Why We Use Birth Control (& Are Fruitful)

A couple of weeks back I wrote a post called Which Is A Better Ride, Condoms or Minivans? It was a response to the myriad of products out there, bumper stickers, t-shirts, bibs, that proclaim "condoms prevent minivans". In my post I conclusively and irrefutably proved that you want to be the sort of person who owns a minivan, and further, that such people have more fun. Lovers of life and love around the world enjoyed it, but the Catholics especially.

Many wondered how, if I believe that "tail with telos is better", I could justify using contraceptives at all. Well wondered, my friends, well wondered.

This is far from the first time my sexual teleology combined with our birth control practices have caused consternation and confusion. I used to be part of a theology discussion group that was about 1/3 evangelical types, 1/3 Reformed guys, and 1/3 Roman Catholics. The Reformed guys were a particularly prolific bunch, and had more kids than the Catholics. To be fair, they had also all started earlier than the Catholics. But the Reformed guys had all, in good conscience, used some form of birth control at some point, and this was discussed more than once.

My sister, a Catholic, is bottom left. Her husband and one daughter
are missing. We're currently winning, 5-4, but they've got momentum.
I'm going to do this in three parts. First, our personal experience with birth control. Second, what birth control is. Third, what marriage and sex are for.

Wifey and I had a difficult start to our marriage, difficulties which included sex.

There were many problems that we had to address in that first couple of years, but one was birth control. Nearly fourteen years ago, in our early twenties, we'd done very little thinking about it. We were Christians, so of course against abortifacents. Besides that, as far as we knew (I, the homeschooler) or been taught (she, the public schooler), all forms of birth control were equal and a matter of preference.

She started on the pill a few months (is that right?) before we got married.

As I mentioned, we had a rough start. Our home was not marked by peace, so it took a while for the effects the pills were having on Kimberly to come to light. A nurse friend mentioned to her that the pills could affect mood and emotion. Kimberly got headaches. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it was a revelation for us then. Kimberly went off the pill and she improved immediately.

Don't misunderstand me. The pills were not ruining our marriage. We were doing that on our own at the time. But they definitely were making things worse, harming Kimberly and consequently our home. If you have questions about the effects birth control pills can have on people, go use the googles. There's plenty out there.

When we decided to go off the pill, we had to look at all sorts of weird options. Neither one of us wanted to use condoms, so we moved forward from there. I don't remember much of those conversations, but I remember there were some pretty wacked out things out there. We didn't want hormonal interference (which we now believe is of the devil. Seriously.), and we didn't want condoms, so Kimberly's doctor was a little thrown. If you're not willing to interfere with the woman's hormones, and not willing to prevent the fertilized egg from implantation, you're pretty much left with barrier methods.

Which is why we're probably one of ten couples in these here United States that use a diaphragm. Yep. Have for years. And no, it doesn't mess with sensitivity for either of us the way a condom does.

So for a little over ten years we've used a diaphragm. We have five children, aged 10, 8, 7, 5, and almost 1. Just going by the number of kids, some people are surprised to hear we use birth control at all. Truth is, only our oldest was sort of unplanned. Every other kid came, thanks be to God, when we turned to each other and said, "we're ready for another baby." And yes, that includes the new little princess.

From our experience and subsequent study, we concluded that messing with the woman's body is an evil. Which pretty much makes all "modern" forms of birth control evil. Developing that line, and thinking upon the teleology of the body, we also decided that surgically changing the way God made us was an insult to Man and God, so that puts any tube-tying or snipping out.

Birth control therefore became a very loosely held thing for us, which made us understand a comment we'd heard once from a fruitful pastor, to the effect that he and his wife "believed in" birth control, but just weren't any good at it.

We also began to consider how sex might be more than just entertainment (which we'd known), and more than simply communing and renewing bonds with one's spouse. We began to think that sex might be a healthy part of this fruitful marriage. Even that sex would drive a fruitful marriage, and would therefore be fruitful itself.

We wondered, of course, whether we should use birth control at all, but quickly decided we were being silly.

In large part that was because we didn't know a single couple who weren't practicing birth control. And yes, we knew plenty of Catholics doing Natural Family Planning or somesuch.

We couldn't bring ourselves to believe that NFP wasn't birth control.

What is Planning for but Control? We've never been able to see the difference between a sperm-stopper and abstinence, except that not using a sperm-stopper is sexier and more romantic once one is in bed. For us it was either no plan at all, or any plan that wasn't harmful. Plan=control.

Through all the drama we'd experienced with birth control and sex, there was one thing we'd decided was important. For reasons outside our control we didn't have sex for two or three months into our marriage, which had been traumatic. Then we'd been cruel to each other for months. By the grace of God we were emerging from that, but we were certainly not going to choose a form of birth control that operated by denying sex during the time of month when the woman is biologically driven to want it most. We'd decided that just having sex was important, and we weren't going to put a barrier in the way of that.

That being said, there is a reportedly high degree of sexual satisfaction in couples who use NFP. I think that is for the same reason there is a high degree of satisfaction in any good marriage: the simple awareness of rhythm and frequency, and the dedication to having sex which having a rhythm brings, is obviously salutary. This is by no means a condemnation of NFP. But I do believe it is birth control, and I believe one can have a good sexual rhythm in marriage without it.

Here's a little ditty I sing around the house.

I wish I had seventeen babies!
I wish I had seventeen kids!

I wish I had seventeen babies,
'Cause then you'd know just what I did!

I don't think the kids know "just what I did" yet, but they all enjoy it.

Sex, obviously, generates babies. Inside and outside of marriage. And here is where the reader who has been waiting to pounce may finally do so.

Sex isn't for making babies.

Marriage is for making babies.

Yes, I took biology in high school.

I believe that the Roman Catholic error is focusing too much on the act of sex within marriage. Marriage is, of course, the sexual relationship. And sex makes babies (yes, sex makes babies). But marriage is for fruitfulness, and for children. Sex is a part of that.

In the minivan post I mentioned teleology. I made a joke about tail without telos being unfulfilling. And so it is. But purposefully making a baby outside of marriage would not be as fulfilling as doing so within marriage. Sex makes babies. Marriage is for making babies.

We can say that sex must be fruitful, or that sex must be loving, or that sex must be generous. All of that is so, but it is the marriage that makes it so.

Some would say that artificially stopping a baby from coming of an act of sex is a sin. I would say that stopping a marriage from having babies is a sin. Marriage is for fruitfulness, for multiplication, for dominion and for gospel. Sex is a means to that within the context of marriage.

So there it is, my little judo move with which the reader is welcome to take exception. And I hope he will see that I am not trying to be precious or clever. The lens is different. Where some look at certain issues through sex, I look through marriage. Yes, I talk a lot about fruitfulness and fertility, but from that context.

The results often look the same: babies, babies, everywhere! Seventeen babies, even. And the more fruitfulness there is in God's name, the better. So NFP on, my fine papist friends, and generate more baptisms. We'll be right there with you, makin' dem babies and singin' dem songs.

Finally, I recognize that this is a little sprawled. I'd been asked some questions that I wanted to answer, and had been neglecting. This is my response. However, I welcome your comments and will be happy to reply in more detail.



  1. Hi Joffre,

    Interesting post. I just have a few comments:

    "From our experience and subsequent study, we concluded that messing with the woman's body is an evil."
    Just out of curiosity, why do you not believe that barrier methods are "messing with a woman's body?"

    "In large part that was because we didn't know a single couple who weren't practicing birth control. And yes, we knew plenty of Catholics doing Natural Family Planning or somesuch."
    I think the difference with something like NFP is the recognition of sexuality's existence in multiple forms (i.e. spiritual, physical, intellectual, creative, emotional) within a marriage. A couple does not need to have sex to be sexy and can experience unity while practicing abstinence in a chaste marriage. The difference between contraception and abstinence is the deliberate introduction of life prevention into the conjugal act, whereas abstinence in a chaste marriage holds that the conjugal act necessitates both unity and fecundity and therefore those components should not be separated. So, rather than separate the two and rob sex of its possible natural end, the couple abstains to prevent communicating bodily objectification to one another. In abstaining, there is no foreign introduction of a barrier nor a deliberate act to render sex fruitless; every act communicates to the spouse and to God that they are open to life and open to His will, not just occasionally so. With that said, periods of abstinence in the realm of pregnancy avoidance behavior can only be open to God's will if the reasons for practicing abstinence are due to grave circumstances. Otherwise, avoidance behavior WOULD be framed by a contraceptive mentality (but still not considered actual contraception--there's nothing to contracept or control because nothing is happening to render its use effective!) Refraining from the sexual act in and of itself does not rob the marriage of its sexuality and may in fact enhance other forms of sexual union. Whereas any form of birth control takes away from the gift of self in the conjugal act by communicating "I'll give you everything, but not my fertility." To render impossible the procreative end of an act with natural life-giving possibilities is a contradiction to the communication that act naturally conveys--the totality of unimpeded self-giving to form one flesh. Contraception communicates to the spouse "I want you to fulfill my physical desires, but you can keep your fertility to yourself."

    Also, we can't forget about old Onan. It wasn't his refusal to continue a bloodline for his brother that killed him; we know this because in Deuteronomy, the punishment for refusing to take your late brother's wife as your wife and continue the bloodline was punishable by the woman slapping him in the face with her sandal. What was different in this case was the spilling of seed, the deliberate derailment of the conjugal act. And according to scripture, he was immediately struck down for it.

    Also, it wasn't until 1930 that sects of Christianity began to accept contraception as morally permissable. Before that, Christianity's position (protestant and Catholic alike) were unified. But who knows, maybe the last 2000 years of Christian tradition were off the mark on this one.

    Thanks for the post, interesting insights, I enjoyed the read!



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