Barnyard Morality

by JANET SMITH

Recently, in the pages of America, Robert Heaney notes that a deeper understanding of reality can advance our understanding of natural law.   Drawing upon his training as a biologist, he argues that in its condemnation of contraception the Church has based its teaching on bad biology.  What Heaney fails to see is that our further knowledge of what a contraceptive culture looks like, indicates that contraception hardly contributes to the well-being of human beings.  Far from having a barnyard view of sexuality, Humanae Vitae, as more are beginning to see, had a prophetic view of the contraceptive culture.   Among other evils, Humanae Vitae predicted that with widespread use of contraception, there would be a general lowering of morality and that there would be less respect for women.  Most can see that our morality is low and we have little respect for women but few have seen the connection between these realities and contraception.

Twenty-five years ago, many thought that contraceptives would make for fewer abortions, fewer illegitimate pregnancies, better marriages.  Does anyone want to argue that these expecta­tions have come true?  Heaney fails to see that contraception has not brought us out of the barnyard but has instead fostered a barnyard morality.  The culture that contraceptive sex has fostered resembles a barnyard more than the utopia of sexual intimacy Heaney depicts.  It is in the barnyard that sterilization, random couplings, breeding, the cavalier killing of the unwanted and imperfect, etc. are "natural".  Clearly, — and it essential to see this —  contraception would not be condemned by the Church if it were an offense only or primarily against the biological purpose of the sexual act for there is no prohibition against contracepting and manipulating animal sex in any way deemed beneficial.

It is precisely because man is not on the same level with animals that he is called to live in accord with a higher view of sexual­ity.  Whereas animal sex is a fleet­ing union and results in simply another member of the species, human sex is meant to promote a profound bond and brings forth an immortal soul.  The following argues that contraceptive sex tends to foster fleeting and shallow unions more than the deeply intimate unions appropri­ate to human persons.  Here let me briefly note that contracep­tion does not merely thwart a mere biological capacity.  God, loving creator that He is, chose to bring forth new human life through the loving act of spouses.   The male provides the sperm, the female the ovum, and God the human soul.  Contraception allows couples to enjoy the pleasure God designed for sexual intercourse but shuts God out from performing his creative act in the arena He designed for bringing forth new human life.

An elaboration on how contraceptive sex contributes to barnyard morality should be preceded by noting that contracep­tion is also bad biology.   The "pill" treats the perfectly healthy condition of fertility as though it were an illness or defect.  And the pill has many and vile side effects: it can cause blood clots and strokes and infertil­ity, for instance; these occur only in a small percentage of cases to be sure, but since sixteen million of women are using the pill, the small percent­ages can add up to large numbers. 

The everyday, common side effects of the "pill" are not insignificant.  It is common for women who use the pill to complain of increased irritability, depression, weight gain, and a decreased libido.  Isn't the pill something every woman and her husband wants — something to help her be more irritable, to be more depressed, to gain weight, and to have a decreased desire to have sexual inter­course!  In our age when we have come to discover how foolish it is to dump alien chemicals into the environment, why do we think it sensible for women to put so many alien chemicals into their bodies?

Norplant works largely like the pill; the IUD has largely been taken off the market because it is so threatening to a woman's well-being; these leave us largely with barrier methods.  Barrier methods may not be the same direct threat to physical health as chemical methods but they are a threat.  Certainly, as all contraceptives, they facilitate out-of-wedlock sexual inter­course, which is itself threatening to one's health.  Even treatable sexually transmitted diseases lead to further difficulties.  For instance, most of the great increase in infertility can be traced to pelvic inflammatory diseases contracted through extramarital sexual relationships.   The greater incidence of infertility has brought sexuality from the barnyard to the factory — babies are now made with sperm purchased from strangers.  When the natural ties between sex, babies, and marriage are severed, chaos results.

Our contraceptive culture has severed the natural tie between sex, babies and marriage.  Not only has it wrought biological disaster, it has wrought moral disaster.  The sexual revolution could not have come into being or continue to rage like a fire out of control without the fuel of contraception.  Many couples would not be having sexual intercourse outside of marriage were it not for the security, however false, that contraception give them.   Contraception has severed "having sex" from "having babies" and as a result millions are "having sex" who are not in the least prepared for having babies.  Now when a baby results from sexual intercourse, it is considered an "accident", and unwanted burden.  In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court coldly made the observation:

"in some critical respects abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception . . . . for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail."

The "intimate" relationships in question are hardly the deep, committed, caring relationship one hopes for from marriage.  Rather, these "intimate" relationships that require abortion as a  back-up for failed contraception most likely have little true commitment written into them.  It is in the barnyard that such casual and irresponsible relationships belong.

Several contraceptives, the pill, the IUD and Norplant, are themselves abortifacients.  That is, occasionally they work by causing an early term abortion; conception takes place but the fertilized egg, the new tiny human being, cannot implant itself in the uterine wall.  Break-through ovulations occur some 2-10% of the time; who knows how many of these ova are impregnated and then aborted due to a uterine environment rendered inhospitable by contraceptives?

Abortion, while perhaps one of the worst, is not the only result of the sexual revolution.  Cultural pundits are now beginning to bemoan the fact that 68% of African-American children are born out of wedlock and that 22% of white babies are born out of wedlock.  Single women with children account for 60% of those living under the poverty line.  How much of the crime in our culture is to be accounted for by young males raised without fathers?   How much of the sexual abuse is caused by irregular living situations?  How much drug abuse, alcoholism, and low self-esteem are caused by an unhealthy home life?

Nor is it fanciful to suggest that the outrageously high divorce rate has been greatly facilitated by contraception.  A researcher at the University of Stanford, Robert Michaels, attributes a significant percentage (45%) of the 50% divorce rate to widespread use of contraception.   Among explanations why contraception facilitates divorce, he notes that couples who have fewer children and those late in marriage divorce more often (contracepting couples have fewer children later in marriage) and that adultery made easier by contraceptives contributes greatly to divorce.

Most of those who contracept undoubtedly love each other and mean for their acts of sexual intercourse to be loving and bonding.  They have little suspicion that contraception may be working against the very good they hope to effect.  But by using contraception, they have absorbed a view of sexuality that does not take advantage of the great love-expressing and bonding power of the baby-making ordination of the sexual act.   Heaney, like most dissenters writing on the Church's teaching on contraception, evinces no knowledge of John Paul II's claim that one violates the unitive meaning of the sexual act whenever one violates the procreative meaning. 

John Paul II has written extensively on human sexuality, not from a biological perspective but from a personalist perspective.  It is possible here to give only the briefest sketch of his thought.  He observes that male and female are made for each other.   Each sex is really incomplete without the other; physically and psychically the sexes complete each other.  John Paul II maintains that we have a deep and natural need to give ourselves to another person; to make ourselves whole by giving ourselves to another.   He says that this giving is most completely performed in the sexual act between male and female, an act that is meant to express the deep commitment and desire for union that we feel and wish to express.  He says that the attempt to thwart the fertility of the sexual act means that one is withholding one's fertility from the other — one is withholding something that belongs in the sexual act.

One way of seeing John Paul II's point is to think of the difference between the phrases "I want to have sex with you" and "I am open to having babies with you."  The first phrase is one our culture utters with the greatest of casualness; contracepted sex is often engaged in with the same commitment that going out to dinner or playing tennis with another suggests — that is, not much.  Being open to having a baby with another, however, bespeaks a very great commitment to another, the kind of commitment worthy of human beings, the kind of commitment that should be made by those engaging in an act that might in fact result in a human baby!  It bespeaks the willingness to have one's whole life entwined with another, to have breakfast together, to go to little league games, to plan weddings.

Many in our culture can not imagine life without contraception.  They think it means either no sexual intercourse at all or lots of babies.  Since our culture is so obsessed with sex and so hostile to babies, both possibilities seem unthinkable.   Few have any idea how satisfying it is to wait until marriage to have sexual intercourse with someone one has vowed to spend one's life with.  Few have any idea how deeply meaningful noncontracepted sexual intercourse can be; how doable periodic abstinence is in marriage for those who have abstained before marriage.  They know nothing of how methods of natural family planning (NFP) work; they often refuse to believe, in spite of the most solid scientific evidence, that NFP is more reliable and effective than any other form of birth control. 

Many fail to see any moral difference between contraception and NFP.  They think that since a contracepting couple and one using NFP both intend not to have a child and intend to have sexual intercourse that doesn't issue in a child, what they are doing amounts to the same thing.  Although both couples have the same end of intending to limit their family size, one couple chooses the means of thwarting their fertility, of engaging in potentially fertile acts while simultaneously working to destroy that fertility.  The other couple respects their fertility, and when not prepared to accept a child, refrains from potentially fertile acts.  NFP respects fertility and requires and fosters the virtue of self-control (accessible only to humans); contraception violates fertility and caters to the animal propensity for self-indulgence.

Many find it odd that periodic abstinence should be beneficial rather than harmful to a marriage.  But abstinence can be another way of expressing love, as it is between those who are not married, or between those for whom engaging in sexual inter­course involves a significant risk.  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 some strain and 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.  And after all, spouses abstain for all sorts of reasons — because one or the other is out of town or ill, for instance. 

Spouses using NFP find that the method helps them learn to communicate better with each other — and abstinence gives them the opportunity to do so.  Many find that an element of romance reenters the relationship during the times of abstinence and an element of excitement accompanies the reuniting.   Women using NFP generally feel revered by their husbands since their husbands do not make them use unhealthy and unpleasant contraceptives.  Men using NFP generally have greater self-respect since they have gained control over their sexual desires and can now engage in sexual intercourse as an act of love not as an act of mere sexual urgency.  Very, very few couples who use NFP ever divorce; they seem to bond in a deeper way than those who are contracepting.

Heaney, without identifying it, invokes the principle of totality.  He observes "sexual intercourse serves the enduring, committed relationship between partners . . . openness to life inheres in the relationship and not in individual sexual acts."  Heaney gives no response to the many counter-arguments to this old chestnut.  Let me give an analogy that at least illustrates some of the problems.  The Church teaches that all one's sexual acts should be with one's spouse.  Suppose one were able to argue that this view is based on an outdated biology; after all the laws about marriage were made when people had an average life-span of around forty.  Who can expect people to be faithful to one spouse for decades?  A few extramarital thrills might put the lilt back in one's step.  As long as one is faithful most of the time, why should one have to be all the time?  Certainly, some seriously argue this way, but such is not the reasoning of the Church about moral matters.   Being faithful most of the time, or truthful most of the time, or non-racist most of the time is not sufficient.  Moral acts are judged individually, not as parts of some aggregate whole.

There is not so much biology in the Church's teaching as Heaney suspects — and what there is, is good biology.  It cannot be denied that sexual intercourse can result in babies and that it can result in intimate bonding.  These goods that are the result of a physical act are not physical goods.  They are great human goods that ought not to be violated.  What greater observation of reality shows us is that contraception violates both these goods and unleashes a host of evils on individuals and societies.  Our culture is a mess and it is largely young people and particularly young women who are suffering the consequences of this mess.  We can hardly blame them for the choices they make since they are the choices that we have deemed "responsible".   Most who contracept have little understanding of what damage it can do to their relationships and to society as a whole.  But as any biologist knows, if one is ingesting poison, even if it is cleverly disguised as something good, one will still suffer the ill effects of the poison. 

— Janet Smith is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dallas.

Copyright 1994 Janet Smith. All rights reserved.