Contraception and a woman’s self-image

iStock 000004117842XSmall Contraception and a woman’s self imageOn the rare occasions that I used to think about the prospect of having a large family before my conversion, one of the first things that would come to mind is, “Just think of what my abs would look like! And years and years of nursing babies wouldn’t exactly leave me looking like a Victoria’s Secret model!” and with a shudder I’d perish the thought. There were other reasons that the prospect of having many children didn’t appeal to me. But the issue of what my body would start to look like somewhere around baby number five or six was actually a pretty large factor.

Was I just shallow? I’m not so sure.

I was the product of a culture that takes contraception for granted and believes that the primary purpose of sex is for pleasure. Sure, it can be one of a variety of methods for creating life, but the main reason it exists is just for pleasure.

Given that worldview, it kind of makes sense for a wife to prize preserving her physical appearance over bringing new life into the world. If it’s true that a fundamental part of marriage is sex, and sex is for pleasure, and men are visually-oriented when it comes to physical attraction, it doesn’t seem so unreasonable that a wife would take great pains to look young and fit as long as possible, and perhaps even value that above additional children.

This sort of thing also came up back in college when my pro-choice friends and I would rage about these awful pro-lifers who tried to tell women that they should carry an unexpected pregnancy to term. The horror! Didn’t these people know what pregnancy does to a woman’s body?! This assumed, of course, that there would be circumstances upon which a pregnancy would be totally unexpected (a la the contraceptive mentality), and that any physical trauma to a woman’s body would be so terrible as to be a justifying factor in terminating a pregnancy.

Thinking back to those discussions, we so abhorred the idea of what a pregnancy does to a woman’s body because this was our value. What we looked like physically was so intertwined with our value as human beings that to tell us we should have to carry a pregnancy to term — with all the weight gain and stretch marks and physical changes that would entail — was to say that we should make our very selves less valuable as women.

It is the same pro-contraception worldview that motivates women’s magazines to talk about little else other than “how to be SEXY”, for pop culture to insist that older women are STILL SEXY, and for well-meaning people to assure women of varying body types such as the overweight or the disabled that they CAN BE SEXY TOO.

And I believe that it’s this same worldview that’s changed how the ideal woman is depicted. I thought of this as I looked through this beautiful video of women in art throughout the ages. Contrast the soft, mysterious, classically feminine beauty portrayed in ages past to the hyper-sexualized images we see of women today.

For women in our culture, to be “hot” or “sexy” is to have value. There are a variety of theories as to why this is true but, from my experience, it goes back to the acceptance of contraception and the idea that the primary purpose of sex is for pleasure.

None of this had really crystallized for me until, one day last year, I put on a swimsuit to go to the pool with the kids. I checked my appearance in the mirror and with my pale skin and post-baby figure the word “Yeti” came to mind. I chuckled at my glowing wit, made a mental note to cut out the new habit of ice cream after dinner, and threw a towel over my shoulder to head to the pool. But something about that moment nagged at me, and after thinking about it for a while I realized what it was: how very, very different my reaction was to seeing myself looking a little heavy in a swimsuit than it would have been just a year or two before.

What had happened?

Years and years of intense focus and worry about my physical appearance had seemingly just melted away into a much more calm, reasonable expectation of what I should look like.

It was then that I realized how much the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception and the purpose of marriage and sex had changed my life. I had thought of my agreement with and acceptance of Church teaching on the matter to be a purely intellectual decision. But I realized that day that it was so much more than that. It had fundamentally changed where I derived my value as a woman, and where my husband and I had derived the value of our marital life.

Shortly after the swimsuit incident my husband and I attended a marriage course required by our parish to have our marriage blessed in the Church. It was offered by a nondenominational Christian group, and in their segment called “Great Sex” they completely separated sex from the creation of life, explaining that sex is a gift from God for our pleasure. The odd, elephant-in-the-room exclusion of having children from the entire discussion impressed upon me how hollow our society’s view of sex really is: Why would we bring up something as un-sexy as pregnancy and having babies? We’re trying to talk about sex here!

I left the course that night feeling sad. Sad for the years I spent mentally compartmentalizing sex and the bringing forth of new life, and the effects that had on my self-image as a woman. Sad for the slightly overweight lady at the table next to me who shifted uncomfortably as the instructors peppily emphasized the importance of staying in shape if you’re going to keep things “exciting” in the bedroom. And sad for all the couples who were there because their marriages were troubled, since I’m sure the overly detailed advice they received on how to have a good sex life only added pressure to their stressful situation.

As I listened to the instructors offer tips and tricks for how couples could better bond through the marital act, I couldn’t help but think that it seemed like they were just missing it. It almost seemed as if they themselves knew that they weren’t exactly hitting the nail on the head with this topic. They offered suggestion after suggestion for how spouses could be romantic, show each other unconditional love, let their partner feel accepted and cherished, etc., involving touch and eye contact and flowers and candy and surprises and back rubs and…whew! I can’t even remember them all. Though all of these things sounded nice enough, they seemed so weak and pale compared to the ultimate way of showing your spouse devotion and unconditional love: to implicitly say with every sexual act, “It’s OK with me if we should create a life together with this act.” What’s more romantic than that?

A final note: I don’t mean to be too hard on the marriage course instructors, who seemed like very sweet people who were genuinely trying to do something good for couples. And I don’t mean to alienate or criticize couples who do choose to use contraception. I just wanted to share my thoughts on this aspect of my conversion since it’s changed my life in such a big way. Even with challenges like tricky medical issues, financial difficulties and unexpected pregnancy, seeing the world in this new light has brought me more peace than almost anything else I’ve experienced in my conversion.

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63 Responses to “Contraception and a woman’s self-image”
  1. alicia says:

    wonderful and insightful!I might just link to it when I get the chance.

  2. John Seymour says:

    me tu.

    Have you read Humanae Vitae yet? It is short and worth reading. Pope Paul had it nailed – and predicted all of the ills that would likely spring from contraception, including sexual objectification of women you have identified.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this post, Jennifer. Your blog is so valuable and meaningful because you speak from your heart.

    I second the recommendation to read Humanae Vitae, if you haven’t already. Reading this amazing document changed my heart profoundly during RCIA.

    Thank you, Jesus, for giving us your Church!

    Teresa

  4. Anonymous says:

    wow thank you for putting into words what i could not i’m saving this post and sending it to all my friends.

  5. yofed says:

    It’s funny, I NEVER thought about what pregnancy would do to my body until a year after the birth of my son, when I realized I still had 30 lbs to shed… lol And now, I see my mother in law, who had 6 kids, much better looking than most women her age who don’t even have kids…

    However, I’m not totally against birthcontrol to space out pregnancies… what do YOU think about it?

  6. Amber says:

    You have really hit on something here, Jennifer. What a great post.

    Sadly, it really makes me think about my Mom. I feel like I’m dressing more maturely than she does most of the time. She’s always been very concerned about how she looks and being fashionable, but it seems like she’s gotten more so now that she’s in her 50’s. I’ve never cared much about fashion, but I used to always feel like I had to show-off my body (prompted in no small part by my Mom – how weird is that) and it is really nice to finally be moving away from that after all these years.

    I think this also has something to do with how many women talk about and deal with food. Eating something unhealthy – say, having a piece of cake – is treated like some sort of awful sin, rather than just as something you shouldn’t make a habit of doing every day. It is “being bad” (as my Mom always says) and with this mentality there really isn’t any room for reason or moderation.

    Again, great post, thank you.

  7. Ouiz says:

    That was a beautiful, well-written post.

    I started thinking about how our culture has skewed its perception of women/body image/etc after reading the book A RETURN TO MODESTY.

    Our Bible study recently went through Humanae Vitae, and I can honestly say that it affected everyone there. It explained everything so well and so concisely!

  8. Layla says:

    I’ve been a fan of your blog for some time, and this is my favorite post of yours yet. Thank you. I only wish more women would come to these realizations.

  9. Sarah says:

    Jen,

    First of all, this post was gorgeous. You are an incredible writer, and a very insightful woman.

    As a protestant, let me just clear up a couple of the things you inferred from your class (from my perspective). We Protestants (or a growing number of us) are beginning to see the sex lives of Christian couples as stale. AND, because sex does provide human beings with pleasure (which was incredibly kind of the Father), Christians should be having better sex lives than the world..NOT stale sexless marriages.

    I could be wrong, but I don’t believe that Song of Solomon (the Bible’s sex ed course, so to speak) focuses on procreation. Pregnancy is just a natural effect of sex. The fact that it is not mentioned does not diminish the beauty of pregnancy, in my opinion. And I hope that the speakers in your course did not intend to downplay the beauty of life either…although we’re not all alike!;)

    My husband and I use birth control, although nothing hormonal. My body is already completely ruined from two sets of twins, so that is not our reason. But sex IS to exist in a marriage, whether more children are even possible or not. Sex in marriage is for the purpose of bonding the couple (two becoming one flesh), comfort, and procreation. God is a multi-tasker!;)

    • Wsquared says:

      Sarah, I am going to have to politely point out some things that niggle at me a little with what you’ve said:

      “Christians should be having better sex lives than the world.”

      Why would you think that this boils down mostly to sex, and why is your measurement for “better” defined by, over, and against the world? Also, why would you think that because we are God’s people, that we are should be having better sex lives than the world, or even better lives than the world, period? I don’t mean to come off as accusatory, but that remark does sound a little… entitled. Also, just because Catholics don’t put pleasure first, that does not mean that we believe in “stale, sexless marriages.” Pleasure is a part of sex, certainly. But so are children. To foreground pleasure risks turning it into the greater end of sex.

      For one thing, define “better life.” Is this meant to be measured materially? And what of suffering? Where does that fit in? It does not mean that we live stale lives that always wear us down (for one thing, who says that an abundance of material goods and pleasures don’t produce such a life?). And yet, as Christians, we are called to serve others. And that also means that there are times in our lives where we are called to suffer for those who need it most.

      I could be wrong, but I don’t believe that Song of Solomon (the Bible’s sex ed course, so to speak) focuses on procreation. Pregnancy is just a natural effect of sex.

      Really. And what about the rest of the Bible, read holistically? The Song of Solomon needs to be read with everything else in the Bible; it all needs to line up and balance out. While pregnancy is a natural effect of sex, it is not– and should not be treated as– a side effect of sex, either. There is pleasure, certainly, but there is also responsibility, which, properly understood does not hamper pleasure, but instead balances it diplomatically, not tyrannically.

      Sex in marriage is for the purpose of bonding the couple (two becoming one flesh), comfort, and procreation. God is a multi-tasker!;)

      Indeed. God is a multi-tasker: while giving us bonding, comfort, and procreation as a couple, he also gives us as individuals– also exercised within the boundaries of marriage– the gifts of faith, reason, and free will.

  10. tb says:

    I’ve been noodling on this for days. You’ve explained this in a brand new way for me. I think it should be expanded and written in for a magazine article or even a book. I’d love to see you make the mainline talk show circuit with this.

    I’m currently about to deliver baby #4. We knew we wanted a 4th, but the one factor that nearly kept us from intentionally conceiving (and we are an NFP couple) was my fear/distain of getting fat again. I’m a 40#-er at best and it’s always been 1-2 years to get it back off. Thank God that He revealed my selfishness to me, and we were able to conceive with joy. I’m not looking forward to the next several months with the extra weight, but am looking forward to the joy of this new life.

    Thank you for your well written, thought provoking blog.

  11. Biby Cletus says:

    Hi, i just surfed in searching for interesting blogs on Spirituality, you have a cool blog. Do keep up the good work. I’ll be back even though i live far from where you live. its nice to be able to see what people from across the world thinks.

    Warm Regards from the Other Side of the Moon.

    On a related note perhaps you might find the following link interesting. Its propossing a theory and i’ll like to hear your take on the subject via comments. See ya…

    Was
    Jesus an Essenes ?

    Bibby

    Kerala, India

  12. beez says:

    My mom had eleven children and, although she didn’t nurse them (her early attempt was, apparently, unpleasant for both her and my sister), she had each one individually, so she was pregnant to term 11 times and had one miscarriage (I think).

    Anyway, when I was in High School and people would meet this petit 5’4″ woman who weighed between 110 and 125 pounds, they always said the same thing: “You have ELEVEN children?”

    I guess they thought she was supposed to be huge or something. All I know is, have eleven children and between cooking for them, cleaning the house (and four bathrooms) every day, doing about six loads of laundry and chasing them around and who has time to worry about exercise.

    My parents didn’t even consummate their marriage on their wedding night. Instead, my Dad (the Catholic, my Mom was a protestant convert) “offered it up,” as my Mom said.

    From the outset, my Dad included God in their marriage. My Mom joined him and they remained so devoted to each other for 44 years.

    I still remember my first visit to my Mom’s house after Dad died. I walked into the house and there were pictures of him EVERYWHERE: on the fridge, on the ledge over the sink, on the coffee table pointing in all directions.

    My brother called it Mom’s shrine to Dad. He thought there was something fundamentally wrong with it, I think – something perhaps maudlin about it. After a day or two, I got up the courage to ask, “So Mom, what’s with all the pictures of Dad?”

    She looked at me and the depth of her loss really hit me. “I’m afraid I’ll forget what he looked like.” She didn’t care that he was a little overweight, or that he had grown old and wrinkled with thinning hair that was mostly gray. She only cared about his face – because she loved him completely and totally.

    Sex wasn’t what mattered to them, although we all know they had sex. What mattered was the person.

    Good sex doesn’t bring love. Love brings good sex – and neither appearance nor youth can change that.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Great post, as usual! Thanks, Jen!

    I am a 50 year old Catholic woman. I can tell you this post made a lot of sense to me at my age.

    When all you are is what you look like, what happens to us “old” ladies? Most of us cannot look like what we did 30 years ago even at our best. Should you just put us out to pasture? Are we no longer valuable b/c we are not the youngest and prettiest?

    Our culture tells us we are a been at 50.

    Praise God for His infinite wisdom!

    • Wsquared says:

      I hear you. I’m a little younger, but I do think not only about God, but our society’s values, what passes for “valuing women” these days, and the way I want to age.

      I don’t fear being seen as a has-been at fifty, and that’s not because I see myself as particularly young and pretty. But I am content with the way God made me, and I feel immensely grateful being able to look in the mirror and smile– genuinely smile– with love at the way He made me. That said, that realization did indeed take me a while.

      It’s why when I look at a culture that makes “old” ladies feel less valuable, less beautiful (because they’re not as “pretty” and “young” anymore), and that they should be “put out to pasture,” I feel awful for them. Certainly not because I am scared that I’ll “end up that way” (I’ve long thought about how I’d like to age with grace, and it does not involve frantically trying to look like what I did when I was younger– I just want peace, tranquility, prayer, and to be surrounded by beauty in books, plants, people, art, service, and music). But because I can’t stand to see *any* woman treated that way or value/devalue herself that way.

    • Wsquared says:

      And I forgot to add: indeed, seconded on “praise God for His infinite wisdom.”

      Because to God, we are always somebody. In the wise words of Pope Benedict XVI: “each one of us comes from a thought of God: each one of us is loved, each one of us has value, each one of us is necessary.” And indeed, God loved us first– long before any other human being, or certainly culture, ever thought to condescend to do so.

      It does, therefore, make the words of Dostoevsky weigh even more heavily on my mind: “if God does not exist, is not all permissible?”

      Including, therefore, the ability of a popular culture driven by marketability to determine the value of not only things, but people?

  14. mrsdarwin says:

    I don’t know women should be concerned about the effects of nursing on their bodies. Believe me, as someone who’s just weaned a baby, I’m seriously missing the calorie-burning effect of nursing. When else can you burn fat by sitting still?

  15. SteveG says:

    Yofed,
    However, I’m not totally against birth control to space out pregnancies… what do YOU think about it?

    Without knowing if you are Catholic or Protestant, it’s difficult to know where to start as to how to answer that, but there are some general things that I think can be said in any event.

    First, it’s probably worth mentioning that until about 1930 when the Anglican Church opened the door to allow contraception in very limited case, this was something that all of Christendom nearly unanimously condemned as immoral. It didn’t take long after that opening before nearly all of Christendom followed suit. It is not an exaggeration to say that acceptance of contraception in Christendom is a modern break with historical orthodox Christian teaching.

    For most of us here who are Catholic, the issue arises in that Catholicism alone continues to proclaim contraception as immoral. Even at that, the VAST majority of those calling themselves Catholic don’t follow this teaching.

    Anyway, the basic problem that many of us see (and indeed that the Church fundamentally points out) is that sex as designed by God has two chief purposes that are for our, and the world’s, benefit.

    The first purpose is its life giving nature (procreative), and the second is the bonding between spouses (unitive). In order for sex to be engaged in as the creator intended, those two fundamental purposes must be kept in view and no ‘violence’ can be done to them with out doing some damage to ourselves and/or our spouse.

    Jen touches on it in her post, but the problem is that sex is so amazingly powerful that when we intentionally inhibit one of those purposes (procreative) with contraception, human beings ‘tend’ to far to easily substitute for it the purpose of fulfilling their desire for pleasure.

    The problem is that while pleasure is obviously intended to be an important part of the sexual act, it’s designed to be a motivator to engage in sex, in order to achieve the two purposes I mentioned (i.e. babies and bonding are good things and God builds sex to motivate us to achieve them). When you substitute a motivator as an end purpose, it tends to cause problems.

    When one takes away the ‘danger’ of pregnancy, one can begin to hide the obvious natural power and beauty of the act. When those things are hidden, it is far too easy to begin to take the act for granted. Too often when we take the act for granted, we begin to take the other person in the act for granted and can far too easily slide into objectifying that person as a means to the end of satisfying our desire for pleasure.

    I am trying here to speak generically and figuratively. I am not saying that all contraception couples immediately and automatically begin objectifying each other. But this is the tendency of human beings when we begin using things in ways that are not in keeping with the reality of our nature.

    I am also not suggesting that every single act of sex must be explicitly for the purpose of getting pregnant. God designed women’s bodies so that for most of each cycle they are not fertile, so that obviously isn’t the intent. We can forego intercourse during the fertile times if we need to avoid pregnancy for a time; however what we should be wary of is trying to have our cake and eat it too by engaging in practices that by there very nature change the act itself (i.e. contraception).

  16. Tienne says:

    Jen, as always, you leave me amazed with your uncanny knack of posting on exactly the subjects I’m reflecting on in my own life. You expressed your sentiments beautifully in this post, and I’m going to link it to my friends, if you don’t mind. There’s much more to a woman than being “sexy.” I want to be healthy and attractive, but I’d much rather walk down the street and have people think “Wow, she looks really happy” than “Wow, she looks really hot.”

  17. Kate says:

    Jen,

    Great post. I remember how, during my pregnancy, I wrote a post about some of the discomforts I was experiencing and the way my body was being marked and changed by it. A combative pro-choice commentator took that as a launching pad to attack my pro-life stand: “how can you tell a woman she should put up with those changes bearing an unwanted baby if even you admit it’s uncomfortable and causes permanent changes.” Etc. etc. I was quick to point out that few things are as permanent as death, and in this case better some sacrifice and discomfort so a baby can live than sacrifice a baby for your comfort.

    Steve : what a fantastically clear explanation of the purposes of sex and dangers of contraception!

  18. yofed says:

    Hi Steveg,

    To answer your question, I am (technically), catholic, although some of my beliefs diverge from the teachings of the catholic church (I’m back after a long absence, if I can say).

    My dilemma about birth control is that there is a few situations when I feel it is not all wrong to do so, such as manking sure babies are not too close together (especially after a diffucult pregnancy/birth), or like in my case, to wait until the circumstances are more favourable (getting pregnant in the next year would put us in a very difficult position, financially and other, but it would not be as bad if we wait a little).

    An other thing is that after my last pregnancy, my hisband told be he didn’t want any more children and would undergo a vasectomy, while I definitely want more children… so less invasive forms of birthcontrol leave me time to convince him. I see it as being the lesser of two evils in that situation…

  19. Radical Catholic Mom says:

    Jen-Awesome post.

    Yofed: Welcome back to the Church!

    I sympathize with your reasons for delaying another child. Are you aware that the Church does allow couples to use Natural Family Planning? Those who are unfamiliar with NFP usually dismiss it as completely unreliable and ineffective, but if you can call your local Church I am sure they would be able to direct you to a class.

    I am not sure which b.c. methods you are using but I assume you are aware that ALL hormonal contraceptives have abortafacient tendencies? For me this was one of the major factors in my own conversion from a pro-birth control mentality to a NFP mentality. As a pro-life person I could not use anything that would abort any children I might conceive. That left me with other birth control methods that were so ineffective I figured I might as well use a method that didn’t have to guess and do a hit and miss approach. Little did I know that NFP would change my life, like Jen points out it did for her.

    Also, I will chime in with the others about HumanaeVitae. It is an awesome document and I recommend it.

  20. Kate says:

    yofed,

    Do you know much at all about Natural Family Planning? NFP is sanctioned by the church for exactly the kinds of situations you are talking about – times when, for health or financial reasons, you have discerned a need to postpone the next child. As Steve noted, a woman is only fertile for a few days a month. NFP is the practice of observing the signs of fertility to identify those days.

    I needed time to recover from an injury after my first child, and our financial circumstances weren’t very good. We have been using NFP to avoid conception for 2 years. Now our circumstances have improved somewhat and we are tracking fertility for a different reason. ;-)

    There are several organisations that teach NFP, including Creighton, Billings, and the Couple to Couple League. A quick websearch will show you their pages, and most of them list teacher-couples by area. I’m sure there is someone where you are.

    I’m sure others here have their own NFP stories and recomendations. I just wanted to let you know that the Church does not expect Catholics to have babies non stop regardless of circumstances, that NFP is a legitimate and effective way to space children, and that it is not the ‘rhythm method’ which has been ridiculed for so many years.

    You can email me if you have any questions: ceitagh@hotmail.com

  21. yofed says:

    lol… I got pregnant with baby #2 with NFP… we’re going to try it again, but with him actually sleeping in an other room (he is a sleep walker and I am a deep sleeper, which calls for trouble! lol)

    But thank you all for the advice, I’ll keep that in mind!

  22. Kate says:

    yofed,

    oh my. Perhaps what you need is one of these: http://members.aol.com/lupinaccim/chastitybelt.jpg

    ;-)

  23. lyrl says:

    yofed – I have found that women practice NFP much more effectively if they have support. Have you ever been by the Ovusoft community? They have an amazing message board system where lots of women with years of experience, and experience in all kinds of different situations participate. It’s not a religious community, and many women there do use other forms of family planning instead of or in addition to the fertility tracking, but it is a superb resource. The “avoiding pregnancy” message board is at http://forums.ovusoft.com/tt.asp?appid=20

    To comment on Jen’s post – I think she’s hit on an important aspect of the huge image complex our society gives so many women. But it’s possible to go too far in the other direction also – the “classically feminine” figure is an image of fertility – young (no menopausal women in that art!), bosomy, wide hips. Many beautiful pieces of art picture women with infants and toddlers at their side – wonderful pictures, but when that is the only way women are valued it can cause problems, just as Jen has explored the problems caused by viewing women as only sex objects. Several centuries ago, women were widely viewed as property acquired for the sole purpose of providing the man with sons. Women who were infertile were believed by many to worthless as women. Women who remained single were to be pitied.

    Even in the early 1900s, there are documents describing women who believed procreation was the only moral purpose for sex – get married, have intercourse until pregnancy, abstain throughout the entire pregnancy, abstain during breastfeeding. Resume relations until pregnancy occurs, begin abstinence again, repeat. The Catholic teachings celebrating the dual nature of marital relations originated in the twentieth century. I don’t believe any historical society has held the modern Catholic view of sexuality. As interesting as Catholic arguments of “artificial contraception harms society” are – it’s difficult for me to be convinced when there are no NFP-using societies to compare it to. Not even the early types of Rhythm Method St. Augustine wrote about in the fourth century…observe as much as possible the time when a woman, after her purification, is most likely to conceive, and to abstain from cohabitation at that time… – that Church fathers knew of these systems, but they disappeared from use until secularists in the nineteenth century rediscovered them, makes me suspect even periodic abstinence was actively discouraged by the early Church.

  24. Kate says:

    lyrl,

    Hmmm…interesting claims. Although the formulation of the dual purposes has evolved in the 20th century, marriage ceremonies in the western church have always listed not two, but three ends of marriage and sex: procreation, chastity (relief from concupiscence) and companionship.

    St. John Chrysostem, for one, celebrated the marital act as holy even if no child came from it: “How do husband and wife become one flesh? As if she were gold receiving the purest gold, the woman receives the man’s seed with rich pleasure, and within her it is nourished, cherished, and refined. It is mingled with her own substance and returned as a child. But suppose there is no child; do they then remain two and not one? No; their intercourse effects the joining of their bodies, and they are made one, just as when perfume is mixed with ointment.”

    Yes, other Church fathers wrote silly things about pleasure in sex being sinful and so on. St. Augustine, whom you quote, suffered from a great distrust of the body (he’s the one who thought music should be eliminated from the liturgy because it was too beautiful and thus distracting). Considering his struggles with lust, I suppose his comments on sex are a little like a recovering alcaholics take on “the demon drink,” and about as conflicted.

    But periodic abstinence – for prayer and recollection – was advocated in the early church. And breastfeeding was downright glorified by Church Fathers, in societies where extended breastfeeding was the norm for everyone but the upper crust. That sort of extended breastfeeding is a natural child spacer.

    Perhaps the reason there is not much mention of rhythm in the intervening centuries is not because of official disapproval (which aside from that one Augustine quote, we have no proof of), but because 1) these are men writing, and 2)its not very reliable and thus not likely to catch on? The modern interest and discussion of nfp and its morality, etc, emerged alongside greater interest and study of women’s cycles and inner anatomy.

    Steve, others, anything to add?

  25. SteveG says:

    Lyrl:
    I think you might be painting with too broad a brush in some places. I think it’s also possible that you might be neglecting to account for different sensibilities between cultures influenced by Protestant thinking vs. those formed by Catholic.

    Several centuries ago, women were widely viewed as property acquired for the sole purpose of providing the man with sons. Women who were infertile were believed by many to worthless as women.

    Where are we talking about in this statement? America only? Western Europe? I’d like to see some context on this to see how well it holds up beyond the most narrow of puritanically influenced cultures of that period.

    Women who remained single were to be pitied.

    What about in Catholic cultures where choosing a religious vocation was highly honored?

    Even in the early 1900s, there are documents describing women who believed procreation was the only moral purpose for sex – get married, have intercourse until pregnancy, abstain throughout the entire pregnancy, abstain during breastfeeding.

    I’ve had discussion with others folks who’ve offered similar accounts, and when we pressed in on them a bit, it turned out that again they were mostly rooted in the puritanically influenced American culture of the time, and not so much in more Catholicized societies.

    The documents I’d seen referenced were almost solely from that cultural milieu rather than place like Spain, Italy, France, etc. where Catholic culture was more dominant.

    The Catholic teachings celebrating the dual nature of marital relations originated in the twentieth century.

    No doubt the Church and all Christianity has battled a Manichean spirit throughout history that has often led them to err on the side of ‘caution’, but the dual nature of the understanding of marriage most certainly did not originate in the twentieth Century.

    Kate’s already given a bit of that, but we really need look no further than the words of scripture to see where the understanding originated.

    It starts in Genesis and carries in fits and starts all the way throughout. We see it clearly in the words of Jesus, and even into the much maligned St. Paul.

    I could give you example after example of the discussion of the one flesh union of husband and wife that demonstrates the unitive ends of marriage and have always enlightened Catholic understanding.

    Certainly it’s found a fuller explanation in modern times, but the understanding is nothing ‘new’ as such.

    but they disappeared from use until secularists in the nineteenth century rediscovered them.

    I am not sure this is intentional, but you seem to be badly understating the profound effect that the catholic scientific/medical community has had in being a driving force behind NFP and the science of understanding female fertility.

    It was a German priest (Rev. Wilhelm Hillebrand) in the 1930’s, working with women in his parish, who pioneered the basal body temperature aspect of NFP. Likewise, in the 1950’s it was Dr. Billings (a Catholic Neurologist who had been asked to help define a better system than rhythm) who systematized the use of the mucus sign in determining fertility. And need I say anything about the work the Kippley’s have done? And this continues today with folks like Dr. Hilgers and the Pope Paul the VI institute.

    I am not suggesting that Catholics alone are responsible for the science involved, but NFP as it is known today is almost entirely a Catholic (not a secular) endeavor.

    • Wsquared says:

      SteveG, thank you for your thoughtful reply, because as someone who has recently begun to study the Enlightenment, and as someone who is also a Catholic revert, I’ve begun to have the same questions as you about cultures that are influenced by Protestantism and cultures that are influenced by Catholicism.

      …especially the part about women being seen as property. Indeed, the part in the book of Genesis, with Adam and Eve being turfed from the garden of Eden due to sin, whereby part of the price of that sin is that the husband shall rule over the wife (quite a contrast from a proper reading of Ephesians 5).

  26. lyrl says:

    I believe the symptoms-based methods are entirely the work of twentieth-century Catholics – the feminist “fertility awareness” did not originate until the 1980s. The first standardized calendar-based method (Knaus-Ogino) was published in 1930 by a Catholic physician. However – the nineteenth century emergence and promotion of “safe period” methods of family planning was a secular development.

    I think it is reasonable to take the Augustine document as talking about a group of people trying to avoid children entirely, not commenting on use of such a method to space children – but I find it interesting that such a method existed, influential members of the Catholic Church knew of it, and then it disappeared.

    Effectiveness? It was probably just as effective as other family planning methods available at the time (lemon half cervical cap, anyone?) Low effectiveness rates didn’t prevent condemnation of available artificial methods, and apparently they caught on enough for the Church to have to actively campaign against them. Why would it prevent promotion of the only available form of NFP?

    I believe the writings of men such as Jovinian and St. John Chrysostome were the minority position in the early Catholic Church; the majority position was that expressed by Sts. Augustine and Jerome (this source says such views as an “exaggerated value of virginity” “prevailed almost unchecked till the sixteenth century”), and at the Council of Trent (“If any one saith, that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema.)

    Steve is correct that the early 1900s “for procreation only” writings were probably Protestant – but I do not believe this view was historically confined to Protestantism. From Marilyn Yalom’s A History of the Wife, chapter entitled “Wives in Medieval Europe, 1100-1500″, “According to Christian doctrine, spouses were supposed to copulate only for the benefit of procreation…. Wives, especially, were admonished to avoid enjoying themselves.” I believe a societal view of women as beings whose only purpose was to produce and raise children can be just as harmful as the modern trend of viewing them as beings whose only purpose is to be sexy.

    Reading back through that chapter (and also the insightful knowledge of Kate and Steve), my comment on singleness not being valued in Catholic societies was way off the mark. Nevertheless, I am unaware of any historical society that has balanced the “sexy” and procreative aspects of femininity as the modern teachings of the Catholic Church advocate. As interesting as I find their arguments to be, lacking such a society to compare ours to, I am not convinced that contraception is the main cause of all the issues Catholic sources blame it for.

  27. Kate says:

    Lyrl,

    I will just gently remind you that we don’t have any sinless societies to compare ours too either, yet we can be quite certain that sin is the source of many evils. ;-)

    Or to turn that argument around, we have no examples of perfectly egalitarian society, so should we cease to speculate on the value of such a society?

    So on and so forth for just society, democratic society, etc. etc.

    You would do better to try comparing and contrasting the family lives of non-contracepting and contracepting couples. But pardon me if your argument seems downright silly and irrelevant to the question of the relative merits and pitfalls of ABC and NFP.

  28. SteveG says:

    Lyrl:
    I am for the most part with Kate on this. You’ve proffered this twice now…

    As interesting as I find their arguments to be, lacking such a society to compare ours to, I am not convinced that contraception is the main cause of all the issues Catholic sources blame it for

    …and it’s really struck me as odd both times. I am honestly having a hard time making sense of it. Could you clarify a bit?

    As it stands right now, the lack of such a society as a reason to dismiss the contentions being made does in fact seem rather irrelevant.

    If that’s your personal grounds for being convinced, fair enough, you have every right to set the bar wherever you want, but it just doesn’t seem sensible to me (I don’t mean that to be inflammatory, just looking to see if it can be made sensible).

    As for the valuation of Virginity, the exaggeration may be true, but really not in the sense of overvaluing it, but in neglecting to proclaim the goodness of marriage alongside it (I think that a historically fair criticism on the whole).

    However, even in JPII’s theology of the body, which boldly and loudly proclaims the profound goodness of the marital act, consecrated virginity continues to be held up as something higher. It’s not really an either or, it’s a both/and. Marriage and the marital act is proclaimed as being a great good, while the consecrated life of celibacy is proclaimed as an even greater good. In modern times, the change in emphasis of being more positive in the language used to talk about the marital act is not at the expense of virginity.

    How can this be we might ask? Well, in order to get a sense of it, one must first realize the Catholic understanding that we are most fully human when we make a gift of ourselves to the ‘other’. In the marital embrace, this great good is achieved, and beautifully so. We (ideally) engage in it in the spirit of making ourselves a gift to one another. But the celibate person is not necessarily lacking that profound reality of self gift.

    Virginity in this sense is not the lack of sex; it is another form of gift. It is the gift of the whole self, including one’s sexuality, to God. Such an unfettered gift to God of the whole self is indeed ‘higher’ (for lack of a better term) than the marital state/act, but the former needs not (as it sometimes has in the past) denigrate the latter. That’s really the fundamental change in how the church talks about sexuality that has occurred.

  29. lyrl says:

    On the comment Steve asked about – I think I was trying to make sense of how I got onto these topics while responding to Jen’s post. It’s mainly a complaint about lack of data on characteristics of NFP-using couples and larger networks of such couples (as Kate pointed out, demanding a uniform society is really unreasonable). Reading that over again, I agree it doesn’t make sense, and also doesn’t provide the context I was hoping for.

    I’m aware of a few studies showing a correlation of use of symptothermal methods with lower divorce rates, but nothing else – how, in comparison to the national average, they rate they happiness, how their average health is, how many of their adult children identify with the faith they were raised in, etc. Is anyone else aware of such studies?

    I would be particularly excited if anyone had done (or will do in the near future) any sort of randomized trial. Maybe not randomized to a method (that would be more difficult to recruit/retain participants, I think), but to receive either NFP classes or an educational class in ABC?

    I find it interesting that the Catholic Church still considers celibacy a higher calling than marriage. I have only managed to slog through a small portion of the Theology of the Body lectures, but what I have read (such as this) seem to me to present the two options as equal, though some people are more suited to one lifestyle or the other. I would be interested if anyone knows of particular lectures, or other recent theological documents, that more clearly explain celibacy as a higher calling.

    Back on the topic of femininity – thinking about it more, are “sexyness” and motherhood the only defining aspects of femininity? Is an infertile unattractive woman feminine? Or a nun? I can’t easily articulate other major aspects of femininity, and it might be easier just to say that everyone is equally valuable as a person to avoid denigrating those women who are neither mothers nor highly attractive. But I don’t know that that is the “right” response. I would be interested if others had thoughts on this (and many thanks in advance to anyone who is still reading the comments to posts this old – I didn’t start out intending to drag things on like this!)

    • Wsquared says:

      I find it interesting that the Catholic Church still considers celibacy a higher calling than marriage.

      No, she does not. That understanding is not only inaccurate, but incorrect.

      Celibacy is a calling, and not everyone is called to it. But it is nonetheless, as St. Paul tells us, a worthy and noble one. That does not imply that it is either more than or less than marriage. Marriage is but another state that a person may be called to.

      • Pamela says:

        Actually, if you don’t mind me answering this several months after it was originally posted, I can try to clarify the “celibacy is a higher calling” question.

        It is indeed the higher calling, because it embraces as reality what marriage images to us. Marriage is not just some earthly thing – it is a sacrament, and a sacrament as we know is a visible sign of an invisible reality, instituted by Christ to impart grace. The sign of baptism is water and it images the cleansing action of the Holy Spirit. The sign of confession is the priest’s words of absolution that tell our senses what our soul is experiencing – the forgiveness of God.

        So what is the sign in marriage? The sign is the couple, and they image God’s love. They are an image of love to their children, their family, and their friends, but most importantly they are an image of God’s love for each other – a love that is total, free, fruitful, and permanent. So earthly marriage points us to God, and tells us something about God’s relationship with His Bride the Church. Marriage has no inherent meaning if it does not do so. It helps us understand how good God’s love for us is, because we understand how good our spouse’s love for us is.

        But in Heaven, we won’t need the sign anymore, because we will have the reality in front of us. We won’t need our spouse to be a sign of God’s love, because we will encounter God’s love in actuality. This is why Jesus tells us that the children of God do not give each other in marriage in Heaven – we will still be in relationship with each other, but not in a sacramental sense anymore.

        Celibacy is a foregoing of the earthly good of marriage to cleave to the heavenly reality – rather than take on a spouse as a sign of God’s love, they bind themself directly to God and so show us what marriage is ultimately pointing to. They live out in their earthly lives what we will live out in our heavenly ones.

        So marriage is a great good, but celibacy is even more so because it forgoes the sign for the reality.

        Hopefully, that helps you out!

  30. Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin says:

    Lyrl,

    from what I see, the intent of the original post was to demonstrate that our society unreasonably values the cover girl, the beauty queen, and the centerfold, while unreasonably denigrating women who are built for fertility and/or have been changed by pregnancy.

    I consider myself most fortunate; my wife has gone from the former to the latter, but I still find her the most attractive woman on earth.

  31. Tertium Quid says:

    Your body is a gift from God, and sanctification is a process one follows through his body. We can lie in bed praying to God, and that is a good thing to do, but ultimately we must live out our own salvation through the works of our bodies and hands: acts of mercy, construction of good works, care for others, tilling the earth, stewardship of our gifts, heroic sacrifices, and doing “little things with great love.”

    Most radical for the postmodern world is the Catholic view that our bodies do not belong to ourselves. One can give away his own body under the laws of God no more rightfully than he can give away his neighbor’s house. (Yes, I know that possession is 9/10 of the law.) Our bodies belong to God for his service; they are vehicles of God’s grace and Real Presence. Just as Jesus is Present in the Eucharistic Species and in the person of the priest while saying Mass or hearing Confessions, Jesus is Present in our bodies when we serve others, in particular, in the sacrament of Marriage. Marriage is how the average layperson takes on the Real Presence of Jesus in loving others through heroic and sacrificial love and in the creative act of having children.

  32. Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) says:

    What this makes me think of something my mom was talking about, concerning a types of prayer-based counseling or something she’s just started reading about.

    The methodology emphasizes that we act based on our beliefs, not on what we know/think. Counseling can give us new thoughts or ideas, but until we actually *believe* them our behavior won’t change.

    What went through my mind as I read your swimsuit story was, What a lovely example of something moving from thought to belief.

    Most women today can recite the importance of living in the body you have, but fewer believe that enough to actually do it. I find it lovely that a shifted view of the body’s function could facilitate this.

    [and, unrelated, but congrats on the agent :o)! ]

  33. ernie says:

    My problem is that Humanae Vitae is internally inconsistent. I understand the teaching that the unitive aspect and the procrative aspect of the sexual act should not be sperated. As a devout Catholic, I respect that teaching. But then, Paul says that natural family planning is permissible. That method seperates the unitive and procreative aspects of sex as certainly as a condom. Therefore, if natural family planning is allowed, why not condoms?

    Which leads me to my second problem with Humanae Vitae. It is used to justify the denial of funding to medical programs that distribute condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS and other STD’s. Those diseases kill people. Lots of people. By denying protection against these diseases, the Church itself shares in the responsibility for these deaths.

    Because of my Catholicism, I strongly support a consistent ethic of life – from “womb to tomb” as the good Cardinal said. Condoms protect human life. As a matter of fact, they prevent abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies. I must, therefore, because (and not in spite of) my Catholic faith, reject the teaching of Humanae Vitae.

    • Wsquared says:

      But then, Paul says that natural family planning is permissible. That method seperates the unitive and procreative aspects of sex as certainly as a condom. Therefore, if natural family planning is allowed, why not condoms?

      Well, NFP can be used with a contraceptive mentality, certainly. But here again, God gives us the gift of free will. Whereas we can choose to be open to life with NFP– which means team work, discipline, and clear communication between husband and wife, and of course trust in God.

      We don’t have that flexibility with a condom. NFP can be used to space pregnancies, certainly, AND a couple can use it to get pregnant, and not just to delay pregnancy if necessary (after all the Church does not teach that “God will provide” means abject irresponsibility on our part and then “leaving God to sort it out.” That’s where both reason and free will come in. They have to work in tandem with faith). A condom immediately says, “nope, don’t wanna get pregnant”; no other way to interpret it.

      It is used to justify the denial of funding to medical programs that distribute condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS and other STD’s. Those diseases kill people. Lots of people. By denying protection against these diseases, the Church itself shares in the responsibility for these deaths.

      I would refer you to what the Pope really says about condoms in Light of the World. The Church’s teaching about condoms and AIDS notwithstanding, condoms are available to people who are going to procure and use them anyway. Of all those years of advocating condoms, the spread of AIDS and STDs have not gone down. The point being that if people think they can have sex without consequences, then they engage in more risky behavior. Furthermore, all methods of artificial birth control have a built-in failure rate. Which means that somewhere down the line, with constant use of a condom, one of them is going to fail.

      Tell me: while sex is definitely a part of human life, does that mean that we ought to be driven by it? Again, hard questions. Again, there’s that little thing called free will: just because we can, does that mean that we should?

      I wouldn’t be so quick to toss the likes of Humanae Vitae into the “dustbin of history,” therefore.

  34. Mary says:

    Two things I was wondering whether you had commented on anywhere:

    1) What about hormonal contraception used to treat a painful medical condition? For years I suffered from a time of month so painful that I literally was unable to do anything but lie down for several days, despite heavy duty prescription painkillers. Taking the pill changed my life. I was lucky enough to be able to come off it after a year or so without (so far) a return of the most severe symptoms. So is it a question of motivation?
    2) What about couples who are infertile? There’s not exactly a procreative aspect to sex in some cases…

  35. MaryLouise says:

    WOW, well, I was going to comment on your great "Contraception and a woman's self-image" post. Others did.
    As a new reader I was unaware of the history so I read all your links. I want to comment on the genitic blood thickness problem.
    A friend of mine (65yrs old) has the problem. She takes Coumadin (sp.)
    Her father died of a heart attack at 42, brought on by the same. she has had DLT, too, even on meds.

    To answer some of your questions re:Catholism, NFO, babies, etc.
    It requires disipline (NFP) and trust. You probable really need to take the meds. I suggest the simplest and least expensive meds.
    You and you husband need to be a litle conservative with choice intimate days, study the information available from many NFP programs and trust God.
    Trust God to protect any more children His graces you with.
    And continue to be a wonderful example, a women of grace for your family and all of us out here, your brothers and sisters, in the Church and the world.
    God Bless, MaryLouise

  36. Anonymous says:

    To choose a religion like the Catholic Church is to study and learn all about its teachings. Remember our religion (the catholic religion is not a cream puff religion, but a religion of Christ Crucified. It is not the Church who teaches that Birth Control is a mortal sin, that comes from the sixth and ninth commandment. The marriage act must always be open to conception of a child. There is pleasure in the marriage act, but you cannot use birth control. God said multiply upon the earth.

  37. CatholicMom says:

    I have heard of those couples who use birth control and still have unexpected pregnancies. As a Catholic wife, the only time I've gotten pregnant is when we wanted a baby or if we had relations on a "risk day". And not every risk day resulted in pregnancy. Risk days are those days you may be fertile depending on your cycle. It is good to understand your own cycle as a woman (I think). I use the cervical method, by the way, not the temperature method to chart my cycle.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this, I think the wider impact of contraception on women is such a neglected subject and one which I have come to fully understand only since my husband and I have agreed (following the birth of our 3rd child) to remain open to life, and restrict our "contraception" to NFP, despite not "planning" a larger family.

    Although earlier in my marriage I may not have seen this, now although I do not feel for one second that I should only have intercouse to get pregnant (as some women were taught in the past) I do fully accept that to have intercourse without being “open to life” is unquestionably wrong.

    Furthermore I believe that the increasing use of contraception is a major force in undermining femininity and I'm sure ultimately de-valuing women.

    Until around 40 years ago the link between sexual intercourse and procreation was a fundimental of life and I believe we were made "feminine" to help us find a partner, make marriage work and give a secure home to our children, based in this biological fact.

    As a result sex was largely confined within marriage and the "feminine virtues" of modesty, feminine dress, purity (before) and submission and chastity (within) marriage were valued and respected by both sexes.

    That has not changed, but now because of widespread "easy" contraception we are encouraged to throw off the “restrictions” of our femininity. We are made to feel guilty, inadequate and stupid, if they don’t choose to behave like men, have casual sex, delay motherhood and artificially restrict the size of our families.

    What's worse "Female contraception" especially the pill
    places all of the responsibility on the woman (largely for the benefit of promiscuous men) so at the most intimate level we are asked to be in self denial of our innate nature and purpose.

    We were made feminine to a well ordered plan and if we behave virtuously and embrace our femininity we should have no fear of pregnancy. To use contraception (except in exceptional circumstances) to cheapen and devalue ourselves.

  39. TaraS says:

    Wow. My husband and I have just made the decision to stop using hormonal birth control, and I have to say that your posts on birth control and pro-life thoughts had a lot to do with the beginning of my change of heart. We are probably going to go with the Billings Ovulation Method, and I am really excited about it on many levels, but the weirdest thing that I found was regarding my body image. I grew up in a pretty "spiritual but secular" mindset, and never put any stock in virginity (provided a person waited until they felt they were ready). Anyway, a few days after I tossed the Nuvaring, I noticed that I was feeling a familiar positive and comfortable feeling about my body that I hadn't felt since….I was a virgin. How weird is that? I never would have thought that living out that contraceptive mindset was doing anything to how I felt about myself and my body, and yet the familiarity of relating positively to my body was unmistakeable.

  40. Anonymous says:

    I’m not surprised at all, I commented above (Nov 30) because I think the title of this article goes to the heart of a big problem which we tend to ignore. The health issues are constantly restated and I think most interested women are now pretty well up on the abortive nature of hormonal contraceptives, but I don’t think nearly enough attention is given to the damage contraception causes to individual woman themselves, especially now that most couples rely on female hormonal methods and to the whole position of women in society.

    At a basic biological level, pregnancy / motherhood require the support of a committed mate for survival and we were designed to balance our need to breed with the need to ensure that we only do so in the right circumstances. I believe this remains innate in our nature and it is God’s gift to us to provide (through the Church) a model of morality to which we can aspire and the combination of dress, behavior and outlook we call femininity to help us. This glorifies purity before marriage and physical intimacy within it as a prelude to procreation, essentially we are intended to be virgins and then wives and then potential mothers. Like it or not (feminists) it is this which defines our sexuality, we were not intended to regard sex a recreation or assault our bodies with chemicals and change the way we function so that we can do so. It’s therefore no surprise that we feel impoverished when we do, or that men treat us with increasingly less respect.

    Maybe that’s why giving up contraception has been such a boost to your self-image – Tara. I guess that the two states, virginity and being open to life in marriage are more similar than we might guess, perhaps they are what God intends for us at the appropriate time in our lives !

  41. Anonymous says:

    I'm not Catholic but I do believe that for a woman to have sex and enjoy it without guilt it must always be 'open to life' .

  42. Anonymous says:

    Wow, you have totally explained why sex with my husband is so damn sexy. Nothing sexier than the prospect of making a baby.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for a great sentiment. I have never used contraception. But after 6 years of marriage 3 children and two miss carriages we did seriously consider it. It was blogs like this which helped convince my husband we should not go further down that road than using nfp.

  44. Anonymous says:

    I read this post just before Valentine's Day, and it was right in the middle of my cycle, a risky day. Well, this post was the best I'd ever seen to explain why real sex is so sexy. This quote in particular was great:

    "the ultimate way of showing your spouse devotion and unconditional love: to implicitly say with every sexual act, "It's OK with me if we should create a life together with this act." What's more romantic than that?"

    And now I'm expecting a Novemeber baby!

  45. barefoot and married says:

    Wow! Thank-you so much for your post. My husband and I have been married for about 6 months and currently use birth control, but undeniably feel conflicted about it.

    Thank-you for this perspective. i will definitely think a lot about it.

  46. Buildings are not cheap and not everyone can buy it. Nevertheless, personal loans are invented to aid different people in such cases.

  47. Kristine says:

    I had a reversion a few years ago, and I decided to take a leap of faith and trust the Church’s teaching on contraception. It’s amazing how much wisdom God gave me in this area simply from trusting His Church. Our society would be soooo much better if more people were open to life!

  48. Ellen says:

    I read your blog, and I came across this post in the sidebar. I’m sure it’s been around for awhile, but I hadn’t read it before.

    I’m expecting my third child, and I’m decidedly stretched out and tired and everything is far saggier than it was a few years ago. =) I am also a Protestant who believes that children are a huge and wonderful blessing from the Lord… and that non-abortive birth control and limiting family size are completely permissible.

    I agree with your assessment of the shallowness of American culture when it comes to women’s bodies… but I don’t think that it’s as simple as a “contraceptive culture” creating it. A culture that doesn’t value family and children enough created this… and that is not limited to a particular view of the appropriateness of various types of birth control. There are so many of us who feel completely ok with limiting our family size who greatly value our children and families, and we’re willing to pay the price of youthful beauty for those children just like you are.

    Being young and selfish makes a lot of women value their tight bodies over pregnancy because they lack the imagination and wisdom to see how much richer having a children is than perfect thighs. This is a problem whether you’re Protestant or Catholic…

    I think you are coming at this issue from an angle that is simply too narrow and shows a flawed view of Christian theology that is different from your own… and you really don’t have to.

  49. Ellen says:

    I read your blog, and I came across this post in the sidebar. I’m sure it’s been around for awhile, but I hadn’t read it before.

    I’m expecting my third child, and I’m decidedly stretched out and tired and everything is far saggier than it was a few years ago. =) I am also a Protestant who believes that children are a huge and wonderful blessing from the Lord… and that non-abortive birth control and limiting family size are completely permissible.

    I agree with your assessment of the shallowness of American culture when it comes to women’s bodies… but I don’t think that it’s as simple as a “contraceptive culture” creating it. A culture that doesn’t value family and children enough created this… and that is not limited to a particular view of the appropriateness of various types of birth control. There are so many of us who feel completely ok with limiting our family size who greatly value our children and families, and we’re willing to pay the price of youthful beauty for those children just like you are.

    Being young and selfish makes a lot of women value their tight bodies over pregnancy because they lack the imagination and wisdom to see how much richer having children is than perfect thighs. This is a problem whether you’re Protestant or Catholic…

    I think you are coming at this issue from an angle that is simply too narrow and shows a flawed view of Christian theology that is different from your own… and you really don’t have to.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Ellen,
      I think it is wonderful that you are having your 3rd child, but I don’t think the author’s view is “too narrow” or “shows a flawed view of Christian theology.” I would be interested to know what the correct view of Christian theology is on contraception. Do you know that birth control was entirely condemned by every Christian denomination until 1930? So for over 1900 years since the birth of Christ, birth control in all forms was entirely condemned. If you look at the teachings of the “founders” of various Protestant faiths they didn’t just acquiesce they wrote very strongly worded arguments condemning birth control. I think your criticism shows a lack of knowledge about Christian teaching regarding this issue. Take a look at the teachings on Natural Family Planning. There are common misconceptions regarding this practice, but it is a great way to have some control over family size while remaining open to God’s plan.

      Here are some great sites for information:
      http://www.onemoresoul.com
      http://www.creightonmodel.com

  50. RCB says:

    I know this post is old, but I just learned about this blog after listening to you on the radio yesterday. I’m now going to bookmark this and send it to my family. You have wonderful posts
    I can relate with you – the same thing has happened to how I feel about myself and my body. I’m a catholic, although unfortunately not always a faithful one. Some of the teachings I’ve tried to ignore, not so much because I didn’t believe in it I think, but because it wasn’t what was convenient for me.
    Now that I am using NFP with my husband, my husband and I are so happy. I am so happy that the Church’s teaching do not change like fashion and as you said in the radio, it is consistent. It gives us a stable foundation. She is truly our mother, who needs love and support as well.

  51. Sarah says:

    I’m not Catholic and don’t typically agree with everything you say, but you are nice and thoughtful and have some interesting and valuable insights. I don’t agree entirely on the contraception issue, but you make some good points. I think it’s a lot like how we’re trying to separate calories from food. Food has messed with our body image and our desire to be thin and eat whatever we want in this fast food, crazy world. Anorexia, disordered eating, diet pills, surgery- they all try to detach the natural consequences of calories and fat (while still trying to get the benefits of nutrients) that are attached to food.

    I’ve always wondered- if just avoiding sex when fertile, isn’t that also trying to manipulate the system as much as say, a condom? I know it’s different because you are actually abstaining, but you still are trying to detach sex from pregnancy by knowing it’s unlikely you’ll get pregnant. With you all’s logic, you should really have sex whenever, as long as you’re willing to have a baby. It doesn’t seem much different in terms of trying to control the situation and God’s will. The only difference is this method was sanctioned by the church.

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  1. [...] been much more rigorously formulated by contemporary natural law moralists – see here, here, here and here for examples.) In any case, the point I wish to make here is that Aquinas’ [...]

  2. [...] been much more rigorously formulated by contemporary natural law moralists – see here, here, here and here for examples.) In any case, the point I wish to make here is that Aquinas’ [...]

  3. [...] High School Reports 115 Pregnant and New Mothers Out of 800 Students « JONATHAN TURLEY Contraception and a woman’s self-image | Conversion Diary Fucking Enemy’s Sister « Desi Tales – Indian Sex Stories James Sargent and Tracey [...]