I’ve just finished reading a book called “Contraception and the family - The immorality of contraception and its effects on family life” by Fr. Roberto A. Latorre. Below is a summary of my reflections on contraception together with some excerpts from the book.
I’m not going to write much on the use of contraception outside mariage, because all forms of extramarital sex, be it adultery, fornication (prostitution), pre-marital sex, bestiality or sodomy are against marriage. I’m going to focus more on the use of contraception in marriage. We’ll discuss other topics in another post.
Naturalism vs Natural Law
There is a common misunderstanding that the Church considers contraception immoral and sinful because it is artificial. In other words, it involves some interference with our normal biological processes. Conversely, periodic continence, or Natural Family Planning (NFP) is not immoral because it does not interfere with those processes. If this were true, then the use of other artificial things like medicines, dentures, prosthetic limbs, etc would be immoral too.
The position of the Church is based on Natural Law, not on naturalism.
Naturalism maintains that something is immoral if it goes against the laws of nature, nature here being understood as biological nature. The seriousness of a sin depends on how much it disrupts the natural balance. This position is found in certain naturalistic sects of “new age” inspirations, but not in the Catholic Church.
Natural law doctrine, on the other hand, maintains that something is immoral if it goes against human nature, not just biological processes. Its conception of human nature is based on a “total vision of man” (see Humanae Vitae, no. 7) as a person “in unity of his spiritual and biological inclinations and of all other specific characteristics necessary for the pursuit of his end.” (See Veritatis Splendor, no. 50)
Human nature is ultimately based on the plan and ordination of the Creator. We can know this ordination, and therefore the contents of the natural law, by looking at what is according to right reason.
This means that the natural moral law is the unique way in which man carries out the plans and purposes of God for the creatures of the universe. Brute animals fulfil God’s purpose for them by blindly following their instinct. But man fulfils his end by using his freedom following the light of his reason.
The conjugal act is a gift of love
The conjugal act should not be considered merely as giving vent to an instinctive urge. Passions and emotions have their rightful place in marital relations, but in order to be truly human, the spiritual element should always prevail.
Like a friend tells me, “The human body only has enough blood for one head to function. Don’t let it be the head down there.” Even when making love to your wife, you should be in complete control of yourself, otherwise there is no freedom, and your gift of yourself is devoid of meaning. Your act of conjugal love changes from one of “I give myself to you in this act of love” to “I can’t help it. I can’t control myself. I need to have sex.”
It is easy to see why wives would feel used when their husbands treat them as a vent for their instinctive urges. This is one reason why some couples feel unfulfilled during sex - because they are being made use of as objects, instead of being treated as persons.
Contraception tends to minimize human control over the person’s sexual behaviour, because with contraception, you can do it anytime. That is one of the main reasons people use contraception - so as to be able to do it anytime they want to. Or feel that they have to.
Contraception makes the conjugal act less human because it implies lack of dominion and self-control, in favour of the sensual and erotic aspects of the conjugal act. On the other hand periodic continence, when morally justified, encourages self-mastery.
Who is more in control of himself? The person who can have sex anytime and any place he wants, and the person who can control himself and really make himself a total gift to the only person he loves? Equally applicable for women.
Both contraception and Natural Family Planning (NFP) are ways to plan the family. But where contraception favours instinct, NFP favours the will.
Fruitfulness of the conjugal act
The fruit of marriage is children. The point of contraception is to avoid children while still engaging in sexual activity, even during the woman’s fertile period. The point of NFP is to avoid children, for the time being because of serious reasons, by abstaining from sex during the woman’s fertile period.
This is the main problem that people have with contraception and the use of NFP. Isn’t NFP just a “natural” way to contracept? NFP is not meritious because it’s “natural” and biological (see above “Naturalism vs Natural Law”). It is meritorious because it is geared towards human nature.
Does the conjugal act have to be fruitful? What about those couples who are childless? What about those who get married knowing full well that they are past the child-bearing age?
Just because these couples cannot have children doesn’t mean the conjugal act cannot be fruitful. We do not judge the fruitfulness of the conjugal act by its results. The act itself is fruitful regardless of the outcome.
The object of marriage is not just any kind of sexually-related activity. The object of marriage is geared towards a sexual act which by its very nature is procreative. Other unnatural sexual activities such as masturbation, sodomy, bestiality, etc, have no place in marriage because the are not open to life, not procreative, not fruitful.
Contraceptive sex by its very nature is not fruitful, not procreative. It doesn’t matter when you have contraceptive sex, it’s not procreative. It doesn’t matter whether you have sex when the woman is fertile or not, because the act is not procreative.
The conjugal act by its very nature is always fruitful, regardless of when you have it. When a couple abstains from sexual relations during the fertile periods, they are indeed avoiding a new life, but then, they are not engaging in an act that is ordained to life.
As you see, it is the act itself that we are talking about, which makes each contraceptive act closed to life, and each conjugal act open to life.
It must be noted, however, that a couple who practises periodic continence must be morally upright, sincerely seeking the will of God and collaborating with his plans. That is why they must have proportionately serious motives to abstain from sexual relations during the fertile periods.
Their main motive should not be just to avoid a new human being, as that would fall into a contraceptive mentality. They should be thinking of another legitimate good (health, family well-being, etc) which, after having weighed all the circumstances in the presence of God, overrides the great good it means to have another child at the moment.
In other words, the intention of using NFP to space out children must be there. The use of NFP should be accompanied by generosity and a positive view of children as the fruits and crowning glory of conjugal love. And for a Christian, he should not lose sight of the dimension of the cross of Christ and the need to have confidence and trust in God as our loving Father.
Effects of use of contraception
Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae had already predicted what would happen when countries accept and approve of the use of contraceptives - the general lowering of morality, the loss of respect for womanhood, the human rights abuses of government in this field (Humanae Vitae, no. 17).
We compare the other European countries with Poland where the Church has succeeded remarkably, thanks to then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla’s (later Pope John Paul II) influence.
Here, in terms of doctrine, there is a strong tradition of both orthodoxy and academic excellence. Pastoral programmes are vigorous and there is a very strong Christian life. One sign of this is the abundance of vocations. While other European countries and importing priests to fill the ranks, Poland is sending out its Polish priests to other countries.
It would not be wrong to say that the problem of vocation shortage in a country is linked to the use of contraceptives. While it is hard to tell directly whether a country’s people uses contraceptives or not, we can have a good idea of the usage by looking at the country’s abortion laws.
Abortion is the fail-safe for contraceptives. All contraceptives have a certain failure rate. As such, when people use contraceptives, there will be a certain percentage of women who will get pregnant anyway. Because of the contraceptive mentality, these children are unwanted. Hence the solution to these women’s “problem” is abortion.
No one can support the use of contraceptives without supporting the legalization of abortion. These two are directly linked to each other.
Pope John Paul II summed up in Familiaris Consortio, no. 32, why contraception is intrinsically evil:
“The innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality.”
Big words, but take them slowly and you will see the beauty and truth in those words.
Effect of contraception on marriage
Pastoral experience has shown that contraceptive practice often leads to a weakening of the love and mutual respect of couples. Perhaps without realizing it, their outlook towards each other and their attitude towards their relationship begins to change. They see themselves as accomplices rather than as partners. There is uneasiness deep inside.
As the quality of their love deteriorates, discords are less easily resolved, the temptations to infidelity become harder to resist. It would not come as a surprise if a correlation can be established between marital breakdowns and contraceptive practice.
If you love them…
One of the ways of appealing to the masses in the use of contraceptives is the slogan, “If you love them, plan.” This was used in the Philippines. But this is a deceptive form of advertisement because the idea of “planning” here is that of diminishing. It would be more accurate, and less appealing, to say, “If you love them, have less of them.” However, the contradiction is immediately obvious. The contradiction arises from the fact that contraception is a lie.
The alternative Christian slogan to this is, “If you love them, let God plan.” In NFP, couples are following God’s plan, and God is the best planner there is. With contraception, couples are excluding God from their plans. We are not the arbiters of the sources of human life, but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator (Humanae Vitae, no. 13).
To use an analogy, ministers of the altar have to follow the prescribed rules and guidelines of the liturgy as laid out in the GIRM. If a priest chose to change the liturgy as he saw fit, he would no longer be the minister of the altar, but an arbiter. And we immediately know that what this priest is doing is wrong; he doesn’t have the power to decide how the liturgy should be. Likewise, couples do not have the power to decide when and where life should be created. We are called to cooperate with God to bring new life into the world.
We hear this a lot: Man cooperates with God’s plan to bring new life into the world. But how does Man cooperate with God? Unlike other creatures, man’s reproduction entails the exercise of freedom, a gift that only humans have. This is why our use of our sexual faculties is a deeply moral act.
- adapted from “Contraception and the family - The immorality of contraception and its effects on family life” by Fr. Roberto A. Latorre
If you’re interested to get a copy of this small book (112 pages), it can be purchased from Noah’s Ark Creations.
You Should Also Check Out This Post:
- Sunday, July 1 - Are you free to say ‘No’?
- Saturday, June 30 - Hospitality
- Friday, June 29 - Keeping the faith
- Wednesday, June 27 - The golden rule of truth
- Question: What’s the connection between pre-marital sex and adultery?