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Catholic Life | Tag Archive | Contraceptive Mentality
Tag Archives: Contraceptive Mentality

Contraceptive Mentality and Sexual Desire

The vast majority of people whom I’ve seen discuss “using NFP with a contraceptive mentality” are women, and the few men whom I’ve heard take that view are unmarried.

Which leads me to a thought: healthy married men enjoy sex. Hence they are aware of the difficulty of abstinence, and the laughability of our excessive focus on how exactly married couples may enjoy conjugal intercourse during times of low fertility.

There are, of course, always a few exceptions. But these seem to me to come from those who have at least some guilt over their lack of self-control, and so seek to justify it by condemning others for a practice which not only requires self-control, but results in a better (at least in the immediate sense–I do not imply that children themselves are ever anything less than good) situation overall.

So, maybe, just maybe we should all chill out in our condemnations and recognize a bit of reality. Married couples are naturally oriented toward conjugal intercourse. Sexual abstinence is not easy. And apparently neither is charity in understanding the struggles of marriage.

If a couple has a contraceptive mentality, then they will engage in contraception. Nothing is gained from misusing the Church’s terms in order to condemn those who follow Christ in a way which is unfamiliar to us.

If your libido is low enough that abstaining unjustly seems like a real danger for you, then embrace God’s gift to you and spend time in prayer and fasting for those who have more common struggles.

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Babies: Generosity and Selfishness

Since I talk about children a lot it seems as if no more than a week can go by without someone emailing/tweeting/DMing/whatevering me to kindly suggest that perhaps it is time for me to acquire a child and that I should “stop waiting for the perfect time.” I know that I bring this on myself, and I really appreciate the care that some people put into their messages. I know that they are parents who love their children and are concerned that I might miss out on one of life’s greatest blessings.

But sometimes I want to throw up my hands in amazement at how differently others see things.

Two months ago I tweeted the link to Kathleen Basi’s great post Should we Have A Fourth Child in which she explains why “the answer is yes.” I did not bother to put the question in quotes since it was written as the title of Kathleen’s post.

That meant that I got several responses from people who thought that I was asking the Twitter-world for advice on whether to have a fourth child.1

One of the responders urged me to “be generous” in making this decision.

Be generous? Are you kidding?!

I know that if I were in Kathleen’s position I might be quite happy with three young children and the thought of changing fewer diapers. It might indeed take a generous heart to overcome my natural desire to have a little more sleep at night and silence during the day.

But I am not a mother of three young children.

I am a childless 25-year-old who drools more over drooling babies than the babies themselves ever could.

When it comes to me and children, the term “greed” is far more apt than “generosity.” I want a child, and I want a child today!

To make things even worse, I not only desire children, I would love to be pregnant. I would love to have the experience of giving birth. I know that it is perfectly natural for women to dread pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding, but somehow I do not. My mother worked very hard to insure that her daughters would see pregnancy and childbirth as appealing. As a child I was not allowed to see anything that depicted labor as painful. Instead my mother would show us pictures of peaceful pregnant women, pre-borns at various stages of development, and cute newborns.

I am not wholly ignorant of the negative aspects of pregnancy and childbirth in reality, but living with endometriosis makes me feel as if the trade-offs are well worth it. My sister with endo told me that giving birth is not any worse than the worst months of cramps, and I am inclined to believe her. So while I know something of the trials of pregnancy and childbirth they simply do not add up to a negative in my mind.

And then we get to the part about what exactly it would take in order to get everything I want. You mean I have to give myself completely to the man with whom I am passionately in love at a time when my body is saying “ohhhh, sex sounds really good right about now!?”

Somehow “generosity” sounds rather tempting. And yet there is a problem. I will call it… “Josh.”

I have tried to explain this all to my husband, but he doubts the nobility of my intentions!

Me: Josh, we really need to stop this. You know, we’re married, so it is only right for us to have children. We must renounce our contraceptive mentality and become open to life. We must generously accept children from God. We must learn to really love.

It does not matter that it is a Friday and having sex would be one of the highest denials of both of our individual and shared spiritual needs and religious ideals.

It does not matter that we do not have health insurance.

It does not matter that I have been really stressed recently.

It does not matter that a few months ago we were both eating very low quality food and thus most likely both have low levels of selenium, zinc etc. so there would be a double-spontaneous abortion risk.

It does not matter that no one wants to hire a pregnant woman or that I would not be eligible for maternity leave for a year once hired.

It does not matter that I am in serious need of dental work.

It does not matter that we would not so much as have a safe place for the baby to sleep.

All that matters it that we need to do the right thing. We must defeat the contraceptive mentality and be generous and open to life.

Josh: You need to stop reading Catholic blogs.

Me: It wasn’t a blog, it was someone on Twitter!

See the problem? The man does not respond to the logic of faith!

Ehem. Anyway.

It doesn’t help matters that there is a rule that good Christian couples must have babies ASAP. I have one married friend who has no children and is not pregnant. She just visited a fertility doctor because she has been “trying” unsuccessfully for six months. It does not matter that she does not have health insurance, that her husband is still in college, that neither of them has a full time job, or that it is too much trouble for either of them to bother to take a daily vitamin. What matters is that she is married and ready for a baby. Now.

And honestly, I do not judge her at all (though I did give her a pretty firm lecture on the folic acid thing since she isn’t much of a vegetable eater and itistoolateifyouwaituntilyouknowyouarepregnantahhhhhhowcouldyoutakesucharisk?). There is a reason that we are friends. I understand the baby-lust that cannot see anything beyond having a baby ASAP.

Even in the online world it is really, really hard to find passionately Catholic married women who do not have have children. Just about the only place to find them is in the infertility blog world, and that does not “count” for rather obvious reasons.

Which is only to say that not only do I want a child due to every internal reason, just about all of the social pressure from friends is pushing toward having children.

And so the gap between me and those providing me with well-meaning advice is nothing less than utterly immense. I am supposed to “be generous” in “accepting” children? Maybe someday, but for now “generous” sounds a whole lot like “self-indulgent.” Which, of course, sounds pretty good. Now if only I could convince Josh that Catholic bloggers are right and we are obliged to “seek” children “naturally” within all the rights of marriage.

Self-denial = sin, self-indulgence = virtue. I could get used to this reasoning!

Pretty sure that in reality there is no need to ask my Twitter-world such a question since I know that I should not have a fourth until I can remember where the first three are!

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Periodic Abstinence For All of Marriage

Commenting on the contraceptive mentality post Allison asked a pointed question.

How do you feel about those who say they never want children but use NFP because it’s the only thing approved by the Church? Not sure how often that happens, but would you still think that their view is okay? Or do you view children as a part of marriage for those who are able?

Rebecca gave a great explanation of why some couples using NFP might say that they plan on never having children, but I think that Allison wanted a more general answer, so here is my view. I am posting it here so that you can all chime in with your wisdom.

Marriage is like life: we are not called to decide everything all at once, but rather to discern and live each day. Of course it is wise to plan, but there is nothing wrong with looking ahead and honestly admitting that our best of plans will not achieve every ideal.

If a couple is able to continuously discern the need to avoid pregnancy, and these moments end up adding up to their entire reproductive lives, then that is sad in some way, but certainly not sinful.

It seems highly unlikely to me that a couple would abstain from sex rather than use contraception if they were so closed to children as to violate their promises to the Church and to each other.

Furthermore, the Church’s minimum standard is that we must not separate sexual intercourse from reproduction. But married couples are not required to engage in sexual activity at all, as long as abstinence is mutually agreed upon. If it is okay for some rare couples to never engage in sexual intercourse, then it must certainly be okay for some to never have children, even though they may have no fertility issues.

I have never met a faithful Catholic couple who would not wish to have all the material, health, relational, and societal blessings required for raising children. But we live in a world where not everyone has everything, and as long as that is the case there will be couples who are unable to ever discern an appropriate time to enter the marital embrace with the hopes of conceiving a child. Children are certainly the supreme gift of marriage, but not every married couple is blessed with the resources and situation to seek out the transmission of human life.

Catholics who support contraception often assert that the Church should require marriages to be open to life rather than “that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life“. But the Church insists that moral law is not about the marriage as a whole and ignoring “details” of particular acts, but rather about each and every act added up to the whole. And if each and every sexual act is open to life, even though highly unlikely to result in pregnancy, the Church’s minimum standard1 has been met.

How would you answer Allison’s question?

1. Of course there may still be the question of whether a couple is being selfish or generous in their approach to giving themselves to each other, but that is no more true for the continuously “avoiding” couple than for all couples who “resort to infertile periods!”

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Using NFP With a Contraceptive Mentality: Reality Check

For a while now I have thought that it does not make sense to talk of using NFP with a “contraceptive mentality.” After all, a contraceptive mentality must be based on the separation of procreation and pleasure in the conjugal act, and abstaining from both in order to avoid either obviously does not separate the two.

But it is only recently that I realized how far such a thing is from any reality that I have ever known. The only way that it makes sense for one to be concerned about others “using NFP with a contraceptive mentality” is if one sees children as burdens “oh, everyone must want to avoid children if possible and only good Catholics accept the difficulty of raising these troublesome beings!” and also does not enjoy sex “and it is so easy to abuse NFP since all you have to do is abstain from sex for a few weeks, and that is so easy to do!”

So I decided to do a thought experiment, or whatever it is they call these things, and consider what it would look like for couples to “use NFP with a contraceptive mentality.” I tried to call certain couples to mind with this experience. Unfortunately no one who actually uses NFP thinks that they do so with a contraceptive mentality (although there are certainly those more scrupulous individuals–typically women–who do ponder the issue frequently and seek to insure that they are perfectly discerning the just place of abstinence in their family planning). So I had to turn to those who had previously used NFP “with a contraceptive mentality” and repented from their evil ways.

Here are their stories. Do let me know how well they match with your world.

Katherine and John (Because NFP is abused by newlyweds)
As told by Katherine

For years I had dreamed of a candlelit winter wedding. Inspired by our parish’s 8pm Christmas Eve mass I pictured the church full of candles and twinkling lights and green trees. Only there would be red roses rather than poinsettias.

But then when I actually got engaged and started planning with my friend Melissa, she pointed out how tired I would be after a 7pm wedding and hours of the reception. It was a no-brainer, and I immediately started planning our lovely morning wedding. It was not as glorious as my dreams, but it was quite nice, and I knew that being married ::blush:: was more important than the wedding!

Unfortunately though, John was still Southern Baptist at that point. He prayed daily for the Lord to wait until after our honeymoon to come back. After we took NFP classes he also started praying for me to be infertile on our wedding night. He has always been a good man and accepted that we would not use contraception, but he still had the contraceptive mentality.

After the wedding we got to the inn around 4pm. I must have been tired, but barely noticed. But John, the new leader of our home, acted as if he would never consider making love since the chart showed ambiguous signs of fertility. I pointed out that a baby really would be nice, but he shook his head resolutely and reminded me that if I got pregnant then we could never afford to go on a cruise for our first anniversary.

Well, that solved it for me! I mean, goodness, who cares about a few more days of abstinence as long as it means one can avoid the burden of a baby who would cause one to miss out on a Caribbean cruise next year?

Regrettably, I sunk so quickly into my new husband’s contraceptive mentality that I did not even think of praying about the issue as we flopped down on the bed with the laptop to spend the evening researching cruise lines.

Since then, John has become Catholic and is now on the parish council. Whenever the diocese talks about adding an NFP requirement to the pre-Cana curriculum John is the first to write to the bishop to remind him that NFP will only be used contraceptively by newlyweds.

Beth and Gabriel (Because NFP is abused by young couples who think too much)
As told by Gabriel

Well, the problem is that Beth was a grad student. No, not that she had just started grad school, after all, her program wasn’t really that demanding, she totally could have completed it with babies and we were guaranteed health insurance. But she is a statistician, and was constantly immersed in numbers, without a break. So when she would come home at the end of the day it was all still numbers.

Things would start to heat up, and then she would stop and say “Gab, it’s 7.1268.” And I’d be like “blast it” and she’d be like “you know we decided together to not risk anything higher than a 2.6.” And I’d be like “well, it’s not like those numbers are really real. After all, you’ve just crunched the studies and your cycles for the past 5 years and your maternal history of fertility rates and gynecological records. But there could be something missing.” And she’s be like “I’m sure there is something missing, but this is the best info we have.” And I’d be like “you’re so right, why are we even having this conversation?”

And that was that. Honestly, I don’t think that we ever could have gotten over our sinful desire to control our fertility at that stage. It was just too hard. Things only got easier as we got older and had been married longer and started to see sex as something that couldn’t quite be planned on. Thank God for grace!

Ignatius and Felicity (Because NFP is abused by couples with many young children)
As told by Felicity

The contraceptive mentality has always been a problem in our marriage. We did not notice it at first because we really wanted babies. I had spent my whole life planning on being a mother of a large family. I could not wait to get started.

But after four babies in five years, Nate started to suffer from the sin of worry. He was overly concerned for me. He thought that we should just abstain in order to avoid another pregnancy while the baby was still in diapers. So we did. For months at a time. I still feel so guilty writing this. I have confessed it many times!

Eventually we were overcome by the call to be open to life. Our fifth child was conceived a year later. But we had already fallen into a pattern of sin. So it was so easy to continue. I am eternally thankful for the grace that came in Easter, 2008.

We had, of course, abstained through all of Lent. And it was obvious that I was fertile on Easter. We would have to keep abstaining through the Octave in order to continue as slaves to the contraceptive mentality. But Nate had been to confession a lot during Lent. His spiritual director urged him to mature spiritually and cast aside his sin of doubt. Filled with the grace of the Easter Vigil, we were blessed with the conception of our sixth baby who was born right before our eighth anniversary.

Thanks be to God

So, maybe my imagination just is not good enough, but in the world that I live in, most people like sex. A lot. And most of them are not so great at calculating a 10% chance of pregnancy (that is, having to deal with a baby in nine months) and then determining that they are going to abstain from sex at the moment in order to maximize their selfish pleasure years in the future.

And when it comes to “being open to life” it typically looks like engaging in sexual intercourse because the couple felt like it. It seems entirely odd to me to view those who choose to forgo sexual pleasure for the good of their family with suspicion and constant concern that they are “abusing” their right to abstain from sex.

For real.

And just a reminder in case anyone was only half-reading, these were not real stories. I made them up in response to the typical accusations of groups of people who “routinely abuse” NFP. You know, newlyweds never have just cause to avoid pregnancy and all that.

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