Here is an excerpt of a talk titled “Why Contraception Matters: How It Keeps Us from Love and Life,” given by Steve Patton, director of the Diocesan Center for Family Life in St. Augustine. The talk is being distributed by One More Soul.
It used to be, before the contraceptive revolution, that there was a pretty clear and firm connection between sex and marriage. Married people had sex, unmarried people didn’t, or if they did, they more or less knew that they weren’t supposed to. Most everybody knew this.
But over the course of the 20th century, as contraception became more socially accepted, more available, and more effective, all that began to change. By the time the sixties rolled around it was becoming clear, to married and unmarried people alike, that you didn’t have to be married to have sex. Contraceptive practice had made sex into a recreational activity that everyone has a right to.
What did this mean for the unmarried? Well, you probably heard the old saying, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” Widespread acceptance and availability of contraception has led to widespread fornication. Pre-marital sex is now not only socially acceptable, but socially respectable. It’s no different among Catholics. About 90% of engaged couples in the U.S. who come to the Catholic Church for marriage are already sexually active — 90%. Yes, people do still get married, but in fewer numbers. Why? Well, one of the reasons a man and woman used to get married was to start having sex, and contraception basically removed that as a reason.
What did the contraceptive revolution do to married people? There are three ways that it led to an increase in divorce rates.
First, it’s the flip side of what I just mentioned: If sex is no longer a reason to get married, then it’s also no longer a reason to stay married. Anyone can have it. It’s pretty much a commodity. But once sex is removed from the portrait of all those things that make marriage unique and valuable, then a married couple at risk will have one less reason to try to make it work.
Second, widespread contraceptive practice in many cases removed another reason that has traditionally held together married couples, namely, children. There is something to be said for a couple trying to make their marriage work for the sake of the children. But what happens when there are no children? More contraception has led to fewer children, and in many cases to no children at all. Divorces naturally followed.
Third, widespread use of contraception by married couples also led to an increase of adultery. Once you take away one of the greatest fears of extra-marital sex — which is pregnancy — you’re going to see an increase of that activity. And when there is an increase in adultery there’s also going to be an increase in divorce.
In net effect, our culture of sterilized sex has made marriage on the whole a less attractive institution to enter into, and an easier institution to get out of. It’s contributed to the demise of millions of marriages, both those that actually took place and those that should have taken place, but never did.
Death to life
How does widespread contraception lead to declining birth rates? Well if the life-giving potential of sex is pervasively removed from the picture, a cultural mindset is gradually fostered in which children themselves are pervasively removed from the picture. They tend to be viewed not as gifts but as liabilities, spoilers of a pleasurable lifestyle. We might have one or two, if that would be pleasurable to us, but after that the norm is to reject them.
How does widespread contraception lead to widespread abortion? I credit Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse with summing up the motto of our culture of sexual liberation this way, and keep in mind that our culture of sexual liberation was made possible only by our culture of contraception: She says ours is a culture in which, “all adults are entitled to unlimited sexual activity without a live baby resulting.” I’ll say that again, “all adults are entitled to unlimited sexual activity without a live baby resulting.”
What Dr. Morse touches upon is our culture’s prevailing disconnection between sex and babies. Before contraception was king, the prevailing assumption was that a baby was a natural consequence of sex. If you chose to engage in sex, you knew it could result in a baby. You might not have wanted that to happen, but you assumed that it could happen. If a baby did result, it was because of your freely chosen action, and so you were likely, not necessarily, but likely, to feel a certain kind of responsibility toward that child.
The contraceptive revolution changed all that. It led to the prevailing assumption that babies really shouldn’t have anything to do with sex. That is, not unless you wanted a baby to have something to do with sex, not unless you allowed that. Or as Dr. Morse said, not unless you’re into that kind of thing.
Now couples who think this way do know that keeping a baby out of the picture doesn’t just happen by itself; you have to do your part. You have to do something to the sexual act to make sure that a baby won’t be conceived. That’s what, quote unquote, taking responsibility for your actions now means with respects to sexual activity.
But if a couple has this kind of attitude, then when the contraception fails, as it often does, and there’s a pregnancy, they’re not going to tend to think the baby’s there because of their actions. They’re going to tend to think the baby’s there in spite of their actions. In other words, their mindset is not so much that this is their child that they conceived. Rather, they’re going to tend to think it’s an invader that they failed to repel. This kind of thinking is likely to foster quite a different sense of what’s the responsible thing to do next.
Now, I realize, we’re not talking about abortion, yet. Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer, and not everyone who uses contraception goes on to have an abortion when it fails. What I’m saying, though, is that contraception, by its very nature, and as a broad social phenomenon, tends to incline the heart of a nation toward abortion. As John Paul II put it in “Evangelium Vitae,” Latin for the “Gospel of Life,” the contraceptive mentality strengthens the temptation to abort. Contraception and abortion are not the same thing, but as John Paul put it, they are as closely connected as “fruits of the same tree.”