Are contraception and religion mortal enemies?
The Catholic Church answers with a clear yes.
- The Christian religion proclaims the truth about marriage, and about the human person
- Contraception opposes those deep truths, offering us self-interest as an alternative
When I was entering the Catholic Church, it took me years to understand this topic. Truth be told, I wasn't really looking to change my mind on the issue. My own opinion was so... convenient! And self-serving.
It can be a challenge to find a clear presentation of the Church's teaching on this subject. In this overview article, I'll include some references to resources that describe the conflict between contraception and religion in more detail.
The truth about this subject may surprise and challenge you. Please read it with an open mind!
First, toss those common myths...
Just mention contraception and religion, and two myths arise:
- "The Catholic Church is down on sex"
- "The Church says sex is only for making babies"
Wrong on both counts!
To understand the conflict between contraception and religion, you have to discard those myths and look at what the Roman Catholic Church really has to say.
First, the Catholic Church sees & proclaims that sex has an enormous value. Essentially, sex reveals the deep truth of our existence — the "one flesh" union of our bodies is the key to discovering "the meaning of the whole of existence, the meaning of life" (Pope John Paul II, The Theology of the Body).
The very nature of our bodies tells us that we will find fulfillment only in love: by giving ourselves to another person, we find the true meaning of human existence.
This intimate, sexual union of man & woman (becoming "one flesh") is a reflection, a visible sign, of the invisible mystery of God: the deep union and endless self-giving love within the Trinity.
This isn't "down on sex" — it's incredibly up on sex!
It is contraception that brings sex down: down to the level of something that's...
- Without meaning
- Just about pleasure
- More animal than human
On this point, contraception and religion are worlds apart. But why? Why does contraception tell us that we're... less than fully human?
The answer is within the second myth...
A dual purpose
The second common myth is that Catholics believe sex is only for making babies.
We note that nature has endowed sex with two functions: to deepen the emotional union between spouses, and (obviously) to make babies.
Which raises the question: is it good to separate these two aspects of sex, the unitive and procreative, which are naturally joined together? This question is at the heart of the dialog between contraception and religion.
The Church says that it is wrong to deliberately separate either the unitive or procreative aspect from the other.
Not because the Church is mean, or oppressive, or backward. But because of what human sexuality is — it is a sign that we are more than just a physical body. The true nature of sexuality tells us that we can find freedom only in love. We must raise ourselves up from the level of the merely animal.
Living with integrity means honoring that true nature of sexuality.
And that is the answer to the question we asked above — why contraception and religion differ on the meaning of sex, too. Contraception refuses to honor the full human nature of sex. By separating and denying one of sex's inherent functions, contraception also denies sex's inherent meaning.
- Contra ("against") conception
- Contra the full, natural function of sex
- Contra the true meaning of sex
Already, we've seen that contraception and religion have fundamentally different views of the world. Contraception is opposed to the nature of the human person, and the nature of sex itself.
Not surprisingly, they also have completely different views of marriage...
Marriage & the human person
Marriage is a committed union of love between a man & woman for the good of each other and to bear and raise children. Marriage is both a sign of God's love for us, and a channel that brings his love to us (that's grace).
In our marriage vows, we vow to:
- Love each other totally & exclusively
- Stay together permanently
- Be open to children
The fundamental conflict between contraception and religion is revealed by their different answers to the question, How do we fulfill our marriage vows?
- Religion reminds us to be faithful to our vows. To all of our vows, all of the time.
- Contraception tells us that we can get away with being not faithful all of the time.
It's that simple: will every act of sexual intercourse in your marriage uphold your vow to be open to children, or not? Will you always give yourself totally (including your fertility) to your spouse in sex, or not?
This does not mean that every act of sexual intercourse should result in conception. To do so would be irresponsible. But there is a fundamental difference between using the natural times of infertility in a woman's monthly cycle to avoid conception, and acting to deliberately impede fertility. (See Catholic natural family planning for more.)
The Catholic Church encourages us to become fully human by completely fulfilling our marriage vows each time we seek sexual union with our spouse. We uphold or deny our wedding vows with each act of intercourse.
Come into freedom!
The conflict between contraception and religion cuts to the heart of the most intimate part of our lives. These issues are difficult.
Believe me, I know!
It's difficult because it matters — a great deal. Our choices about sex and marriage affect the very core of our being.
I encourage you to learn more about the Catholic Church's wisdom about the choice between contraception and religion. You probably have questions and counter-arguments already brewing in your head. There are good answers to them all!
Seek out accurate descriptions of what the Church really teaches.
Pope John Paul II elaborated on these ideas at length in his Theology of the Body. (You didn't think that I was smart enough to make this up, did you?!?) Christopher West's Good News About Sex and Marriage is one of the best and most accessible presentations of this material. It's a practical guide to what this means in your marriage. For a deeper introduction to the theory of the theology of the body, see West's Theology of the Body for Beginners.
The Catholic group Catholics United for the Faith has an excellent article about contraception and religion that also addresses some common questions about the Catholic Church's teaching.
Finally, there's an article here about Catholic natural family planning — the effective, safe, and moral way to regulate family size.
At the end of the day, this is about freedom. Real freedom: freedom from the slavery to selfishness, to lies, to sin.
It's about your freedom.
Contraception and religion are not friends. Don't make the mistake of thinking that they are!
_This article is one of several about [Christian sex](/christian-sex) and marriage. There is also a broader section on [Catholic morality](/catholic-morality)._
Also check our home page for more articles about the Catholic faith!