One of the nice things about teaching is keeping up with former students. It’s even better if they can keep things civil while disagreeing with you on most things. One such former student responded to a video I shared on my facebook wall entitled “How ‘The Pill’ works as an Abortifacient.” He asked if I was legitimately against the pill, and after I responded affirmatively he asked “What’s the religious reason to not use condoms?” Since facebook walls do not lend themselves to nuanced arguments, I asked him if he’d allow me to respond here at T&C. He agreed.
First, given that this friend has previously defined himself as agnostic, purely religious reasons would probably not be very convincing. I also will expand the argument to all contraception beyond just condoms and will present three arguments: 1) contraception violates the meaning of marriage, 2) contraception is medically/physically undesirable if not harmful, and 3) the religious reasons.
- Contraception violates the meaning of marriage. I can hear the guffaws now; since contraception is used by a huge majority of married couples (sadly, including Catholics who should know better), how in the world can it make marriages worse? As Andrew has been pointing out, the reality and meaning of marriage has been lost or degraded for the past several decades, such that marriage today is usually seen as just a (sometimes) public acknowledgement that we like each other a lot and will continue to stay together as long as that’s true.
But most married couples can recall, in their wedding vows, a promise to give themselves fully to their spouse. I hold nothing of myself back from my wife. When the vows include the list of “better/worse, sickness/health, good/bad times,” implicit within that is the assumption that NO situation warrants one spouse abandoning another or holding anything back. It’s not a marriage if I’m only 99% faithful. A popular quote (I heard it from Peter Kreeft) is that marriage is not 50/50; it’s 100/100.
Married couples engaging in the marital act are “incarnating” their wedding vows. It is a physical sign of what those vows represent: the spouses make themselves completely vulnerable to one another, giving all of themselves and holding nothing back. Further, nature clearly demonstrates that this act is for love and life; sex unites couples while at the same time providing the opportunity for new life to spring from their love.
Contraception violates these meanings of the marital act. Couples who contracept in essence say “I love you and give you all of myself EXCEPT my fertility. I know that this act is ordered toward our bonding and the potential for new life, but I want to erect a physical or chemical barrier to our union in order to prevent the potential for new life.”
There is the argument that contraception aids marriage by allowing the couple to come together any day of the month without “fear” of pregnancy (rather than during the naturally-occurring infertile periods identified with natural family planning). This argument implies that a) the preferred sex life within marriage is one of constant sexual availability, and b) the only way that spouses can express romantic love or spiritually unite is through the sexual act. Neither implication is suitable for a healthy marriage. Periodic abstinence, as practiced via NFP, allows couples to both gain a better appreciation of the beauty of a woman’s natural balance as well as learn numerous and creative non-sexual ways of expressing their mutual love.
Contraception is medically/physically undesirable if not harmful. A quick glance at the possible side effects (pgs 2-4) of most pills include: nausea, vomiting, headaches, breast tenderness, reduced sex drive, weight gain, and many others. The last five paragraphs here (starting at “While the failure rate of condoms”) give great medical reasons to not use condoms, primarily because a woman’s body benefits from her husband’s sperm.
Contraception is typically prescribed via a “shotgun” approach: rather than determining precise medical, physical, or even dietary problems, doctors default to prescribing contraception for a host of ailments which, basically, masks symptoms instead of curing the underlying problems. The Pope Paul VI Institute is a leader in uncovering these problems without resorting to contraception. Other medical sources here, here, and here.
- Religious reasons. One of the clearest Scriptural teachings against contraception is Gen. 38, where Onan practices coitus interruptus and dies as a punishment (see the “Scripture” section here, which clarifies that Onan was not killed because he shirked his duties as brother-in-law). The Church Fathers were also against contraception, and the Magisterium has definitively taught against it.
The Theology of the Body provides a unique insight about the immorality of contraception (links 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Husband and wife love each other, and the fruit of that love is new life, a family. God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ eternally love each other, and the fruit of that love is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Since God does nothing halfway or partial, the love between the three divine persons must be full. This love is self-donative; if the Father “contracepted” and kept some of His divinity and only shared some of it with Jesus, we would have three gods in three persons. But the Father, who retains all of His divinity, also shares it fully with His Son and the Spirit so that each person has the one divine nature. Micah explained this better than I can. As the family is an image of the Trinity, it is contrary to our nature to subvert the full expression of love, which entails complete self-donation.
Further, the family is an image of Christ’s marriage to his bride, the Church. Jesus’ love for humanity and His Church is so complete that he bore the cruelest physical and psychological sufferings for our salvation. Marital love is not just warm fuzzies; it is laying your life down to gain the good of your beloved. Jesus accepted humanity fully in expressing his loving fidelity to us; spouses accept their own humanity fully (including their fertility) in expressing their love for each other. Jesus’ last words on the cross, “It is finished,” can also be translated “It is consummated,” demonstrating the model of spousal love. If Jesus “contracepted” on the cross, our salvation would not have been won and “we would still be in our sins.”
Like most things in Catholic moral teaching, the “thou shalt nots” are predicated upon a rich theological and anthropological foundation. The Church would rather tell you why self-donating spousal love leads to happiness in this life and the next than why contraception does not.
This booklet was eye-opening for me, and was one of the main resources that converted my wife away from contraception before we were married.