Friday, October 10, 2008

Condoms - Why Not?

On my NFP board, a fellow member (a former Catholic) asked about the rationale behind being so against abortion, and yet also being against non-abortifacient contraception like condoms, since it seems that would be an easy way to prevent many abortions, by preventing many pregnancies.

This is an often asked question, a question which, on the surface, seems quite valid, but looking a little deeper reveals a fundamental flaw in understanding the root problem. As I spent some time trying to answer this question, I thought I'd share my answer here as well:

So here's the thing...a lot of people look at the Catholic teachings and see what they are on the surface, but don't see the depth behind them. On the surface , as you mentioned, it may not make sense to some...well if we're trying to stop abortion, HELLO?!? Condoms anyone? What kind of crazies are these! lol

Others have mentioned that each act must be "open to life" or "ordered towards procreation." That doesn't mean you have to have a kid each time you have relations, or that you have to be trying to have a kid. It just means that the way the act is done needs to be able to result in a kid if the stars are aligned, so to speak, nothing can be done to the act to make this impossible. Essentially, if you'll forgive my crudeness, tab A needs to end up in slot B.

But why? What's the big deal?

It's not just about "correct action", it's so much more. The action is only a "symptom" of a completely different mentality at work. Our culture, our society has sent the message that fertility can (and often should) be separated from sex. That sex can be a recreational activity, something fun to do on a Friday night, like bowling, that there's no need to wait for the protection of marriage because as long as you're careful, there's no need to get tied to someone through children, etc. How has it sent this message? Through contraception...contraception is precisely an attempt to separate fertility from sex, to make them completely unrelated.

Now, whether or not one agrees that separating sex from fertility is wrong, what has been the result? Each generation since contraception became widely available has become more and more promiscuous...because sex is largely seen as recreational. But that's not my main focus here, my main focus is the mentality, the attitude behind this behavior. People my age (I'm in my mid 20s) have grown up being told that all you have to do to separate sex from fertility is "be responsible" and use contraception.

So here we are, walking around with this notion that sex can without a doubt be separated from fertility, it's an accepted axiom. People go out, and whether they just hook up with people they meet at bars or enter into a long term relationship, they are assuming that as long as they are taking that pill or using that device, they are succeeding at separating sex from fertility with no problem, just like society told them they could.

And then that pill or that device fails. BAM, they get pregnant.

What then? It isn't FAIR!! I was being responsible like they all told me to be!! They told me I could separate sex from fertility, I did what they said, but now I'm pregnant! What happened? What went wrong? I dont understand? Well, whatever happened, it's not right that I should have to be pregnant. I was following the rules the world told me, so now I'm going to make this right. I'll get an abortion, because I mean, it's not *MY* fault I got pregnant, I was being responsible.

You see, it's about acknowledging reality. When we try to force ourselves to ignore reality, when we tell ourselves we can do something that we really can't and shouldn't do, we end up messing things up BIG TIME. What happens if you ignore reality and tell yourself you can fly? You jump off a building...and gravity proves you wrong.

Our society is walking around with their heads in the sand, imagining that they are "in control," that they can separate sex from fertility and go on their merry way and be just fine. And don't get me wrong, most contraception succeeds in preventing conception, but even if one never falls pregnant unexpectedly, there are other unfortunate consequences occuring because of this assumption that sex can be separated from fertility, like objectification of people as sexual objects and unhealthy relationships. When proof to the contrary does arise in the form of a pregnancy, rather than acknowledging our error, we've justified getting rid of that proof in the form of abortion. Anything to keep our tight grasp on the notion that we have control, that we can separate sex and fertility, and that this is good for us.

So what's the difference with NFP? NFP (and the teaching of the Church against contraception) is all about acknowledging reality as it is, not attempting to change it even when it's inconvenient for us. We acknowledge that we cannot separate sex and fertility. We can work with God's natural design, but the act itself is always ordered towards procreation, nothing is altered or changed in the act itself. And this is a physical expression of a deeply rooted mentality, of our recognition that sex cannot be separated from fertility. And so, because we acknowledge that sex cannot be separated from fertility, we also acknowledge that the only full proof way to avoid having children is to avoid having sex altogether. Now, thanks be to God, with the knowledge we have of the female body, we can pinpoit fertile and infertile times...but even this takes some sacrifice, to abstain during fertile times. It's hard at times, yes, it's not always easy...but this, in turn, can help us to overcome any potential selfishness.

After all, the yearning couples have for each other during fertile times sometimes makes them reconsider whether they really *need* to avoid having children at the moment. If the answer is, "Yes, absolutely we do!" then that's that. But sometimes, the answer is, "Hmm...well, maybe we're ready after all!" or "Hmm, maybe another one isn't a bad idea!" These kinds of thoughts are less likely to happen with contraception, because sex has already mentally been separated from fertility, and there's no reason to reconsider...after all, with or without contraception they'll be having sex, so there's not much motivation to rethink one's decision and give up the contraception.

That's largely why you tend to see larger families among NFP's not just due to method failure, we're more likely to call this method success, lol, people's hearts are opened, they are more prone to reconsider their choice to avoid when it takes some sacrifice in order to do so. But regardless of whether one is trying to avoid children or trying to conceive children, there remains an underlying acknowledgement of the reality that sex and fertility are inextricably intertwined. And so if there is a surprise pregnancy, having always acknowledged that with sex comes a chance of offspring, there does not tend to be the same kind of refusal of responsibility for the pregnancy, or the same level of feelings of injustice and unfairness. They are mentally prepared for this possibility in a way that contraceptors, by and large, are not.

I hope I've been clear in describing this mentality. In a nutshell, to say that condoms are a good solution to abortion is missing the root cause of the problem. It's like if someone is trying to lose weight, and a friend suggests "Well you know if you just purge yourself after each meal you'll lose weight." Well...that may be true, on the surface that is an effective solution, but it's not addressing the root problem of gluttony, in fact it could very well be encouraging it. This proposed solution is not recognizing the function and purpose of nutrition, and therefore totally misses the mark about how to fix it. Healthy weight loss will have to involve sacrifice, it will have to recognize the relationship between food and nutrition and respect that relationship. Not gaining weight does not mean eating whatever you want and then purging yourself, it means making healthy choices to begin with, practicing self control and abstaining from certain foods.

Likewise, using contraception to avoid children does not recognize the relationship between sex and fertility, instead of practicing self control and sometimes difficult self sacrifice in order to avoid children, it encourages seeking out the pleasure while keeping the fertility aspect completely separate in an attempt to avoid the natural consequences at all costs. It's simply a continuation of the "separatist" view. We are a nation of sexual gluttons and self proclaimed victims, and we've forgotton what self control and personal responsibility really mean. (And that is, of course, not only in regards to, money, consumerism, ridiculous amounts of debt, it all goes together.)

To see the proof of the error of this mentality, note that over time, as the use of contraception went up, so did the amount of abortions. On the surface that doesn't make sense, right? If people are preventing more pregnancies then there should be less abortion...but that's because people are buying into the idea that sex can be separated from fertility, and so if a pregnancy happens despite contraception use, then it's not seen as their responsibility, and therefore they feel justified in getting an abortion.

More than that, though, the idea that one isn't responsible for getting pregnant trickles over to those who don't even use contraception. Once the idea is commonly accepted that sex can be separated from fertility, it tends to mutate into the assumption that sex already is separated from fertility. This is why we're having to remind teenagers that you can get pregnant when you have sex...because we've divorced the concepts so thoroughly that we've collectively forgotten this reality.

So you see, in our eyes the solution is not "more condoms!" which only reinforces this mentality of separation, rather the solution is acknowledging the reality, reminding ourselves that sex is not simply a recreational activity, that it has a purpose and a function, and remembering that when we ignore this reality, we start messing up our world big time. We're running towards the edge of that roof ready to jump off thinking we can fly, but in the end you simply can't cheat reality.

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