Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Pill: No Big Whoop?

Your moon cycle is your friend.
Confronting a lie is tough, but confronting the behemoth pharmaceutical industry begins with squeaky, questioning wheels. I invite you to become one of them.

President Obama is currently at the helm of an unprecedented assault on religious freedom, fundamental liberty and conscientious objection. I will leave the legal and historical arguments to minds better trained than mine. Barack Obama and his cohorts are but a symptom of what ails us. I want to talk about The Pill.

Hormonal contraception is the cultural norm for American women and teens, with 2010 marking fifty years of rapidly increasing use. We have been fed a host of well-crafted lies about our bodies, our destinies, and the role we should expect to play in controlling both. Creepy scientific findings are rejected without much logic, as if platitudes about liberation are as far as our reasoning abilities have been extended. 

Catholics have embraced the pill at a rate equal to everyone else, so the tentacles of this artificial intrusion aren't unique to any group. Entrenched mass acceptance doesn't make it the best choice for women. Liberation from fear is simpler, healthier and enhances a relationship.

As a married woman who happily fumbles her way through NFP, my own point of view may seem overly pristine. Let me assure you that I couldn't have treated sex more cavalierly for a portion of my life, and we endured infertility for the first half of our marriage. The former is just biography, and making bad decisions doesn't increase my credibility. The latter gave a piercing clarity to our grasp of the full purpose of sex itself. When a trusted process doesn't work to our demands, its function often takes on a heightened importance.

Not to trivialize the subject at hand, but is this ever more stark than with computers? If I there's an infinitessimal delay in retrieving data, I'm peeved. If something actually breaks, I experience an interior defrag process, the depth of which is embarrassing to admit. I like to read. But back to my womb, your womb, and the wombs you love...

To suggest that women reconsider use of artificial birth control is a strike at the heart of postmodern feminism, to which I owe a certain gratitude. So be it. Hear me roar, suffragettes.

Or rather, hear the Boston Women's Health Collective do their own roaring. Compared to their magnum opus, Our Bodies, Ourselves (1970), Pope Paul VI's landmark Encyclical, Humane Vitae (1968) is a breeze. Let's examine both. The italicized passages are the words of the Catholic Church, followed by a corresponding section from Our Bodies, Ourselves unless otherwise noted.

First, on the origins of life:
"The question of human procreation, like every other question which touches human life,
involves more than the limited aspects specific to such disciplines as biology, psychology, demography or sociology. It is the whole man and the whole mission to which he is called that must be considered: both its natural, earthly aspects and its supernatural, eternal aspects." 

"By the end of the second month the growing embryo, by this time called a fetus, is a very fragile one-inch long mass of differentiated tissue acting as a parasite within the mother's body."


On the holistic ingredients of Natural Family Planning:
"The right and lawful ordering of birth demands, first of all, that spouses fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life and that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions.
Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character."
"The method requires a lot of self-control
and cooperation between partners."


On contraception effectively
reducing women to  sexual objects:
"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." 
"The pill can bring increased pressure on a woman to have intercourse with any man who wants it, or to do it with her husband or long-term lover any time he wants to whether she wants to or not."

On Discerning Family Size: 
"With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time."

"Lots of experts have lots of expert opinions on the number of children in the "ideal" family and the spacing of those children, but it is up to each of us to make our own decision about how many children to have and when to have them." Ourselves and Our Children, 1978


Women's Roles:
"Also noteworthy is a new understanding of the dignity of woman and her place in society, of the value of conjugal love in marriage and the relationship of conjugal acts to this love." 

"We and what we did were as valuable as men and what they did. ...It still surprises me that I can create something other than a child." 


On the necessity and value of chaste periods:
"With regard to man's innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man's reason and will must exert control over them." 

"Anxiety diminishes because being alone is a very positive experience. It has given us back our integrity, our privacy, our pride." (on celibacy)


It appears we have some points to agree on, such as the general aim of human dignity. There are sympathetic themes, but we know the documents to be diametrically opposed. Our Bodies Ourselves was a manifesto against reproductive enslavement, filled with more militant emotion than science or direction. Humanae Vitae, in its compactness, addresses so much of life's difficulty and beauty. It opens with the strength of the arguments of the day for using scientific gains to rationally space births. The reader is then swept into a broader realm, away from temptation and self-centeredness.  Especially when contrasted to the cynicism of OBOS, the good Pope is a romantic poet.

"It is sad not to see the good in goodness."
Russian novelist Nikolai Gogol

To describe their work as cynical is not discounting their passion or humanity. Firstwave feminists are real women, who poured their lives into this work --- often neglecting their own children to champion the power of another mother (or not). But they were pioneers, not settlers. I have inherited the dystopian realm they envisioned, and it's gross.

It is immoral men who benefit most from artificial birth control, giving them dominion over women in a way so delicate and difficult to explain after it has been granted for decades. This is no accident, if some study is given to the forces behind this movement. (Hint: It didn't start in 1970) So much sexual mystery is destroyed when men and women's complementary desires are fragmented into opposing forces. Men are harmed, too.

A girl who has never been wholly accepted barely counts it as a loss. To young men, specifically, I would ask: How dare you look into the eyes of a girl you profess to love, while hiding from her life-giving force that you can't possess or understand? Fear of this power tells you to treat her like a pretty vending machine, perhaps extracting offspring at some later date. As humans, we are much more than machines. 

I contain multitudes, as the poet implores.
So do you.
I parcel myself out for no man.


  1. Amen sister! Artificial birth control leaves us reeds in the winds of a man's desire and whims once again. I wish more women could understand that. Perfect post!

  2. It will be a cold day in Hell when a pharmaceutical company proves to me that they are not trying to make a profit, and that they use their gains for research. The only research they do is to find more pills to push, and I have yet to see them CURE cancer or any other disease. Why should they? No profit in that...
    Imagine the windfall they make on their drugs, they don't do it for love of fellow man--they are not humane-- their disease is greed.

  3. The pharmeceutical companies can go the way of the tobacco companies if the class action law suits start. They're in it for the money, hit 'em in the wallet.

  4. Nice post. Your blog is very interesting.
    Its probably worth noting under scary side effects that the hormones in birth control pills are making their way into our waterways at an alarming rate. And doing VERY strange things to fish and amphibians.
    Where is the anti-pill Rachael Carson to point out this new 'Silent Spring'?

  5. It is immoral men who benefit most from artificial birth control, giving them dominion over women in a way so delicate and difficult to explain after it has been granted for decades.

    Great, well thought out post.

    However, I believe the above quote is a bit simplistic. In truth, only alpha men - say the most desired 10% - are who "benefits" from artificial birth control. The bulk of the men out there lose out to those men as women take turns with these alpha men.

    The next group who "benefits" most from birth control is women who use it gain independence from men, both economically and socially. First, they can engage in normal sexual relations yet have careers without children (men lose value as providers). Second, they can engage in sexual intimacy with various men without risk of pregnancy yet still decide to get pregnant whenever/whomever they wish...and many do so only if and when they wish to extort child support. So for many women, birth control is a powerful tool of empowerment.

    I would also point out that "immoral men", in this context, cannot be immoral without "immoral women", who must also feel they are benefiting from birth control...or they wouldn't be using it so much...

    1. Hi mdavid. I'm totally intrigued by your thoughts and agree on all points. I just thought of this passage while listening to Fr. Brian Mullady (he came to Anchorage!) speak on Humanae Vitae. He put it something like, "Artificial birth control reduces spouses to objects, whether they like it or not."

      So a really important point, which I ignored in this post, is that regardless of spiritual commitment and otherwise loving behavior --- and certainly, in situations without either --- the full essence of sexuality is being blocked.

      Immoral isn't right word, in a sense, it's more like confused. In many situations there's not hostility or random encounters, but two people who claim love are at cross purposes.