Bioethics, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, infertility, IVF, Marriage, motherhood, NFP, pregnancy, Pro Life, Sex, sin, Women's Health

Why not just use birth control? {some possible “right” answers}

June 8, 2016

I field a good number of questions along the lines of “how do I explain to my boss/neighbor/mother-in-law/college bff why we don’t use contraception?”

This tends to be an especially sticky conversation when the questioner in the scenario happens to also be Catholic. That being said, with fewer and fewer Catholics (and Christians of most denominational stripes) actively practicing their faith, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to toss out the simple “Because we’re Catholic” line out there, period, no matter who’s doing the asking.

You’re Catholic? So what? So’s my brother/hairdresser/uncle/pastor, and they all have no problem with the Pill.

And then there’s that persistently-pesky misappropriation of Pope Francis’ own take on the matter. (And no amount of pointing people to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or even Francis’ own latest encyclical, will do the trick. Because they read something on CNN he reportedly said on an airplane, so boom, 2,000+ years of Magisterial teaching, torched.)

In my own experience, my best conversations about how and why we have so many kids have been more personal than “because we’re Catholic.” But of course, that is one reason: We have more than a couple kids because we believe, with the Church, that marriage and babies are tied together in a sanctifying, delightful, and often overwhelming way. And for our marriage, that belief and the resultant openness to life has yielded a larger than average family size in a modest amount of time.

Remember though, this openness to life and docility to God’s will can look vastly different for different marriages. I have friends whose heroism far exceeds what I can hope to offer with my life, even if afforded several more decades of time on earth. Their “yeses” have yielded tiny caskets, months of painful longing, and years of frustrated hopes and dreams. We should never assume that a family with fewer than 5 children “must be using contraception,” or isn’t “open” to what God has for them. He gives and takes away.

We don’t actually get to call those shots, which is utterly confounding to the modern concept of omnipotence-by-science, where fertility is concerned.

Another possible good answer for inquiring minds can be a quick crash course in Theology of the Body, no advanced degree required: God’s plan for sex is better than ours.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about what we hope for in our marriage, and about what marriage is. We want to be consistent with our actions and our words, and for our love to be holistic. It seems unhealthy to separate the potential for creating new life from the potential for deep communion through sex. So we don’t try to. And enough conversations with friends and acquaintances who do have convinced us that using contraception isn’t going to bring more pleasure or more unity into our marriage.

If anything, the anecdotal accounts we hear from couples who are using birth control seem to point to more strain, more sexual frustration, and more opportunities for miscommunication and conflict.

Another big reason for us, personally, is simply the casual observation that our culture sucks at sex.

Divorce, estrangement, frigidity, sexual assault, disease, abortion, adultery…all this stuff was supposed to be solvable via contraception. Or at least tamped way down. It’s gone the opposite direction, though. And what’s toxic for the culture at large isn’t something we want in our master bedroom.

Finally, there’s something to be said about wanting what you can’t have. Abstinence is not, it turns out, the end of the world.

And I will admit, after almost 7 years of practicing NFP, there is an inherent element of healthy self denial (not to be confused with the mind numbing insanity of the postpartum period) that I’m throwing in the “W” column. It can be good to have to wait. It’s good to sometimes want what you can’t have, or at least, what you can’t have without rolling the dice on another butt in diapers 10 months down the road. It’s good for our marriage, and for our development as adult Christians who are capable of suffering out of love for God and for one another.

So, in summary, there are reasons beyond “the Church told me no,” “I don’t know where babies come from,” or “I don’t want to put more hormones/chemicals in my body.”

(Though those are all perfectly sufficient answers, too. Particularly in line at the grocery store.)

Birth-control_Credit-Sarah-C-via-Flickr-CC-BY-ND-2.0-CNA-5-14-15

21 Comments

  • Reply Andrea Figueiredo June 8, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    Love, love LOVE what you’ve shared! Great insight into a sometimes tricky and controversial topic! You nailed it.

    • Reply Bridget June 10, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      NAILED IT, indeed!!! Wonderfully written, perfectly cite-able!! (and I will – with proper credit, of course!) THANK YOU for this. My husband and I have been HAPPILY practicing NFP over 20 years… FOUR amazing kids, and as a woman – I appreciate that HE was the one who insisted he wouldn’t allow me to “do ‘that’ [contraceptives]” to my body.

  • Reply Colleen June 8, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    Vicki Thorn has incredible info on all things sex, hormones and contraception related.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ml4XS-bhkHg

  • Reply Genie Maria June 8, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    Yes to all of this. As a newlywed (who’s husband is in the bathroom, I swear I won’t be on my phone again all night- it’s our honeymoon after all!) this has rung so true four days into our marriage. NFP has been such a gift to us and now knowing all that we have known beforehand, everything we are doing (and not doing) makes so much sense. We’ve grown so much closer to the Lord even though we were solid in our faith before. Kids are a reflection of our love for each other, and we can’t wait to raise them based with the same morals, values, and beliefs that our parents and the Church has blessed us with. Thank you for your words of wisdom, always, Jenny!

    Best,
    Genie

    • Reply Ashley June 9, 2016 at 7:50 pm

      Congrats on your marriage, Genie!! Sounds like you’re off to a wonderful start

  • Reply Patty June 10, 2016 at 6:10 am

    “Divorce, estrangement, frigidity, sexual assault, disease, abortion, adultery…all this stuff was supposed to be solvable via contraception. ” How is sexual assault supposed to solvable via contraception?

    And, also loads of fun things to do in the bedroom that don’t lead to pregnancy, so abstinence isn’t the only way to go if you don’t want to have a baby.

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing June 10, 2016 at 9:04 am

      Patty, Janet Smith has some excellent research and reams of documentation on the concurrent rise in rape culture, sexual assault, porn, etc and the correlation with the availability and widespread use of contraception. Her finest work in this area, in my opinion, is a hefty book called “Humanae Vitae, a generation later;” it’s a pretty dense read with lots of research-speak, but if you’re looking for quicker answers, her more pop culture articles and recorded talks are a good starting point: http://www.JanetSmith.org

      As far as other fun stuff to do in the bedroom that doesn’t lead to babies, I’m guessing you’re referring to oral sex, which, as Catholics, we don’t pursue as an end in itself. Each sexual act must be rooted in an intrinsic openness to life, so as a part of a complete sexual act, sure, but as an end in itself without leading to intercourse? That would fall under the category of mutual masturbation. Christopher West has some excellent stuff in this area, though there are some quirks with his approach that I don’t love. But he’s a good read for explaining why mature Christian sexuality should be directed towards communion and not simply mutual use.

      Hope that helps!

  • Reply Melissa June 10, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    Great as always! I’m not sure if you’ve written about this before but how do you respond to people who think you should stop having kids or “take a break” out of concern for you?? My family is very involved with us and our kids. But we happen to be going through a really rough time with our oldest and are definitely in the trenches right now with three kids. I think my mom sometimes sees how hard it can be and very well meaning, has suggested we need to stop having babies. I am 28 years old…God willing we will be having more! But I find myself giving into a lot of fear and feelings of dread when I think of announcing another pregnancy down the road…

    • Reply Jean June 10, 2016 at 8:08 pm

      Melissa, you’re not alone with this. When our son & daughter-in-law announced their 3rd pregnancy her mother mailed them birth control brochures. When my friend’s daughter- in -law announced her 4th pregnancy my friend went ballistic because she and her husband had been helping them financially and she didn’t think they should have conceived a fourth child which would put further financial burdens on them, the grandparents. When I announced my second pregnancy, babies would be three years apart, my own mother chastised me for having them too close together.

      I don’t know what the right answer is to your question, but I do know this: don’t give in to feelings of fear and dread – those feelings accomplish nothing. If you discover you’re expecting again, make your announcement with joy and thanksgiving, and if anyone fails to respond in kind tell them you know they love you and are concerned for your well being but for now you’d appreciate them sharing in your happiness and if not change the subject or get off the phone, politely. And don’t allow your pregnancy to be a topic for debate. We get one go ’round in life and couples have the right to live their marriages without interference, no matter how good the intentions of others.

      • Reply Melissa June 11, 2016 at 10:39 am

        Thank you I appreciate your comment. I think people often overlook the time it takes to actually grow a baby also. Realistically, by the time my fertility returns, if we were to become pregnant again, it would still take 9-10 months to grow that baby and by that time my oldest could be six years old instead of four like he is now. I think sometimes people hear that you want more and imagine another baby dropping into your lap tomorrow. Praise God for giving us the time we need to prepare for a new arrival!

    • Reply jeanette June 11, 2016 at 3:35 pm

      It is your mother you are talking about, so you should be able to have a heart-to-heart discussion with her long before the next pregnancy is announced. Pray first, then talk to her. Let her know you appreciate her concern, but let her know what you love about motherhood and how you do hope for more children in the future and that when it does happen, you hope she will be happy and supportive of something that brings great joy to your life. Also let her know that you realize that struggles in life come and go, so you are not afraid to entrust this to God’s help in meeting life’s struggles. Having this discussion in advance allows you to say what you are feeling right now and it won’t be a dreaded moment later on. It will be the expected announcement, hopefully received with joy for you.

    • Reply Salha June 14, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      “Divorce, estrangement, frigidity, sexual assault, disease, abortion, adultery…all this stuff was supposed to be solvable via contraception. ”

      Are you suggesting that birth control causes sexual assault? This whole line of thinking is incorrect, offensive, and dangerous.

      • Reply Jenny Uebbing June 15, 2016 at 9:57 am

        You don’t see any correlation between the expectation that women be available for “consequence-free” sex, 24/7, and the rise in rape culture and sexual assault and infidelity? I find that rather surprising.

        Here are some good resources that flesh out the points I’m making, if you’re open to them:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/world/middleeast/to-maintain-supply-of-sex-slaves-isis-pushes-birth-control.html?_r=0

        http://www.nationalreview.com/article/291514/pill-not-good-women-erika-bachiochi-catherine-r-pakaluk

        http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/mamaneedscoffee/2015/06/contraception-and-the-catholic-church-part-2-whats-wrong-with-contraception/

        And Janet Smith’s “Humane Vitae, A Generation Later” is a fantastic (but lengthy) examination of the past 50 years of shifting sexual norms across cultures.

        • Reply Salha June 16, 2016 at 8:34 am

          Hi Jenny,
          I do want to thank you for using the term rape culture. There are a lot of bloggers who claim that there is no such thing as rape culture, or who re-name it “hook-up culture” to better fit their message. The core of rape culture is that it somehow blames those who have been raped for what happened. And in your dismissal of birth control, I caught a whiff of blame directed towards women who choose to use contraception.

          Now, the thing about the NYT article you posted is that it’s ISIS, not birth control, that’s really harming women. If oral contraceptives did not exist, ISIS would still be using rape as a weapon of war. If anything that article illustrates the danger of religious extremism.

          Your second article, from the National Review, focuses mainly on oral contraceptives. Which are controversial, but statistically carry a lower health risk than carrying a pregnancy to term. Birth control pills might be the right choice for some women, but not every woman. And there are non-hormonal options available as well.

          And finally, birth control plays no role in all of the other, horrible variations of sexual assault that occur. The availability of birth control had no role in the sexual abuse suffered by children at the hands of their priests. Something that the church is still reeling from.

          Again, I applaud you for acknowledging the existence of rape culture. But please know that birth control is not its root cause.

          • Jenny Uebbing June 17, 2016 at 8:59 am

            Sasha,

            Thank you for the thoughtful and nuanced reply. I think it’s abhorrent that anyone could deny the existence of a rape culture with campus sexual assaults and acquaintance rape so rampant that it has almost become “normal” and with pornography at an absolute pandemic level. Our culture is awash in sexual deviancy and our young people are the greatest victims.

            Birth control has everything to do with the transformation of our society in the sexual realm. The sexual revolution runs on birth control and abortion: without both, we would be having a much different conversation today. Would women and children still be raped and abused? Of course. Because human nature and original sin. But think about what ISIS is able to achieve precisely because of contraception. To rape a woman over and over again, to keep her as a sex slave, and to feed her pills and, when pregnancy manages to occur anyway, to have the child aborted and return her to the sexual slavery cycle.

            Anyone who is searching for an end to sexual violence and human trafficking – particularly of teen victims – needs to take an honest look at the undeniable connection between the ability to condemn women to sexual slavery precisely because they can “mitigate” the consequences of endless sexual abuse and the wholesale availability of contraception and abortion. Please, don’t look at this from an ideological viewpoint or as a political issue, but as a basic biological fact and a matter of utmost human rights importantnce.

            Sexual abuse of minors and homosexual predation of children by people in power, whether they be Catholic priests, athletic coaches, or public school teachers, is abhorrent and demands the highest form of justice.

  • Reply Jean June 10, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    People also ask the most personal questions not necessarily interested in the answer but because they have an opinion they’d like to fire back in response to whatever answer is given. When my oldest was a toddler it was “Is he clean yet? No? Why not?” – this with regard to potty training. Then with the next baby “How long will you keep THAT up?” (breastfeeding). In conversation with a mum with a Down’s daughter she shared that people would ask her “Didn’t you have any ultrasounds in your pregnancy?” Implying she could have/should have known her baby was less than perfect (in the interrogator’s eyes).

    If you choose to use the birth control question as an opportunity for education and evangelizing, fine, I applaud you, but if not don’t feel you have to come up with an answer other than “Why do you need to know?” Not everyone is comfortable sharing everything about their marriage all the time. As I’m older than most of you I didn’t get the birth control questions, but at the end of my reproductive life I did get a lot of curious questions as to whether I was using or would use HRT. It seemed very odd to me and wasn’t anything I’d have thought to ask a woman unless we were engaged in conversation about menopause.

    • Reply jeanette June 11, 2016 at 3:54 pm

      Jean, those are exactly my thoughts about people asking these kinds of questions. If they genuinely want to know what the Church teaches, then have that discussion. Unmask their intent first, though. Point-blank ask: are you asking me that because you want to know what I believe or because you want to tell me what you believe about contraception. Or, would you be asking me that question if I was here with only one or two children? Or, do you have any brothers or sisters? Did you ever think you’d be better off if they didn’t exist? Or, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met anyone who told me their family was too big and ruined their life. Have you? Lots of different ways to handle those impertinent questions that attempt to put you on the defense. Really, answer a question with a question. Jesus did just that when he responded to the Pharisees. It can be done charitably while getting the point across that you don’t need or agree with their advice on birth control.

  • Reply Shannon June 14, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Thanks for this, Jenny! It can be such a tricky question to respond to–you’ve given me great food for thought!

  • Reply Christie Collins June 14, 2016 at 11:57 pm

    Or like that guy in the bar when we were getting preggo un cafe and letting her use the restroom, who said to the hubs with 3 children in tow, “You guys own a TV?” “Yeah,” came the joyful response “but it isn’t nearly as fun.” Love your posts as always!

  • Reply Ally | The Speckled Goat June 15, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Thank you for also mentioning the “other side.”

    We get asked if we’re pursuing treatments, if we’re doing IVF, if we’re going to adopt. First, it’s not their business– but our moral compasses have directed us strongly away from one, and we’ve been clearly instructed to wait in terms of the other two.

    It’s frustrating. It feels like treading water. But it’s what we’re called to, and God’s plan is better. (Even when it kind of really sucks.)

  • Reply Betsy June 15, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    Excellent article.

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