Real Sex vs. the Contraceptive Mentality (Part 4 & Conclusion)

Monday, July 26, 2010 \AM\.\Mon\.

[Continued from Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3]

NFP and the Contraceptive Mentality

In concluding this series, I’d like to address the question which originally set me on on this overly extended journey: Is it possible for users of Natural Family Planning to have a “contraceptive mentality” and if so what does that mean in the context of NFP?

I’ve described the contraceptive mentality as: The idea that having sex and reproducing are two activities with no necessary connection, that having sex in no way suggests a desire or willingness to have children with the person you are having sex with.

At root, I think that NFP is formulated in such a way as to be in direct opposition to the contraceptive mentality. According to an understanding of sexuality rooted in human instinct and biological reality, the way to avoid conceiving children is to not have sex. This is also the means of avoiding conception which is considered acceptable by the Church in the context of its understanding of the moral nature of sexuality. NFP is considered morally acceptable by the Church for the reason that it consists of avoiding pregnancy by not having sex, with the modern refinement of allowing the married couple to understand with a certain degree of confidence when it is that they need to avoid having sex in order to avoid conception. Rather than abstaining all the time in order to avoid pregnancy, the couple can abstain for between a quarter and half out of the woman’s cycle, and achieve the same result with relative certainty.
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Real Sex vs. the Contraceptive Mentality (Part 3)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010 \PM\.\Tue\.

[Continued from Part 1 and Part 2]

Enter Artificial Birth Control

In Part 2, I discussed the sense in which marriage customs and sexual morality can be seen as an adaptive response to controlling childbearing. I’d like now to turn to the question of artificial birth control.

In my first job out of college, a small chemical distribution company, I sat next to the customer service group, and thus found myself overhearing a lot of middle-aged “girl talk”. One anecdote I particularly remember was recounted by a woman who’d married in the late sixties. She told about how when she and her husband were still engaged, she’d gone with her mother to a wedding, and her mother had taken occasion to whisper to her that it was generally known that the bride had “had to get married.”

“I’m just so glad you’re a good girl and you’ll never need to get married quickly like that, my mother told me,” she said. “Of course, what she didn’t know is that I’d been on the pill for the last three years.”

I think this does a good job of underlining a massive shift in social structure and morality which the advent of plentiful and efficient birth control allowed. Read the rest of this entry »

Last Weeks Top-Ten Catholic Posts

Sunday, June 27, 2010 \AM\.\Sun\.

Here are this past weeks Top-10 most visited Catholic posts from The American Catholic for June 20-26:

1. Parish Shopping by Michael Denton

2. McChrystal Should Be Fired by Donald R. McClarey

3. Sharia in Dearborn? by Donald R. McClarey

4. G.K. Chesterton on Lincoln by Donald R. McClarey

5. Healthcare Reform & the Magisterium by Chris Burgwald

6. Real Sex vs. the Contraceptive Mentality (Part 2) by Darwin

7. Toy Story 3 by Michael Denton

8. Planned Parenthood, What Happened to the Money? by D.R.M.

9. Under the Roman Sky by Donald R. McClarey

10. I Am Shocked, Shocked! by D.R. McClarey

Honorable Mentioned

Top 25 Catholic Blogs by Technorati Authority by John Henry

Real Sex vs. the Contraceptive Mentality (Part 2)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010 \AM\.\Tue\.

[Continued from Part 1]

Restraint, Relationships and Planning Parenthood

When I say that we “naturally want to avoid having children” at certain times, I would imagine that the image that comes immediately to mind is of birth control, abortion or infanticide, and most traditional societies have seen these in some form or other. However, I’d like to turn our attention to something so basic and so prevalent that we don’t think about it much.

From an anthropological point of view, the entire structure of our romantic and family relationships serves as a way to control childbearing, limiting it to situations in which offspring can be supported. Consider: Requiring that young women remain virgins until marriage ensured that children will not be born without a provider. Nor was the decision to marry, when it came, a strictly individual affair. Marriage was negotiated and approved by the wider families, because the families were in effect committing to help support the new family unit being created. Many cultures also required the husband’s family to pay a “bride price”, not simply as compensation for the lost contribution of the daughter to her own family, but as proof that the husband was of sufficient means to start a family.

Once in place, this set of cultural mores and laws provided an easy way to adjust to want or plenty:

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Real Sex vs. the Contraceptive Mentality (Part 1)

Thursday, June 17, 2010 \AM\.\Thu\.

If you move in conservative Catholic circles much, you have doubtless heard the phrase “contraceptive mentality”. Though used frequently and negatively, I think there is value in delving a bit more deeply into what we mean by the phrase. I was moved to write this in semi-response to an interesting post by Brett Salkeld a couple months back which sought to explore the bounds of what a “contraceptive mentality” is. Another good resource on the topic is this post at Catholic Culture on the contraceptive mentality.

While recognizing the dangers of trying to be too wide ranging in subject matter in the limited space of a blog post, my goal here is to set out answers to the following:

  • What is a “contraceptive mentality”?
  • How is a contraceptive mentality contrary to how humans are “meant” to function morally and sexually?
  • How, if at all, does NFP (natural family planning) relate to a contraceptive mentality?

I think it’s easiest to think about the idea of a contraceptive mentality against the backdrop of how we function sexually as human creatures — a term I use advisedly in that I want to emphasize our rootedness in a certain biological reality of being primates with certain biological systems and instincts, while at the same time not ignoring our rational, emotional and moral sensibilities in the sense that “human animal” strikes me as implying.

Uncertainty and Conception

One thing that sets us apart from most other higher primates is that humans have fairly even sexual drive all of the time. Or, at least, men have sexual drive pretty much all of the time. Women seem to have more variation in their level of interest, and indeed there is a fair amount of evidence that one driving (though unconscious) element of their drive is that they are more “in the mood” during the times of the month when they are fertile than when they are not. Another thing that sets us apart from most other higher primates is that a woman’s fertility is not marked by unmistakable physical signs (change of color and swelling of the genital area, changes in smell, etc.) (Though Bonobos have often been compared to humans in regards to their relatively constant sex drive, they are like chimps in that female fertility is readily apparent through external signs.)
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