In our culture’s current self-examination on sexual harassment and sexual abuse, we would also do well to ponder how the “contraceptive mentality” has contributed to the many sexually related problems of the day. This view insists that there is no necessary connection between sex and having children; it separates what God has joined. This has led to a whirlwind of confusion about the nature and purpose of sexual intimacy as well as about marriage and family. Many treat sex lightly and frivolously; they falsely think that sex can be without consequences. As we have seen played out in the recent news, many men no longer see women as wives, mothers, and persons to be respected, but as sexual objects to be exploited.
Two generations have passed since the publication of the boldly pastoral and prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae, which upheld the ancient ban on the use of artificial contraception. Perhaps no teaching of the Church causes more scoffing (even from Catholics) than our teaching against artificial contraception: Unrealistic! Out of touch! Uncompassionate! Silly! You’ve got to be kidding!
The Lord Jesus had an answer to those who ridiculed Him in a similar way:
“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But time will prove where wisdom lies” (Matt 11:16-18).
Indeed, times does prove where wisdom lies. Some fifty years after acceptance of contraception set in, how are we doing? Perhaps it is best to review some of the “promises” that advocates of contraception made and then review the prophecies of Pope Paul VI. Then let’s review the record and note the “fruits” of contraception.
The Promises of the Contraception Advocates:
Happier marriages and a lower divorce rates, because couples will be able to have all the sex they wanted without the “fear” of pregnancy.
Lower abortion rates because there will be far fewer “unwanted” children.
Greater dignity for women because they will no longer be “bound” by their reproductive system.
A more recent promise: reduction in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and AIDS.
The concerns and predictions of Pope Paul VI (in Humanae Vitae):
Consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity (HV # 17)
A general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. (HV # 17)
Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection. (HV # 17)
Who will prevent public authorities from…impos[ing] their use on everyone. (HV # 17)
So who had the wisdom to see? Was it the world or the Church? Let’s consider some of the data:
The divorce rate did not decline; it skyrocketed. Divorce rates soared through the 1970s and beyond until nearly 50 percent of marriages were failing. In recent years the divorce rate has dropped slightly, but this may be due more to the fact that far fewer people get married in the first place, preferring instead to cohabitate and engage in a kind of serial monogamy, drifting from one relationship to the next. The overall divorce rate currently hovers in the low 40 percent range. Advocates of contraception today claim that divorce is a complicated matter, which is certainly true, but they cannot have it both ways: at first claiming that contraception will be a “simple” fix to make marriages happier and then, when they are proved so horrifyingly wrong, claiming that divorce is “complicated.” Pope Paul VI, on the other hand, predicted rough sailing for marriage with the advent of contraception; it looks as if he was right.
Abortion rates did not decline; they skyrocketed as well. Within a few years, the pressure to make abortion more available led to its “legalization” in 1973. It has been well argued that far from decreasing the abortion rate, contraception actually increased it. Because contraception routinely fails, abortion has become the contraception of last resort. Further, just as the Pope predicted, sexual immorality has become widespread; this also has led to higher rates of abortion. It is hard to compare promiscuity rates between periods because people don’t tend to tell the truth when asked about such things. But one would have to be very myopic not to notice the huge increase in open promiscuity, cohabitation, pornography, and the like. All of this bad behavior, made more possible by contraceptives, also fuels abortion rates. Chalk up another one for the Pope’s and the Church’s foresight.
Women’s dignity is a difficult thing to measure, and different people have different yardsticks by which to measure it. Women do have greater career choices today, but is that the true source of a person’s dignity? Dignity certainly involves more than one’s economic and utilitarian capacity. Sadly, motherhood has taken a back seat in popular culture. And, as the Pope predicted, women have been hypersexualized as well. Their dignity as wives and mothers has been set aside in favor of the sexual pleasure they offer to men. Many modern men, no longer bound by marriage for sexual satisfaction, use women and discard them on a regular basis. Men “get what they want” and it seems that many women are willing to supply it rather freely. In this scenario, men win. Women are often left with STDs. They are often left with children they must support and raise alone. And as they get older and “less attractive” to men, they are often alone. I am not sure that this is dignity. Have women really benefited under this new morality, which contraception helped to usher in? I think the Pope wins this point as well.
As for preventing/reducing STDs and AIDS: again, big failure. STDs were not prevented, nor did they decrease. Infection rates skyrocketed through the 1970s and 1980s. AIDS, which appeared on the scene in the 1980s continues to show terribly high rates. Where is the promised deliverance? It seems that contraceptives do not prevent anything. Rather, they encourage the spread of these diseases by encouraging the bad behavior that causes them. Here, too, it looks as if the Church was right and the world was wrong.
Add to this list of effects the high rate of teenage pregnancy, the devastation experienced by single parent families, and even increasing poverty. The link to poverty may seem a stretch, but the bottom line is that single motherhood is the chief cause of poverty in this country. Contraception encourages promiscuity. Promiscuity often leads to pregnancy at a young age. Youthful pregnancy often leads to single motherhood (absent fathers). Single motherhood often leads to welfare dependence and poverty. In our inner cities today, over 80 percent of homes are headed by single mothers. It is the single best predictor of poverty.
Declining birth rates, fueled by contraception, are devastating cultures. Europe as we have known it is simply going out of existence. (I have written on that before here: Contraception is Cultural Suicide!). Europe’s future is as a Muslim continent; Muslims typically have much larger families. Likewise, here in the United State, the birth rate in white and African-American communities is below replacement level. Thankfully, our immigrants are largely Christian and share our American vision. For the Church, the declining birthrates are resulting in the closing of parishes and schools, and a reduction in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We cannot sustain what we have on a population that is no longer replacing itself. Immigration has insulated the Church from this to some extent, but the decline in Mass attendance has eclipsed the growth from immigration and we are starting to shut down a lot of our operations.
Conclusion: Time will prove where wisdom lies. What have we learned over these decades of contraception? First, we have learned that it is a huge failure in meeting its promises; it has backfired, making things worse rather than better. Marriage, families, and children have all taken a huge hit. Bad behavior has been encouraged and all the bad consequences that flow from it are flourishing. Most people seem largely uninterested in this data. Hearts have become numb and minds have gone to sleep. I hope that you will consider this information thoughtfully and share it with others. Time has proven where wisdom lies. It is time to admit the obvious.