  Women who have little or no income can, with brief education for themselves and their husbands, avoid the costs of supplies, travel, and treatment for the secondary effects common to artificial birth control.  I’ve trained couples in a developing country in NFP.  They were desperate for an alternative to hormone injections or abortions, the two methods of birth control offered where we were.  Even to get the injections or abortions, they had to pay to travel to a larger town, find somewhere to stay, and feed themselves during the trip.  In many cases village women did not have the money to do that.

Another plus is that people using NFP are not supporting multinational pharmaceutical companies by buying monthly supplies of pills or condoms – it’s the ultimate local, sustainable technology.  I don’t want to vilify pharmaceutical companies unjustly, but even if their motivations for providing birth control are entirely charitable (which they aren’t), they still cannot know and care about individual women.  Village health educators, mentors, and support groups can.

natural-family-planningWomen’s Rights

Reproductive choice is accepted around the world now as a basic human right.  Those countries that deny women reproductive choice are unattractive ones – poor, violent, and repressive.  It’s good that we in developed countries care about women’s rights to have children or not to have children as they see fit.  But as far as reproductive rights affect us here in the West, let’s be honest – what we want is the right to have sex whenever we want, with whomever we want, and not get pregnant.  And even that is complicated.  In our current environment of sexual freedom, most women at least occasionally have sex not because they really want to but because they think they have to – to be liberated, to avoid seeming clingy or old-fashioned, to keep the affections of a man who could find sex somewhere else, or just because everyone’s doing it.

Artificial birth control is profoundly anti-woman.  Now that it is widely available, no one, man or woman, sees the need to understand the unique qualities of female physiology.  One could say – and many do – that ignoring feminine uniqueness and having sex as if we could never get pregnant is liberation.  Almost every movie and television show takes for granted that sex on demand is liberating and fulfilling for women.  On the contrary; by ignoring feminine difference we are treating women like commodities or slaves – they are to be available for sex at any time, however costly it is to their bodies and psyches to do so, and any “failure” of women to be just like men, in other words to get pregnant, has to be paid for by the woman.  And by the child, of course.  (Abortion is even costly for men, although not all realize it.)

NFP starts with the conviction that fertility, both male and female, is a natural, healthy thing.  It also accepts that there are times when pregnancy is not a good option.  NFP asks men and women to respect themselves enough to practice abstinence for a few days when they have both agreed to delay pregnancy.  Both pay the cost of restraint.  Both participate in the monthly discussion of whether to allow for pregnancy or not.  In this relationship, women are equal to men and have a voice in how they are treated, given their own unique nature; they are shown true love by being respected for who they are.

Population and Resource Balance

I hope by now I don’t even have to make the case that NFP is not an irresponsible approach to the larger environmental issues.  All of us, when we wonder if our species can sustain our current lifestyle, set moral limits on what we’re willing to do to control our population.  For example, nuclear weapons are a very efficient means of population control, but we aren’t willing to consider nuking the world.   Artificial birth control is not the only option for finding balance.  NFP is as effective as artificial birth control and, unlike nuclear holocaust or artificial birth control, respects individual choice and dignity.  It does no harm to its participants, isn’t financially burdensome, and requires cooperation and not coercion so it can’t be forced by repressive governments.

If you are concerned about a sustainable lifestyle, artificial birth control is a useless band-aid.  It has not in itself prevented the world population from increasing from 4.4 billion in 1980 to 7.1 billion today, despite its legality and availability in most countries during those years.  It has nothing to do with the increasing per capita consumption of the richest citizens of the world.  Offering birth control to people who can’t restrain their appetites, who judge their worth by their fertility, or who force themselves on others doesn’t do anything to address the root problems of our sinful nature.  Our goals should be justice for men and women, rich and poor; temperance in our impulses; unselfish love for those around us; and a respect for a variety of lifestyles, including celibacy.  These are what the Bible calls for.  That’s hopelessly idealistic, you might say – it’ll never work.  Well, no, it won’t work.  None of our own efforts will work to save us or our world.  A better question than “Will it work?” would be “Is it right?”

Morality

Until 1930 all churches believed that artificial birth control was wrong.   The Catholic Church still does.   I don’t want to present their arguments here, but those who are interested can read more about the topic in The Catechism of the Catholic Church (which is available on line here or in St. John Paul II’s The Theology of the Body (which can be read here). While these are Catholic documents, they express a view that was more or less universally Christian until recently.   Just because people did something for a long time doesn’t make it right, of course, but it’s worth looking into their reasons for thinking what they did.

I’ve tried to address the most common criticisms of alternative family planning methods – that they don’t work and that those who espouse them think that women should be kept barefoot and pregnant.  I don’t want to imply that those are the only issues to consider, though.  NFP isn’t just a more benign form of contraception, although it can be used as such.  What sells it to me is that, unlike artificial birth control, its undergirding philosophy supports the revolutionary, even bass-akward, Christian ideals of justice, love, and self-sacrifice.

Comments

  1. Opinion is divided over the psychological impacts of celibacy. Some claim it leads to madness, while others praise the focus and opportunities of the celibate life.

    I know I’m only 1 data point, but I really do not remember much “focus and opportunities” during my single years. (Of course the lack of the first might have caused the missing of the second…) I think people fawning over the focus/free time/etc of celibate singleness are likely not single themselves.

    • (My apologies, I realize my point was really, really off topic)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I think people fawning over the focus/free time/etc of celibate singleness are likely not single themselves.

      You see that pattern everywhere. Those who have NEVER been in that position being Number One Fanboys of it. From Job’s Counselors to Yuppie-puppy Marx Fanboys.

      • I believe what Damaris is referring to here is celibacy as a deliberate, long-term life choice. In this sense, celibacy is not the same as being single. Many of us (like myself) who are single at the moment, but still want to be in a relationship in the future, are anything but focused – the desire to find that person, begin that relationship, and/or have ALL THE SEX is an overwhelming drive that can easily fill one’s thoughts. Someone who has consciously determined that their purpose in life does not involve marriage/relationships, and who has switched off that “mating radar,” may indeed enjoy a clarity of mind and purpose that the frustrated singles lack.

        . . . Not that I’d know. 🙂

        • I think only Paul knew perfectly what that mindset was like, lol.

          Truly, our faith is made perfect in Paul.

  2. Joseph (the original) says:

    But as far as reproductive rights affect us here in the West, let’s be honest – what we want is the right to have sex whenever we want, with whomever we want, and not get pregnant.

    i beg your pardon!

    i may be more open to the arguments you present, but really, making such sweeping comments that are overly loaded with a one-sided viewpoint regarding morality quickly ended my desire to engage…

    {sigh}

    i happen to be a Christian male that had a vasectomy 23 years ago; how does that fit into your female contraception consideration???

    i can appreciate those that decide to avoid any and all contraceptive methods. but to be herded into the very narrow hedonistic category by someone that champions such purity of dogmatic practice does not make me sympathetic to their well-crafted argument…

    the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach made in the name of supra-doctrinal definitions might be a bit heavy handed when considering it from a theological perspective. it comes across as making a Holy Mountain out of a moral molehill when many sincere saints never considered it an issue in the first place.

    i think it creates an artificial demarcation of holiness that is not just the peculiar element of the RCC; there are similar standards of behavior that have been equally championed within Protestant/Evangelical circles, so there is no lack of finger-wagging from either faith tradition.

    since i grew up RCC and lived within a rather conservative, Old World expression of it, i can see where certain RCC viewpoints attempting to induce guilt where it was never intended still continues to perplex young people and those outside RCC practice that have no such qualms.

    if avoiding ‘artificial’ contraceptive methods for devout Catholics is commendable, please be less dogmatic for those of us that do not believe such practices are in any way immoral, but merely amoral at worst, and completely insignificant at best. i am one that believes such viewpoints are not universally binding, and only making such an implication stifles dialogue instead of inviting others to see why you personally value, and even enjoy, the decision to practice pregnancy avoidance the good old fashioned RCC method.

    blessings…

    • Sorry, Joseph (the original), but Damaris’ “sweeping comments that are overly loaded with a one-sided viewpoint regarding morality” are generally accurate for today’s social scene. Maybe because you are so far removed from today’s scene (I’m assuming that you are in your late 40’s or 50’s) you are not intimately involved with what is really going on, but believe ME, raising a daughter in this environment scared the heck out of me.

      • Joseph (the original) says:

        Oscar:

        i did not have a daughter to raise; all my children are boys. my former spouse did have a miscarriage from a completely unplanned pregnancy and we always felt it was a girl…

        we had names ready for that possibility: Katie Irene, or Abigail Grace…

        i am no expert on raising girls or even how to approach birth control with them. heck, it was awkward enough trying to have an effective ‘birds-and-bees’ talk with my boys. i don’t think that there is any truly comfortable effort regarding sexuality when we are trying to discuss it within the sacred and responsible boundaries we want our children to understand, accept and live within…

        {sigh}

        birth control in all its various methods was never a moral issue for me; it was not a crime against nature…

        i feel that raising it to a theological God-standard is never going to do anybody any good. it just becomes another Thou-Shalt-Not effort at making for God-approved conformity. it has that Top-Tier air of holiness that seems to be straining out the gnat and swallowing the proverbial camel…

        however, personal piety can be so strong that those practicing a certain lifestyle can feel it is God’s best universal standard. but really, birth control methods???

        why make such an argument? i just don’t get it…

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        “Maybe because you are so far removed from today’s scene (I’m assuming that you are in your late 40’s or 50’s) you are not intimately involved with what is really going on, but believe ME, raising a daughter in this environment scared the heck out of me.”

        There is that sweeping generalization again. It’s not as if horny kids are the only ones using artificial birth control. Middle aged married couples use it too.

      • Generally, your assumptions here a rent necessarily accurate. Assuming Joseph is my age (50), nearly all the literature available says that Joseph and I grew up in a far more promiscuous environment.

        It’s entirely possible that YOU are the one operating with a stale paradigm! 🙂

    • Very well said, Joseph.

      I’ve been married for 20 years and have one son, aged 15. By the time he is 17, he will be very knowledgeable about birth control – not because he is a wanton individual who will want to have sex with whomever, whenever, and however.

      In fact, that’s not how today’s teens are generally behaving anyway. They are actually having less sex than my generation did, despite greater access to birth control.

      My wife and I use BC because I feel it’s right and proper for a man and a woman together to determine if and how best to create a family, and to create that family according to a timeline of their choosing that works best for them.

      It’s also patently absurd to draw a distinction between NFP and artificial birth control. In both cases, individuals are making decisions and taking specific actions to mitigate the risk of pregnancy. If I build a brick wall in front of my car and run into it, I’ve intentionally crashed my car. If I merely choose a neighborhood that happens to have a lot of brick walls to crash into and choose to take my hands of the steering wheel so as to create the highest probability of actually hitting one, I’ve also intentionally crashed my car.

      In either case, a decision was made and an action taken, both with the intention of producing the exact same result. What the hell’s the difference?

  3. Very thorough Damaris, but at my age an irrelevant subject, personally.

    A version of the NFP was also given to my wife and I when we were going through our infertility trials. I don’t know which was more stressful, having to abstain to marshal up a high sperm count, or coming home from work to hear my wife say “Oscar, my temp is just right and the mucus is the correct thickness”. Now THAT is pressure! Performance on command!

    One problem, though, is dealing with a teenage daughter who was sexually active. At that age taking a temperature and checking other bodily functions was just “too gross” to do. You know what kids are like, they ride on good intentions but throw them over when opportunity arrives. For OUR daughter the pill was the best choice.

    For mature adults this may be acceptable, but outside of Catholics and a few others, artificial birth control will always be the easiest way.

    • Also, your position that it is the “moral” way is based solely on Catholic teaching. Fine for YOU, but irrelevant to others.

      • It’s true that it is what the Catholic Church teaches, but I felt morally convicted to switch to NFP twenty years before I ever considered becoming Catholic — introduced to it by two Protestant families.

        • Damaris, what was it about these two Protestant families that caused you to reconsider whatever your previous position was and to embrace NFP as they were promoting it?

          • Many of the things that I mentioned in the article, Stuart. I also have to let the secret out — it’s so much more fun and intimate. The moral component was part of it, but I may need more space to explain what I mean by that. In any case, I felt that switching from artificial birth control was only a gain, not suffering or difficulty at all.

          • So it was mostly rational discussion and ideas that caused you to change your mind and embrace this way?

            I can also see how aligning faith and practice can free up the mind/will and release the dopamine to make things more fun. And intimate, lol. The cognitive dissonance between “what I should believe/practice” and “what I’m actually believing/practicing” is a hard one…I’ve definitely been there.

          • Damaris, that’s more than fair, and I would like to hear more. But I wonder – it felt right for you, but what about folks for whom it is, at its very best, a continual struggle?

            Don’t get me wrong: I am *glad* that it worked so well for you. It’s always good to hear from folks like you and your husband, who’ve apparently gone against the tide. But I suspect that for some who are equally dedicated, it isn’t easy at all, especially if the woman has an irregular menstrual cycle, is heading into perimenopause (which = irregular and more) but can still get pregnant, etc.

    • jazziscoolithink says:

      Thanks for this comment, Oscar.

  4. Aside the gross factor that Oscar mentions, some people just don’t have sufficient education, or their thought processes aren’t ‘structured’ enough to follow through or even understand the need for precision and regularity in these things. I guess the same might be said for taking the pill every day. Which is why it is a good thing that there are alternatives.

    I’m sympathetic to your arguments, but I think that you’re overselling the ‘shared responsibility’ bit. From your description of NFP, the onus is still on the woman to be ‘meticulous’ and do the ‘gross’ bit.

    • Which shows how much even NFP is dependent on the values of women’s choice and dignity. Apart from that fundamental shift, it’s just as much out of reach for your typical woman in Africa or MENA than the Pill is.

      And once you grant women dignity and control over their lives, the differences between NFP and ABC are much less stark, IMHO. 😉

    • Ben S and others: do people really consider female sexuality to be gross?

      • Damaris, I think you are over reading what has been said. It is not the sexuality, it is just the process.

      • I’ll leave it to HUG to insert the “a man conquers” quote.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Already been done. The cult leader in Moscow ID who originated the meme is one of those Christian(TM) America “bunny breeders”. Amazing how Theocracy and Quiverfull always go hand-in-hand with ISIS-level Male Supremacy.

          • In my brief flirtation with PCA churches a year or so ago, many were big fans of him. And when I’d point out the disgusting things he thought and said, on this and other topics, the big guns came out.

            I won’t be joining a PCA church, even if some are working on limiting that man’s influence.

  5. Thank you! I’d been looking for an article like this that I could share with others on the topic, so it was great to have one come straight to my inbox 🙂

  6. Damaris, i cannot accept your claims re. artificial birth control being harmful to women, especiallynot where health issues are concerned. I wonder if you have seen the devastation that happens when women have many children, as in much of the wiworld, but particularly in, say, Latin America, where the vast majority of the population is both poor and nominally Catholic?

    I also wonder if you have read Jennifer Worth’s memoirs, on which the show Call the Midwife is based? The nuns (Anglican) and lay nurses who worked with pregnant women in the East End of London after WWII saw huge changes – for the better – in the quality of life for mothers and children once artificial birth control started to be widely used. As in, far fewer infants and children starved, and far fewer mothers were at their wits’ end due to having 5+ children, especially when those children were, through no fault of their own, closely spaced. In those kinds of situatiins (aas with US Quiverfull advocates), mothers are incredibly overtaxed, children end up raising children, and honestly, the e
    toll that repeated pregnancies take on a woman’s health played out in ways that i don’t think anyone with 1sthand experience working with those women would want to see repeated.

    I do respect your convictions, but at the same time, feel that it is very important to point out some of the deletetious effects of not ever using artificial birth control for large parts of the world’s populatiin, particularly given the fact that the vast majority of women don’t have access to more than 1/10th of the medical care available in this country, and those who do have access are still, truly, the lucky ones. It’s one thing for middle-class Americans to be able to make choices of the kind you describe, quite another for most of the rest of ghe world. I think the fact that a great many practicing Catholics do use “artificial” birth control is an argument in favor of your church’s need to reevaluate its position, if for no other reason than looking square in the faces of those impoverished women and children who are members of the RCC.

    Just something to think about.

    • Deleterious. I need to use different keybosrd software, I’m thinking.

    • You did see that I talked about teaching NFP in a developing country, didn’t you? I am very aware of the challenges you’re talking about. They are real. The point is what is the best and healthiest way to deal with them.

      • Could NFP be classified as a first world solution to a first world problem?

        • I think so. I too have worked in the developing world and have very different experience to Damaris. I worked for 15 years in Africa as a doctor in a (Protestant) Christian clinic where the management held to the belief that artificial birth control is wrong. They held regular training sessions for patients to teach NFP according to modern methods. I was often very frustrated by the fact that I was not able to prescribe contraception. I was dealing with desperately poor African women who had no power to negotiate when they had sex within the marriage.
          Some more Westernised women with (more importantly) Westernised husbands were very happy with NFP, but many begged for artificial contraception as they knew they had no say over when they had sex. I would have loved to be able to offer them something that gave them a realistic chance of spacing their children out so that more would survive infancy, as I also dealt with the consequences of powerless women with no reproductive choices: high rates of severe infant malnutrition, and starving infants I often failed to save. Dying because they were weaned too soon because another baby was on the way.
          NFP is a great choice for empowered first world women with regular cycles in loving marriages. Not many women worldwide fall into that category.

          • Kate2 — I really appreciate hearing about your experience. It’s essential to have first-hand information in discussions of this sort. I sympathize with and respect your position since it’s obviously motivated by care for people. It’s a hard call in this as in many areas of life: do we sacrifice a principle to accommodate the needs of people, as you would have liked to do, or do we hang on to a principle and end up being cruel, as your clinic leaders did? There’s not an easy answer. My impulse in most areas is the first, but I have occasionally seen that the tension between a strongly held principle and a real-world problem has yielded a creative, previously unthought-of idea. Perhaps that isn’t the case here — you gave it 15 years, I see. I can imagine the heartbreak of your job. Bless you.

            Where in Africa were you?

    • Yes, in many traditional societies the respect and consideration that NFP requires of men is just not there. This is a stereotype to be sure, and modern societies have their own problems in gender relationships but for many women in traditional societies (or traditional pockets of modern societies), saying: no, this is my time of the month to conceive, will just not work and possibly invite violence.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        You expect any other reaction from cultures where women are nothing more than domestic work animals, sex toys, and breeding stock for sons?

        And according to Wartburg Watch, Spiritual Sounding Board, Homeschoolers Anonymous et al, there’s a movement to bring that kind of Male Supremacy over here. It’s usually packaged with Quiverfull “bunny breeders”, “CHRISTIAN(TM) America”, and “GAWD HATH SAID!”

      • Wesley – +1, although I think it happens in our society, too.

    • I’ve never commented here before, but I must admit the topic is rather important to me.
      I don’t think it is about having casual sex, I think it is rather more profoundly about women’s safety and health.
      I would like to second numo’s comments about the historical alternatives and point out that historically the response to lack of safe birth control has not been celibacy, it has been more or less successful attempts at abortions and (in the case of the Ancient Romans) infanticide.
      Safe birth control allows a woman (and a family) to live in more equal relationships, it allows a mother a higher likelyhood of surviving (any pregnancy and birth is still not without risks, even today) till her children’s adulthood and it also allows a woman to make bad choices (we all make those) about which partner to trust without ending up like Tess of the D’Urbervilles and a host of other literary figures who trusted the wrong man.
      I do not find it surprising that the vast majority of women (including Catholics) with access to safe contraception will use it rather than risking an unwanted pregnancy. I suspect that the Catholic’s church’s position on these matters is misguided, which is why very many Catholics prefer to ignore it.

      • Thanks for your thoughts, Claire, many of which I agree with. I see I have not yet made my point clear, which is that there are options that are as safe and better than ABC — also that I include abortion and hence infanticide as ABC. It is not a choice between ABC and the ravages of unlimited breeding but between two lifestyles and world views, either one of which makes family planning possible.

        • Speaking as a doctor and “provider” of both NFP and ABC: NFP may be “safe” in itself, but *in the real world* it is not as effective as the better methods of ABC, and while hormonal contraception has its risks (eg blood clots) the doses of the hormones served up by pregnancy are higher and carry higher risk. Thus the risk of blood clots etc.to a woman using NFP imperfectly (ie excepting a few empowered, educated western women) ends up being higher than the risks of hormonal contraception.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      I agree with Numo above. Plus, Damaris, birth control is, natural or not is flat out against the cultural norms in many countries anyway, and since outside of the /west the world is dominantly patriarchal, there is no chance that NFP could work – but contraceptives, especially chemical ones (since they have the least cultural impact) have the best chance. I am very familiar with indigenous cultures in Southern Africa, having grown up in a church/sect/cult which was majority black, and with a strong Zulu cultural overprint (unusual for a white kid in apartheid South Africa, sure..).

      To illustrate the patriarchy – a women would be known as say Sarah. However, once she has a son, her name disappears within the community – if her son is named John, she is now known as Mama we John, or “Mother-of-John” till the day she dies. Good luck with telling a woman she can control her body and tell her husband no during certain times of the month.

      • I hear you, Klasie. What you say is absolutely true. This is an example of the larger cultural problems that birth control of any type will not in itself fix.

        • Damaris, there are so many issues that aren’t at all about birth control that are the backdrop to your post. I think it’s awfully hard to deal with all of the nuances in a blog post, anyway – people do write books on these topics for a reason. 😉

          What I’m not certain about is the line of thinking that says that birth control is some kind of quick fix. I think the priority needs to be on healthcare, and on the autonomy of women (recognized as people in their own right, equal to men and with as much – if not more – say on when pregnancies are going to happen than men), etc. Which is a more holistic approach, not the slapping on of the proverbial band-aid. Again, I do respect your take on this, but a wide application (to the entire world) means that those societal, health, etc. problems need to be addressed before anyone starts talking about whether certain methods of birth control (and I am *not* talking about abortion or infanticide) are innately wrong or immoral or whatever.

          Along with that, the objection to barrier methods seems like naïveté on the part of those in the RCC who decide on doctrine. Either sex in marriage is good in its own right or it isn’t, I’m thinking, but it seems that many RC theologians think otherwise.

          • Perhaps fairer to say that many theologians have *historically* thought otherwise, which lays the groundwork for current positions, both within the RCC and outside of it.

  7. Damaris, i also have to agree with the poster above who pointed out that birth control is *not* primarily about sexual hedonism. Yes, some people use it that way, but they are nothing compared to the many who struggle with the actual costs of raising children – even for middle-class Americans, this can be an incredible financial strain, especially if parents are trying to save for their kids to go to college – although these days, what people can save is nothing compared to the massive debt incurred by student loans, which also keep young people (married of not) in a bad, bad position to be able to start families of their own, even if they’re fortunate enough to be making reasonably decent money.

    I truly would ask you to consider the *many* reasons other than the ones you suggest re. most peoples’ use of birth control, Catholic or not. ISTM you are reducing the issue to sleeping around or similar, and i find that very difficult to accept.

  8. One last thing: i do not for one second believe that birth control is about ignoring women, or womens’ health isdues, let alone making us into “commodities” or “slaves”! Really, i don’t think any woman on the planet is able to “iignore” her own biology, and men are, at best, stupid if they try to do so.

    It isn’t about birth control *causing* any of these things. I mean, it probably applies to *some* people, but as an overall argument against anything other than NFP, it strikes me as not making much sense.

    • Stupid, no. But utterly convinced of their superiority over women, and women’s role to breed as many children as possible – whether based on tradition, theology, or both – yes.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      My reaction was that when I read an argument that allowing women the freedom to choose their preferred method of birth control makes them “slaves,” that is, it takes away their freedom, then it is time to place make sure my wallet is still in my pocket, and back out of the room.

  9. My sweeping conclusion that people in the West just want to have sex without restriction is based somewhat on observation but also on logic. If there is a method of family planning that is as effective as artificial birth control, cheaper, healthier, and more sustainable, but it involves occasional abstinence, and if most people refuse to consider it, I can only conclude that it is the occasional abstinence that is the issue. Of course, many people may just not know about it, too, which I why I’m writing this article.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      While I can’t agree with your blanket assignment of motivation for and your proscription of artificial birth control, I think you are brave to raise this subject. To my thinking you have not made a sufficient case that any artificial means of birth control is immoral and natural family planning, which after all, is a form of birth control, is moral. I’m looking forward to the discussion.

      • “You have not made a sufficient case that any artificial means of birth control is immoral and natural family planning, which after all, is a form of birth control, is moral.” You’re right, Clay. My goal for this article was just to introduce the idea that those of us who think that artificial birth control is not a good thing might have legitimate reasons for thinking that. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded at that. 🙂 I’m also not sure if I’ll have the courage to attempt the moral argument anytime soon.

        • In my opinion, you made an excellent “wisdom” case, thoughtful and thorough. I am not in agreement, but that is not because your case is weak. I for one would like to hear the moral argument, because people can differ as to the wisest course of action in many different ways and still find room for partnership. However, we all know that moral and theological arguments take the discussion to a different level.

          • And to be very clear, this topic and discussion is about sex within a heterosexual married couples’ bedroom, correct? Specifically, sex between a male husband a female wife?

          • I’m also struggling to find the conflict between hormonal birth control and Christianity – I went to read the Catechism and The Theology of the Body but couldn’t find what sections to read. Could you point me in the right direction?

          • Stuart, yes, that’s true. Homosexual couples do not have the same issues with birth control. Matt S, I’ll try to find something helpful for you — I’m between classes right now.

          • My point in asking was to center on this being a discussion about the use of contraceptives within marriage.

            At which point, most talk about people taking contraceptives just so they can have all the sex without consequences is moot. The discussion is strictly centered around married couples having as much sex as they want without getting pregnant.

            So any discussion about contraceptives outside of the marriage bed isn’t germane to this discussion.

        • Clay Crouch says:

          So, the point of your article is not to make a moral/theological argument against artificial birth control but one of efficiency/safety? Okay, if there is not a moral argument in your article, there is at least a moral tone in it. You did make the statement that artificial birth control is anti-woman (which could easily fit into the moral/theological category). You are courageous. Thank you for entering the arena with your deeply held convictions.

    • cermak_rd says:

      As effective as artificial birth control if used perfectly. Here’s the thing, it isn’t used perfectly in real life and neither are pills and condoms which is why we’ve come up with LARCs (long acting reversible contraception). The beauty of LARCs is they have the same effective and perfect use because they are implanted or placed and don’t require any forethought.

      A failure at NFP (or the pill or condom) is a human being that will have wants and needs that may take away time or food form another child or children.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      …but it is incredibly faulty logic. It assumes that the only reason why women would turn down your preferred method of family planning is because they want to have lots of sex whenever they want. There are plenty of reasons why women choose alternative family planning methods; you’re just not looking or listening for those women when they speak.

    • My sweeping conclusion that people in the West just want to have sex without restriction

      And I guess I’ll ask the question…

      So what?

      If people are having sex but babies aren’t being created or aborted, and it’s by and large not tearing apart married families through adultery, then, really, besides enforcing morality ala Comstock laws and whatever else…so what?

      What if people have sex without restriction AND without consequences? Do we love them any less? Do we treat them differently? Do we kick them out of our fellowship if they belong? Do we unfriend them? Do we make it harder for them to have this free sex? Do we make it easier? Does it impact our economy? Does it make us jealous?

      etc…

      • I’m not sanguine enough to believe that there is such a thing as sex without consequences, whether they are moral, physical, or spiritual, good or bad. The pernicious thing about ABC is that it seems to promise no consequences, but it can’t always keep that promise. Expecting no consequences is unrealistic and in some cases leads to a sense of entitlement greater than God or our medical establishment can guarantee.

        • Vega Magnus says:

          Yes. Those horrible consequences of married couples having lots of consensual sex. Because we gotta make sex scary, even when it occurs within the bounds of morality that most Christians believe in.

        • I don’t know any doctor who would offer ABC as having “no consequences”: laying out the risks and possible side effects is a part of every consultation when prescribing ABC.

  10. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Damaris. I, as it seems many do, disagree. The Catholic position seems to be a reductio ad absurdum to me. My understanding is that the Catholic Church teaches that sex without being open to pregnancy is sinful. So by practicing NFP, aren’t you also avoiding being open to life? Especially if it is 99% effective if practiced properly. Yes, there are the biological implications but that doesn’t seem to be the issue for Catholic teaching.

    And then there is the issue that many women would be basically incapacitated for a week each month without birth control. My wife was on birth control as early as high school, just because of that reason.

    That said, my wife and I are reconsidering our attitude towards children: we will never have our lives in order for them to arrive and will never be emotionally ready. Not that we are going to avoid using birth control but we are more open to the possibility now.

    • Wesley, a note on “being ready” for children…

      My wife and I actively “tried” for 10 years because we thought we were ready, but nothing happened. We went through infertility treatments till it just got too expensive and then opted out for adoption. Two years later we got the call, right after returning from a backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

      The call was startling , scary and exciting, and when that little girl was placed in our arms, guess what? We discovered that we weren’t ready! But sometimes life does that to you and it MADE us ready. Even though we didn’t know how to handle the new situation, even after classes and books and counseling, it ended up being a “flying by the seat of your pants” experience. Parenthood is like that, I’m afraid. Others may testify to the opposite of my experience by saying they are glad they waited and how ready they were for children, but I just thought that sharing our experience briefly might add a little to your thought process. Good luck!

      • Dana Ames says:

        True this, Oscar.

        And thank you for making room in your life to love and care for your child by adoption.

        Dana
        another adopted little girl

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Oh my goodness, I will have to share our adoption story sometime. Like you, Oscar, several years of failed fertilization techniques, eventually leading – semi against my will – toward an open adoption concept, and two months after putting our names in a pool of potential adoptive parents to taking a little girl home on her second day in the world. 13 years ago now! Scary times, but boy o boy, was God in it!

      • Brianthedad says:

        Fostering and adoption. Two girls almost 10 years ago. My oldest daughter is almost 16 now, and as pretty as they come. Second is about to turn twelve and she’ll be a handful one day herself. My two older boys have moved out, college and marriage, leaving just my 8 yr old son as my manly-stuff partner. We try to keep our heads down. Oscar, I feel your pain on the daughter thing. Sexist as it sounds, raising boys has been easier, though others’ mileage may vary. And Oscar, seat of the pants is right.

  11. Donalbain says:

    Crazy rates of teenage pregnancy? Strange that the rates of teenage pregnancy are actually heading downwards. And you know what stops teenage pregnancy? Use of condoms!
    This whole piece is just a classic example of the definition of puritanism as the nagging fear that someone somewhere is having fun.

    • Seems to me that the availability of the “day after pill” might have a long with Teenage pregnancy rates declining.

    • Donalbain, the rates are declining in SOME cultural areas. In many the rates are barely changed. The overall average may be declining, but it is not evenly distributed.

      • cermak_rd says:

        The teen pregnancy rate has really declined among African Americans. In fact, I’m unaware of any demographic where the rate of teen pregnancy is rising. Most of the out of wedlock numbers are coming from women in their 20s and 30s, not teens.

        • out of wedlock

          There’s a term maybe we should look at and reconsider and redefine…

          • cermak_rd says:

            agreed. I use instead of illegitimate because I hate that word as it seems to taint the child itself. I think out of wedlock is the legal terminology.

            It could be that in our modern society we actually need to reconsider making any distinction between children born to the married and those born to the unmarried. With DNA (and Maury) it’s not like any child is actually fatherless now (aside from death of course).

          • You know nothing, Jon Snow…

    • Not fair, Donalbain. You may not agree, but this article is thoughtful and presented respectfully. I expect comments to reflect the same characteristics.

      • Donalbain says:

        Its an evidence free rant, I responded far more generously than I could have.

      • cermak_rd says:

        To be fair, she made a claim about teenage pregnancy that could easily be refuted. she also made health claims about the pill that ignored the fact that pregnancy is not cost-free health wise.

        • I’m ok if people marshal counter-arguments based on facts and observations, and if they prove valid, then it is up to the author to respond. There may indeed be legitimate disagreements. I just don’t want this thread to devolve into mere dismissal of others. In general, Damaris has presented a reasonable case and has done so with respect. Responses should reflect the same ethos.

        • True, this was not a research paper, cermak, and it could have been. To be fair in return, however, I said “the crazy rates of teenage pregnancy I see in my job.” I don’t think anyone can refute that over 2/3 of my students have had out-of-wedlock births or that the majority of them are still unmarried parents. I’m happy if the rate of teenage pregnancy is going down in general, and I realize that as a professor at a rural community college, I see a disproportionate number of these cases — but what I said was not untrue.

          • Yes, but you have to take into account the societal changes that have occurred over time. The 2/3 you mention mostly, or all, would not have been your students, and would have been married with children before they reached the end of their teens a century and a quarter ago.

          • Robert – not even that long ago. I’m thinking the 50s and 60s, for certain. I know that I heard a lot of people inveighing against “teen marriages” when I was young, and there *were* still lots of them, as well as the unfortunately-named “shotgun weddings.” And so-called “homes” for “unwed mothers,” and….

          • Robert F says:

            For nearly as long as human beings have existed, marriage and childbirth for the vast majority have occurred almost as soon as they were able to conceive and bear offspring. They did not have greater willpower in resisting their sexual urges; they had no need to, since they were functioning as adults by sixteen or seventeen years of age.

            What has changed things is that new technologies and societal developments have created a situation in which we expect child bearing to be delayed, along with marriage (where it occurs), and only undertaken when individuals are reasonably prepared and mature enough to handle the responsibilities of raising offspring (although these goals are really very vague and hard to define). This means that responsible young people, Christian or not, will be expected to put off childbearing far past the onset of their ability to have children. This is a situation our forbears never experienced, and it is unreasonable to expect young people to resist their sexual drive for so long; their great-grandparents would not have been able to do it, and neither will they.

            Let’s be real.

          • Your point immediately above is a very cogent, Robert F. It is another illustration of what I said below, that every blessing has a cost — education and lifestyle choices being the blessing here, and sexual frustration being the cost.

          • Robert F says:

            I never saw no miracle of science
            that didn’t go from a blessing to a curse

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7km4EHgkQiw

    • I’ve been having all kinds of fun for years, Donalbain; I’m not against it. What I see is how un-fun single parenthood, STDs, and other consequences of casual sex are.

      • Donalbain says:

        So hurrah for condoms and the pill!

      • What I see is how un-fun single parenthood, STDs, and other consequences of casual sex are.

        None of which are guaranteed consequences outside of 80s scare films and Jack Chick tracts.

        And in fact, less and less guaranteed of being the consequences, as more people get educated and technology improves.

        “Kids, here is how to use the proper tools, attitudes, and techniques to avoid all those things and in fact statistically lower those rates year over year.”

        Why is this not acceptable? Why can’t we teach this? Why can’t we be this way?

        Does it really just come down to an extreme anti-sex outside of marriage position?

        • “Does it really just come down to an extreme anti-sex outside of marriage position?” You win the Question-of-the-Day Award, Stuart. Anyone want to answer him?

        • Patrick Kyle says:

          Both the OT and the NT ( Jesus and Paul) talk about the sexual union as becoming ‘one flesh.’ Jesus adds the warning ‘what God has joined together, let not man separate.’ Casual hook up sex qualifies as a ‘one flesh union’ (see Paul’s warning about prostitutes) and walking away afterwards is separating that union.

          I realize that the Scriptures don’t seem to get much traction around here nowadays, but that’s what they teach on the subject…

        • “And in fact, less and less guaranteed of being the consequences, as more people get educated and technology improves.”

          Sadly, not. Rates of chlamydia and gonorrhoea are rising among young people, even if fewer girls are getting pregnant.

    • “And you know what stops teenage pregnancy? Use of condoms!”

      err, no, it doesn’t Condoms have a real-world failure rate around 30% for teenagers. I’d prescribe an implant every time (and try and get them to keep using the condoms too…) But I’d far rather empower the girl to keep abstinent for longer, and avoid all the risks until she reaches adulthood.

  12. Robert F says:

    ” Well, no, it won’t work. None of our own efforts will work to save us or our world. A better question than ‘Will it work?’ would be ‘Is it right?'”

    A component of answering the question, “Is it right?” is answering the question, “Will it work?” Appropriately weighting this question, and its possible answers, is essential to determining whether or not some course of action is “right.” Ignoring the chance of success of a proposed action when determining its “rightness” can easily lead one into moral fanaticism, and its attendant evils.

    • Robert F says:

      Example of moral fanaticism: “It’s not right for young people to have sex before marriage. That’s a moral absolute. I think my teenaged daughter is sexually active. But I’m going to do my best to prevent her from getting the information to practice safer sex, because it’s morally more right to let her face the repercussions of getting a sexually transmitted disease like AIDS than to help her commit sinful acts without repercussions.” I’ve heard this logic again and again from conservative Christians; as far as I’m concerned, this is a prime example of moral fanaticism that doesn’t take into account the likelihood of the success of an action, and so ends up with a morally deficient answer to an important moral question and issue.

      • Tell me how to attempt to follow the teachings of the faith and not be considered a moral fanatic by those who disagree with me — I’ve never beheaded anyone, or thrown anyone out into the snow, or shunned anyone. I understand Christianity to say that extramarital sex is wrong. I raise the topic here on iMonk because it is a safe forum for the discussion of ideas; I would never say that to my students, family, or friends unless they asked me pointblank. Honestly, I feel more like a moral coward than a moral fanatic.

        • I didn’t say that your position is moral fanaticism. I said that trying to assess the moral rightness of a possible action without soberly assessing its likely success or failure may easily lead, and often has led, to moral fanaticism.

          Perhaps you are right, and the example I gave is not one of moral fanaticism; maybe I just find its deliberations and conclusions extremely morally irresponsible. But to get to moral fanaticism, one must pass through the terrain of morally irresponsible deliberations and conclusions.

        • For the sake of being irenic, and because I don’t want to engage in inflammatory name-calling (though I sometimes find myself doing that, much to my chagrin), I will drop the word “fanaticism.” Instead, I replace it with the idea of moral irresponsibility.

          It is morally irresponsible to assess the rightness of a proposed action without also assessing the likelihood of its success or failure. I gave an example that I believe illustrates this principle; you may disagree with my particular illustration, but the principle itself still holds. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church itself refers to this principle in its moral casuistry when determining the rightness or wrongness of proposed actions, for instance, in just war theory.

      • ugh…

      • Consequences. You messed up, you must live with the consequences. I will MAKE you live with the consequences and guilt and shame of what you have done. You must live in it.

        …how Christ like.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          So *I* Can Show How Much More RIGHTEOUS *I* AM!

          “LOOORD, I THANK THEE THAT I AM NOTHING LIKE THAT…”

    • This. There can be no determination of what is “right” on this topic that is separate from safety and efficacy.

      • Danielle and Robert F — I apologize for not being clear. When I said that it won’t work, I meant not that NFP was ineffective (which I addressed earlier), but that it would not solve all our problems with sex and relationships, any more than ABC has. Given that nothing but the Second Coming will solve our problems, we’re left here with muddling through and damage control, and we need to choose the least damaging and best of what we have. I realize that many people — obviously the majority of iMonk commenters — have chosen ABC as the least damaging and best of a collection of difficult choices. I respect that, but I disagree. Stuart and HUG, I pray fervently that I would never display the attitude of nose-rubbing you mention. Call me on it if and when I do.

        • No problem, I don’t expect you or anyone at IM to be like that…you’re cool.

          Given that nothing but the Second Coming will solve our problems,

          Just going to throw this out there, but what if that weren’t absolutely true…and ABC is one way we’re using our God given talents and freedom (and direction) to solve our problems? Specifically remembering that Humanism is a Christian idea.

          ABC, and NFP as well, are man created answers to the problem of women giving birth to so many kids, but only a small fraction surviving past infancy.

          Pulling back just a little farther…NFP may be a gift from God, but ABC may be a result of the talents and knowledge that God has given us as gifts.

          • Stuart: I’m all for the increase of knowledge through human efforts, and for improvements in living conditions, etc. What I see when I look at the big picture, though, is that every blessing carries, if not a curse, at least a cost. ABC has solved some problems and caused others; NFP does the same. I assume that everything we do on earth will have the same result, an uncomfortable struggle to find balance. I don’t say we shouldn’t do anything good or try to improve life, just that whatever we do has a cost.

          • Damaris – well said, just above!

  13. cermak_rd says:

    How does NFP differ from FAM? FAM is fertility awareness method which uses the woman’s fertility signals to time coitus to avoid (or heck to allow) conception.

    I’ve always thought they were the same, but NFP seems to carry some Catholic mysticism into it and also seems to limit the types of sex available to the couple (FAM couples may, for instance, engage in non-generative sex acts during the fertile period, I understand this is a nono with NFP)

    One of the pains with NFP is getting the basal temperature, which has to be done first thing in the morning before arising and after getting a decent night’s sleep. While rearing very young children, this may be all but impossible.to achieve. Fortunately technology can step in with the tempdrop. It’s a wristband that interacts with a smart phone, the woman wears it to bed and it records the basal temp. It’s software will even import data directly into graphing apps available for iPhone.

    • jazziscoolithink says:

      There goes the idea that NFP is free or available to all people in poverty-stricken areas.

      • cermak_rd says:

        Well that’s the thing. The basic idea is free, but the bells and whistles that make the method easy to use are technological.

        • Technological and sociological. It also requires cooperation between a woman and her mate, cooperation that is often absent in patriarchal societies; by requiring such cooperation, NFP wrests reproductive control away from women, and turns it into a cooperative effort, making women dependent on the interest and contribution of the weakest link, which is usually the male.

          • jazziscoolithink says:

            Great point, Robert. It sounds to me like NFP can only work in societies that already allow for the option of artificial birth control. I’m all for having NFP as one option among many, but when someone argues for it as the sole choice for sexually active couples (not that Damaris is doing this), I get a little weirded out. One alternative I haven’t heard in the discussion so far is same-gender sex. It is a great, natural form of birth control. 😉

    • Well, following my statements about Latin America, just howmany people down there are actually able to afgord smartphones, even if they have access to them?

      • And thst “if” is a very big “iif.”

        Again, the whole tech thing isn’t exactly feasible for most people on this planet. I am also curious as to how much the “population ecplosion” mentioned in the OP is related to the increased availability of vacvines against things like smallpox, diptheria and whooping cough? A decrease in infant and child mortality rates is understandable in that light (although starvation and inadequate and/or zero medical care kerp those mortality rstes high in many parts of the world).

        • There’s been no population explosion in Western Europe (or the US and Canada, for that matter), where “artificial” contraception has been in use longest and most pervasively.

      • Well we already know cell phones cause brain cancer, so if they would just make people sterile too…lol

  14. Clay Crouch says:

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but If the intent of NFP is to limit the size of a family or to control the time between the arrival of children, isn’t that de facto birth control?

  15. Marcus Johnson says:

    I think you have a sincere argument but, in the end, you have not been listening to women (or the men who support them) who lead the movement for reproductive rights. This “sexual freedom” is not open license to have sex whenever and wherever one wants; rather, it is freedom from a patriarchy that has controlled women’s bodies for centuries. Until very recently, practically every resource available to women, and the guidelines that regulated women’s sexual habits, sexual preferences, and ability to procreate, were created with the assumption that men get to call the shots, and women have to (literally) lie there and take it. The by-product of this, of course, resulted in a climate that tended to favor men, make insane expectations about what women want or need, and marginalize the voices of women who refused to conform.

    I understand that you mean well, but you’re writing about “Christian ideals of justice, love, and self-sacrifice” from a male-centered perspective. It places the lion’s share of the obligation to self-sacrifice on women, and removes their ability to make choices regarding their own bodies. There is neither justice or love in what you’re suggesting, and it certainly has no reflection of Christ in it.

    • Good points, Marcus. If it helps my ethos at all, I’m a woman myself — not always obvious from my name. I agree that women have been oppressed by a patriarchal system for centuries. I don’t see how rendering us permanently available for sex, leaving men without any reason to consider the long-term consequences of their actions, empowers women. I’ve tried both methods, and I have felt that the method that freed me from multinational pharmaceutical firms, took into account my unique needs, and required my right to say yes or no was the better one.

      There are many other areas where patriarchy can and should be challenged, chief among them the concept held by both women and men that women should be like men in order to be valuable. I see many of the artificial methods as trying to do that.

      • cermak_rd says:

        What do you mean by women should be like men in order to be valuable? I often find that phrase to be code for women should not be ambitious career women. Or that women should not be aggressive in their sexuality or a million other things.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        I’ve tried both methods…

        …and that’s what this movement is about: choice. 60+ years ago, you wouldn’t have that choice. Your ability to choose a planning method that respected your body, your values, and your faith, was a direct result of someone recognizing to choose whether or not you wanted to choose to be “permanently available for sex.”

        Also, what you refer to as being made “permanently available for sex,” I refer to as “living and breathing” because, as a man, I don’t have to consider my body in terms of being “available” or “unavailable” for sex. And I can guarantee you, both from personal experience and from watching the news, men are more accountable now for their actions than they were before alternative family planning methods came into the picture.

      • “I don’t see how rendering us permanently available for sex, leaving men without any reason to consider the long-term consequences of their actions, empowers women.”

        This is a favorite argument by Roman Catholics about how their stance on contraception empowers women. To be honest, I think the ethic is claiming to combat a largely imaginary problem. I don’t think the intent or effect of effective, widely available artificial birth control is to make women sexually available to men at all times. The overall effect – and certainly the great cause of those who push education on reproductive health – is to say that women have control over their own bodies, and that men and women should have children when it is appropriate for them, and sex what it is beneficial to them. Since the two are now not so firmly linked together, there are more options, more power, and more self-determination … esp. on the part of women.

        No doubt there are some men who think, “Why can’t we just have sex all the time; it’s now her responsibility not to get pregnant.” But this attitude is not the heart of the modern “contraceptive ethic;” it’s just the plain, old fashioned, playboy interest: “How can I make her get into bed?”

        • Let me add this:

          I have a very great problem with this argument, that goes a little beyond what I just wrote.

          It comes close to the implication that the only or main reason a person has — that women, especially have — to refuse sex is the chance of pregnancy. Remove the danger of pregnancy, and people will be having sex all day long. There is now no reason to abstain, right?

          But there are many reasons to have sex, or abstain from sex, other than desire for or concerns about pregnancy. Any ONE of them legitimates a woman or a man’s “no.” And one of them is this simple: “I do not want it.”

          It bothers me that this argument seems not to acknowledge the other bases for “no.”

        • jazziscoolithink says:

          Right, there are certainly men AND women who are interested in sex without consequences or relationships or intimacy. But these people do not represent all people who have sex or use artificial birth control. And it is irresponsible to make such a claim.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            But they have a VERY high profile.

            It’s really hard to distance yourself from Loud Crazies who tell everyone (especially the Media) that they’re One of You and You’re Just Like Them. Loudest throat rolls over everyone else.

      • I don’t see how rendering us permanently available for sex, leaving men without any reason to consider the long-term consequences of their actions, empowers women.

        I don’t mean to mansplain (maybe we need an IM review of Men Tell Me Things…), but isn’t framing the statement this way still a form of patriarchy and robs women of their own agency? It’s not about women being reframed for men’s purposes, it’s about women reframing themselves, whether or not their purposes intersect with a man’s at all.

        Or so I’m learning. I’ve got a decade plus of bad science/theology to unlearn and correct.

  16. jazziscoolithink says:

    I appreciate your vulnerability in bringing this tough subject up, Damaris. However, I expected a lot more from this substance-wise.

    I was blown away by the amount of fairly outrageous claims being made without any reference to a source: withdrawal is unnatural and harmful?; “artificial birth control has at minimum caused allergic reactions, high blood pressure, infection, urinary tract problems, hormone imbalances, infertility, and possibly cancer”; “couples who use NFP…tend to be more in touch with their health and understand it better”; “what we want is the right to have sex whenever we want, with whomever we want, and not get pregnant”; “most women at least occasionally have sex not because they really want to but because they think they have to”; “NFP is as effective as artificial birth control”; “Until 1930 all churches believed that artificial birth control was wrong.”

    I generally find your writing to be careful and gracious and beautifully written–I was disappointed to find that this article read a bit like propaganda (I mean, “unlike nuclear holocaust or artificial birth control”…really?).

    • “Until 1930 all churches believed that artificial birth control was wrong.” — That is not an “outrageous claim.” That is a historical fact.

      ““what we want is the right to have sex whenever we want, with whomever we want, and not get pregnant” — That is not an outrageous claim. In fact, it’s quite obvious, and if Martian anthropologists landed and had no dog in this hunt, they would come to precisely the same conclusion. It’s called “having a sin nature.”

      Thank you, Damaris.

      • jazziscoolithink says:

        Clark, the claim that ALL churches–that includes every single church that ever existed before 1930–believed that artificial birth control was wrong, is disproved by the existence of just one church who did not believe it was wrong. The Roman Catholic church did not officially ban artificial birth control UNTIL 1930 (btw, look at me using caps like Oscar when I’ve criticized him for it–I’m such a hypocrite!)

        The claim that virtually every person who uses artificial birth control does so for this purpose is outrageous. Look at you equating sexual desire with sin nature–how dualistic of you.

        • Wanting to have sex whenever we want, with whomever we want, and not get pregnant, is somewhat beyond “sexual desire,” a good and natural desire twisted by our sin nature, and it is in fact selfish lust.

          • jazziscoolithink says:

            By the way, I wonder why you think you get to decide that a hypothetical Martian anthropologist would agree wholeheartedly with you. THAT, my friend, is an outrageous claim.

          • Don’t you know: his perspective is absolutely true and correct, and yours is, at best, a sinful mistake…ask any Martian you happen to see.

          • …Wouldn’t Martians have the same sin nature we have, since it took two peoples’ sin to subtly change ALL OF CREATION?

            We need to evangelize Mars! For 6000 years every Martian has gone to hell since they didn’t know the name of Jesus!

            We are called! Who will go??

          • …the fields are RED unto the harvest!!

            lol

        • “The Roman Catholic church did not officially ban artificial birth control UNTIL 1930 ”

          but it sure as shootin’ spoke out against it again and again over the previous 1900 years, never once speaking of it in positive terms. It was the move in the Protestant churches towards birth control that led to the Roman Catholic church to put its objections forth in an unmistakable manner.

          Just like the doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t formally explained until Arius came along.

          • Wasn’t there a Pope who had an orgy in the Vatican once too?

          • jazziscoolithink says:

            Really? For 1900 years, the Roman Catholic church consistently spoke out against artificial birth control? I find that hard to believe. You know 1900 years before 1930 predates any of the New Testament documents, right? Point me to any passage that is anti-artificial birth control.

          • “Wasn’t there a Pope who had an orgy in the Vatican once too?”

            Sure was. But he didn’t make orgies universal teachings of the church that all should participate in. Analogically, just because we all fail to love our neighbor as we ought doesn’t mean we throw out the baby with the bathwater and say we don’t have to love our neighbor anymore.

            “Point me to any passage that is anti-artificial birth control”.
            Google Church Fathers and contraception and see what you come up with.

          • What makes a bunch of Church Fathers experts about sexual biology anymore than some ANE shepherds experts about cosmology and development of human biology?

            It really is a slippery slope, isn’t it…

          • Well, StuartB, that’s two examples of the ‘poisoning the well’ fallacy from you today. From this, I gather you don’t actually want to have a discussion but just drop insults.

          • You’ll need to explain to me how it’s poisoning the well…not seeing it. I’m sure there are legitimate examples of the church fathers talking about things that can be related to modern society’s ABC, but the point about their authority regarding matters of which they don’t have any scientific or technical knowledge still stands.

      • Eh, double false. All implies a majority, but a majority is not all. And sin nature isn’t an excuse, nor is it true that people just want to have sex all the time. Nor do all men want to force their helpmeet wives to have sex all the time either.

        Marriage: it allows men to have sex whenever they want.
        Contraceptives: it allows women to have sex whenever they want.

        Which one do we have a problem with, again?

    • I had the same reaction to this article. The issue is a lot more complicated and nuanced than the post makes it out to be, and it’s very much a secondary issue with faithful believers on both sides. I was disappointed that the article didn’t reflect that. The sweeping claims about the motivation of those who use birth control, and about the alleged medical dangers, were particularly jarring.

      My daughter is on the pill, not because she’s sexually active but because it lessens what were debilitatingly severe menstrual cramps. My wife used the pill years ago and we found it the best approach. No one tried to preach us out of it or tell us we were selfish hedonists, because, surprise, we weren’t, and by the way still aren’t.

      If we’re going to discuss an issue like birth control, let’s do it honestly from a variety of viewpoints that reflect the range of Christian thinking on the issue. That’s what iMonk usually does, and it’s why I come here. I’m sorry that this post fell so far short. We can do better.

      • and it’s very much a secondary issue with faithful believers on both sides.

        No true scotsman, and also “LIFE ITSELF is at stake!” Or not.

        We should discover the idea of the soul here sometime…where it comes from, where it goes, is the soul created, has it always existed alongside God…etc.

        Props for mentioning your daughter. That’s the position I take currently. I won’t cause harm to my friends that I love by refusing them the medication that helps them.

        Love God, and love others.

      • John, please. What you’ve asked is exactly what we’ve done. One person shared her perspective, based on observation and experience, and now others are responding to that. That’s the way blogs usually work.

        • I do understand that, but I don’t think the post itself invited much discussion for the reasons I and others have mentioned. I don’t think this blog stumbles that way very often, and I appreciate that more than you know, but I think this is one of those times. And yes, one of its strengths is the commenters who will push back to keep things centered.

          • But John, authors take strong positions and make claims here all the time without mentioning other views, except to disagree. Sometimes we even move toward ridicule when we think even the most “sacred” beliefs are ridiculous. I think Damaris gave her rationale for presenting this the way she did clearly and humbly. She simply laid out her case, as I see it, and invited discussion and debate. To go further we would likely run another post with a counter position. Which is a definite possibility.

          • John – very much agreed.

            CM, i do not believe this podt is up to Damaris’ usual standard, either.

            • Numo, I’m not going to countenance that. We’re not going to start rating posts here. For one thing, at least half of mine would have to go in the circular file.

              This is an entirely different kind of article than Damaris normally contributes. Here she lays out a position paper point by point. As some have noted in their pushback, perhaps she overstated a few things or let her moral judgments seep through, but overall she presented a thoughtful argument in a forum in which she knew she was going to get spirited reactions and responses. That took some gumption and I stand by her piece as one worthy of discussion here.

          • CM – ? I have responded to Damaris at the beginning of the thread, so am repeating myself, but to make a case, the many unsupported statements in the bod of her text need some factual validation, which isn’t there.

          • i am fine with strong opinions, but statements like the one about all women being enslaved by birth control are hard to take.

          • John, you said “I don’t think the post itself invited much discussion for the reasons I and others have mentioned.” Well it’s gotten discussion whether it invited it or not, and that is what I expected. There are posts on iMonk that I feel very uncomfortable with, but I have to assume that if the poster wanted to lay down the law, he/she would go somewhere other than this blog.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          I agree with CM. Damaris stated something rather strongly, people are responding strongly. The best part is that Damaris is wading into the discussion rather than sitting back and letting it stand on its own. I personally think Damaris should be commended for being so open to discussion with those who clearly oppose his position.

  17. cermak_rd says:

    I actually think FAM is a wonderful system of fertility control that can aid women in empowerment. However, the thing that is most off-putting about NFP is the community of users of the method. I mean we are talking about people who just look down their noses at people who use other means of family planning. And despite the fact that FAM can be empowering of females, these women in the user groups also massively look down on career women.

    I sometimes read religious sites just to get a vaccine against the madness that my former religion was to me, and I sure don’t have to read very long at these sites to get a long acting vaccine!

  18. cermak_rd says:

    I’ve looked at a lot of religions and cultic groups and one of the things that disturb me is when a religion tries to impose itself on people’s private lives. I’m not going to argue that the Catholic church does that with its restriction on birth control because it doesn’t in this country. In fact many Catholics were among the leaders who strove to get contraception legally available in this nation. However, in other nations the Church as an institution has lobbied against allowing women to have access to it.

    Not made a moral claim and then let the individual decide, but made a moral claim and then used its political muscle to keep women who disagreed from even having a choice.

  19. This may be a niche to the topic, but an important one.

    My opinion on birth control at the moment comes down to harm. Specifically, the harm not having birth control does to women. I will never support nor vote for any policy, platform, or politician that would take away the literally life restoring medication many women need to live and function.

    And I’m not talking sexual promiscuity or whatever here, I’m talking about the many women I know who have been on the pill since they first started getting debilitating, blackout, interior destroying cramps so bad they couldn’t leave their bed in school. The ones who have blackout migraines that can last for a week or longer. The ones for whom the pill have literally restored their life and sanity. I live with recurring intense pain, and I know how much it can destroy someone’s mind slowly.

    So, I’m pro-contraceptives because they appear to do nothing but help and not harm anyone. I will never take away someone’s medication because “I believe it’s wrong”; that thinking must be rooted in patriarchy and hatred against women, certainly not any Christ-like love. In general I’m pro-contraceptives because they work and succeed, and are a blessing and a gift from God.

    I’m pro-choice and pro-life, the moderate who makes everyone uncomfortable.

    • For the sake of unity and the fact I like Damaris and a lot of people here, I’m not going to comment on the article. But just wanted everyone to know how eye opening it was to me when I started listening to my friend’s stories and how greatly the pill and other contraceptives have changed, improved, and maybe even saved their lives.

      This isn’t a topic that can be discussed dispassionately, with Spock’s Vulcan calm. It needs to be as real as possible, and as close to people as possible.

      That’s all.

      • Stuart, your points are very necessary to this discussion. Bern there, done that, re. debilitating pain, etc.

        • P.S.: i still live with chronic pain, although not with chronic pain caused by terrible malfunctions of reproductive biology. I have bern past that for a while now, thankfully. But for far too many women, it is a daily battle, and an awful lot of those women have children and somehow have to soldieron regardless of how debilitated they are. The pill is a lifesaver for many in that position, though it isn’t always the dole or best option.

          • Esole.

          • Oh, never mind. I am a bad typist.

          • That’s ok, I thought you were going to offer me some fish there for a second.

            I’m hungry.

          • Also, just as God did not alter the laws of physics to create rainbows and refractions after the Flood, He also did not curse women after the Fall so that childbirth and periods and the like would be super painful as a consequence for two peoples’ sin.

            That’s bullshit any child can see through.

          • Hmm… Dover sole would be nice, I think!

  20. Young Lady says:

    Thank you, Demaris, for bravely speaking your opinion about a very polarizing and sensitive issue!

    I’d like to bring a woman’s perspective to the table, and I’ll do my best to concisely address my biggest contentions thus far. In short, I am speaking from personal experience of a young adult woman who had experienced this: celibacy into my early twenties, went on the pill for medical reasons (was having to take too many days off work due to feeling extremely ill every month), once on the pill, gradually started having casual sex more and more until I reached a moral crossroads, decided to focus back on my faith and was celibate again, for several years until I married my husband, I got off the pill for moral reasons, and was able to improve my health naturally. Recently my husband and I learned about NFP and we are now attempting to practice it.

    Having experienced all sides as a female AND being a social 30 y/o in a large US city, I can very confidently say this:
    -Many young women absolutely use birth control (BC) as a means of having casual sex without consequences. It is widespread. Most women do not need BC for health issues, and most young men expect women to be on BC and, therefore, open to sex outside of marriage.

    -That said, I am certainly not a parent yet, but I do believe that parents get to set some moral family rules until the child is an adult. The argument of allowing children to go on birth control because you don’t want to feel responsible if they suffer consequences of pre-marital sex just doesn’t hold any water for me. But I understand that, unless you are operating on the belief that contraceptives are immoral, this does appear to be the responsible solution for sexually active kids. So… without getting too technical, a quick note on the morality of BC…

    -From what I understand of NFP after thoroughly reading up on it, but still being somewhat of a beginning in practice, NFP differs from artificial contraceptives because it still protects and respects the biological capabilities for pregnancy naturally. NFP is stands on the moral grounds of the covenant of christian marriage, which comes from scripture, in the way that sex was intended to be a holy expression of love between spouses and for procreation. Contraception and “contraceptive behaviors” are intercepting the natural biological functions of the bodies and extract sex from it’s original marital and reproductive purposes. In addition to all of this, I am personally discovering that practicing NFP is, in fact, not boring at all and is strengthening the bond between my husband and I!

    Sorry for the length, and I hope I’ve made sense here. I’m in no way an expert on anything, but I felt that I could restore some balance in these comments 🙂 and also do my best to explain my moral conviction. Please be kind!

  21. jazziscoolithink says:

    I’m interested in hearing more about the idea of withdrawal as a form of artificial birth control. Does this include, as other commenters have brought up, other forms of non-generative sexual activity (e.g. cunnilingus, fellatio, foreplay, etc.)? If so, is vaginal intercourse the only form of sexual activity that is seen as appropriate in NFP? What is the reasoning for this?

    • cermak_rd says:

      Usually withdrawal is referring specifically to coitus interruptus. It’s not all that effective as a form of birth control, but probably better than doing nothing.

      But yes, under Catholic church rules, (and I’m not sure where NFP ends and Catholicism begins, concepts are more clearly separated within FAM); foreplay is allowed but not the point of climax (unless it’s an accident). So those other practices you mentioned are allowed but only to that point.

      • jazziscoolithink says:

        Thanks, cermak_rd. I guess I just don’t understand the reasoning behind it (foreplay, but only if it doesn’t result in orgasm–unless it’s by accident); I wonder how “wet dreams” are viewed in this mindset?

        Honestly, I love certain aspects of Roman Catholicism and some of my favorite spiritual teachers are Roman Catholic, but I cannot get past much of the bizarre Catholic morality–or keep up with all its weird loopholes. And I get tired (having even a cursory knowledge of church history) of hearing so many blatant misrepresentations of Catholic history from Catholics. I heard Richard Rohr say recently that one of the marks of maturity is being able to criticize your own group. I don’t hear that from many Catholics (while I recognize, of course, that Rohr is Roman Catholic)–mostly desperate attempts at defending moral stances that developed centuries and centuries after the institutionalization of Christianity.

        • Many Roman Catholics in the pews, and on the altars, are far from absolutist in these matters; most of them follow a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy.

          • I’d recommend the movie Calvary for more on this.

          • Whereas I’d recommend the “Every Sperm Is Sacred” song in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” to clear the air a bit. Go ahead, sing along. It’s catchy.

          • “Life begins at ejaculation.”

            Want to go down a rabbit hole?

            Is Jesus’ divinity tied to the idea that God’s Sacred Seed had to impregnate a Pure Virgin in order for Jesus to be both Man and God?

            Sounds like Hercules and countless others, to be blunt.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          …but I cannot get past much of the bizarre Catholic morality–or keep up with all its weird loopholes.

          That’s a result of having to make “Supreme Court Rulings” on bizarre/extreme cases for 20 centuries or so, establishing precedent.

          Plus, I think the RCC might still be working through some of Augustine’s personal sexual baggage. Greatest theologian of his era who established precedent, but pre-conversion horndog and post-conversion monastic celibate — he never had the chance to relate to women as people, only as (before) sex objects or (after) Forbidden Fruit. (Plus from personal experience I know that hyper-intellectualism and “living in your mind” of abstractions and thought pulls you away from reality into the land of Platonic Archetypes and meatspace shadows unless you actively pull in the other direction.)

        • Ok, again. Damaris presented her view, based on observation, not the Roman Catholic moral stance.

          • cermak_rd says:

            But an important part of her view is her last couple of paragraphs that outline the Catholic church’s perspective on this. Also, NFP is heavily intertwined with Catholicism. The secular alternative is FAM. They use the fertility symptoms but have different expectations from the users.

      • Was listening to a podcast recently that featured a former practicing Jew now atheist, and he made an interesting comment that it’s more scriptural to have homosexual sex than to masturbate, because of “seed spilling”.

        From a strict letter of the law, he’s absolutely right.

        Another “time and place” type idea I’m guessing that has gotten expanded into Holy Writ and been perverted into some NT ideology…

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          “Because people are people and the world is full of tricks and twistiness yet undreamed of.”
          — one of The Whole Earth Catalogs

        • Patrick Kyle says:

          ” it’s more scriptural to have homosexual sex than to masturbate, because of “seed spilling”.

          B*** S**T

          Reading Comprehension 101: Onan was punished for not raising up offspring to his blood relative, not because he ‘spilled his seed.’

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I’m interested in hearing more about the idea of withdrawal as a form of artificial birth control.

      One word: ONAN.

  22. Women in the West (and in the East too when they have a choice) want control over their own lives and the freedom to make choices for themselves apart from predetermined social roles. When they have this freedom and control, society almost universally prospers. Economically, politically and I would claim spiritually.

    The Roman Catholic Church is not in any position to speak about morality, sexual or otherwise. Let them get their own house in order and then we’ll talk about morality.

    • Not relevant to the discussion. We are not talking about the “RC view” here today.

      • The thing is, Damaris herself makes it clear that it *is* intertwined with RC theology and expectations. I underdtand your wish to keep this thread from turning into one where Catholic-bashing is a thing, but i don’t think it follo2s that a fair discussion of this is out of bounds, either.

  23. God bless you, Damaris; you have the courage of your convictions. I have no doubt that you anticipated a firestorm of opposition on this issue, but you’ve made your case anyway, and you’re sticking by it. That requires courage. I wonder how many of us have as much courage to stand by an unpopular position we believe is right? Is the “Christian life” possible without such courage? It seems to me that without such courage, what is called the “Christian lif”e is just an intellectual and/or emotional game, and an illusion.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      Yes, courage. And grace. Thank you Damaris.

    • I’ll second this…thank you, Damaris, for posting your thoughts and beliefs. We may disagree, we may want to discuss and question and argue, but we’re glad to have your thoughts and beliefs here. Thank you.

    • Thank you all for your kind thoughts and well reasoned responses. It’s been hard to read through all the comments, I welcome this attempt to keep me honest . . . I guess. 🙂

      • Damaris, I want to say that I do appreciate your writing here – and even though I disagree with you on a great deal of this particular post, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to hear your views. Very much the opposite, in fact.

        Nor do I want to come off as someone who thinks NFP is hogwash – as long as it is a choice and not an obligation.

  24. Damaris:

    Thanks for this article. We need to hear your perspective. There are more Catholics in the world than any other denomination and those views are under-represented.

    I must admit I wish that more women would speak up, there are at least two of you, but when we use handles it is hard to tell.

    I think what some people miss is that we are a highly sexualized culture and I am not sure that many people even see it. So concepts such as self control are not really at all in vogue

    • Is self-control an absolutist position or are there degrees? Is properly using artificial birth control a form of self control? Is NFP a form of self control?

      What does self-control look like?

    • i think a fair number of women (including me) have weighed in on this post.

  25. Damaris, excellent essay on NFP. And thank you for your courage in bringing up this issue of artificial birth control. As a Protestant I do not agree with your conclusion that NFP is the only worthy (good? acceptable?) method of birth control but your logic is excellent, your words are eloquent and your courage in writing this piece–especially in a “left of center,” and “progressive” (so called) site–earns my admiration. Just a couple of reflections…

    First, my son and his wife are Byzantine Catholics, and they take their faith–and related requirements–very seriously. Among these is that NFP is the ONLY allowable method of family planning (that sounds so much better than “birth control,” as if “birth” could ever be truly “controlled”). Because my son’s wife is a nurse and has received extensive training in NFP, she travels around the area and to neighboring states teaching NFP in Catholic churches. To date they have been married a year and three months and, well, no grandkids yet. I guess it works.

    Second, my son is a pharmacy student. Although his mother and I are very proud of being admitted to UNM’s College of Pharmacy, we fear that once he starts practicing he will be forced–either by the retailer he works for or the government–to dispense abortifacients. I don’t think he would be opposed to dispensing drugs which prevent conception, but certainly he would be opposed–as am I–to the use of abortifacients (drugs which terminate a pregnancy, usually by way of preventing the conceptus from being implanted in the uterus). Different states have passed different laws in this respect, but most allow some measure of judgment on the part of the attending pharmacist to exercise his/her freedom based on his/her conscience. And although teh subject is abortifacients, what happens in so-called “right to die” states? Should pharmacists who oppose suicide be forced to dispense poison? It gets messy.

    Third, this discussion opens up the door to some fundamental issues about life. What should be the church’s role in this? Is it an act of grace to encouraging a young woman to take “Plan B” even though it may mean the termination of a <72 hour pregnancy (call it what you wish, but if she is in fact pregnant, then Plan B will terminate the pregnancy; otherwise, it would prevent ovulation–God alone knows)? What about forcing a pharmacist who believes life begins at conception to dispense it (actually, it's over-the-counter now so saying "ringing it up" is more appropriate), and if s/he dispenses it s/he is convinced that s/he would be playing Russian roulette with but pointing the gun at someone else?. Is it too rigid a stance to take which says that life begins at conception (as medical textbooks describe–or used to)? Should the church even be adamant about saying when life begins?

    Sorry for being long-winded. Gotta go deal with someone right now…

    • I’d be interested in knowing where your son’s education has challenged his beliefs or preconceptions in the field of pharmacy, if they have been that is. Where has he changed his mind or clarified things? Or would it be similar to a YEC studying geology, seeing all the science and the results, yet clearly separating in his mind what’s True vs what’s TRUE?

      As for the church’s role in it…well, if we can all agreed to be gracious, I say churches should form around like minded believers each practicing their individual liberty in this regard, so one church be pro-contraceptives and another church could be anti-contraceptives. When people show up in the church who disagree with the established position, they are free to go elsewhere.

      Fast forward a generation or two, each church can successfully practice the Doctrine of Separation, per that passage in one of the corinthians about the sexually immoral believers, and declare the other church Not True Believers ™, as well as all their members, since they practice sexual immorality within the marriage bedroom. For a fraction of those churches, raise the stakes to the issue of Life Itself ™, contraception, and radicalize them to the point they will speak out against the other church publicly instead of just privately like the majority.

      When does life begin? Well, the Holy Scriptures gave one answer, but we don’t like it; let’s change them. Now the church, the True Church ™, can point to a Holy Standard apart from themselves and claim it’s TRUE ™, we may not like it, but who are we to argue with God Himself who wrote it?

      Eventually, I’d suggest we realize just how important this is, and mobilize the base. We can take this world back for TRUTH and Christ.. Let’s get the politicians involved. We already define who can legally marry who, and we empower police and military to prevent things like theft and murder, and so why can’t we legally prevent the murders of the innocent? It’s almost an unseen holocaust.

      Come to think of it…no one really has individual liberty at all. For who among us is God, we’ve all known the truth, it’s just our sinful nature that wants us to do whatever is right in our own guys. We need a leader, a judge. The best way to elect that leader would be to outvote everyone us, so we need more bodies to do that. It is now your duty to be fruitful and conquer.

      The Kingdom of God itself is at stake here. And you dare to ask what role the Church has to play in it? The Church has liberalized and created this problem. We’re here to take it back. Let’s raise up a generation, an army.

      But why is everyone leaving? Don’t they know the truth and see it? It’s plainly evident for all to see. You were never really part of us to begin with.

      Ladies and gentlemen, the 20th century.

      • The questions I posed were rhetorical. If Christianity is about life–abundant life, everlasting life–then it stands to reason that we Christians should be promoting life against those who would want to destroy life because its presence is deemed to be an inconvenience or, as Damaris wrote, take extreme, unnatural and perhaps unhealthy measures to prevent it.

        But I find that some of us–growing in numbers, I fear–are reticent, at best, or hostile, at worst, to declare when life begins. If life does begin at the moment of conception, as I believe it does, then should we not, of all people, be at the forefront of the battle to defend life–life of the unborn, life of the poor, life of the feeble, life of the lame, life of the undesirable, and so on? Is this not what Christ taught taught us? Is this not the legacy the early church left us?

        And if life doesn’t begin at conception, then when does it begin? When the pregnant mother decides it does? When the state decides it does?

        My wife and I experienced two miscarriages between our second and third child. When the first miscarriage occurred the doctor told us that “I’m afraid that this pregnancy is not viable,” to which my wife, a grieving mother, responded, “you mean, my baby is dead?” to which he reiterated, ” this pregnancy is not viable.” He just couldn’t bring himself to comfort grieving parents simply because the baby was unborn and, I suppose he deemed it not to be a “person.” The second time it happened our doctor was a Mormon, and although we disagree on numerous doctrinal issues, at the very least he was able to tell us plainly that “your baby has died.” May God bless him.

        • I won’t argue with you, CalvinCuban, because that’s a tragedy, and I’m sorry for your losses.

        • cermak_rd says:

          A distinct life begins at conception. It has its own DNA. It might not, however implant, lots of nonimplantations occur quite naturally. In fact conceptions that do occur in NFP due to grazing the corners of the safe period are thought to have implantation issues due to the non-fresh nature of the egg and/or sperm (depending on which edge one is grazing).

          However whether it’s alive does not answer the whole question. The other question is does the being have permission to lodge in the woman’s uterus? It after all is her uterus and if she wants to carve designs in it or use an IUD, that’s surely her right. And if you limit her ability to do what she wants with her uterus until a conception occurs then aren’t you putting her rights below that of a microscopic being? That seems unfortunate for the woman. And quite different from stating, as the law in my state does that except for health reasons one cannot terminate a 6 month or later fetus. A fetus that age is not microscopic and is most likely going to survive a Ceasarian just fine. Also 3 months is a lot shorter of a time in which to burden a woman than 9.

          • There are two issues you bring up here…

            The first has to do with successful vs. non-successful implantation of the conceptus (fertilized egg). If this occurs naturally, then my argument is that it’s God’s choice as to what He wants to do here. God can create and take life as He chooses. I have no problem with that. But, to purposely prevent the conceptus from implanting by use of drugs or IUD (as Damaris mentioned) then that’s a different matter altogether as it is interfering with the natural progression of the development of life.

            The second is w/regards to a woman’s right to her uterus. I would argue that a woman can do whatever she wisher with her uterus or, for that matter, her pinky. But, if a life is developing in her uterus–a separate life, that is, a human being (different DNA, own heart, brain, and such)–then it’s an entirely different matter. For if a woman has a full right to her uterus throughout the entire nine-month gestation period, then what is the difference between expelling the baby by force at 1 month, 3 month, or 9 months, for that matter? Is that not the argument used by proponents of late-term abortion (legal here in New Mexico)? Or put another way, should a distance of about 6″ make a difference between life and death because a mother wants to vacate the resident in her uterus? Is this not why babies skulls are perforated and the brain destroyed or why a solution of high salinity is introduced into the uterus in order to prevent the inconvenience of a live birth? Have not babies been born alive who were destined for death? Again, does 6″ grant someone “personhood”?

            With all due respect, this is kind of thinking which allows a baby to be killed because a mother has a right to her uterus is illogical, not to mention immoral. But who cares, right, abortion is legal in the US and probably will remain so for some time.

            Even so, there is some good news… The number of abortion providers has dramatically declined in the US, not by way of the passage of anti-abortion laws (which the courts almost always strike down) but for a variety of complex reasons which include changing values w/regards abortion. Yes, they’re listening to us.

            And I will keep up the fight for the rights of the unborn, which includes grace, forgiveness, counseling and compassion on women who grieve the fact that they allowed an abortionist to apply his/her craft on her–for a fee, of course.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        We need a leader, a judge. The best way to elect that leader would be to outvote everyone us, so we need more bodies to do that. It is now your duty to be fruitful and conquer.

        Outbreed the Heathen.

        “We conquer the lands of the Infidel! Our wombs shall be our weapons!”
        (Note: Not women. WOMBS.)

        The Kingdom of God itself is at stake here. And you dare to ask what role the Church has to play in it? The Church has liberalized and created this problem. We’re here to take it back. Let’s raise up a generation, an army.

        Like ISIS or Saruman?
        (Scratch “Wombs”. Make that “Uruk-Hai Spawning Pits beneath Isengard”.)

    • Clay Crouch says:

      CC, glad to see you back. Have missed your participation.

      • Thank you. It is posts such as Damaris’s which encourage me to participate in the discussions.

        • And I always love your comments, too, Calvin.

          • Thank you, Damaris.

            By the way, I was a professor and later an academic dean at a two-year branch campus of the University of New Mexico for about 21 years. Branch campuses here in New Mexico function almost identically to community colleges. I echo and affirm your word w/regards the typical community college student–female, poor, single, with infants, toddlers and school-age children at home, and in desperate need of an education and the improved opportunities, outlook on life and gainful employment that comes with it. It is a genuine service of “common grace” to our community. And another reason to commend you and to encourage you to continue teaching at a community college.

            PS: My offer from several months back is still open–assuming both you and the department chair go along with it.

          • Remind me, Calvin. If may need to take you up on it if I get run out of town on a rail!

  26. Dana Ames says:

    I think for those married couples who are willing and able to do what is necessary for it, NFP is the best way. I think more would be able to do it successfully than those who for whatever reason think they can’t – that is, the present climate tends to provide ways for people who could do this successfully to talk themselves out of it.

    We used NFP successfully to conceive, and it worked fine between children, too; I was regular like clockwork with all symptoms. It was not onerous at all to take my temperature first thing in the morning, even with small children to attend to. One caveat is that most people are not aware that physiologically things start to shift a bit at some point in a woman’s early 30s.

    If people cannot or do not wish to use NFP, I am glad there are alternatives; I see it as truly the best thing to do, but very idealistic, and unrealistic for women who are not regular. As Damaris pointed out, there are potential health problems with all methods of ABC – not to mention an alarming amount of hormones in the environment, and subsidizing Big Pharma. That all needs to be taken into consideration.

    My opinion is not going to have any effect on people who are outside my life, and especially on people who don’t identify as Christians; I can’t make people “behave right.” I am not opposed to any method of birth control that does not induce abortion. Once conception happens, though, that’s a whole different thing entirely. As I’ve written before, the early Christians were known for taking in babies (mostly girls) that were abandoned and exposed to the elements to die, and for taking care of people in general (which I assume to mean they also cared for women pregnant out of wedlock). They didn’t try to change laws in the Roman Empire; they simply lived on a different plane.

    In the Orthodox Church, a couple confer with their priest about their own situation and how the couple foresee their future with regard to children – not to “get permission” or for the priest to dictate anything to them, but to ascertain the couple’s motives for having or delaying having children. Like the Catholic Church, Orthodoxy teaches that the couple is to be open to having children. Non-abortifacient methods may be used to prevent conception; this is seen as less than the ideal situation, but allowable given the realities of living in the world in which we live, as long as the couple don’t have hedonistic motives for not having children.

    Dana

  27. Thanks, Damaris for this article. I too am a woman using NFP and I’m a little surprised that it’s so hard to see how ABC is harmful to women. But usually things are easier to see from the outside than the inside.
    For those who don’t see the harm, consider hormonal birth control as an example: it is specifically designed to make a healthy woman’s body stop working. Think about that. When else does anyone go to the doctor and say: “Gee Doc, everything seems to be working well and I’m perfectly healthy. Can you give me something for that?”

    In terms of cost: there are many forms of NFP, only some require taking your temperature. Many do not and basically all you need is paper or something to record your observations.

    For those who are “grossed out” by having to observe cervical mucus – how are you not grossed out by sex? Really, sex is much messier so if you can’t handle how gross it is to check cervical mucus I don’t think you’re ready for sex.

    • No, it doesn’t make a woman’s body “stop working,” it inhibits ovulation. It does not stop the menstrual cycle – you have to take Lupron (used as a short-term fix for women who have intolerable pain from endometriosis). Lupron puts the body into a state of temporary, reversible menopause. (I know because I’ve been on it)

      Inhibiting ovulation is not shutting down the reproductive system in its entirety.

  28. Rick Ro. says:

    Some thoughts ricocheted through my brain reading this and some of the comments…

    1) The old “it’s more difficult to get a dog than it is to have a baby.” When you think about it, there should be more laws in place requiring certain conditions be met BEFORE a woman decides to have a baby than there are for getting a dog, but that’ll never happen (and I’m not arguing that it should), so there will always be babies born into horrible conditions. Seems to me that artificial birth control has the greatest potential than any other method for helping women AVOID having babies when they really shouldn’t, so unless someone is willing to change the laws to be more restrictive aka oppressive, then seems to me it’s a good solution.

    2) Telling folks “protect yourself from having a kid you don’t want: avoid sex” is like telling people they shouldn’t text when they drive. It becomes a “the danger you’re telling me about will never happen to me” attitude. So to protect people against the danger of having a child they don’t want, provide them with an option that will most likely help them avoid the situation.

    3) We live in a society that equates sex with love, so it appears we have many women who have sex because it must mean their man loves them, and lots of men who have sex because…well, guys like to have sex. Seems to me that unless this view of sex and love changes, asking people to avoid having sex is so counter-cultural as to be meaningless.

    • I would challenge your statement that counter-cultural behavior is meaningless, Rick. All of genuine Christianity is/has been counter-cultural. I suspect that if I said that Christians should forgive people, you’d accept that as an acceptably counter-cultural statement. Why is it the (and I’m asking everyone) that we have given up on moderating sexual behavior as hopelessly counter-cultural?

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Good counter-argument, Damaris, one that I guess I agree with! And as with the dangers of “driving while texting”, I guess you still try to tell people of the consequences of sex even if they choose to ignore you.

        By the way, kudos to you for taking the time to answer so many of the comments.

  29. As a young Catholic convert preparing for marriage in a few months in the Church, there are a few thoughts I’d like to bring to this discussion. I have studied this topic extensively and have been powerfully convicted of the objective moral wrong of artificial birth control and the good fruits that NFP can bring into a marriage. I despair of addressing the topics brought up in this discussion in a cohesive way and will therefore simply attempt to come to Damaris’ aid by bringing up context that will back up her claims that ABC is harmful to individuals and to society. (Note: a lot of this is coming from Janet Smith https://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/264/popepaul.htm)

    Pope Paul VI, in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, prophetically predicted the effects artificial contraception would have on society early in their introduction. Many years later, we can see his vision played out in many ways. He wrote on the objective immorality of contraception, and the subsequent negative consequences (notably not the other way around). He predicted four main effects on society…

    1. Infidelity and moral decline
    The Pope said that the widespread use of contraception would “lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.” I trust that most readers of this blog would agree that there has been a decline in sexual morality in the last 40 years. The availability of contraception is intimately connected to this due to the fact that it has sold people the lie that they can engage in premarital sexual activity “responsibly.”

    2. Lost respect for women
    Paul VI also said that man would lose his respect for a woman’s sexuality and would reach “the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” When spouses violate the great good of conjugal love, they are harming their own potential for happiness by denying their innate dignity as images of God. As Janet Smith puts it: “(by) Treating their bodies as mechanical instruments to be manipulated for their own purposes, they risk treating each other as objects of pleasure.”

    3. Abuse of power
    Paul VI said that the widespread use of contraception had the potential to become a “dangerous weapon… in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies.” The extreme abuse of contraception throughout the third world (here is one article as an example: http://www.globalization101.org/politics-of-birth-control-2/) speaks to this in an alarming way.

    4. Unlimited dominion
    Pope Paul’s final warning was to warn us that the use of contraception was a dangerous step down the path towards man coming to believe that he possessed “unlimited dominion” over his (or her) own body, a truth that flies in the face of a Christian world view. As Janet Smith mentioned in the article I am drawing from: “The desire for unlimited dominion over one’s own body extends beyond contraception. The production of “test-tube babies” is another indication of the refusal to accept the body’s limitations. We seek to adjust the body to our desires and timetables, rather than adjusting ourselves to its needs.”

    Finally, I’ll close with a brief note about the Catholic’s Church teaching on sexuality, contraception and marriage. As a convert I have seen both ends of the spectrum and I will hold that the Church’s teaching, seen by many as puritanical, repressive, and ridiculous, are in fact the only true message of hope for young confused Christian millennials such as myself. In a world of uncertainty and fear the Catholic Church is the only voice that refuses to accommodate sin and the pessimistic view of man. Rather it stands firm in its authority to call man to the gift of love of which he is uniquely and intrinsically capable and by which he is ultimately be fulfilled.

    • I think you will find plenty of comments upthread that deal with the statements you’ve just made. It might be hard to see some of our points, but we do have them, just as you do.

      Best wishes for your marriage and future children!

    • Also, people have been lamenting a general decline in sexual morality since… well, the beginning of time, i think. There is nothing new under the sun. 😉

      • Rick Ro. says:

        And God asked, “Why have you covered yourselves up?” Yep, been a long, long, long problem.

    • I’ll echo numo, and may God bless you and your marriage!

    • cermak_rd says:

      Mazel tov on your upcoming wedding and lifelong love in your marriage.

  30. As usual, I see many sides to this topic. I will just throw some real life situstions into the hat. Someone close to me was using NFP and got pregnant anyway, which in this case led to an abortion. Had they added a barrier method, perhaps that would not have been necessary. The relationship ended soon after. Only they know whether and how much the unintended pregnancy affected that.

    Said individual introduced me to the method. Though I was single and not sexually active, I tried it out for some time out of curiosity. Neither my basal temperatures nor my cervical mucous seemed to cooperate. I was glad I did not have to depend on it. After I eventually married, we used a variety of available OTC methods, because I was against the idea of introducing artificial hormones into my body. Most people I talked to had undesirable side effects when they used such hormones and I did not want to inhibit my fertility because we did want children. I do think it would be advisable to distinguish between hormonal and non-hormonal methods, but you have your reasons for lumping them together. One observation I have is that NFP asks for self denial, if you don’t want to become pregnant, at precisely the time of month when desire may be the greatest, for us females. I think that is problematic for most people.

    On the other side is my godson, who is a single parent to 7. I don’t know if his ex-wife ever tried NFP. I do know that she considered herself to be a good Catholic by not using birth control, and I was always thankful that I was in a church where there was no one telling people not to use birth control. If it came up at all, the attitude seemed to be that you should only have as many children as you could afford to feed, clothe and educate. Larger families often have difficulty with all of those.

    • About cycles and libido: methinks you are right.

      As far as labelling different methods of birth control, i agree, and your real life examples echo situations i have encountered. It is easy to declare absolutes re. this topic, but when it comes to actual human experience, well…

    • Robert F says:

      To ask for self-denial at the very time of month when desire is greatest seems extremely unnatural; in regard to this, a better name for this method might be Unnatural Family Planning.

      • Robert – note which partner might be involved in the most self-denying part of it, too. Hint: not the men.

        If only more people actually understood what it is actually like to deal with all the physical (aand psychological) things that are part of womens’ bodies and reproductive cycles,… this would probably not be as divisive or emotional a topic, and there would likely be less disagreement.

  31. Robert F says:

    Sex, religion and politics: the controversial trinity, never far from one another, and always ready to turn a cocktail party into a beer brawl.

    But here at iMonk, we turn brawls into hootenannies….sometimes…

  32. Apologies for my tone in some of my comments if it was poor or lacking. Today has been one of the worst, most frustrating days ever at work, leaving me with large chunks of time waiting on others. No excuse for not being gracious or kind online.

  33. One of the recurring statements I’ve seen today is the idea that it’s bad to take artificial hormones or anything not natural. So I guess I’ll ask the same question as the rest of mine, lol:

    Why is that bad?

    There’s a whole host of things we take that are artificial. Some have good results, some have bad results. But there’s a mindset that the human body or sexuality (and I’d also put in childbirth) needs to be as “natural” and non-artificial as possible.

    This is one area where I genuinely do not understand the reasoning or appeal, so if someone could help out, that’d be great.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Others can answer as well, Stuart, but my understanding is that for some women taking exogenous hormones lead to higher incidences of cancer of the breast and reproductive organs. In addition, the imposed regularity from those hormones can mask physical problems that need attention, and that would be more obvious if “irregularity” were allowed to happen with a woman’s own hormonal load. Using hormonal birth control for years can also lead to at least temporary infertility, which is not so great when you come to the point where you want to have children.

      Sorry about your rough day.

      Dana

      • cermak_rd says:

        I thought most of the cancer risk was due to postponing pregnancy. Apparently pregnancy and childbirth are awesome at preventing breast cancer and other cancers of the reproductive system. But it is more effective at doing this in young mothers (a vanishing breed) and of course now many women choose never to be mothers.

        I’m hoping science can cause a synthetic pregnancy to spread that prophylactic property around.

    • Stuart, the controversy over natural vs. otherwise is so huge, and definitely not limited to hormonal contraception, but i think you’re getting some good response. Though i wish the medical rresearch on womens’ health isdues (not just cancer, but heart disease and similar) was a LOT further along.

      Aside from that, i think there are many erroneous and/oor confused ideas on the subject. I only wieh imcould offer some clarification, but here’s what i do know (and this is a very limited perspective): there is no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to how women metabolize (artificial) hormones, or even natural ones. For a while, my gyn and i worked on trying to control the extremely debilitating condition i had with natural hormones. Results were not what i had hoped for, and kind of messed me up. Ultimately, i went for the nuclear (aka surgical) option, and though it put an end to any chances of childbearing, I’m a lot better off for it. For some eomen, that would be (and is) the go-to, and then they work on adopting. For me, things were a bit different.

      All that to say that i strongly believe that people need to have choices, and i hope that some better ones will come into being than the options we have currently – most of 2hich would have bern sci fi scenarios for my great-grandparents.m (just like antibiotics and injectable insulin and…)

  34. Damaris, you’ve taken as much flak today as I’ve seen anyone take at the Monastery. Here’s a big hug. You pushed a lot of people’s buttons, not intentionally, but there they are waiting to be pushed and on a hair trigger. I don’t have a dog in this fight, thank God, and I only read your piece once. Did not feel you were castigating others, denying freedom, prescribing personal behavior, or promoting the nefarious agendas of Rome, and I am highly sensitive to all that.

    What I did get was your reasoned assessment of all the methods available for limiting the chance of having more children than can be handled well. You spoke based on your personal experience, what science disparages as anecdotal evidence, and which I consider the best information on which to base decisions, depending on whose opinion is being offered. Your opinions get a 10 with me, but I wouldn’t live my life just on your opinion. I want the widest spread of the best opinions possible within reason. What you have given us here today is highly valuable information for those in search, and I think it is plain why few would have the courage to provide it.

    I’m guessing that in those 9 out of 10 people reading your words who didn’t comment (I said I’m guessing), there may be some who find what you had to say a life preserver thrown out just when needed. Only God would know. I was not familiar with your contemporary NFP as such, and there may be others. If you don’t have all the options, you can’t make a wise and reasoned choice. I hope that at the end of the day, or maybe having slept on it, you will feel even with the severe bashing, given the opportunity you would do it over again. You did well. Here’s another hug.

  35. Damaris, you are a brave and eloquent woman. Most poeople, including me, would not have the courage to open up this much about an important view on which they know they will get a lot of disagreement, not all of it respectful.

    Being a single adoptive mom, I have no dog in this hunt. So in all good faith I ask, why is artificial birth control different from other types of medicine?

    All medicines change the chemistry of the body: that’s what medicine is supposed to do. For instance, I take antidepressants, which do something with serotonin in my brain. I also take stuff for acid reflux, which changes some of the juices in my stomach, I guess. Without these medicines, I’d be a lot gloomier and more uptight than I already am. 🙂 In other words, I’d be natural. Really, I’d rather not.

    For most of the time of the human race on earth, all sorts of natural things have been happening which killed people, such as typhoid, cholera, TB, the Black Death, and so forth. Those diseases were just as natural as we were, but modern medicine has wiped them out pretty well. Before the 20th century, the natural thing for a child-bearing woman was to have a child every year or two, and to assume that up to half of them would die before they were five years old. That is what’s natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s good, does it? And it was natural for a substantial percentage of women to die in childbirth. Now we can prevent that, thanks be to God and science.

    Nature itself, while beautiful to see, is also amoral and its results are often cruel. I don’t think saying something is “natural” is really much of an endorsement.

    • I also ask myself if I’m being consistent, because I do use medicines, sunscreen, nail clippers, etc. The chief difference between birth control and medicine, it seems to me, is that fertility is not an illness that needs to be cured. All too often it’s seen as an inconvenience that needs to be avoided.

      • Robert F says:

        Fertility is not an illness, but the fact that in natural conditions, before the advent of modern medical science, so many women died in childbirth means that pregnancy and childbirth involve women’s health concerns.

        • I bet there are scores of people who, if they had the choice, would far rather opt for dome form of birth control than die in chilbirth, or lose their partner that way.

          I am thinking of the uncountable desth toll throughout history while writing this.

    • Robert F says:

      H. Lee, I too am not completely smitten with “nature” and the “natural.” “Nature” is an often pretty but cruel and indifferent god.

      The one proviso I would make is that science shares an ambivalence with nature that quickly turns from beneficial to destructive.

      • Certainly I agree, Robert F. Science can be at least as cruel and destructive as nature (Hiroshima, anyone?) There’s no denying, though, that in my own and my parents’ lifetimes, advances in *medical* science have been a great benefit for many many people.

        Of course, I’ve read a few people’s writings that take the *very* long view on this, and say that, for example, saving all those babies in Africa who would have died “naturally”, or even saving weak or disabled people in the developed world, has been a bad idea because it (a) leads to overpopulation, and (b) weakens the gene pool.

        But as a Christian I can’t agree with this line of thought, of course. Not only as a matter of theology, but as a person like the rest of you here with at least some humanity and compassion, I find the “lifeboat ethics” argument repulsive.

        Besides, I was born with pneumonia and spent my first three weeks in the hospital, and I am definitely not going to agree that the world would be better off if Nature had taken its course with me. 🙂

  36. Robert F says:

    Well, it’s good to see CalvinCuban back and in full voice, but where’s The Finn?

  37. OldProphet says:

    Hold your head high Damaris. I had 8 children using natural family planning. I love them all. Ultimately, it’s God who gives and takes life. I agree with what you said and understood the concept perfectly. Many of the comments today were totally off base and ignorant.

  38. Hi Damaris,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. Funny that just today I was thinking about my Catholic Great-Grandma who had 17 children ( & watched several of them die of hemophilia) & feeling very thankful that that wasn’t my lot in life. You do start your thoughts by saying you ‘don’t like’ ABC, so I feel like i can reply with my own emotional reactions to this, which were many.
    Firstly, you are a very very lucky woman to have landed a Christian husband interested in a high quality relationship which involves enough communication & care to do NFP successfully. But please don’t assume all couples, even Christians, have anything like that. As other commenters have said, many men are capable of having sex yet are grossed out by the details of female fertility & won’t discuss this. So to those not in that situation it can sound a bit smug, however unintentional.
    You’re also lucky to have good enough physical health for this method to work well, not everyone does.
    Thirdly, it assumes couples have enough of a libido going on that a few days abstention will be a big deal, then normal relations will resume. There are definitely couples for whom, whether to do with health, medication or relational reasons, if they don’t take whatever opportunities come along for sex in their relationship, may then go for months or years without any.
    I was a celibate 20 & 30 something woman, (not a virgin) with many opportunities to get into relationships with non-christian men, that were just that, relationships that would have had a sexual component, not casual sex situations, which I turned down. Had lots of opportunities for casual sex too, didn’t take them. There are many reasons other than unwanted pregnancy that women say no. I walked the hard road, & I really like sex! Contraception is readily available to me in my job & that didn’t sway my decisions. There are so many sweeping assumption here about people just wanting as much pregnancy free sex as possible – I have many non-Christian friends & this doesn’t describe a single one of them. I do understand it’s a matter of personal temptation to some, & may be an issue for them.
    I then got into a difficult marriage with a Christian, that could never have used NFP. I used barrier methods as hormonal contraception doesn’t suit everyone. I have no problem with these methods at all. I don’t feel NFP is superior, just different.
    I may be way off line but I also hear an undertone of ‘if people can’t turn down sex then they shouldn’t be allowed to have it’ as though several days of NFP abstinence a month somehow makes a truly worthy sexual relationship. It’s the assumed slavery to sex that I have some issues with, it is a constant & sometimes hideously inaccurate Christian theme.
    I also agree with many comments about the first world nature of NFP. We have a ridiculous amount of advantages over so many of the world’s women.
    Finally there is some discussion up thread about emergency contraception units given out, & how many pregnancies avoided. I hope that commenter does realise that most (a vast vast majority) of the sexual encounters that these pills were taken after would not have resulted in pregnancy anyway? Please tell me commenters here know better than that, as well as that some of these were taken after contraceptive failure or rape…This is as obvious a point as that pregnancy carries many health risks, so birth control may be the safer of 2 choices for many women/couples.
    This is a huge & complex issue, which I wouldn’t have wanted to tackle in a public forum. I do a lot of sexual health education work with teenagers, as well as distributing condoms & doing pregnancy tests at work so have done my wrestling with these issues.

  39. Damaris, great post. I pretty much agree with you on all you’ve written here. Props to you for tackling the issue. Few people stop to really consider the role BC and abortion has played in the disintegration of male/female interactions and societal ills.