Catholicism offers love lessons contraception fails to teach

Proponents of the recent Health and Human Services contraceptive coverage mandate often criticize Catholic teachings. Yet how many have truly considered the reasons behind our opposition to artificial birth control?

Have they explored research linking contraceptive use to higher rates of divorce, unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion?

I’ve come to embrace Catholic sexual teachings not because I was taught them from childhood (I was not) but through my own reflection. As a Harvard undergrad and now a Princeton Ph.D. student, I’ve engaged with defenders of radical feminism and sexual liberalism, yet I find the Catholic position more convincing.

Any informed citizen — especially anyone inclined to dismiss Catholic sexual teachings as obsolete or anti-woman — ought to know some basics about the Catholic perspective.

First, the concern for women who need birth control pills as a hormone treatment is a nonissue. As Pope Paul VI’s encyclical "Humanae Vitae" states, medications necessary to treat hormonal imbalances are morally unproblematic, even if infertility is a side effect. Mandating insurance coverage for such treatments would be acceptable from a Catholic perspective. Catholicism is not against treating diseases; it is against treating fertility as if it were a disease.

"Humanae Vitae" is also noteworthy for predicting that liberal sexual ideology, and the “contraceptive mentality” it fosters, will lead to the treatment of women as sex objects. Indeed, our post sexual revolution culture is marked by the objectification of women.

The feminization of poverty (60 percent of those in poverty are single mothers) was an equally predictable result of the higher divorce and out-of-wedlock pregnancy rates that came in the wake of sexual “liberation.”

Contraceptive use increases unplanned pregnancies because when you make a risky behavior less risky, people engage in more of it. Two-thirds of unplanned pregnancies occur among women using birth control.

That also means more abortion — the ultimate backup “contraceptive.” Contraceptives fail at least 10 to 15 percent of the time, with 54 percent of women having abortions using contraception the month they became pregnant, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And, it is important to note, some “contraceptives” can themselves cause abortions — for example, “Ella,” which works similarly to the abortion drug RU-486.Catholicism teaches that sex is about committed love. Relationships based on sensual attraction don’t offer what we’re really longing for — love that endures even when age or illness take their toll.

Sex is powerful body language that says, “I give myself to you completely and for the rest of my life.” To say that with your body when you haven’t said it with your heart and mind is like nodding “yes” while thinking “no.”

The prospect of pregnancy is a nagging reminder that sex inherently calls for total, life-long commitment. Contraception undermines that because it involves making a complete gift of your self while intentionally holding back the capacity to procreate, which is essential to that gift. 

Catholicism teaches that sexual union is profoundly good, within marriage and with openness to the gift of new life — the only context in which you actually mean what your bodies are saying.

This doesn’t imply having as many children as possible — in fact, natural family planning methods are 99 percent effective when used correctly — though it does imply a huge shift in our cultural understanding of sex.

The “quick fix” sexual culture has been tried and found sorely wanting. Catholicism reminds us that there is another option, and challenges us not to settle for anything less than genuine love.

Moschella is a doctoral candidate in political philosophy at Princeton University, specializing in parental rights in education.

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