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.)