do not really capture the pervasive ills attendant upon sexual immorality. Premature and promiscuous sexuality prevent many
from establishing good marriages and a good family life.
Few deny that a healthy sexuality and a strong family life are among the
most necessary elements for human happiness and well-being.
It is well attested that strong and secure families are more likely to
produce strong and secure individuals; they produce individuals less likely to have
problems with alcohol, sex, and drugs; they produce individuals more likely to be free
from crippling neuroses and psychoses. Since
healthy individuals are not preoccupied with their own problems, they are able to be
strong leaders; they are prepared to tackle the problems of society. While many single parents do a worthy and valiant
job of raising their children, it remains sadly true that children from broken homes grow
up to be adults with a greater propensity for crime, with a greater tendency to engage in
alcohol and drug abuse, with a greater susceptibility to psychological disorders.
realities affect every realm of life they affect people's ability to relate to
friends and family; they affect people's ability to do well at their studies and their
jobs; they affect the whole of society which needs stable and secure individuals to lead
us out of our troubles. And those who do not
experience love from family and friends tend to seek any semblance of love they can find
and thus become involved in illicit sexual relationships and the cycle
starts again. The multiple varieties of
abuse of sexuality and the grievous consequences of such abuse, then, is not only damaging
the current generation, it is threatening to ruin the chances of future generations to
live happy and fulfilled lives.
Twenty years ago when the sexual revolution was
beginning to be in full swing, many argued that the value of the sexual revolution was
that it was going to liberate men and women from the repressive view of sexuality
pervasive in society; people would be free to make love to those whom they loved without
the strictures of marriage. Many pointed to
Christianity as the source of sexual repression. But
the Christian view of sex, once considered a distorted view of sexuality, is now beginning
to look a lot more like wisdom. Christians no
longer need to offer apologies for their insistence upon sexual morality, for their
insistence upon reserving sex for marriage. Some
in high public places are now beginning to counsel abstinence before marriage and to extol
faithful monogamous marriages. They have
begun to see these as practices of great practical wisdom.
Christians, of course, have long recognized the practical value of chastity
and fidelity but have also recognized them as practices in accord with God's will for
In a certain sense, Christian morality
especially in regard to sexual morality is quite similar to natural morality
or common sense morality. One does not need to be a
Christian to understand why certain sexual practices are wrong. Christians differ from unbelievers not so much in
the understanding of what is moral and immoral as in their commitment to trying to do what
is moral. Christians understand that when
they are doing wrong they are not only violating good sense, they are violating God's law;
they are failing to be the loving and responsible persons God made them to be. Thus, Christian apologetics about sex may
not seem much different from common sense apologetics about sex, but it is the Christian
tradition which has most faithfully preserved the common wisdom about sex. Clearly it is easy to "forget" or become
confused about the common wisdom about sex; Christians are blessed with the powerful aid
of revelation and tradition to keep them straight on what constitutes sexual morality.
although most Christian denominations have remained steadfast in their allegiance to
traditional Christian wisdom in sexual issues, few Christians have not been deeply
affected by the saturation of our modern cultural forms with a view of sexuality radically
opposed to the Christian view. Ten minutes of
watching MTV or of a soap opera, ten minutes of listening to any rock, pop or country
western music station, one visit to the corner store magazine rack, or two minutes at the
beach should serve to convince the most skeptical that our society has very little respect
for the Christian moral norms regarding sexual relations.
Christians, too, have begun to lose sight of the understanding of sexuality
advanced by their tradition. Thus, now is the
time for Christians to offer apologetics for their understanding of the role of sexual
relations within human relationships. "Apologetics"
is a term used to refer to the energetic attempt to explain one's position to others. But Christians, I think, need to be as concerned
with providing apologetics or explanations to themselves and fellow Christians about sex
as they need to bring their message to others. Both
internal and external evangelizing are necessary, for few if any can escape being
adversely affected by the distortions of our times.
need to strengthen themselves as well as their compatriots.
have much to learn about their own tradition before they can become effective witnesses to
those in the larger society who desperately need to encounter individuals in control of
their sexuality and happy because of it. There
are a multitude of Christian truths which bear upon sexuality and which would assist
Christians and others in escaping the ravages of a disordered sexuality. The time seems to be ripe for making the most
persuasive case we can for Christian morality. Certainly,
many are ceasing to pursue promiscuous relationships because of their fear of contracting
AIDS. But this is not the only reason for the
growing disenchantment with the sexual revolution. Many
find themselves lonely after their sexual encounters and are looking for something more. There are increasing reports of sexual
indifference; many claim to have lost an interest in sex, even with those whom they love. And, while many may not have moral objections to
premarital sex and abortion, there seems to be an increasing weariness with these
phenomena and an increasing interest in reducing both.
Many are beginning to see that the call for more and better sex education,
or more and better access to contraceptives is not the solution. Rather, we need a better understanding of the
relation of sex, love, marriage, and children. And
it is this understanding that I think Christianity can provide.
Here let us focus on three fundamental
truths about sexuality stressed throughout the Christian tradition; 1) that marriage is
the proper arena for sexual activity; 2) that marriages must be faithful for the love of
spouses to thrive; and 3) that children are a great gift to spouses. Christian teaching about sexuality also provides
guidelines for those with homosexual leanings, and for discerning the morality of a whole
host of sexual practices. Here I shall focus
primarily upon the Christian understanding of marriage, for if we grasp the basics of this
understanding, the implications for most other kinds of sexual activity are fairly clear.
Those attempting to provide
apologetics or explanations should have a sense of the needs and views of their audience. As has been suggested above, it is safe to assume
that modern Americans have a casual notion of sex; they think it is natural for those who
love one another to engage in sexual union, whether married or not, and often whether of
the same sex or not. But most have
begun to see that happiness is rarely achieved through promiscuity; they have begun to
acknowledge that premarital sex has done little to ensure good marriages; they fear that
teenage sex and abortions may cause lifetime scars on young people's psyches. To these people we must make the case that
happiness, true intimacy, and sexual fulfillment are more naturally found within faithful
are the reasons for saying that it is appropriate for sexual union to take place only
within marriage? It is hardly deniable that sexual union creates powerful bonds between
individuals, even often among those who do not desire such bonds. Those who have sexual intercourse with each other
are engaging in an action which bespeaks a deep commitment to the other. The current pope uses an interesting phrase
in his teachings on sex and that is the term "language of the body",
which is not so very different from our "body language." He claims bodily
actions have meanings much as words do and that unless we intend those meanings with our
actions we should not perform them any more than we should speak words we don't mean. In both cases, lies are being "spoken."
Sexual union has a well- recognized meaning; it means "I find you attractive";
"I care for you"; "I will try to work for your happiness"; "I
wish to have a deep bond with you." Some who engage in sexual intercourse do not mean
these things with their actions; they wish simply to use another for their own sexual
pleasure. They have lied with their bodies in
the same way as someone lies who says "I love you" to another simply for the
purposes of obtaining some desired favor.
But some engaging in sexual intercourse
outside of marriage claim that they mean all that sexual union means and that therefore
they are not lying with their bodies. They
are, though, making false promises, for those engaging in sexual intercourse outside of
marriage cannot fulfill the promises their bodily actions make. They have not prepared themselves to fulfill the
promise of working for another's happiness, or achieving a deep bond with another. For such achievements take a lifetime to complete;
they cannot be accomplished in brief encounters.
The existence of the institution of
marriage acknowledges the importance of love for the happiness of human beings, the
importance of the lifetime unconditional love that marriage facilitates. Humans flourish when they bask in the love of
others. Love nourishes human goodness like no
other force. For instance, love assists us in
feeling secure in ourselves; it gives us the confidence to dare to exercise our talents;
it gives us the assurance to reach out to others in love.
Love also serves to heal past wounds. Love
in almost any form can promote these and other great benefits to mankind, but marital love
provides special benefits. Human beings are
complicated and are not easily known by themselves or others; a lifetime relationship with
another seems hardly time enough to get to know another.
Sexual intimacy plays a major role in the revealing of one person to
another. Sexual intimacy provides an
opportunity for giving oneself to another in an exclusive way. Only in marriage can sexual intimacy achieve the
goals it is meant to serve.
The Christian insistence on reserving
sexual union for marriage, then, has as one of its chief justifications a concern that
sexual union is meant to express the desire for a deep and committed relationship with
another. That relationship can only be built
within marriage for marriage is built upon a vow of faithfulness to one's beloved. The Bible, especially the Old Testament,
regularly condemns the sin of adultery. Faithful
marriage is used regularly as the paradigm for the kind of relationship which God's people
should have with God. Those who are not
faithful to God are likened to adulterers. Proverbs
and the whole of wisdom literature harshly condemns the adulterous spouse. Most spouses are devastated at the mere thought
that their beloved desires another, let alone that their spouse may have actually been
unfaithful. Faithfulness is essential to
create the relationship of trust which is the bedrock of all the other goods that flow
We take vows in marriage because we
realize that we are all too ready to give up when the going gets tough; we realize that
our loves wax and wane. Indeed, society at
large seems to have a fondness for marriage. After
all, in an age where there is little moral pressure against living together outside of
marriage, most still choose to take marriage vows.
Couples realize that marriage vows help them express and effect the
commitment they feel for each other. But as
the divorce rate indicates, modern society ultimately does not take these vows very
seriously or at least modern couples do not prepare for marriage in such a way that
they are prepared to keep their vows.
Let me speak for a moment about marriage
preparation. I am not speaking here of the
engagement encounter weekend, the talk with the pastor or the pre-Cana conference in which
engaged couples participate. I am speaking
about the kind of preparation which we must do for ourselves for many years before we
enter marriage. Many young people enjoy the
exercise of drawing up a list of characteristics they would like their future spouse to
have. But their time would be better spent
drawing up a list of characteristics which they themselves should have in order to be a
worthy marriage partner. They need, too, to
reflect upon their expectations of marriage; many may come to see that their expectations
are largely selfish. Most of us dream
much more about how happy our spouses are going to make us rather than about how much we
are going to do for our spouses.
Since marriage requires loving, faithful, kind,
patient, forgiving, humble, courageous, wise, unselfish individuals and the list
could go on, young people should strive to gain these characteristics. Marriages cannot survive unless the spouses
acquire these characteristics. Certainly it
would be foolish to require that individuals have all these characteristics before they
marry, for none of us do. Indeed, the
experience of marriage itself undoubtedly helps foster these characteristics. But the fact is that if we do not work at
acquiring these characteristics before marriage, we will be acquiring their opposites,
such as selfishness, and haughtiness, and impatience characteristics that are death
to a marriage.
Since faithfulness is one of the
cornerstones of marriage let me speak of it at a little greater length. For many it seems odd to speak of the need to be
faithful to one's spouse before marriage, but such is the case. In a sense, one should love one's spouse before
one even meets him or her. One should be
preparing to be a good lover, a good spouse, one's whole life. This means reserving the giving of one's self
sexually until one is married for in a sense, one's sexuality belongs to one's
future spouse as much as it does to one's self. A
few generations ago, it was not uncommon for young people to speak of "saving
themselves" for marriage. It is a phrase
scoffed at today, but one that is nonetheless indicative of a proper understanding of
love, sexuality and marriage. One should
prepare one's self for marriage and one should save one's self for marriage.
How does one do so? Obviously by remaining
chaste and that is not an easy prescription. For
instance, it means being attentive to what provokes sexual thoughts and desires and
avoiding these provocations. It means, most
likely, dissociating one's self from many of the forms of entertainment popular today. Those who have a view of sexuality as a gift which
one offers one's spouse at the time of marriage cannot afford to be victim to the constant
sexual stimulation modern Americans face daily. So
we need to be careful what music we listen to, what movies and T.V. shows we watch, and we need to try to dress
modestly. We need to try and save sexual
thoughts and sexual stimulation for the time when they will not be frustrations but will
be welcome preludes to loving union with our spouses.
Sexual temptations are, of course, impossible to avoid especially since our
society does not seek to make it easier for us; rather it provides temptations around the
clock. Christ's teaching that lust in one's
heart is wrong, tells us that we must guard our inner purity as well as govern our
must be acknowledged that few think it sensible for those who are engaged to wait until
their wedding night to enjoy sexual union. This
view seems to be nearly as widespread among Christians as in the rest of society. Many think waiting until marriage would make
sexual intimacy too awkward; that it is good to have a more relaxed and casual time to get
to know one another sexually. Most think that
since one is soon going to take vows it makes little difference whether sexual intimacy
begins before or after a ceremony which simply ratifies a commitment already felt.
What difference does waiting make? Well,
certainly a vows is not a vow until it is spoken; unspoken, unratified commitments are all
too easily broken. But there are practical
reasons as well. Fr. James Burtchaell at
Notre Dame has written a marvelous book, For Better or Worse, laying out many of
the reasons why it is best for couples to wait until marriage before they begin their
sexual intimacy. He speaks eloquently of the
period before marriage as an irreplaceable opportunity for the lovers to get to know one
another; engaging in sexual intercourse creates a false sense of closeness; it creates a
bond that may be obscuring elements in a relationship which need to be worked on. Courtship is a marvelous time for talking and
getting to know each other; for sketching out dreams and plans; for expressing worries and
hesitations. The delight of sexual union can
easily be a disincentive to working out all the matters that those who are getting married
should work out.
But there is perhaps a deeper reason, and
that is the question of honesty and trust. Few
of those having sexual relations before marriage, especially Christians, can be fully open
about their actions. This means that
individuals engaging in such relationships must inevitably be deceiving someone
most likely their parents, their teachers, and perhaps their friends as well. The ability to practice such deception does not
bode well for one's integrity. The lovers
observe that each is good at deceiving and will file away this information and will most
likely have reason to wonder in the future if one's spouse is being honest with one's self
after all one's beloved had no trouble deceiving others whom he or she respected. Many Christians feel terrible guilt at
violating what are their own deeply held moral principles; some after they are married
tend to have guilty feelings about sex. In a
sense, they have programmed themselves to think of sexual intercourse as a furtive and
Couples who do wait until marriage to
enjoy sexual union often seem to have a special a kind of euphoria about their sexual
union. Because they have waited they feel
entitled to sexual enjoyment and see it as a privileged good of marriage. They have an easier time developing a deep and
abiding trust and consideration for each other. Their
willingness to wait, their willingness to endure the strains of sexual continence because
they love and respect one another, is a great testimony to their strength of character. They have also shown that sexual attraction is not
the most important part of the relationship; they have shown that they enjoy each other's
company even when the delights of sexual union are not available to them. Such faithfulness and chastity before marriage
ensure greater faithfulness and chastity during marriage.
And because of pregnancy or illness or separation, all couples must abstain
at some time in the marriage; the acquisition of the virtue of self-mastery before
marriage facilitates such necessary abstention.
Young people need to be chaste before
marriage not only because of the love they hope to share with their future spouses, but
also because of the responsibilities they have to their future children.
Years ago the chief reason for refraining
from sexual activity before marriage was fear of pregnancy.
Pregnancy was feared both because young people were not prepared to take
care of their children and also because there was considerable societal disapproval of
sexual intercourse before marriage. The
societal disapproval is gone and contraceptives have largely removed the fear
though not the reality of unwanted pregnancies.
Indeed, contraception seems to be one of the chief facilitators of much of the
sexual misconduct of our times. There
certainly were many fewer teenage pregnancies, many fewer abortions, a lesser incidence of
sexually transmitted diseases, etc., before contraception became widely available. Contraception has made people feel secure that
they can have sexual union apart from the obligations of marriage and child-rearing. Yet contraceptives do not remove the
responsibilities that come with the child-making possibilities of sexual intercourse. Young people are notoriously irresponsible about
nearly everything. They are roughly as
responsible about using contraceptives as they are about doing their homework, hanging up
their clothes, and doing their chores. And
even those who use contraceptives are not really safe, since contraceptives do not always
work. We must drive home to our young people
that they are not ready for sexual intercourse until they are ready to be parents, for
sexual intercourse always brings with it the possibility of being a parent.
Getting young people to associate sex with
child-bearing is not easy, but it is necessary; in fact, it is important for adults to
encourage young people to try to think like a parent.
It is wise for parents to talk about parenting with their children. It is good to get them thinking about what they
would like to do with their children; to get them thinking about what they want to be able
to provide for their children. And parents
must convey to their children that they are not a burden to them, that they consider their
children to be great gifts from God. Our
society almost universally looks upon children as a burden; they are expensive, noisy,
troublesome; they stand in the way of careers and adventuresome travel. This view, of course, has not stopped people from
having babies, but one senses that many children are just another possession of their
parents or just another experience that adults wish to have. Many couples seem to want to have a few
"designer children" as adornments to their lives not as reasons for their
God, it seems, has a preference for
children; after all one of his first commands was "be fruitful and multiply."
Throughout the Old Testament having many children is listed among the signs of prosperity
that indicate God's favor. Psalm 127 states
"Behold, sons are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons
of one's youth. Happy the man whose quiver is
filled with them." Psalm 128 is one of my favorites; it states,
Happy are you who fear the Lord, who walk
in his ways!
For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; happy shall you be, and favored.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home;
Your children like olive plants around your table.
Behold, thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord.
God has arranged matters such that parents
and children need each other. The
experience of parenting like the experience of marriage both requires and fosters many
virtues. Having children generally does
adults a lot of good; most find themselves becoming more selfless, more patient, kind,
loving, and tender when they have children. Learning
to live with children has many of the same advantages of living with a spouse; it forces
one to accommodate one's self to others; it forces one to acknowledge that one has
constant tendencies to be selfish. Staying
awake at night with children, dealing with their daily joys and sorrows, learning to be a
good example for them, contributes greatly to the maturity of adults.
Christians have a radically different view
of children from the rest of society. They
understand that their offspring are not their possessions through which they are to live
their unfulfilled dreams and have another way of winning the respect of the world around
them. Rather, Christians see children as a
gift from God, as souls entrusted to them, whom they are to return to God. Among Christians there is a predisposition towards
children, for Christians understand that God loves life and wishes to share His glorious
creation. Christians are generally more eager
and willing to have children because they realize the importance of children to God and
depend upon Him to assist them in providing for the children He has given them.
Recently a relative of mine mentioned that
he wanted to have a large family but that he did not know how it would be possible to
manage financially. He had noticed that I had
a large number of friends who started their child-bearing early and had lots of children. Few of the women have paying jobs. He wanted to know how they did it. The question is a good one and I think I know the
answer: they trust in God. They regularly
live on the edge of things for the first few years they experience occasional
anxiety that another child will be an undue strain on the budget, or they fear that they
will not be able to afford a car or house large enough for the growing brood, or they fear
that they may not be able to meet food and medical costs.
But after a few years, they find that in most surprising and often in quite
spectacular ways, their needs are fulfilled. To
be sure, they learn to budget and scrimp and save and they are not ashamed to take
hand-me-downs and they often learn to live a life that is a little tacky around the edges. But they lack none of their true needs and often
enjoy luxuries they never would have dreamed of having.
So they come to trust God and live without a lot of obvious security. Trust in God replaces the American desire for
perfect security; they do not set their sights on accumulating enough money and material
goods to serve as a buffer against the world. With
trusting hearts and light hearts they proceed to enjoy their growing families and to soak
up the love that flows in big families. And
they become ever more generous with what they have. Those
with large families seem to have a special generosity and hospitality about them. Guests are extremely welcome and interruptions
seem not to be the annoyance they are for most; members of large families seem quite ready
to drop everything to help someone else. Slowly
but steadily they become better Christians.
Here I would like to broach a topic which
is sensitive and controversial; it is a topic about which I have been doing much research,
and that is the topic of contraception. I am
now doing revisions on a manuscript for a book on Humanae Vitae, the encyclical
written by Pope Paul VI which taught that the use of contraceptives is immoral. This teaching has been nearly completely
discounted by society as a whole and widely ignored by Catholics as well. Nonetheless, I have found a wisdom in this
teaching which I would like to promote among both my Catholic and non- Catholic sisters
and brothers in the Lord. One of the great
fruits of ecumenism, of course, is that different traditions have much to learn from each
other. But it is wrong to think that
opposition to contraception is a distinctively Catholic doctrine. It surprises many to learn that the belief that
contraception is not in accord with God's will is not a distinctive Catholic belief. The fact is that all Protestant denominations as
well as Catholics were opposed to contraception up until 1930. The Anglican Church twice early in this century
condemned contraception and then for the first time in 1930 passes a resolution that it
was morally permissible for spouses to use contraception.
Thus, in the Christian scheme of things, acceptance of contraception is a
relatively new phenomenon. Catholics have,
perhaps, preserved the teaching against contraception more faithfully, but it is not a
teaching exclusive to them.
In much the same way Protestants have more
faithfully preached the necessity of tithing, a doctrine not exclusive to Protestants. Many Catholics are now rediscovering the practice
of tithing and many of them at the prompting of their Protestant brethren. They have found great spiritual growth through
this practice and now in the Catholic press regularly urge their fellow Catholics to
embrace this time-honored way of being grateful to God and of trusting in Him. Indeed, I think the doctrine on tithing has some
similarities with the teaching that in one's child-bearing one must be generous with God. Some refuse to tithe since they think it foolish
to give away money they think they need for their own well-being. Yet, those who are committed to tithing know that
on occasion one must give to God what one believes one needs one's self. They give to God and His causes because they know
He wants them to, and they trust Him to provide. Being
generous in child-bearing is not so very different. Many
a married couple will testify to their belief that they thought having another child would
be an undue hardship, only to find that having another child was a source of wonderful
blessings and splendid joy to them.
Of course, no one would deny that couples
on occasion may have good reason to curtail their child-bearing at least for a while
few argue that sometimes spouses would be more responsible in not having more
children at a certain time than in having children. This
being the case, many do not see why couples may not responsibly use contraceptives to help
them space their children or to delay child-bearing if sufficiently good reason exists. They consider contraception a marvelous
invention of technology, like many other forms of medicine, and see no reason not to use
it, if used responsibly. They find the
Catholic counsel of periodic abstinence to be rather irrational. They reason that both contraception and natural
methods of family planning are both designed to limit family size, so why not use the most
Oddly enough, NFP, or natural family
planning, is one of the most effective means, if not the most effective means of planning
one's family. NFP, of course, is not
the outmoded rhythm method, a method which was based on the calendar. Rather, NFP is a highly scientific way of
determining when a woman is fertile based on observing various bodily signs. The statistics of its reliability rival the most
effective forms of the Pill. And NFP is
without the health risks and dubious moral status of contraceptives. It has long been known that the IUD is an
abortifacient; that is, it works by causing an early term abortion. Ovulation still occurs and therefore conception
may occur; the IUD then prohibits the fertilized egg, the tiny new human being from
implanting in the wall of the uterus. Most
currently popular forms of the Pill work the same way; that is, they, too, are
abortifacients. Furthermore, the pill and the
IUD have proven to be dangerous to women in many ways currently the IUD is off the
market in the U.S. because of the many law
suits brought against manufacturers. So those
who are opposed to abortion and those interested in protecting the well- being of women
would certainly not want to be using these forms of contraception. The other forms have aesthetic drawbacks or are
low on reliability.
NFP no longer means "not for
Protestants." Many non-Catholics are turning to NFP as a means of family planning
precisely because they do not want to use abortifacients and they fear the physical risks
of contraception. They are finding as a
pleasant effect of their decision that the use of NFP has positive results for their
marital relationships, for their relationship with their children and their relationship
Many find it odd that periodic abstinence
should be beneficial rather than harmful to a marriage.
Certainly most who begin to use NFP, especially those who were not chaste before
marriage and who have used contraception, generally find the abstinence required to be a
source of strain and a cause of considerable irritability.
Abstinence, of course, like dieting or any form of self-restraint, brings its
hardships; but like dieting and other forms of self-denial, it also brings its benefits. As spouses learn to communicate better with each
otherand abstinence gives them the opportunity to do so, as they learn to
communicate their affection in non- genital ways and as they learn to master their sexual
desires, they find a new liberation in the ability to abstain from sexual intercourse. Many find that an element of romance reenters the
relationship during the times of abstinence and an element of excitement accompanies the
reuniting. Spouses using NFP find that they
come to understand and respect one another more.
Let me read from a letter written by a woman who has used the whole gamut of
contraceptive possibilities. Some of the
language is rather crude andbut it's not anything you don't hear nightly on
T.V.during family viewing time, at that.
Why is it that couples who initially and
perhaps constantly find difficult the restraint required by NFP, eventually come to sing
the praises of NFP? One of the answers seems to be that couples advance in the virtue of
"self-mastery" through their use of NFP. That
is, they begin to realize that their sexual feelings can be controlled to some degree and
that they need to be subordinated to the goods of marriage.
Thus, if spouses determine that they could not responsibly have another
child at a given time, they have the self-mastery to control their sexuality so that it
does not conflict with what they have determined to be good for the family. This self-mastery that they gain spills over into
their family life and the rest of their life with favorable results. Again, whenever we gain self-control, whether
through curtailing our eating, or drinking, or spending or in our sexual gratification
all activities good in themselves but in need of control this self-control
becomes somewhat easier in other realms of our lives.
Spouses using NFP become very good
examples to their children, especially their teenagers who may be wrestling with new and
powerful sexual feelings. One man told me
about how his practice of NFP assisted him in being a good witness for chastity among the
young men at his place of work. They
would tease him about being able, as a married man, to have sex on demand (it goes to show
how much they know about marriage) but he responded that through the use of NFP he was
required to abstain. He argued that if night
after night he was able to sleep beside the woman he loved and not have sexual intercourse
with her, they could learn to refrain from sexual intercourse with their girlfriends. He believed that parents who practice NFP could
much more persuasively urge their children to be chaste before marriage.
Another reason given for the enthusiasm
among couples for NFP is their view that couples who use NFP experience a greater bonding
than those who use contraception. They claim
that there is a more complete giving of one's self to another in a non-contracepted act of
sexual intercourse than in a contracepted act. Certainly,
no responsible person engages in non- contracepted sexual intercourse with one whom one
does not want to have a significant bond for non-contracepted intercourse brings
with it the potential (sometimes symbolic) of a having a child together and
children represent a lifetime bond. Those
engaging in contracepted intercourse may intend a lifetime bond but their actions do not
express this intention. Those arguing
this point cite as strong evidence for their position the claim couples who practice NFP
seem to have a nearly non-existent divorce rate.
Couples who use NFP also claim that it
brings them closer to God. They believe that
God made the human body and that respecting the way the human body works is a way of
respecting God. They believe that
contraceptives are an obstacle not only to union with their spouses but also to union with
God. Couples not infrequently feel that
God is present in a special way during their love-making.
The emotions that flow and the bonding that takes place during love-making
are of a grand and mysterious not to say sacred nature. They believe that God is the source of love
and life and that He has privileged them with being the transmitters of life through an
act of love. They feel that by not
contracepting they are leaving God space to perform His act of the creation of a new soul,
if He so chooses.
I hope this discussion has served to
explain at least to some extent why for nearly the whole of its existence the Christian
tradition has been opposed to the use of contraception.
I did not go into some of the more complicated moral arguments, nor did I
try to address likely objections. I simply
wanted to link this teaching with the view that child-bearing is an essential
characteristic of marriage.
Certainly it is undeniable that much of
the Christian understanding of the need for faithful marriages and for the reserving of
sexual intimacy for marriage is linked to the power of sexual union to result in children. Christians must work to convince themselves
and others that we should never lose sight of the link between sexual activity and
child-bearing. If no one engaged in sexual
union who was not prepared to care for any children who result from that union, the modern
world would experience a radical change in its sexual behavior.
need to provide apologetics and explanations why faithfulness and why responsibility
towards children are two of the defining characteristics of marriage. Moderns, I think, are tired of unfaithfulness,
tired of shallow and brief relationships; they crave something more meaningful, something
on which they can rely. Young people are
rather sick of divorce. There is virtually no
one who does not know some children who have suffered greatly from divorce. Certainly many of us because of our own
foolishness, weakness or wickedness, or because of the foolishness, weakness or wickedness
of others may not be able to form the marriage and families which we want and need. We must trust in the grace of God to provide for
all those who turn to Him for aid, when matters are not as they ought to be. But the inability of many of us to live or
to find what we know to be best, is not a repudiation of what is best. Christians who have the wisdom of the centuries
should strive mightily themselves to live chaste lives and to form loving marriages and
families, for such is vital to their eternal salvation and such may well be vital to the
temporal well-being of the whole of society.