Contraception Chit-Chat

The very word Birth-Prevention would strike a chill into the public, the instant it was blazoned on headlines…. They dare not call it by its name, because its name is very bad advertising. ~ G.K. Chesterton

It wasn’t until we arrived at the pediatrician’s office that I realized I’d forgotten something to read.

We were on time for my daughter’s appointment, but there’s always a wait anyway—docs are busy, I get that—so I usually bring along a book or the Wall Street Journal to put that wait to good use.

On this occasion, however, I hadn’t thought ahead, so as my daughter took up her phone-gadget-texting-thingy, I rifled through the magazines on the table and settled on American Baby. God probably won’t be sending us any more babies of our own—my wife and I are on the maturing end of the age spectrum—but a guy can dream, can’t he? Besides, we’ve got nieces having babies, plus we have godchildren, so I thought maybe I’d find an article worth passing along.

Let’s see … a bearded dad holding a happy baby on the cover—a guy-friendly publication. And the magazine’s tagline, “Healthy Pregnancy, Happy Baby”—I’m all for both of those. So far, so good. Flipping through the articles uncovers what you’d expect: Baby swimsuits and formula, teething issues and strollers. But then this: “Birth Control After Baby,” by Elizabeth Shaw.

What? Birth control in American Baby? The caption for the accompanying sultry photo clues you in: “Coming soon: Your sex life!” Yes, the article confirms, sex is back on the horizon for all you new-moms, but no need to fret about your fertility. “Whatever your timeline,” writes Shaw, “there’s a contraceptive that will give you peace of mind—for as long as you need it.” It’s all so breezy and lighthearted—almost like Shaw is discussing a new soufflé recipe or something. “Meet your new favorite form of birth control,” she throws in. Fun!

The fun screeches to a halt in the very next section, where Shaw begins her review of contraceptive choices. First up? Barrier methods. “Barrier”—obstruction; force field; firewall. That’s the language of resistance—nothing breezy and lighthearted about that! “Wait!” the condom and diaphragm screech, “Halt! Stop! I don’t want your fertility, and I don’t want you to have access to mine!” Barriers in lovemaking are exactly that: Obstacles to total self-giving and receiving. They might (79-88 percent success ratio per Shaw) prevent another baby, but they’re sure to interrupt the intimacy they’re meant to foster, and who wants that?

Next up on Shaw’s birth control tour: Chemical warfare. Shaw doesn’t use that term herself, of course, but that’s pretty much what the hormonal methods are all about. The Pill, the patch, the ring, the implant, and the shot all use varying doses of estrogen and/or progestin to, in Shaw’s words, “halt ovulation, prevent implantation, or do both.” In other words, these potent chemicals, once introduced, either (a) directly assault the woman’s natural, healthy reproductive system, or (b) indirectly assault the fertilized ovum by denying it necessary nutrients in the uterus—essentially a very early abortion. The first is an attack; the second is a siege; both are basically violent, and violence has no place in lovemaking.

The violence is extended in Shaw’s treatment of IUDs—intrauterine devices, our last stop on the birth control trail. Some IUDs use hormones, some are hormone-free, but all of them are designed to disrupt the fertilization process by slowing down or ambushing the sperm. Shaw quotes Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a Yale medical professor, who says that IUDs “create such a hostile environment that sperm don’t stand a chance.” Take that, sperm provider!

What’s more, IUDs, like other forms of hormonal birth control, also alter the uterus and make it hostile to fertilized eggs trying to implant—the “siege” assault of contraceptive chemical warfare. IUD supporters will argue that the device rarely works in this manner, but even Shaw admits that it is only “99 percent effective” in preventing pregnancy. That leaves a full 1 percent actual pregnancy rate, and you don’t have to be a Yale medical professor to understand that plenty of other ova must be getting fertilized despite the IUD. The reason the device can still claim a 99 percent success rate is because the majority of those other fertilized eggs simply die out due to that hostile uterus—again, more violence.

Despite all this, I do have to give Shaw some credit. Nowhere in her birth control tour does she make mention of permanent, surgical forms of birth control—vasectomies and tubal ligations—and so I guess she assumes her readers will eventually want another baby … sooner or later.

On the other hand, Shaw passes over the many serious risks and side-effects of the various methods she does discuss with hardly a glance—and disguises them with her glib tone. With references to “nookie,” “quickies” and “Fertile Myrtle,” Shaw makes all this birth control business seem so utterly benign—how could there really be any danger involved, right? Like the risk of clots with hormonal methods—a reality that has received plenty of publicity. “All hormonal contraceptives,” Dana Farrington reported on NPR back in February, “including birth control pills, increase a woman’s risk of blood clots, stroke and heart attack.” But Shaw only mentions this risk briefly, and concludes the section it’s in with this weak warning: “They’re probably not for you if you’re worried about forgetting to take (or change) them. Hey, you’re busy!” Yeah—busy! Ha, ha! Who’s worried about strokes and heart attacks?

The nurse opens a door into the waiting room, and I look up—our turn? Nope. She calls out a different name, so I go back to flipping through the magazine. “Body After Baby: Tone Your Butt & Thighs”… Enough. Isn’t there a Better Homes & Garden around here somewhere?

Richard Becker

By

Richard Becker is a husband, father of seven, nursing instructor, and religious educator. He blogs regularly at God-Haunted Lunatic.

  • guest

    I am trying to better understand something here. How are contraception and intimacy connected? I once heard a very articulate priest on television, Fr. Brian Mullady(?), state that “completely giving” oneself during sex is not really possible when contraception is involved. I would like to understand how “complete giving” and “intimacy” are lost as a result of contraception; also I would like to know if one is sterile are they any less intimate with their spouse, and are they not able to completely give and receive love to each other due to the sterility, whether it was natural or medically induced.

    Thank you.

    • Scott W.

      A couple that is sterile through no fault of their own still can have true intimacy because their marriage is still ordered toward procreation whether it results in actual procreation or not. Deliberate contraception on the other hand denies this order and thus it is a relationship with a significant lie in the foundation. That doesn’t mean they won’t experience strong feelings for each other obviously, but lies are morally poisonous and a good analogy of chemical contraceptives.

      • HenryBowers

        Doesn’t walking with a cane deny order, and thus constitute a significant lie? Shame on the elderly: such brazen sinners, and that so close to the end of their lives!

        • Scott W.

          You are not giving a sound or serious serious objection. Contraceptives desecrate the marital bond, offend against Chastity, and are a menace to public morals.

    • fredx2

      Because if you wanted to go have an affair with a random woman, you would use birth control so that the woman does not get pregnant.
      When you do the same with your wife, in what sense is she different from any random woman?
      She isn’t. She becomes, for all practical purposes, just any old woman.

      • Scott W.

        Excellent point.

      • HenryBowers

        You’re affirming the consequent, and so your reasoning is invalid.

    • JP

      If one only believes that sex is just a physical expression and not a spiritual one than I could very well understand your point of view. However, the RCC has always taught that the Marriage Act has a spiritual aspect that is just as if not more important than the physical pleasure one derives from it. Self Giving, giving of oneself during the Marriage Act is not just giving to the spouse, but to God. The Marriage Act, the Church teaches, also invites the man and woman into God’s mystery of Creation. It mirrors Christ’s Self Giving on the Cross. The fruits of Christ’s Self Giving is the Eucharist. The fruits of marital union is Children. Artificial birth control, as a consequence, reduces sex to nothing more than mutual masturbation, as there is no “self-giving”, and it turns sex away from both spiritual self-giving directed at the spouse and God Himself. Procreation is seen as a burden, and not blessing.

      • guest

        My first reaction to you writing “your point of view” was defensive: “I don’t have a point of view, I’m just asking a question here”.
        But, upon further reflection, I realize that I do indeed have a point of view; and the POV is an impairment to my understanding the connection between contraception and the absence of intimacy. Such a POV, for me, is the misguided belief that sex is purely physical without any spiritual dimension. The thought once occurred to me that true sexual union might be on a spiritual level, but I abandoned the idea thinking it was a random thought without any support–just me being sentimental. I guess ignorance happens when one doesn’t openly talk about sex growing up. So, I believe your answer is correct.
        Thanks to all for answering.

        • JP

          Your welcome. What I find appalling today is the total lack of education concerning sex and marriage. At the very least the spiritual dimensions of marital union should be taught in Pre-Cana. I wasn’t aware of this until years after I got married. If one looks at the spiritual dimension of of actions, the other things the Church teaches, whether it is the male-priesthood, artificial contraception, etc,, begin to make sense.We make think the Marriage Act is only physical; but the reality is quite different.

    • ForChristAlone

      “sterility”

      What do you make of Abraham and Sarah? Does God intervene in human history or not? And what about Mary and her virgin birth? So what DOES sterility mean? Either we are totally dependent on God or we are not. We must decide.

    • Rick Becker

      Thanks for your question. JP and Scott W. (thanks to you both as well) already articulated below the reply I would’ve made but for one point. It’s this: Even on a naturalistic level, contraception is an aberration because it bespeaks withholding and reservation in the midst of an act of extravagant giving — i.e., “Here I am! All of me!…except my fertility.” The marital act, by its very nature, ought to be about surrender and abandon, not calculation and compartmentalization. Who we are as human persons, even on a purely naturalistic, physical level, includes our reproductive potential. To purposely withhold that in very act of mutual self-giving is, at the very least, weird.

    • HigherCalling

      As a cradle Catholic and someone who should have known better, I can say that perhaps the greatest regret in my life is the use of contraception. I think it is the source of most of the problems in my marriage that linger to this day. If there was one “good” that the use of contraception had in my life, it was this: that when we stopped using it in an effort to conceive, the sexual act became quite a different experience. It was intimacy and “complete giving” on a level I never understood while contracepting. The entire act became something that can only be described as beautiful. Now, had we never contracepted, it’s likely that the difference in two experiences would not have been perceptible. So in that regard, using contraception set up the comparative possibility to perceive true beauty. (Although I wasn’t a well-catechized Catholic, I should have known better, and at a very fundamental level I *did* know better — I knew it was fundamentally wrong in my soul, but the zeitgeist got the best of me…). By the way, I’ve had this conversation with others, and all have had similar experiences — removing contraception utterly changes the sexual experience, very much for the better.

      On the issue of sterility, in principle a man and a woman can procreate. Whether a man or woman is infertile or past child-bearing years is incidental. There is no direct or intentional barrier in place that alters intimacy. The act is open to the potential for new life, and the couple achieve true intimacy and complete giving. (By contrast, there is nothing incidental in same-sex behavior — it is utterly and deliberately closed to new life, absolutely identical to contracepting heterosexual behavior — both by their very nature sterile and thus lacking true intimacy).

  • JP

    The editors at the magazine Parents never considered how absurd it is to host essays whose ultimate goal is to reduce their bottom line. Can one imagine Guns and Ammo allowing an essay that promotes the reduction of gun ownership?

    • Scott W.

      Yep. Atheism, contraception, same-sex “marriage” illustrated nicely.

    • tamsin

      Well, having a lot of babies would cut into your time spent reading magazines and being influenced by the advertisements. They’re going for that sweet spot between no babies, and too many to bother opening American Baby.

  • DE-173

    “They dare not call it by its name, because its name is very bad advertising. ~ G.K. Chesterton”

    Many things that once dare not spoke their names won’t shut the he** up anymore.

  • jonnybeeski

    Should we even be talking about “fertilized eggs” trying to implant? Once they are fertilized, they are not, for all practical purposes, eggs anymore, right? Just a thought on the vocabulary.

  • slainte

    On the issue of birth control, in general, and the liberty and personal control it makes available to the Individual, I am reminded of a quote by Emeritus Pope Benedict:
    “The idea that Nature has something to say is no longer admissible, man is to have the liberty to remodel himself at will. He is to be free of all the prior givens of his essence. He makes of himself what he wants, and only in this way is he really free and liberated. Behind this approach is a rebellion on man’s part against the limits that he has a biological being. In the end it is a revolt against our creatureliness. Man is to be his own creator…a modern new addition of the immemorial attempts to be God, or to be like God.”
    Source: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Salt of the Earth” (Ignatius Press, 1997) p. 133.

  • jcsmitty

    A fascinating study revealed on EWTN’s “Women of Grace” is worth broadcasting! Hostess Johnnette Benkovic and her panel of female guests discussed how female monkeys, put on contraceptives, were spurned by the dominant male monkey. The study experimented with giving and withholding the contraceptives to test the reactions: the male repeated his attentions to whichever female was not on the contraceptives while avoiding the ones who were. The researchers then tried something interesting: they put ALL the females on the contraceptives to see what would happen–and the male began to exhibit self abuse and homosexual activity.
    Give that study some thought, folks! Does unnatural lead to more unnatural?

  • Tony

    Someday in the future sane people will look back upon us and we will be sad laughingstocks, for our ridiculous combination of self-satisfaction, dissipation, triviality, vulgarity, and cowardice — cowardly self-absorbed men, and graceless, vulgar women.

  • kentgeordie

    Thanks for this. Faithful Catholics should all take some responsibility for our failure to convince the world that the primary purpose of sexuality is reproduction.
    After all, everybody knows that the primary purpose of eating is nutrition. Nobody advocates throat condoms, which would allow us to eat as much as we wanted.
    It shouldn’t be that hard to apply the same logic to sex.

    • gmf

      They used to apply the same logic – it was the ‘vomitorium’ argument against contraception. The analogy was that in ancient Rome, the people would go to lavish banquets, gorge themselves on excellent food, and then go off to a room called a ‘vomitorium’ to vomit up all the food and make room for more. They weren’t nourished by the food or using food to its primary end (nourishing the body) but only using the food for the sensory pleasure of the flavors and textures. It was then ‘wasted’ – vomited up. Whether that really happened or not I don’t know, but the analogy was that contraceptive sex and abortion work the same way: we take the pleasurable part, but ‘vomit out’ the procreative part, not allowing the sexual organs to ‘succeed’ in the very purpose they were created for, just as the food was vomited out and not allowed to succeed in the very purpose that it was created for.

      Vis-a-vis homosexual behaviour, I once told my college students that ‘a man putting his sexual organ into another man’s reproductive tract for sexual purposes makes about as much sense as a woman putting her lunch in her vagina for dieting purposes. Something is not right with this picture!’ Though they are soaked in the culture and blandly accept the homosexual agenda as ‘not harming anyone’ or ‘just their idea of how to love’ or ‘homosexuals are nice people, too!’ – they GOT it: something is VERY WRONG with this picture.

  • Connie Boyd

    The time in a woman’s life when she is physically most likely to become pregnant is immediately after giving birth. It’s also a time of exhaustion, stress and sometimes post-partum depression as she meets the demands of caring for a newborn infant. That’s why health professionals and magazines like American Baby make a point of addressing the subject of birth control in the immediate post-partum period.

    Suggesting that there is something sinful about using contraception during this time is uncompassionate and insulting. It’s easy for men like Richard Becker to be glib and smug about this issue. There are good reasons why more than 90 percent of women, including Catholic women, use contraceptives. It isn’t all about sex, believe it or not. It’s about coping with the other realities of life–caring well for the children you already have, earning a living, being an active, engaged member of the society in which you live.

    Having control over her life does’t make a woman a slut. And, to address just a couple of the comments made here: 1. Fear of being “spurned by the dominant male monkey” isn’t really a concern for most of us. 2. Just because “a very articulate priest on television, Fr. Brian Mullady(?),” states that “‘completely giving’ oneself during sex is not really possible when contraception is involved” isn’t a convincing anti-birth control argument. Few women are willing to take advice on sex from celibate men who have no clue or empathy about what goes on in our actual, real, day-to-day existence.

    As a “Faithful Catholic,” my mother used the rhythm method. She had more children than she wanted, and she took it out on us in the form of abuse. A life of uncontrolled childbearing isn’t idyllic. It can inflict serious damage. Most women know this and act accordingly, even if they don’t have the courage to say so in a shamefest forum like this one.

    • justamom

      “The time in a woman’s life when she is physically most likely to become pregnant is right after giving birth.” I am not sure where you are getting that information. If a woman breastfeeds, the chances of becoming pregnant within the first six months after birth are very low http://ccli.org/breastfeeding/effect-on-fertility/fertility-fertility-awareness.php

      Why isn’t breastfeeding and its natural affects on fertitlity addressed in the Parents article?
      As a mother, I find it so offensive when the first thing the doctor asks me after giving birth is what kind of chemical do I want to put into my body to make sure THIS doesn’t happen again!!
      Connie, I am sure people have “good” reasons for wanting to postpone pregnancy – what is wrong with explaining how we can do this naturally (breastfeeding, fertiltiy awareness) instead of unnaturally? Religion and sin aside – women deserve to know how their body works after pregnancy and beyond and that there are alternatives to contraceptives if you want to space your children. Why are feminists and others so beholden to the drug companies that want every woman to buy contraceptives? Why should any woman feel like she has to suffer the indignity of ingesting hormones or inserting a piece of metal into her body ?(who on earth thought that up???) There are other options and the Church is showing its love for women when they promote those options.

      I am sorry about your personal experience and your mother’s. However, I think that her situation would not have been improved by contraception – it may even have been worse. We all struggle with parenting, no matter how many children we have – she may have been the same if she only had one child – is that the Church’s fault? Maybe she had very challenging children – is that the children’s fault? Which one(s) of your siblings should not have been born??
      I have 9 children and believe Church teachings on marriage and sexuality are true and good and beautiful. I also feel overwhelmed at times, but then again, so do my friends with only one or two kids. I am far from the perfect mother and my children may grow up not wanting to have any of their own, but with God’s grace my husband and I try and do the best we can. I don’t think taking contraceptives would improve my life one iota. You should not blame the Church for anyone’s behavior, we all have control over our own actions, as you said.

      I do not think any of the comments are meant to shame anyone – you may feel shame because of your actions, that may be your conscience nudging you.

      • Connie Boyd

        You don’t know my mother, so it’s presumptuous of you to say that “her situation would not have been improved by contraception – it may even have been worse.” I know her extremely well. And I can say with authority, it couldn’t have been worse.

        Breastfeeding isn’t reliable. My mother tried it as well as other “natural” family planning methods. The fact that these methods work only some of the time is probably why people (including Supreme Court Justice and conservative Catholic Antonin Scalia) have referred to them as “Vatican roulette.”

        It isn’t necessary to use drugs or “insert pieces of metal” into women’s bodies to practice effective birth control. Diaphragms and condoms worked very well for me. And I don’t feel any of the “nudges” of “conscience” you seem to want me to. It’s hilarious that you try to refute the idea that comments on this article are meant to be shaming by engaging in it yourself.

        • slainte

          Nothing that justamom wrote attacks you. As a Catholic woman I affirm her statement and the good information she provides.
          ,
          I too am sorry that you experienced difficulty in your childhood and wish you well.

          • justamom

            Thanks, Slainte. Its hard to know how others will read the comments. Peace.

        • justamom

          I apologize for any ill will you may have read in my comments – there was none intended at all. I am puzzled as to what part of my comment is “shaming”? I could read some shaming into your comments as well as outright attacks on people (“uncontrolled childbearing..can inflict serious damage”) Is that what you intended? And don’t YOU also presume things about Catholics and priests you do not know?

          I disagree with your comments about breastfeeding and natural family planning. Studies (I would be happy to direct you to them if you like) show they work as well as or better than all the other methods of contraception if practiced correctly while having the added benefit of upholding the dignity of a woman (and man) and respecting her body. NO method of contraception is 100% foolproof – except abstinence. You agree that it isn’t necessary to use drugs or pieces of metal to try to prevent conception, but you find rubber and plastic more dignified? Why? Wouldn’t you rather not do that?

          I really do not want to feed your animosity, I truly am sorry for your past. I know my own mother had a hard time with her children (I do not have a good relationship with her even now) and she used birth control. I guess I am just trying to ask you not to take comments against birth control itself as a personal affront. All women have suffered from the lies and misinformation pushed on us about our fertility.

          That quote you attribute to Scalia is interesting – do you have the source?

          • Connie Boyd

            Scalia made the comment during an interview on “60 Minutes.” I happened to tape the show that night and still have it. Here’s a link to the transcript:

            http://www.cbsnews.com/news/justice-scalia-on-the-record/

            I appreciate the kind tone of your comments and slainte’s, but I hope you’ll understand my hesitation to accept information on birth control from someone with nine children.

            Much of the misinformation about our fertility comes from conservative men who obviously have no clue what they are talking about. That includes priests–I was raised Catholic and spent 12 years in Catholic schools, so I feel qualified to address that subject. Two prominent examples from public life are Republican would-be Senator Todd Akin, who has now published a book doubling down on his claim that women can’t become pregnant from rape. (I happen to know someone who did, a Catholic who had an abortion and kept both the rape and the abortion secret for more than 20 years.) The forward to Akin’s new book was written by Mike Huckabee, who recently contemptuously stated that women use birth control because they “can’t control their libidos.” These ignoramuses shouldn’t be telling us what do to with our bodies. They should mind their own damn business and keep the government out of our bedrooms and our lives.

            • justamom

              Thanks. There are plenty of people – yes, women- who know a great deal about fertility who you could turn to – I’m a woman and happy to talk with you about such things. (although I do believe men can have plenty of good, truthful information to tell us as well )- And who gives you all the info on birth control- just women? Correct me if I’m wrong – but wasn’t it a MAN who came up with the birth control pill, IUD and pretty much every other birth control in history? – that is one thing that always bothers me, why aren’t all women who are pro birth control clamoring for MEN to be taking it???

              I am not sure why you would not trust the information I give you on birth control – do you think I would make things up to scare you or be mean? I think women get lied to all the time by their doctors when they do not inform them of all the risks involved in using BC. They dispense it like vitamins – perfectly safe, right?

              I think if I could try to get one thing across to you it would be that the reason I have 9 children is not because I set out to have that many , or that I felt compelled to have children by the Church (or anyone), or that my birth control failed. It is because by growing in my faith and seeing the beauty in God’s plan for sex and marriage and being open to his will, I have grown to love my vocation as a mother of many. I am humbled every day by the gift that has been given to me – even amidst the challenges it brings. Can I ask if you have any children?

              And I don’t know anyone who has regretted having a child, ever-ask any mother you know. If they say they do regret their child, ask yourself how you feel about them saying that. I know many who regret having an abortion, though. (which is really just a backup form of BC)

              Frankly, I just don’t understand why women would want to put themselves through all the hassles and risks of BC, when there is much more good in being open to life and spacing children naturally. It may seem harder to show some self-control and practice chastity, but in the big picture it is very much worth all the challenges. Artificial BC leaves you with nothing (literally) at best, and at worst can cause a host of health problems and emotional issues.

              • Connie Boyd

                I don’t think you’re making things up to scare me or to be mean. I think the information you’re giving is incorrect because your beliefs about birth control are faith-based, not reality-based. I didn’t want to end up like my mother, so I did extensive research on contraception before I became sexually active. And I chose safe, reliable methods which were documented to have much lower failure rates than so-called “natural” family planning.

                Diaphragms and condoms, which are what I used, don’t cause “a host of health problems and emotional issues.” This is a right-wing talking point that I’m sure you sincerely believe, along with “abortion is really just a backup method of BC.” You also imply that women who use contraceptives lack self-control and don’t practice chastity. Not true of me or anyone I know. I read yesterday that 99 percent of American women use birth control at some point in their lives. Surely the overwhelming majority of them aren’t reckless, emotionally screwed-up sluts. Those are simply stereotypes that people who oppose contraception frequently express and seem to want to believe.

                I know a few women who say they regret having children. (Besides my mother, who screamed it at the top of her lungs on a regular basis.) Perhaps nobody has ever said it to you because they know you would react negatively. In certain social circles, this is not something acceptable for women to admit. It is also not acceptable to admit having had an abortion without regret. Most of the women I know who have had abortions say they felt one predominant emotion at the time–relief. And they say they would do the same thing again in the same circumstances.

                Anti-abortion activists spread false, scientifically unsubstantiated stories about “post-abortion trauma” for three reasons:

                1. Leaders of the movement at some point realized that viciously insulting the large percentage of the female population that has had abortions wasn’t working very well. They decided that pretending to be concerned about women’s well-being might be a more effective tactic.

                2. Some of them really want to believe that women who have abortions suffer for it because they obviously take sadistic pleasure in thinking this.

                3. It’s a scare tactic, but it doesn’t work. An estimated 30 percent of American women still have abortions by the time they turn 45 despite all the propaganda, preaching, threats, clinic bombings, etc. (I’m not one of them, by the way, because when I was of reproductive age I used birth control methods that work.)

  • kentgeordie

    The plain fact is that contraceptive sex is masturbatory sex. People get very cross when this is pointed out – I wonder why?

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