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Last week, I wrote an article that answered in part a question regarding the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception. Today, I would like to offer more food for thought for anyone who is struggling with this issue.

The most basic and important reason I gave for why the Church condemns artificial contraception was that it removes God from the couple’s fertility decisions. There is another point I’d like to follow that up with.

A couple’s happiness depends upon the spouses living marriage as marriage was intended by God, and by using the personal gifts each one brings to the marriage as they were intended. This creates harmony between the two spouses and within the family as a whole. Allow me to illustrate…

Think for a moment about food. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks – whatever you like is fine. Food serves two purposes; it provides bodily sustenance and it provides pleasure. We need to eat to survive, but we also enjoy food. It smells good, it tastes good. It brings a great deal of pleasure to our palates.

But what happens when you don’t use food the way it was intended? What happens when someone eats the food to enjoy it, and then goes and throws it up so as not to absorb the calories and gain weight? That’s called an eating disorder. It causes major health problems as does other eating disorders such as gluttony or starvation. The food consumed is not used for it’s intended purpose and the result is damage to body, mind and soul.

It’s the same thing with a couple’s fertility and why contraception is immoral and bad for a marriage. Sex is intended for procreation, just as it is intended for pleasure. Artificial contraception prevents sex and fertility from being used the way God intended and results in damage to the body and the happiness of the couple. Artificial birth control disorders the health and happiness of the marriage.

In his papal encyclical, Humanae vitae, Pope Paul VI warned about a very specific danger that contraception posed to marriage:

Upright men can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the Church in this field is based, if they care to reflect upon the consequences of methods of artificial birth control. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality. Not much experience is needed in order to know human weakness, and to understand that men-especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point-have need of encouragement to be faithful to the moral law, so that they must not be offered some easy means of eluding its observance. It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anticonceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion (Item 17, HUMANAE VITAE, encyclical Letter by Pope Paul VI, July 25, 1968).

Let’s flip this coin on it’s side, now, and look at Natural Family Planning. NFP is much more than a natural way to achieve or avoid pregnancy… it’s a way for couples to find harmony in their relationship through constant communication and team work – a level of harmony that is completely void when using artificial birth control. A couple gets to know the cycle of fertility and work together to achieve or avoid pregnancy. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops provides direction on responsible parenting and knowing when it is permissible to avoid pregnancy, but these situations are dealt with on a case-by-case basis and should be a decision made by the couple, a spiritual director, and their doctor. 

And speaking to those who still need convincing, there are a few more practical perks a couple has when using NFP. There’s nothing harmful to put into your body. There’s no expensive surgery or monthly pharmacy costs. The government and your employer don’t have to be involved in your personal fertility decisions. The only side affect is a better relationship for the couple.

I encourage you to do your homework if you are unfamiliar with this and read more about it. To help, here are some books you may be interested in reading:

  • Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach by John And Sheila Kippley
  • Natural Family Planning: A Catholic Approach by Mary Lee Barron

As always, I welcome your questions and comments. Feel free to contact me at asklisa@catholicmatch.com

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23 Comments

  1. Renate-888346 April 22, 2013

    Hi Lisa. This is a great article and a great discussion that needs to be openly addressed and sorted through. I would like to go further into your food analogy because I think it’s a really good one. I agree that eating disorders represent an unhealthy relationship to food and that it works as an analogy for why contraception is unhealthy for a marriage (let alone your body). But, what about low-fat food? What about the decision to drink skim milk instead of whole milk? Or eat low-fat yogurt instead of whole? You are still consuming the product, but it has been slightly altered in order to make it healthier for you. Could you not argue that using contraceptives or barrier methods is similar to this practice? Now, in the same train of thought I am thinking that many of these low-fat foods contain chemicals and byproducts that have worse side effects than the original high-fat version (which actually strengthens your analogy). I suppose that contraception is like chemically-modified low-fat foods (warning: side effects!) but perhaps barrier methods are like physical processed foods with reduced fat content (like skim milk, still good but you know the real version is so much better! However, sometimes it is just healthier to drink skim milk, right?) Or would you consider NFP to be like these “low-fat” foods: a way to enjoy the “product” with responsibility and awareness?

    My question is about where we draw the line between being open to the procreative act: once we have established that there are no physical and no chemical barriers (which I think is pretty obvious to see why this is beneficial to the relationship’s overall health)—where do we draw the line once we get past that?

    So no pills, no chemicals, no barrier methods………but where do you draw the line with doctrine and Catholic teaching that “every act must be open to new life” when it comes down to the remaining option of the withdrawal method? I think it can be discussed as a physical rule or a conceptual (no pun intended) rule. If the overall intention of the couple is open to life (ie they are not creating a physical or chemical barrier), and they are aware and open to a new life occurring (we all know that withdrawal or avoidance tactics are not reliable methods for pregnancy avoidance), is it still considered contrary to Catholic teaching?

    • Robert-964870 April 22, 2013

      Renate, you have used a key word there in my opinion, chemical. Yeah the analogy used for this post is about food, but artificial contraception is chemical. We have become a society that is built upon taking medications to try to fix problems. But by trying to fix problems, we open up our bodies to even greater problems. When it comes to artificial contraception, it because dangerous to the body. I think it should be about, instead of prevention of creation of life, but prevention of harm to life that is already living.

    • Claire-896119 April 23, 2013

      Renate, thank you for sharing your positivity! What a light! I needed to be reminded tonight about not looking at the glass as half empty, and that “as long as you look at being single as an empty state, it will be.” (I tried to reply to you and somehow ended up on your profile – sorry! I did not even know that was possible. Oops!) Anywho, I do not know much about the Creighton system, but am interested in learning more. I have always felt a little bit silly looking into NFP as a single woman, but I appreciate your encouragement that now is actually the perfect time to be learning about how my body works so that I am fully prepared when (not if, but when!) I marry the man of my heart. :) Thank you so much again for sharing your joy – it is contagious and much appreciated. God bless.

      • Emily-902118 April 24, 2013

        Claire, it’s not silly at all to look into NFP before you are married :) I learned it for tracking other health issues,and it’s been the most informative course I have ever done, God designed the woman’s body so unbelievably amazing! I hope I never have to practice NFP, but at least I know it. (I intend to practice “Supernatural Family Planning”

    • Bob-945720 April 24, 2013

      I think this is a good question (withdrawal). In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI explains that any action to make the act infertile would be a grave sin. NFP does not alter the act it just recognizes that some acts are naturally fertile and some aren’t. Withdrawal is still contraception. Remember Onan did it (Gen 38) and God killed him for it. Abstinence (like in NFP or total) is the only morally permissible option if a person is serious about avoiding pregnancy,

  2. Jim-458804 April 22, 2013

    Interesting points. I think one caveat is absent from the discussion though. The point being that common vernacular implies chemical contraception (birth control, IUD, implantable etc) as pregnancy prevention alone. However, we know that some of the “pregnancy prevention” actually comes from thinned endometrial lining which preventions embryo implantation. This means currently available chemical contraception works not only by preventing fertilization of ovulation but also through the inability of a fertilized egg to implant (this technically being an abortifacient).

    I think recognition of this must be understood as one of the foremost reasons why chemical contraception is incompatible with our beliefs. If the chemical contraceptives did not have that effect, I think the method of pregnancy prevention would not matter (If pregnancy prevention or delay is acceptable at all).

    • Jim-458804 April 22, 2013

      fertilization by blocking ovulation*

      • Bob-945720 April 24, 2013

        All actions taken to make a normally fertile act infertile whether by altering the cycle of the woman or blocking were condemned by Humanae Vitae.

  3. Bob-59786 April 22, 2013

    Years ago, a famous feminist said the Pill results in making a woman a sex Object. Read thru Pope Paul’s VI’s quote above.

    I heard of a married couple who had practiced NFP, but then realized there’s an “easier way”. Guess what happened? The husband started having affairs, the wife wanted to save the marrage, but he demanded, and got, a divorce.

  4. Michael-780154 April 22, 2013

    This is a good article, however (not to be a killjoy) as one who is not married and not dating right now, contraception is the farthest thing from my mind. (Ah, yes, the celibate life!) This topic is a married person’s issue, and to see it here is a painful reminder that I’m not “in the game”, so to speak. That I’m not one of the lucky and blessed few who can even experience the joy of procreation.

    I am certain I’m not the only one feeling some pain in seeing this posted where all must see it, when intimacy with a member of the other gender and possible parenthood are so distant from our reality.

    It would be nice, for those of us who struggle with being alone and wonder if there is family in our future, if this type of material, though very useful for people who are married (and of interest for some singles who can emotionally handle reading it), were placed somewhere else where it could be found by those interested. There is simply no interest on my part for being exposed to this at this particular period of aloneness in my life, and I suspect others feel the same. This is just another reminder, along with the many that the Catholic church places in front of singles, of being alone and outside of what many of us feel is our vocation (marriage) because of death, divorce, or simply not meeting him/her.

    Please understand where I’m coming from.

    Michael

  5. Lesley-158563 April 22, 2013

    I strongly disagree that articles such as these should be hidden away to search for. This website is an excellent source of information and continuing education about the Catholic faith. That is one of the main reasons I remain a member. We should embrace and not run from our faith and seize the opportunity to learn and know more, especially when the information is presented in such clear and well-written articles. Just my 2 cents.

  6. Patrick-341178 April 23, 2013

    Michael,
    I understand where you are coming from. Although I think these articles have some value, I can appreciate your feelings. I personally get enjoyment to some extent about these articles as the rule of acceptable behavior among singles are so cut and dry. I have been to some Theology of the Body lectures and stopped going to them as they really did nothing for me as a single man. For those singles that do get value of TOB, congrats.

    As for NFP, I think married couples that do use it should be praised as it is so much easier to use artificial means in this day and age. However, (and all of you can read much more about this in a forum on this topic that I believe is still going), I sometimes feel that NFP is a convienent loophole that married catholic couples can abuse. Nowhere in this article and the previous article did this author discuss the condition that NFP is only supposed to be used for “grave” reasons. She seems to feel that catholic couples can using NFP to avoid pregnancy is on the same moral playing field as those that use it try to obtain pregnancy. Yes, in some cases that is true, but many times shouldn’t the goal to be fruitful and multiply rather than have, what in many ways amounts to quasi-recreational sex.

    Yes, the unitive element of sexual relations between man and wife is important. Yet, I wish there would be more emphasis on the “be fruitful, and multiply” teaching of the Bible more – rather than a reaction to modernist contraception. Otherwise, is the difference really that significant?

    • Lisa-727959 April 23, 2013

      Hi, Patrick,

      You might want to read both posts a little closer… I’ve touched on the “grave reason” both times and added a link both times for further reference. After that, it’s up to the individual couple and not something you or I can control or should stand in judgement of.

      I certainly understand how you and Michael feel, but since a CM member brought the question to my attention, I thought the public discussion would be a good one since the topic also comes up on the forums. It’s definitely not my intention to make people feel bad.

      - Lisa

  7. Renate-888346 April 23, 2013

    Patrick, The difference is HUGELY significant! I think what is being reiterated here in many of the posts is the is concept behind contraception. The principle lies not only in the factual situation of the presence or absence of chemicals but I think the more important repercussion, and the reason that it is part of our Faith, lies in the spiritual and emotional affect our choices and attitudes on procreation have on our relationships. Both for the currently married and for those who are single. Although I understand Michael’s point of view, I strongly disagree with it! This is exactly when he, and anyone not currently married, should start thinking about these things. Especially as a woman, following the Creighton System now, although I am not married, is an extremely important part of self-empowerment, knowing my body, and knowing that when I am married (I hope!) I will have confidence in a system that will allow me to nurture intimacy with my husband that goes deeper than the physical act itself and take control over achieving or avoiding pregnancy.

    The design of our bodies is a map, a key, to the design God has for the way we live out our physical expression of love in the flesh. This is why it takes sensitivity and practice to listen and gain awareness of the body’s natural cycle of fertility. The actual moment of ovulation is concealed but there are very clear signs (sorry, no pun intended again) about when this is happening. We have to develop these listening skills to our bodies just like we develop our listening skills to God through prayer–and trust that a new life will come when the time is right. I think it is reasonable to imagine that God would condone the use of listening and awareness in order to plan a family. I think the most important thing about the procreative act is that there is always an element of possibility, there is always at least a chance that a new life may occur, and that the couple isn’t actively using chemicals to alter God’s design or dance too closely to the line of actually killing a new life in the process of implantation.

    If reading this material is cause for distress perhaps it is a sign that you are looking at the glass as half empty. Although I, too, would love to be married and practicing my NFP skills, I take each month as a preparation, a process, acknowledging the miracle of design, the days when I know I am fertile, and the days when I know I am not. I know this waiting will make me appreciate and never take for granted the gift of having a partner and I put all of my energy into the hope of that happening one day. The power of positive thinking! Happiness is not always circumstantial–it can also be synthetic–you can choose to be happy, even as a single person. As long as you think of single as an empty state, it will be.

    Of course I do not know your situation, but my point is that it’s up to you to choose! All the best.

    • Michael-780154 April 23, 2013

      Thank you for your post, Renate, Andrea, and Patrick. Just tough to deal with this issue that is so far away from anything even remotely applicable to my current life. Is the topic interesting to me? Yes. But still is painful to read about/consider as I don’t see my individual circumstances changing in the very near future. Maybe sometime later this year… but still awaiting court of second instance decision and have no leads on a lady friend assuming the second court decision backs up the first. :-)

  8. Andrea-712949 April 23, 2013

    Thank you for posting this article. Though most of us aren’t married, it is a big issue in dating because I won’t date a man who doesn’t agree to the Church’s teaching in this area. Unfortunately, most men don’t even know what the Church actually teaching in this area, and they certainly don’t know why. In my view, the more men that learn the teachings, why and accept it, the more men that are possible matches for me.

  9. Patrick-341178 April 24, 2013

    The word “grave” or “just” was never used and then when I clicked on the link, I just got more confused. So, I suppose I did miss the somewhat vague reference.

    I suppose it is up to interpretation how much of difference is it to use artificial means versus natural means in an effort to have sexual relations hoping NOT to conceive a child. Do I think they are all equal? No, of course not.

    For starters, among artificial means, the pill is much more morally problematic than barrier methods given the concern it can as abortifacient. Then, comparing barrier methods to natural means, obviously that is still against church teaching and denies true husband and wife intimacy, so it still wrong.

    But, I don’t think just giving married couplea a pass to let them determine for themselves what constitutes “responsible parenting” is enough. I suppose I have more of a pre Vatican II, biblical mentality where marriage was about being fruitful and mulitplying. Unless there is some major physical, psychological or extreme economic reason(s) not to try to conceive more kids, I don’t think using NFP for purposes of trying NOT to conceive is legitimate.

    • Renate-888346 April 24, 2013

      You might change your mind if you had 3 kids under the age of 5 running around your house! Or at least your wife might! I would imagine that in addition to being open to life, it is also important to balance one’s ability to nurture the lives they have created. Times are different and the investment in children is greater–they don’t just go work in the fields or contribute to the running of the household becoming part of a productive team. The family unit has changed so much. There were many reasons that having many children in the biblical times would have been encouraged, both Divinely and practically speaking. I think in today’s world it is actually more responsible and holy to be open to life and at the same time responsible for how many new lives are brought into the world. But we are all free to practice and live this part of our Faith with our own interpretation. So it’s up to you!

    • Lisa-727959 April 24, 2013

      Patrick,

      It’s wonderful and refreshing to see a single male stand up for the truth about sex and how it should be approached. It’s obvious you love your faith and place a high value on the family. Our society would be so much better off if there were more men with your integrity. Thank you for all you’ve contributed to this discussion.

      The point where you and I separate ways, however, is where you say leaving the choice up to the couple is giving them a “pass” to use NFP for the wrong reasons.

      This article is here to help people make informed choices, to begin a conversation that advances the pro-life, pro-marriage cause. The language pretty much comes straight out of “Humanae vitae,” which of course you know is the authority in this discussion. But couples do have the right to make this assessment of their own accord in direct relation to their situation and with the direction of their priest and doctor. No one outside of that circle should be making judgements on the couple’s particular situation. There are valid reasons to avoid pregnancy and the Church recognizes this.

      Sincerely – Lisa Duffy

  10. Patrick-341178 April 24, 2013

    In the olden days, women would breastfeed longer as a way of birth spacing. I think that is totally legitimate assuming the couple is still having sexual relations with the idea of trying to conceive, rather than hoping not to.

    Simple incovienence is not enough. I discussed some legitimate reasons, but they must be grave. Now, I understand large families aren’t for everyone, that is fine. But, if a married couple doesn’t want more kids, they should consider abstaining for long periods of time – not just during fertility. Now again, my criticism is measured as I understand it is much easier to just use artificial means, as I have mentioned. Nevertheless, I think NFP can certainly be abused and married couples shouldn’t just be left off the hook, which I think does happen.

  11. LeeAndrei-973184 May 18, 2013

    IVE RED AN TRUE TO LIFE STORY ABOUT ANY BIWED THEIR LIVES AFTER REALIZING THEIR FAULTS AND ANNOYANCE OF AOTHER PEOPLE.AND AFTER READING ALOT OF SURPASS TRAGIC EVENTS IN THEIR LIVES THEY BECOME SUCCESSFUL IN THEIR NEW CHAPTERS OF THEIR LIFES.

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