Is birth control harmful?

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Also in this week's issue is a Jamie Pierson op-ed responding to the "Birth Control Is Harmful" billboards that Catholic-affiliated Respect Life Tulsa has placed around town. Jamie talks about double standards, and birth control, in her opinion, levels the playing field in the power struggle between men and women. I've got some comments, but given the subject matter, I'll put them after the jump....

I was amazed to read this:

Growing up in the church, though I won't say which one, we girls were taught that it was our duty to maintain abstinence. That the boys were just unable to control themselves, and that it was up to us to keep them and their parts beyond arm's length.

When a couple of young people hooked up at youth group, it was the girl who got the stern talking-to from the pastor, who had failed and was heading down the path to teen pregnancy. The boy got the half-congratulatory nudges and maybe a little speech about being a good master to the womenfolk. Besides being abominably unfair to the girls, this is not a flattering portrayal of guys.

I find it hard to believe that any church nowadays (youth group wasn't that long ago for Jamie -- she's 21) would teach a double standard on sexual self-control. A conservative church would teach that it's every Christian teen's responsibility to stay out of tempting situations and to abstain from sex until marriage. A liberal church would surely be egalitarian about sexual responsibility.

At the end of the column, she reacts to the content of the website, which presents a standard Roman Catholic case against contraception of any kind:

Or "It does not honor the purpose of sex" which is simply a matter of opinion. A few, such as "degrades women and makes them simply a sexual object" seem to show a genuine concern for a woman's rights, honestly, it's quite the opposite. Birth control gives us the ability to turn men into sexual objects, degrading their power over us. If a woman is still being treated as an object, it's the man's perception of her and her own desire to be seen that way. In a post-pill world, women have all the freedoms and privileges of men, for good and ill.

Emphasis added. While I take issue with the Catholic position on contraception within marriage (I see no real moral difference between using a barrier method and using Natural Family Planning -- either way you're trying to have sex without getting pregnant), at the heart of their teaching is the idea that no one should be treated as a sexual object, as a walking, talking dildo or a self-propelled, self-lubricating orifice. God designed sex as a coming together of two whole persons, created in God's image, in a fully- and permanently-committed relationship.

Sex shouldn't be used as a weapon in a power struggle. If, as Jamie says, birth control enables women to turn men into sexual objects -- and it certainly makes it less costly for men to treat women as sexual objects -- doesn't that prove the point that it's harmful?

It might be more accurate to say that sex outside of marriage is damaging to one's soul, and contraception is therefore harmful when it's used to make that possible.

It would be fascinating to read a Jamie Pierson review of The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On, one 30-something single woman's story of the emotional damage she inflicted on herself by living the "Sex in the City" lifestyle, and the healing and hope she's found in living chastely (i.e., saving sex for marriage). At the heart of the book is the idea that sex has a purpose, and it has a deep effect on our emotions and personality -- whether we want it to or not. I have a copy and may write something about it here, but I'd be more interested in reading the reaction of someone like Jamie -- a bright, eloquent member of the book's intended target audience, but who isn't already persuaded of the book's premise.

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Dan Paden said:

Hmmm. Obviously I'm not exactly in favor of the sexual objectification of women (or men), and yet, vis-a-vis birth control, I can't help but think of at least three women I've known whose lives would each have been very seriously put at risk by another pregnancy and who each elected--together with their husbands--to get one person in each marriage "fixed." Hard to blame any of 'em, either for taking that step or continuing to have sex!

I suppose that birth control might very well be harmful, but I can't help but think that sometimes a pregnancy might be potentially harmful, too. The line I draw is not in front of prevention, but in front of termination, that is, I don't have much of a problem with birth control, but I do have a problem with abortion.

MichaelBates said:

You wouldn't make a very good Catholic, Dan! (I guess we knew that already. :) )

Regarding the couples you mention, I agree with you, but I've read plenty of anti-contraception advocates who would condemn that sort of decision. They argue that all contraception prevents the couple from truly and fully giving themselves to each other, contraception causes marital discord, contraception causes alienation and divorce. It's the "contraceptive mentality," you see.

I'm concerned about fragmentation in the pro-life movement. There seems to be growing discomfort with abortion in American society at large and a willingness to accept at least some restrictions on abortion. Now, when we're making some real progress on the issue, is not the time to have a split caused by those who pushing this absolute anti-contraception line.

W. Author Profile Page said:

An acquaintance of mine once was with a pro-life group in the area where she lived until she found they also were adamantly anti-contraception -- even for people who were married and already had kids.

These folks were selling so much ignorance or outright lies that she abandoned the movement.

She didn't want the pro-life movement to target contraception next if they succeeded in outlawing abortion. She didn't object to pro-life stances; she *did* object, however, to their extremist stance against birth control -- something that she felt husbands and wives should make the final decisions on, not the government.

Extremism spells the death of any political movement. Outlawing contraception certainly would be regarded as extremism by a huge majority of Americans. The pro-life movement would do well to remember that.

Paul Tay said:

My brain hurts. Way too many BIG words.

Rob Zerbe said:

I am a cradle Southern Baptist married to a cradle Catholic. My wife and I went through NFP training and it was very insightful. For one thing, I did not know that all major Christian denominations opposed artificial birth control as recently as 40 years ago. The second statistic that really stuck out for me was that the divorce rate for those practicing NFP was somewhere around 5%. However, I do agree with the logical inconsistency of the Catholic Church that it is okay to use NFP to prevent conception, but not artificial means. Although I agreed to use NFP, my wife still can't answer that one. Her closest answer is that it should be used to space out having children, but not to limit the number of them. I agree that this could be a divisive issue among pro-life proponents, but I think it is an important question. There is no addendum in my Bible that says, "Oh yeah, the 'be fruitful and multiply' part doesnt apply anymore. More specifically, the Psalmist writes that "children are a blessing from the Lord, how happy is the man whose quiver is full" If children are a blessing, why would we want to limit God's ability to bless us???? Pro-life is so much bigger than anti-abortion or stopping euthanasia. As my brother-in-law is starting to find out(He and his wife wrote one of the letters to the editor to the Tulsa World in support of the "Birthcontrol is Harmful" signs), when am I not having children for a "grave reason" and when is it because I can't affort my cabin on the lake, or vacation in Europe. I don't think God is very happy with how most Christians in America have let materialism affect their faith, many without even realizing it.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 22, 2006 12:46 PM.

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