By Jenny Uebbing
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 it, what are the natural outcomes?
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 disease – 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 allegiance 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 fertility 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, ultimately, 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 contraception.
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.
Jenny Uebbing is the content editor for Catholic News Agency's marriage and family life channel. She blogs at Mama Needs Coffee about faith, sex, family life, contraception, and Catholicism. She lives in Denver with her husband David and their growing family. This blog is reprinted here with permission of the author.