Contraception and the Catholic Church: {part 3} Babies, bonding, and how women work

We’ve spent the past couple days talking about the historical background of contraception and the Church’s response to the increasing availability of new technologies and the moral nuances surrounding its use, so I thought it would be good to back up today and take kind of a 20,000 ft. view of sex itself, asking the obvious question, what’s the point? In other words, what is sex for, and, when engaged in it, what are the natural outcomes?

(Btw, I’m loving the great discussion in the comments too, and I’m especially loving the interaction between commenters which is super encouraging when this preggo is too tired or too toddler’d to get to them all in timely fashion. Yay for sane, civil discourse even in the internet age!)

So, let us begin. First I want to ask the obvious question:

What are the natural consequences of sex?

The Church says – in a nod to natural law – the the consequences are both procreative and unitive. In other words: babies and bonding.

We’ll focus today on the first “B”, if you will: babies.

Not every sexual act is capable of producing new life, as we discussed yesterday, and not every couple enjoys healthy fertility. And then there are those 40+ years of life after cycles, which renders the marital relationship naturally physically sterile, through no fault or flaw of the couple themselves.

Because really, unless something has been damaged either by intention – as in the case of sterilization or contraception, or by disesase – sex is fundamentally life-giving.

Even when no new life is created.

Just to be super, super clear: God did not design us to pump out baby after baby, endlessly procreating until the day we die.

So wait, sex is life-giving even when no new life is conceived?

Yep, you read that right.

A common argument against the Church’s teaching on sex is that She only wants more butts in the seats, so to speak. Full pews and full coffers. Women continually pregnant and producing an army of faithful Catholics to pledge allegience to Rome.

Now, look away from my very pregnant belly for a moment while I assure you that this is not the case. Sex, as anyone practicing NFP, well-versed in the science of basic human biology, or experiencing the heartache of infertility can attest to, does not always lead to babies.

And it wasn’t designed to.

Women, contrary to Planned Parenthood’s popular talking points, are not walking fertilty time bombs.

Our fertility, far from being a sure thing, is actually cyclical in nature, sometimes beyond our best and most desperate efforts to control. And ultimately it’s transient.

Women, unlike men, have a finite capacity to reproduce, during any given month and over the course of a reproductive lifetime. So rest assured, the Church isn’t condemning us to a life sentence of pro-creation by banning birth control.

Women’s bodies, in particular, just do not work that way. It’s sad to say that in a culture as technologically advanced as our own, many, many women (and men) don’t have a basic grasp of the nuts and bolts of human fertility, but that’s one inevitable consequence of the widespread usage and availability of the thing that shuts down and reroutes fertility (I’m speaking here of contraception), isn’t it? A lack of understanding of who and what we were designed to do in the first place, and how all the moving pieces work together.

So we understand how to lobby for and demand and subsidize pills and prescriptions that shut down the female reproductive system, and yet most of us have a vague understanding (at best!) of how a woman’s body is designed to function in the first place.

Kind of anti-feminist, if you ask me.

The NFP alternative 

Blessed Mother Teresa was able to teach poor, uneducated Indian women living in homeless shelters the truth that the female body was created with intelligence and is capable of being understood, teaching them to chart their monthly cycle using the most rudimentary tools and very basic scientific knowledge. This was critical to many of them maintaining or achieving better maternal health, spacing their pregnancies further apart or avoiding future pregnancies.

Contraceptives tend to not work well when they’re not used rigorously, and for women in poverty struggling to provide the very basic necessities for their families, there is a hierarchy of needs that all trump remembering to refill a prescription or take a pill each day. NFP is the more humane, more holistic, and, ulitmaltey, more effective method of family planning to instruct them in.

And! Added bonus: it keeps their health and dignity first and foremost, unlike any form of contraption.

So there you have NFP, or Natural Family Planning, in a nutshell. It’s cheap to practice, relatively easy to learn, and not to be confused with some kind of baptized, backwards, papal-approved form of contracption.

(For more informtion on NFP you can visit your local parish’s website, google “Creighton, Marquette, or Sympto Thermal” or search through the archives of this blog. There’s also a handy tab up top labelled “NFP.”)

The beauty of the female body

What does all this tell us about a woman’s body, and about the inherent genius to our design?

For one, you don’t need to proscribe 3 decades worth of birth control pills to “protect” a women from her fertility. She isn’t broken.

We aren’t broken.

You don’t need medicine to correct the part of you that is capable of producing new life, of participating in motherhood.

You don’t need to be chemically or hormonaly transformed into something other than what – and who – you are.

You are already fearfully and wonderfully made.

And as women, we shouldn’t be so obliging as to put our spiritual, physical, and emotional health on the line in order to be perpetually available for sex.

The cost is much, much too high.

I’m going to wrap it up here because hello 1,000 word count and also, thank you Jesus, they’re all napping. Off to the patio I go with a sparkly La Croix in hand. Tune in tomorrow when we’ll chat up that other “B:” bonding. And maybe some pertinent details re: the general un-greenness, if you will, of hormonal contraceptives in particular. You know, since it’s encyclical day and all.

Ciao adesso!

contraception and the catholic church

{Part 1: The historical precedent}

{Part 2: What’s wrong with contraception}




  • Gigi

    A fabulous post once again!!! I love reading them!! Also…I AM ENGAGED!!! I’m so humbled by the Lord’s love for me ! Thank you for your prayers!!

    For a comment related to this post: I definitely agree that putting something foreign into the body to prevent what is supposed to happen (babiesssssss) is anti-feminist. I’m so thankful to have the knowledge that I will be able to do things with God in the forefront of my (and my spouse’s) actions and just living out His plan for us. Enjoy your time relaxing!!!!!!

    • Lauren

      Congratulations, sweet girl! I’ve noticed your comments all week. Your excitement, joy, and optimism is infectious.
      Your life with your fiancé is off to a good start! May Christ’s blessings abound in your life and may you and your (almost!) husband enjoy the fruits of NFP. God bless!!

  • Amy

    Great series! Thank you! My husband and I have used NFP successfully for preventing pregnancy. We’re looking forward to using NFP to become pregnant one day soon.

    One question. I have heard “You are already fearfully and wonderfully made” quite a bit lately. Where does it come from?

  • Caroline

    Could you also discuss the proper use of NFP, that is to say, the valid reasons for the use of NFP, not just as an alternative contraception?

  • Carmen

    I am religious, but not a traditional church goer. I was baptized by the same Jesuit priest who married my parents and buried my grandmother. The thing I’ve never liked about going to church was that I was made feel bad that I was on birth control for medical reasons, trust me if I could have a baby I would. Medically I can’t. I still haven’t found a church that makes me feel comfortable for my progressive views with out bashing the traditions of our faith

    • Jenny Uebbing

      I’m sorry you haven’t found church to be a welcoming place, Carmen, and also for your suffering. I’m going to go more into detail later this week about why hormonal birth control – when used for therapeutic medical purposes and not as contraception – is of course not morally problematic.

      There’s a real lack of clarity in this area for most people, and it can be difficult to transmit the beauty and the immense sacrifice tied up in what the Catholic Church believes and practices in terms of sex and marriage. But so worthwhile. Even the hard parts. (Maybe especially the hard parts, in my personal experience.)

      I hope you find your way back home.

      (p.s. My spiritual director is a founding member of a religious community that is heavily influenced by Jesuit spirituality, so I <3 St. Ignatius too.)

  • Tim

    Ciao per ora (By for now)

    or maybe

    Saluti (Greetings)

    Might be more appropriate. Have never heard or used “Ciao adesso”. It sounds odd.

    God bless

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