I’ve written so many times about what contraception is (bad medicine, bad for the environment, bad for relationships, to name a few) and so I want to spend some time these next few days talking about what contraception isn’t.
I’m giving a talk at our parish on Thursday night (come on down if you’re local – 6:30 pm at St. Mary’s in Littleton, beer and brats and free babysitting!) and while I’ve been preparing my notes I keep coming back to one primary thesis: everybody wants to be happy and to be loved.
That’s the basic motivation behind contraceptive use, I think. Aside from the fact that it’s just become kind of a cultural no-brainer that if you’re a woman of childbearing age of course you’re going to be “protecting” yourself against the possibility of pregnancy.
But I think almost everybody – childless-by-choicers aside – is looking for a temporary reprieve from what they perceive to be a life-alterning burden that they’ll probably take upon themselves willingly one day.
And so by investing in a little “protection,” they’re leveraging their youth against the possibility of unplanned or unanticipated deviations along the life and career and relationship path, namely ones which share half their DNA.
So I think it’s a kind of insurance policy that couples – women – take out in order to maximize happiness.
I don’t think there are a bunch of women willingly popping mind and body-altering hormones every morning just for the hell of it.
I’d bet nearly every single woman using contraception (and I’m speaking mostly to women here because in all honesty, we bear the brunt of the burden in terms of side effects and responsibility, don’t we?) is doing so under the impression that it will greatly maximize her happiness so long as she can prevent/indefinitely postpone pregnancy.
I don’t think people contracept because they don’t like children. I mean, maybe a handful, a single-digit demographic of the larger population, but I don’t think that’s true for most users.
The real reason?
I think they’re afraid.
Afraid of what an unplanned pregnancy might mean for their marriages, or, if not married, for their social status and their economic wellbeing.
Afraid of what a toll pregnancy will take on their bodies, on their careers, on their lifestyles.
Afraid of what might happen if the man they’re sleeping with – either out of love or boredom or convenience – were to find them burdensome or inconvenient or overwhelming in their fertility and walk away as a result.
Obviously there are a myriad of other reasons, some more nuanced than others, and everybody has their own story, but I’m speaking here of the primary cultural motivation for an almost unquestioning and unanimous embrace of what was considered immoral and almost unspeakably wrong less than a hundred years ago, and for most of human history up until then.
And I think it’s the fear of being unhappy.
Somehow in the past century or so, we’ve conflated childbearing and stable, lasting romantic unions (aka marriages) with tedious life sentences of drudgery and toil, choosing instead to embrace the promise of casual, uncomplicated sex (as if such a thing could ever exist) and in turn surrendering our right to need and to be needed by our partners, by our spouses.
So if contraception promises happiness, and contraption’s primary purpose is to prevent (or destroy) new life, then what must the primary impediment to happiness be, to the modern mind?
Sex is how new life is created. The most secular biology text will corroborate with me on this one. It’s primary purpose is to continue the species. Is it also desirable and highly pleasurable? Yep. But those are incidentals, attached in order to encourage us along the path of rightness, much like the pleasure of eating and drinking. Can it be over done? Of course. But that doesn’t negate the real pleasure inherent in the practice, or strip away the importance of enjoying it.
But while eating to excess and then vomiting afterwards is considered (for now, at least) to be disordered to the point of illness, we’ve somehow lost our collective minds over the idea that sex was supposed to mean something, was always intended to be associated with at least the potential for bringing forth new life.
Because the consequences of sex are sometimes eternal. Immortal, even. With individual souls. And in our individualistic and, frankly, deeply selfish culture, what could be less sexy than the prospect of an unending commitment to love?
There’s a reason that the child has become increasingly more commoditized and devalued as contraception has become more available and widely embraced. When we separate the origins of a thing from its nature, it becomes increasingly more difficult to recognize the inherent value and meaning of it.
When kids become simply a lifestyle add-on or a relationship upgrade option, it’s difficult to reconcile the inherent value and dignity of every human person.
But the dignity remains, whether or not we choose to see it.
And the potential for happiness, for real, gritty, soul-stretching and life-altering happiness, is immense.
I’d be willing to bet that very few people who are routinely contracepting right now would be willing to continue doing so if they could become convinced of the antithetical relationship between the pseudo control it offers them and real, lasting happiness: the kind that hard work and lasting commitment and a profound gift of self can deliver.
So perhaps the perfect point of entry into the heart of a modern man or woman convinced of the irrefutable good and necessity of the Pill is to soften that heart to the reality that life outside the pharmacy walls is really pretty sweet.
It’s not perfect, by any means, but there is a profound dignity and satisfaction in the relationship between a man and a woman that is inherently ordered to and capable of bringing forth new life.
Far from hampering the relationship between the spouses, it enhances and heightens the experience of love, of belonging, and, ultimately, of happiness.
Clearly I’m speaking out of the belief that sex belongs rightly to marriage, but that’s nothing new. In fact, for more than 2,000 years it was increasingly, and eventually, widey accepted. If you think about why it is we no longer associate sex with marriage, well, I’m going to pin that one on contraception, too.