Catholicism: Empowering Women for 2000 Years (Part IV: “My Body Isn’t Broken,” The Church and Contraception)

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Another post about birth control, Haley? Really? It’s true. Sorry, folks. But I think Catholic teaching on contraception is really crucial to understanding the respect for womanhood that the Church affirms. This is Part IV of this series, so be sure to read about how Marian doctrine, the Catholic understanding of vocation, and the female saints and doctors of the Church empower women before starting on Part IV.

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The Church’s stance on birth control is one of the most controversial issues of our day. Why should women be enslaved to pregnancy and child-rearing instead of pursuing something, anything else? Why should a woman’s right to contraception be taken off the table? Why is the HHS Mandate such a big deal? Does the Church just want all women to be oppressed, barefoot, and pregnant in the kitchen? These questions completely miss the point. Far from wanting to degrade women, the Church always wants to honor womanhood.

Before our conversion, I was on the Pill for a year and a half. We got married young, I was only 20, Daniel was 21, and we were both still in college. At the time we were attending a Baptist church. I can’t tell you how many of our well-meaning friends and members of our faith community asked when they heard of our engagement, “So, Haley, have you started taking birth control, yet? Because you gotta take it a couple months ahead of time for it to be really effective so you don’t end up pregnant!”

Apart from being a really invasive question, what kind of message did that send to me? A. Pregnancy is a disaster that needs serious prevention in order to be avoided. B. There is something flawed in the way your body works. You need a prescription to fix this problem you have so that you’re not the cause of a horrible inconvenience (at best) to yourself and your poor husband.

These folks had our best interests at heart. But far from feeling liberated by this push for the Pill, I felt ashamed of my womanhood, embarrassed of my pesky fertility. The way my body was created was clearly flawed. I had a serious problem and it hinged on the unfortunate fact that I was born a woman.

Fast forward to when I quit taking the Pill my last semester of college and got pregnant just after graduation. Unplanned, unexpected, but we were indescribably happy about it. Assuming we were disappointed, many of our friends attempted to commiserate with us. “Wow. Your life is really gonna change,” they’d grimace. “Things are gonna be different” was about the most encouraging phrase they could muster. The pastor at our Baptist Church even asked, “This wasn’t planned, was it? I mean, you’d have to be crazy to want to be pregnant right now, in your situation!” Our situation being that we were young and Daniel had another year of school to finish and a thesis to write

That attitude really was a storm cloud over my glowing happiness. I had failed. I had ruined us. There was something wrong with me and because I hadn’t altered the way my body worked with meds, I was supposed to feel embarrassed or stupid or ignorant for “getting us into this situation.”

I can’t tell you the striking difference between this mindset and the way Catholics responded to our big news. There was no pity in our Catholic friends and professors faces for this hapless young couple. They were actually excited! “Praise God!” they’d say. “What a blessing! How wonderful!Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with me? I wondered. Maybe it’s not insane to be thrilled that we’re expecting before having our careers settled and being financially secure. Maybe this womanhood thing is something to celebrate?

As we began reading the teachings of the Church on marriage, fertility, and contraception, I started to think about my body differently. There wasn’t anything broken about it. There wasn’t anything to apologize for. By making procreation a central feature of sex, we were honoring each others’ bodies and their Creator. We were fearfully and wonderfully made and we could embrace the womanhood and manhood we brought to the marriage bed.  We could be sub-creators, participants in God’s redemptive, creative work and that miraculous creation of a new soul could happen within me.

Instead of something to be ashamed of, I began to celebrate the unique honor of my womanhood. Because God has given women an opportunity to share in his creation that men will never have. My husband will never know what it is like to grow new life inside himself. Granted, he will also never know what it feels like to throw up everyday for several weeks due to extreme morning sickness. I’m not saying pregnancy is easy or without sacrifice, but it is cosmic and amazing. An eternal soul is entering the world and I have been chosen to participate in this work. I am honored. I am celebrated.

If we think that by denying our fertility we are being liberated, we have been sadly taken in. By divorcing procreation from sex, women are degraded. We have to apologize for our womanhood, the possibility that we might get pregnant and inconvenience someone. Better to have a surgical procedure render us sterile so that we don’t ruin any poor man’s life by landing him with, of all things, a baby.

One of the lies about contraception is that increased access to the Pill decreases the number of abortions performed. That’s rarely true and misses the big picture which is that when a country turns to a contraceptive mentality, changing it’s view of the purpose of sex, the abortion rate increases:

“Contraception has been shown to decrease abortion rates primarily in countries with already high abortion rates. These represent a minority of countries. Contraception has been shown to increase abortion rates primarily in countries with already low abortion rates. These represent a majority of countries. Contraception has been shown to slightly reduce abortion rates after its initial increase of abortion rates, but has never been shown to reduce abortion rates back to pre-contraception levels.” (Read more of this article about the studies on this topic in detail.)

When we no longer value the way God created women, and prescribe a medical fix for their natural fertility, are we really respecting womanhood?

Catholic teaching about marriage, sex, fertility, and contraception affirms the value of women and protects us from degradation. As a Catholic woman, I can fully embrace my body. I don’t need to apologize for my womanhood. I am honored and celebrated.

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Comments

  1. says

    What a GREAT post. Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to have people so disappointed to hear you were pregnant, that your body was doing what it was DESIGNED to do! Thank you for bringing more beautiful babies into the world!

  2. Rain says

    Excellent. As I have been reading more and more about the Catholic Church (as I am being drawn) I have been thrilled to find that women and their bodies are truly honored for the way God has made them. (all human beings really, which is so wonderful). I love the way the churches teachings truly honor all of God’s creation.
    Thankfully I found myself in the smaller segment of the Protestant church that embraces this way of thinking. Most of the women at my former church had at least 8 children. Sadly, in the parish I’ve been attending there are far less children. I feel like the oddball with my 6.
    Blessings.

  3. Tracey says

    Thank you for this post! With my third child, I recieved a less than enthusiastic reaction to his pregnancy because we had two other young children ages 2.5 and 1. Yet, we could support this child financially, and he came home to SO much love. He has been such an incredible blessing to our family, yet I’ve been asked by family members about when my husband is going to get a vasectomy. I recently found your blog and have really enjoyed it.

  4. RosalindaL says

    WONDERFUL! I have a new daughter in law who I pray will always know how special she is as she learns the truth of the Catholic church and all her honorable teachings about and for women. Praise God for your witness! Thank you

  5. says

    {Kathy} Thank you! As a Catholic mom of 4 blessings, you have hit the nail on the head. Fertility is NOT a disease. Neither is any other gift God gives us through the human experience: sight, hearing, smell, the ability to rationalize….any of it.
    I really enjoy reading your blog. You are a wonderful witness to our faith as Catholic Christians.
    God Bless You and your family.

  6. says

    Ugh! I’m so sorry that folks were saying that you to you during your engagement!! To be pushing birth control at that time is entirely antithetical to the truth of what is happening when two people get married.
    When I called up one of my dearest Catholic friends to tell her about my engagement, she said, “I’m so happy for you! And Deirdre, you’re going to be such a cute pregnant lady.” — that’s the kind of affirmation that should come with preparing for marriage! Marriage –> unity –> love –> children! (God-willing)

    What you say here is so true. An entirely accurate undertone of your post is that, through contraception, women’s fertility and natural bodily functioning is sacrificed at the altar of selfish male satisfaction. Another thing that no one mentions is that, before marriage, women should not feel obligated to be on birth control because they also shouldn’t feel obligated to fulfill any man’s sexual desires! In other words, abstinence is their best friend until they have a man committed to them (ALL of them, fertility included) until death. I get so frustrated that the concept of abstinence gets entirely left out of the culture’s discussion of ‘women’s health.’ (But that’s slightly off of your topic here.)

    Anyway, great post. Thanks for this.

    • says

      I should modify my statement to allow, of course, that there are many reasons why couples might decide to use contraception, and it isn’t necessarily about a man being selfish with his woman. I simply meant that, in our culture in general, contraception seems like such a “must” because women’s fertility isn’t cherished, and male selfishness plays right into that. As long as women continue to be considered ‘broken,’ men become more broken themselves, rather than rising to the manliness of all-around lovers and fathers.

      And the abstinence idea plays right into your Part III, and your commentary about virgins. The virgin also makes a beautiful gift of her fertility.

  7. says

    Dear Haley
    Let me start with this – I am not Catholic and neither is my husband. You will find us in the reform/protestant camp. HOWEVER, I cannot find the anyone who talks about bringing children into this world like you do (and with you, the Catholic church). Let me digress for a moment…my husband and I got married when we were 23. The question we heard over and over and over was “When will you start a family?” and while we selfishly wanted to wait a few years and travel, etc, we had also decided that we would not use contraception. I had been on the pill during college for extreme symptoms – which never got better and actually decreased when I finally stopped taking it a year later. I didn’t like how I felt on it. And we had increasingly been learned about natural approached to health and just could not see why we would alter my healthy body with medication to prevent something that was outside of our control anyways. So we made the decision then to practice NFP. Thankfully, we lived in a town with an extremely high population of Catholics and we had nothing but support from most people we asked for help. Our mothers thought (and still think) we are crazy. In the last 3 years of marriage, we have been blessed by happy surprises with 2 beautiful children – a girl in Aug ’11 and a boy this June.
    I tell this story because our view has changed. We are not just concerned with me taking medication – with huge side effects – when my body is working as it is supposed to. We are also concerned about the side effects Dr don’t tell you about and that most women ignore – women on the pill have a forced abortion about once a year.
    This is a huge statistic for women in the “protestant” camp (and even the “Catholic” camp) who think the pill is merely preventing pregnancy. They aren’t going in for a surgical abortion and so they consider themselves to be anti-abortion and even pro-life. The information and side effects of the pill are so much bigger than we can know, and yet, it’s totally normal.
    I have never heard a sermon in my life explaining the gift of family. Sure, there have been sermons on stopping abortions and honoring end-of-life decisions. But I feel like the area of family planning is lacking. People think they will get it from their Dr, not their Pastor. People get what they want from their Dr and the Pastor tries to provide an environment where they can learn without feeling judged.
    I struggle as a non-Catholic woman with how to share this with my non-Catholic friends (our Catholic friends are just waiting for our conversion…). Some of these friends – very faithful people – just do not see why you would “leave it to chance” and “that’s a big decision to just SEE about when we’re still in school” etc.
    I also struggle because one of our friends – Catholic – got pregnant on their wedding night (or pretty close) and because of what they have been taught culturally, she especially feels like she is being robbed of being a newlywed. Talking to her is difficult. How can you support someone who feels this way? And to top it off, is telling other friends that they should WAIT to have children, since they are ALLOWED to prevent?
    My sister works in family ministry. She has a parenting module in with the marriage module. Most people say something like “Well, we don’t plan on being parents for a while.” Her response is that once you are married, you should be open to having children because sex is how babies are made and it’s time to face the fact that you will be parenting with your spouse. (She’s not that blunt, which is why she is in ministry and I am not.)
    This got lengthy and I apologize. What I want to say is that there are women out there – Catholic and not – who appreciate so much that you write about this. I try to talk to my friends about this and don’t have the words. Or they don’t take me seriously. I think about blogging about it, and don’t know that it would matter. I read books that are recommended on starting families, etc and all of them fall short of calling Christian people to treat family planning different in ALL ways – not just in some ways and when they are ready.
    But I thank you for how you approach it. You can write a million more posts on birth control – I love them all. I would love to see the Church at large come together on this. Praying for unity…

    • Haley says

      Leah, thank you for this beautiful, encouraging, and insightful comment. It is so hard to keep perspective without support and I can’t tell you how different life has been for me in the past year since finally having the gift of some Catholic and non-Catholic friends who are on the same page and encourage me with their example (I’ve never really had Catholic girl friends until recently.) I, too, would love to see this as a point of unity for Christians across denominational lines!

      • says

        Yes! I agree with the above. I just found your blog Hayley and I am enjoying it. Keep it up, get the word out ;) I have been married 13 years, about to turn 32, I have 4 be-a-u-tiful babes and I just love it so much. Thankfully God has been telling me that I don’t have to ignore my desire to have more babes – I thought I was being selfish for wanting more (lies! lies! lies!). We are Protestants so I too am loving hearing from all these awesome Catholic ladies who have it right & enjoying their birthright as a woman in God. Thankyou for helping me not to feel alone :)

  8. Mary says

    Thank you for writing this series! It is refreshing to see young Catholics understanding and embracing the beautiful teachings of our Church. So many in society dismiss such wisdom as archaic and out-of-touch, when in fact this couldn’t be farther from the truth! I too used birth control during the first 5 years of our marriage while stressing about when WE should decide to have kids. (“AFP” is much more fun! ;) ) I was also ignorant of the multiple ways in which all chemical contraceptives work: First, by preventing ovulation, second, by changing cervical mucous to be inhospitable to sperm, and third, by thinning the lining of the uterus so that a newly conceived LIFE (if the other two methods “failed) cannot implant. This is not considered an abortion in medical circles, since the FDA conveniently decided that pregnancy begins at implantation, not conception. For those of us who understand (from embryology) that an entirely different person with his/her unique DNA is growing and changing from the moment of conception, this is incongruent. How many woman are aware of this? I know I was angry when I found out, considering I told my doctor specifically (in my cafeteria catholic days) that I was comfortable with contraception that ONLY prevented ovulation. I’m thankful I know the truth, and have embraced the beauty of my femininity, which is greatly honored by the Church.

    • Haley says

      Mary, I wasn’t Catholic yet when we were married, but I was somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of going on the Pill. I remember specifically asking my Dr. if what she was prescribing me could be abortive in ANY way. I asked her more than once and she said definitely no. I felt very upset and misled when I did my own research about the Pill after getting off it a year and a half later and discovered that things were much murkier than I had been led to believe by my Dr. Thanks for your encouragement!

  9. Michelle says

    I want to begin by thanking for this post. I feel that a deeper understanding of WHY the Church rejects contraception needs to be THE preeminent issue being tackled by parishes in North America. Lack of understanding on this topic weakens us not only as a society at large but at the parish level as well. For example, in my former parish we had a vibrant mom’s group of about 30 ladies that got together weekly for playdates and monthly for nights out. Everything was great until a few moms started talking about their husbands having been “snipped”. Other moms in the group took it upon themselves to (not so politely ) inform these ladies that the Church forbids surgical sterilization. Due to poor catechesis, the moms whose husbands had “been snipped” were genuinely surprised to hear that they had violated Church teaching. These women love their faith and their families, they just DIDN’T KNOW BETTER and were understandably hurt. Now the playgroup had split into two camps and things got ugly. The “snipped” ladies started meeting one day and the “NFP” ladies began meeting on another day. Many moms just dropped out. So in spite of the beauty and truth inherent in the Church’s teaching about womanhood, sexuality and contraception, the fullness of those teachings is not being effectively communicated and/or understood by many, many women. This lack of understanding (and in many cases willful ignorance) is weakening what could be a great source of strength within parishes. That is the ability of women to come together in a community. Any efforts at making the fullness of the Church’s teaching on this issue should be applauded and shared. So, thanks Haley!! Keep up the good work!

    • Haley says

      Oh, Michelle, what a heartbreaking story! I’ve had several conversations recently about this very issue that there simply isn’t good education for Catholics readily available about these issues. Although Church teaching on contraception is mentioned from time to time in the homily, it would be easy to attend Mass every week and not really hear a good explanation for WHY the Church teaches what it does about fertility and exactly WHAT that Church teaching is. Even after going through RCIA Daniel and I did not clearly understand what it meant to be open to life and weren’t following Church teaching even though we thought we were! It’s a serious problem if faithful Catholics with the best of intentions aren’t getting the information they need to follow Church teachings. I often wonder what we can do to solve this very serious problem!

  10. Brooke says

    Hi Haley,

    As a non-Catholic, I read your blog with interest. But one question has been plaguing me as I’ve read this series (and as I am eager to conceive my first child): what of women who would like to be mothers but aren’t physically capable of it? It seems like so much of a woman’s worth (in the eyes of the church) is built on her physical and emotional capacity to be a mother, and I imagine that this is very confusing and painful for infertile women.

    • says

      Brooke – This is a huge topic worthy of it’s own post, but allow me to give my 2 cents.

      It is definitely a touchy subject in many circles and it’s true that too many Catholic women feel out of place or judged because of infertility or unintentionally small family size. I remember a friend scared of what her parish would think when her first two children were going to be more than 18 months apart (the horror! =P) We continue to try and grow in this area and there are now many Catholic support groups for infertile or subfertile women, but many people still struggle with their personal judgements.

      However, in my humble opinion, I find a lot of beauty in the teaches that we are called to be mothers in more ways than just the physical (though we are asked to be open to that role whenever it may arise). There are numerous ways to be a “mother” in this world without baring children (or at least a multitude of them) which can include “mothering” to your extended family, volunteer work, thru your chosen profession, etc.

      We would do our sisters a lot more good by realizing this a little more fully, however the deeper truth we (as Catholic’s) are meant to take away is that being a wife and physical mother is not the only way for a women to be a woman – just as we have a number of types of “vocations” there are different ways within those “jobs” to fulfill your calling. I grew up in a very conservative Protestant community where a woman’s worth WAS solely on her ability to get a husband and bare many children (the type of circles where there were no religious callings for women and a woman called to a career was a shame) and see much less support and guidance in that system than in the Catholic take on things (of course, that is not meant to say “all” as many Prot. circles have a better view of women and their worth outside of marriage and childbaring).

      Just food for thought of course =)

      • Brooke says

        Thanks for your thoughts. I expect Haley to say some of the same things (esp based on her post about vocations). I imagine that infertility is a terrible struggle no matter your religion.

    • says

      Hi Brooke, I definitely don’t claim to speak for everyone-but as a Catholic who struggled with infertility for two years before conceiving our first child, maybe I can address your question.

      I think Haley’s post about female saints is already a perfect answer-motherhood is ONE of the ways the Church empowers women. But it is not the only way. It’s obviously good and natural for women to desire to be mothers and if they can’t fulfill this desire it is incredibly painful. But the reason it’s so painful is because motherhood is a beautiful, wonderful thing-in and of itself. Not because the Church honors it.

      And this would deserve another post entirely (part 5 Haley??) but I would argue that the Catholic Church is the ONLY religion that empowers women who are struggling with infertility. It it the only religion that (at least that I know of) prohibits the use of artificial means (IVF, artificial insemination, etc.) to conceive a baby. Sadly, there are many women with broken bodies and doctors are doing nothing to actually “fix” them-just referring them for IVF so they can “get pregnant”. Faithful Catholics must seek a better way and can do so through the use of NaPro technology which is designed to get to the root of the problem and improve the woman’s health in order to get pregnant. (and it’s way more successful than IVF I might add)

      Infertility was very confusing and painful for me-but not at all because of my Catholic faith. My faith is what actually helped me make sense of it all (the Catholic teaching on redemptive suffering, for example) and my Catholic faith is what led us to pursue moral and ethical treatment that resulted in the conception of our daughter.

      Now I’m rambling….hope I made sense!

    • says

      Dear Brooke,
      I have watched two of our close friends deal with in-fertility. While I can’t answer for the Catholic church, or for Haley for that matter, what I can offer is a woman’s perspective. I am not Catholic but infertility was a real issue for me. See, my mom had infertility issues for 6 years between my brother and I. I had always had a weird cycle and thought I was headed down the same road. So in pre-marriage counseling, I told my (now) husband that my biggest fear was never getting to be a mother – since it was the only real thing I felt like God had me doing as far as “ministry”. My husband – so sweet – told me that if that was the ONE thing I felt like God had me doing, then I would be doing it. We could adopt. We could foster. I could keep being a teacher and have hundreds of kids. We could have one kid (instead of the big family we’d like) and get to be parents to our kid’s friends – some who badly need it. My point is – there is no only ONE way to be a mother. God puts in all of us a unique heart to love, comfort, and take care of others like no one else has. He will raise up a way for women to do this, even if infertility rears its head in our fallen world. I know that in a situation of ongoing infertility, these words would be small. I know that my mom still aches over it as she watches women go through it. And I never suffered through it, so I certainly cannot know. All I know for sure is that God’s ways are bigger, greater, and so unimaginable to us. And that every bit of scripture is God-breathed so that Romans 3:3-5 HAS to be true : 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

    • Haley says

      Brooke, I think you bring up an important point. And I do agree with the insights of the ladies who commented above. A few thoughts (although I think women who have faced the sorrows of infertility, like Kaitlin who shared in the comment above, are better equipped to speak on this than I am!) :

      Infertility is painful because motherhood is a wonderful thing. I don’t think that acknowledging the good of motherhood, as the Church does, is the cause of that pain. Although I can imagine how women could be very hurt by insensitivity to their suffering or a judgmental attitude. I really loved this piece by Karen Edmisten: http://karenedmisten.blogspot.com/2007/08/good-catholic-family.html Karen and her husband have three beautiful girls and have lost six babies from miscarriage. She does a beautiful job of explaining the heartache and encouraging Catholics to support each other and not make quick judgements about how open to life another family might be.

      I do disagree with what you mentioned about how it seems “a woman’s worth” is built on her capability to reproduce. I don’t think that is the case at all. Particularly because no vocation is elevated above another. A single woman who has given her sexuality as a gift to God, a married woman with many children, and a married woman without children are all equally valuable to God and to the Church.

      What makes motherhood beautiful is that we open ourselves to serving others, but physically bearing children is by no means the only way we can do that! Come to think of it, in my experience when mothers are being celebrated in Catholic circles that I have been in I’ve heard things similar to, “We pray for mothers, those desiring to become mothers, and those who have acted as mothers to us.” I think that inclusive language for women who are struggling with the pain of infertility as well as applauding women who take on mothering roles without having their own children, single or married, is very positive.

      I think Kaitlin’s story she shared about the way NaPro (Natural Procreative Technology) made it possible for her to conceive her precious daughter also speaks volumes. I think the Church is called to support and assist women who are struggling with the pain of infertility. In fact, I can see how Catholic teaching, because it celebrates the wonder of motherhood, would truly acknowledge the suffering many women experience. If we don’t think motherhood is really anything splendid, can we empathize with women who desperately desiring to be mothers?

      I feel odd saying much on this issue because infertility is not a cross I’ve had to carry and I think others could answer far better than I. I hope nothing I said is offensive or hurtful in any way! Please chime in, folks, if you have a story to share!

      • Kim says

        I would like to add that while we generally see motherhood physically, the Church in no way sees it only in those terms. All women are called to “mother” no matter their state of life. The Blessed Virgin is the perfect example. While she physically begot Christ, she also spiritually begot all of humanity at the cross: “woman behold your son, son behold your Mother”. Be encouraged: anytime that you nurture and care for others, you are being a mother to them! I can also imagine it would be a beautiful opportunity to love those children whose biological mothers have abandoned them.

        That said being blessed with kids, I can’t imagine how hard of a cross infertility is; prayers are in order and I apologize for anyone who would judge you based on your family size. And please pray for those families who have blessed with a super-abundance of children as well; they’ve got their own crosses.

    • says

      I am also not Catholic, but would like to add that Catholic Charities is one of the biggest organizations in the country that writes home studies for adoptive families! It is nice to know that while there is a high regard towards pregnancy and birth in the Catholic Church, there is also support for adoptive families as well.

  11. NewbieConvertMommie says

    I’m a huge fan of this blog & all your poosts. I loved the book lists and added several books to my Christmas shopping list. I have shared this blog with the 30+ people in my RCIA class and reposted this series on FB. LOVE THIS BLOG!

    Now…here’s the “but”…

    I’m a little lost. I get that we should use NFP. My husband has always respected that I don’t use the pill. Infact, we had our 1st daughter 2 years before we got married. We leave it up to “if it’s ment to be..” That approach has worked great for everything in our lives: buying a home, a car, picking a job after college, the list goes on. He says he’s tossed around the idea of “getting snipped” but hasn’t even looked into it. We have a healthy sex life. As in….between his 75hr work week we manage to set time aside for eachother one a week. So we are not too worried about having another child. He says he is done and I think if we could get our oldest daughter’s ADD under controle the stress leve in the house would come down and I’d want another child. :) BUT again….”if it’s ment to be”..

    My question is (as a mom still in RCIA classes)

    Does the church teach us that sex is for making babies (only)?

    • says

      Not in the sense that you should only have sex to make babies (i.e. that sex outside of the most fertile times is wrong or infertile people shouldn’t be allowed to have sex) – but rather the Church encourages that we recognize a few things. (any faulty theology is my mistake of course).

      1) Sex is meant for procreation and children are not an “unintended” result of said actions.
      2) The fact that we get to enjoy our reproductive necessity is awesome and God-given – so yay sex!
      3) That enjoyment comes with responsibility – we’re meant to be open to life no matter when or how it arises because that life is also awesome – so yay babies!

      The above is not to say we’re only supposed to let the obviously fertile copulate during their obviously fertile periods and everyone else is supposed to be celibate, but rather that sex and babies are both a gift and responsibility and neither should be intentionally shunned.

      So yes I suppose we do emphasize that sex is for babies – or at least the intent or openness to babies, but also that the ability to enjoy and give sex to our spouses (even if infertile, or not actively trying – in NFP – or in post-fertile years) is also a gift that is not meant to be squandered. Our view of sex is not supposed to be 100 % biological (only sex, appropriately time for reproduction and nothing else) or 100 % personal gratification (free love anyone?), but rather a careful balance of enjoyment and responsibility

    • Haley says

      Great question! The Church teaches the sex is designed to be procreative AND unitive. So is sex for making babies ONLY? Absolutely not! It strengthens a marriage, bringing husband and wife together in an amazing way. However, it’s when we separate the procreative aspect from sex that problems arise. Both aspects are important.

      Molly made some great points about how if sex was ONLY procreative then it would seem as if sex was without value during infertile times of one’s cycle or for a couple that was infertile. And that is definitely not the case! However, we shouldn’t ever ignore that children are an intended and not accidental result of sex.

      Anybody else want to chime in? If I’m presenting Church teaching differently from what it is, let me know, folks!

    • Mary says

      As the above ladies said, the Catholic Church teaches that sex is both unitive AND procreative. It brings a couple together in such a way that a whole new soul can come forth. How awesome is that?! I also love the teachings in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body that sex is a renewal of our marriage vows. It’s a way to physically show each other that we are giving of each other freely, completely, and without reservation. This means that the unifying element of sex cannot be separated from the natural outcome of sex- babies. Being open to life with each and every renewal invites God into the marriage bed, and puts no barriers to your spousal love. When you are truly open, you can’t say, with your body, “I love you, but not enough to give you all of me, including my fertility.” This does not mean that not every sexual act has to be a fertile one, but just that we must be open to it. To do less cheapens a very holy act.

  12. says

    Thank you!!! Thank you!!! Thank you for posting this!! Even amongst my Catholic friends I am a small minority that doesn’t use/believe in using artificial contraception. I get a weird look when I say that contraception treats pregnancy like its a disease.

    I am starting to see a trend of more young women using NFP not only because it goes against God’s law, but also because they are not putting foreign chemicals in their bodies and don’t want the harmful long term side effects.

    You have such an amazing way of explaining controversial issues that is not judgmental or condescending. Keep it up!!

  13. ann says

    Here’s what I wish: I wish more people outside the Catholic community knew about, understood, and respected natural family planning and fertility awareness. Because it is so misunderstood, I feel I can’t even TALK about it with friends for fear they will think I’m delusional and living in the dark ages.

    As a non-Catholic nearing the end of her fourth planned and rejoiced about pregnancy (even though, dang, it’s hard), I now use knowledge about my own fertility to plan for welcoming a child into our family. And I don’t have to take a pill or have a copper wire inserted into my body. And so on. I am liberated from all that by the knowledge of how the marvelous female body works and by the knowledge that God is pleased with our desire to have the family he wants for us.

    When I told my neighbors I was expecting my fourth, they responded with disbelief first, then they were certain this pregnancy was unplanned, then they shared with me how devastated they would be if they were me. Gosh, how supportive.

    The world has some really mixed up notions what what liberates and empowers women. You’ll never ever see me more powerful than in a few weeks when I’m giving birth to a soul straight from God above. May I be ever more worthy of the trust He places in me as a mother.

    Thanks Haley for your thoughts and insights and your wonderful example to women of faith.

  14. says

    So after reading your posts about what to read instead of Twilight, I came back to your blog and just finished reading your whole series on women and the Church. Thank you so much for writing this series – I have yet to find anything as comforting or affirming about my gender in relation to my faith as what I read on your blog. I’ve been a devotee of Our Lady for the last 6 years and now teach first year Confirmation Classes (my students are 14-15 yrs old and I’m only 22) and sometimes struggle to defend my faith with my views on women’s rights. Definitely pointing to you as a good model of Catholic womanhood next time one of my students gets riled up about women not being priests.

    thank you thank you thank you for writing this!

  15. Violet Slowey says

    I appreciate that you mention weird responses at college from people because, as a 21 year old senior married to a 20 year old sophomore, when I found out I was pregnant my thesis adviser told me I had ruined my life and career, and various other professors chastised me in front of my peers IN CLASS. It wasn’t until I was almost three months pregnant that I told someone (a Catholic wife of a Catholic professor) and got the response “Congratulations!” Community support is a huge deal. I remember being so harassed that I would lock myself in the bathroom between classes and wish I could die. As a more mature mother of three now, I have often wished there was a kind way to explain to the well meaning professors (at a Christian school, no less!) that as a young woman I was getting very conflicting signals about the importance of keeping a pregnancy and beauty of life. A young girl without a husband or supportive family could have been driven to abortion.

    • Haley says

      Oh, Violet, that just breaks my heart. I had no idea you were facing so much discouragement and harassment! It is unfathomable that a professor would have treated you that way in front of a class. In my first draft of this post, I actually had a brief reference to my peers’ response to two Catholic gals who were pregnant before graduation (you and Ivy) which instead of being supportive and encouraging was dismissive and condescending. When I was pregnant as a staff member, already graduated and happily married, I was shocked at the response of those I’d run into on campus. I can’t tell you how many times I heard students whisper as I walked by, “Oh my God, that girl’s pregnant!” I cannot imagine how intimidating it would have been if I was facing a more difficult situation of single motherhood, etc. One of my friends became pregnant during her junior year and just opted to withdraw. When I asked her why she didn’t want to get another semester in before the baby arrived, she said that the attitude she encountered from students and professors was simply unbearable. Not ok! I so wish I had been more mature and already embraced a different view of marriage, fertility, and pregnancy, so I could have been a better friend to you and others. Congrats on baby #3! I hadn’t heard of your new addition :)

  16. LJ says

    Love this!!!

    As an unmarried woman, it’s amazing how much birth control changes things. Common “wisdom” these days is that I should be contracepting, so that I can say to any man, any given day, “Loving me could be fun, no worries… there’s no commitment really needed. We can just love each other and leave tomorrow, never meet again. It won’t matter.” Embracing my fertility (and rejecting contraception) completely changes that! All of a sudden, I have to say to potential suitors, “Loving me will change your life. Our love will have consequences – cosmic, eternal consequences. If you love me, the world will never be the same. New souls will form. They will need your protection, they will need your love. They will be with you for the rest of your life – I will be with you for the rest of your life. If you live this challenge well, we will grow old together and these new, tiny persons will be the ones folding us into our graves at the end of all things. Loving me will change you, will change me, will change the world. Are you prepared for something that wondrous? Are you prepared for the totality of what love demands?”

    It’s totally different. It’s the chasm between something fleeting, and something eternal. And, as Haley points out, it brings my “value” as a woman from something to be loved for an evening, to something to be approached with wonder and awe and the awareness that eternity itself will be impacted. It’s all the difference in the world!!!

    • JennMarie says

      LJ,

      Your comment was so beautifully worded that it brought tears to my eyes! Would it be ok for me to share your comment on my Facebook page?

  17. J says

    This is a subject that makes me so sad.

    I am someone who has never wanted children. When I was a child, I didn’t like hanging out with other kids, ever — I always wanted to be with the adults, and I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could be around them all the time. When I was very young, about four or five, I thought that there was magic in the wedding ceremony that instantly made you have kids and I wondered if there were a way around that. It’s definitely something deep inside, not some flighty notion I caught in my teens or twenties or anything.

    I’m now in my late 40s, and I never changed my mind about not wanting children. I am divorced (and annulled!), so it’s not like it’s a pressing issue currently, and considering my age it probably never will be again, even if I should remarry.

    But as a single, non-vowed person who never wanted children, I find myself without a place in the church. (Because just remaining single and not putting myself in the position of having to decide about children doesn’t count as a valid way of life, I suppose, since I am not a consecrated virgin.) And so I don’t go to church anymore.

    I know there are churches where these issues aren’t issues at all, but aside from the subject of marriage/children/etc., I am in agreement with Catholic doctrine and not with the doctrine of other churches. So I fit nowhere. I tried for years to go to church and not let the emphasis on women-and-children as almost one word get to me, but it got to me.

    However, I’d certainly never be so thoughtless and rude as to cast aspersions on people who choose to have children, whether one child or many. And intellectually I “get” what all y’all are saying, but I also know I was never meant to be either a mother or a nun, so… there you go.

  18. Emma says

    You make it sound as if someone has MADE women take birth control and delay starting a family. Newsflash: women are the often the ones who make these decisions. Just because you use BC doesn’t mean you view your fertility as something dangerous or bad. I view it as incredibly powerful….I want to make sure that my children are born into a situation that is healthy for them, not at a random time to unprepared people.

    • Johanna says

      Hi Emma,
      I’m not married and am not an expert, or anything close to being an expert, on theology, but I’d like to share my (incredibly late :) ) thoughts on your comments above. I have personally thought about using BC when I am married because I would also like to have my children when I am reasonably financially stable. However, Haley’s posts and all the above comments have led me to reconsider and reflect upon that course of action. They have made the very good point that the Pill and other BC is intrinsically and naturally harmful and degrading to the process of pregnancy. I mean, and if I’m remembering correctly, it was originally based on poison that is produced by plants to abort pregnancies and curb the populations of animals that eat the plants. Which means it’s fundamentally invasive…
      Also, I have found that a lot of our leaders, teachers, and peers encourage birth control because people tend to see it firstly as an inconvenience and then secondly, as well as conditionally, as a blessing. I think that peer pressure has affected how people see BC today. Also, and please do not take this as personal criticism of your character, there are a lot of Christian faiths that acknowledge and teach that Satan uses attractive ends to get us to sin. We lie, I know I lie, a lot to smooth over tension and keep the peace but meanwhile the good and right thing to do is to admit any wrong you might have committed and apologize.
      Sin is a shortcut to what we want and dangerous because it is attractive but also leads us away from the path to God. A quick (and humorous!) example of how bad shortcuts can be is a time I was on a run with some friends. One of my friends took a shortcut across a field unbeknownst to the rest of us. When he got back to our cars he was covered in cow poop. He had tripped and fallen in it while running across the unfamiliar field- poor guy. :) Not to diminish such a serious issue and the real concern you brought up, but this is what sin is: a shortcut with no real knowable or reliable way to what we’re hopping for… I really hope I wasn’t preachy and I’m sorry that I rambled so much, but I wanted to share my thoughts with you even if you don’t agree or you never end up seeing them. :)

      May God bless and protect you and your family :)

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