Contraception and the Decline of the Family

Dr. Donald DeMarco
Philosophy Department
St. Jerome's University
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Printed with permission

Over the years, the natives of South Africa limited their elephant population by hunting them down for food. More recently, the administrators of South Africa's Kruger National Park decided to employ a less violent way of controlling the population of the pachyderms. They agreed to inject them with Norplant. This contraceptive succeeded in preventing elephant pregnancies, but produced some unexpected and distressing side effects. The Norplant left the female elephants in a state of permanent heat. Sex became their exclusive interest. As a result, according to a New York Times report (May 29,1977), "Families broke down. Two baby elephants have strayed from home because their mothers were permanently distracted". Given these unhappy consequences, the authorities did the sensible thing. They discontinued the contraceptive program after it had been in effect for only six months.

It is a sad commentary on contemporary mores to note that, in general, the medical profession shows less regard for the deleterious effects that contraception has on female humans and their families than it does on female elephants and their families.

The ideology of choice dominates our current society. People are misled into thinking that choice itself is a virtue, forgetting that virtuous behaviour requires not any choice whatsoever, but the choice of a moral good. God's plan as well as Church teaching demands that the sex act, that is to say the "marital act", not be severed from its natural ordination to the possibility of new life. History has shown, and rather incontrovertibly that once sex is divorced from life, it soon becomes divorced from marriage, love, family, and even a relationship with a heterosexual partner.

Sigmund Freud, who had little sympathy for religion of any kind, regarded the separation of intercourse from its procreative end as a model of sexual perversity. The founder of modern psychoanalysis wrote: " is a characteristic common to all the perversions that in them reproduction as an aim is put aside. This is actually the criterion by which we judge whether a sexual activity is perverse -- if it departs from reproduction in its aims and pursues the attainment of gratification independently....Everything that....serves the pursuit of gratification alone is called by the unhonored title of 'perversion' and as such is despised." Freud understood that the more sex is isolated and regarded as something that is entirely self-justifying, the less it can serve what it is intended to's spouse, one's marriage, one's children, and one's family.

Mother Teresa reiterated this timeless truth in her speech before President and Mrs Clinton at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast when she said:" the way to plan the family is Natural Family Planning, not contraception. In destroying the power of giving life through contraception, a husband or wife is doing something to self. This turns the attention to self and so destroys the gift of love in him or her. In loving, the husband and wife must turn the attention to each other. Once that living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily."

Long before Giuseppe Montini became Pope Paul VI, Mahatma Gandhi correctly perceived the dangers that contraception posed for human integrity. "Self-indulgence with contraceptives," he said, "may prevent the coming of children but will sap the vitality of both men and women, perhaps more of men than of women." In her book "The Doctors' Case against the Pill" (1980), Barbara Seamon pointed out that there is something fundamentally wrong with a medical model that deems pregnancy, menopause, and not being pregnant as all being diseases. The unavoidable conclusion one must draw, according to the author, is that "being a woman is a disease."

More recently, Patrick F. Fagan, who is a Senior Fellow in Family and Cultural Issues at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., made the statement in The Catholic World Report (November 1998) that contraception had brought about a profound cultural change in attitudes towards sex from being "other focused" to becoming "self-focused"; "from extroversion, sexual affairs move toward introversion; from hetero-focused they become auto-focused." Dr Wanda Poltawska, a long-time advisor to Pope John Paul II on marriage and the family, explains that an obsession with sex inevitably damages other aspects of the human being. "It seems obvious", she writes, "that the incorrect hierarchy of values grows out of the essence of contraception itself, which calls attention to sex without perceiving the integral value of the human being."

The acceptance of contraception is based on the mistaken notion that sex is better when there are no strings attached, such as commitment, marriage, parenthood, and family responsibilities. But it is precisely this quartet of strings that give sex its moral and transcendent meaning. Sex without strings is incapable of producing the music of life. When we separate the violin from its strings, we do not liberate the violin, we destroy it as a musical instrument.

The family has suffered greatly as a result of tearing sex from the web of marital and familial relationships and turning it into an idol. But sex cannot remain an idol for very long. Because meaning is so important to human beings, they must invest sex with some form of meaning no matter how inauthentic. When they lose sight of the natural, God-given meaning of sex, they make up their own arbitrary and often perverted meanings. Thus, the new meanings ascribed to sex include performance, quality, entertainment value, and ego-gratification. The present pornography plague is directly connected to the fact that contraception tears sex away from meanings of love and family, while tying it to meanings of pleasure and entertainment.

It should not be a secret that contraception has contributed significantly to the decline of the family. Pope Paul VI predicted this in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. Five years later, it was evident that his predictions were prophetic. Lawrence Cardinal Shehan of Baltimore said, just five years after Humanae Vitae: "Contraception has failed to produce any of the advantages its advocates foretold with so much confidence: the stability of the family, the fall of the divorce rate, the decline of juvenile delinquency, the lessening of the problems of poverty, etc. It can be said without fear of contradiction that during the time contraception has flourished, most, if not all, of these problems have increased."

Sex is an instinct that leads to an institution. The institution is marriage and the family. It is a tragedy that some people think that they can be better off as a result of separating the small instinct from the grand institution it was meant to serve. It is like trying to savour the key, but not use it to open the door that allows one entrance into a home and a world of endless treasures.