What #MeToo can learn from ‘Humanae vitae’

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Sex "untethered" from reproduction can mean "whatever individual men decide it means to them, even violence and power," says law professor Helen Alvaré, adding that the #MeToo movement can learn from the wisdom expressed by Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae.

"When even the very thought of children is far removed from sexual intimacy, sex struggles to serve the man and woman together. Why? Because the man and woman's possible future - i.e., a child, a family, a marriage, extended kin, even love - is cut off from their present," Alvaré wrote in the July issue of the Knights of Columbus' Columbia Magazine.

"What Catholics are so concerned about when it comes to contraception," Alvaré wrote, is "the breaking apart of what should be held together, with the result that sex loses its beautiful mutuality and becomes something else."

Bl. Paul VI wrote in Humanae vitae that "a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires."

Alvaré wrote: "This is more than a little relevant to the current #MeToo moment. Without descending into the detailed accusations of so many women, we can summarize #MeToo sex as a set of words and acts of a sexual nature done to project power or to gain pleasure for one person. It is the understatement of the year to say that these words and actions 'lack mutuality' or a common - let alone good - end."

Alvaré, cofounder of the movement Women Speak for Themselves, said that artificial contraception, which was expected to improve marital love and "free women," has instead led to declining marriage rates and declining rates of happiness among women.

Because contraception separates sex from the "joint future" for husbands and wives implied by openness to conception, "sex becomes something less than it is meant to be. Perhaps our current #MeToo crisis has the potential to provoke greater sympathy for Humanae vitae's holistic vision of human sexuality and a second look at the Church's age-old wisdom."

Alvaré's essay was featured in an issue of Columbia Magazine dedicated to the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae vitae, which was promulgated July 25, 1968. The issue also included reflections from authors Mary Eberstadt and George Weigel, lawyer Elizabeth Kirk and theologians Janet Smith and David Crawford, along with profiles of Knights of Columbus members and their families.

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