In “Humanae Vitae,” giving an ecclesiastical example of a profile in courage, Paul VI reaffirmed the immorality of recourse to artificial means of birth regulation. While Pope Paul VI and the Catholic Church practically stood alone in reaffirmation that the procreative and unitive ends of the conjugal act could not morally be arbitrarily separated, it is important to remember that up until the early 20th century this was also the constant teaching of all other Christian ecclesial bodies – Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant.
Of course, the Church is not against sexual pleasure as some of her opponents allege; but, more importantly, we are for the happiness of the human person. The fostering of that happiness requires understanding the gift of our sexuality as God has intended it. Sex, in God’s plan, is more than just a “recreational activity.” As Catholic feminist and philosopher, Janet Smith says: “(S)ex is for babies and bonding. If people are not ready for babies and bonding, they ought not to be engaging in acts of sexual intercourse.” And what are nuptials but the public expression of a couple’s readiness to do just that?
A careful rereading of “Humanae Vitae” – especially in the light of the “sexual revolution” unleashed in society over the past 40 years – can help us appreciate how prescient the Pope was in his warnings of the dire consequences that a “contraceptive mentality” would have on society. The numbers of unwanted pregnancies and abortions did not decrease with the widespread acceptance of contraception – they increased. And the “pill,” far from freeing women from male domination, made them more likely to be victims of sexual exploitation by men. The breakup of families and the epidemic of divorce in our culture, the increasingly high incidence of women bearing children out of wedlock, the flight from adult responsibility and the extended “adolescence” of men, all point to – in hindsight – the rightness of Paul VI’s and the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.