A Modest Proposal Concerning Feminism and Contraception


If the topic of having babies comes up and you're savvy on your religious Jeopardy, you'll give me one of two looks when I tell you I'm Catholic. Either a sympathetic, pitiful look that says, ahh poor you, your masochistic hierarchy forbids you to be a liberated 21st century woman OR a snide smirk that says, oh right like you're really following THAT rule.

Because everyone knows that Catholicism and contraception don't party together.  Like, EVER.

I get that it sounds archaic in the culture that we live in today.  It sounds like a mastermind plan to keep all the dern females barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen.  I get that.  But don't get it twisted here: I am no one's victim.  Would it blow your mind to know that I, a feisty, stubborn, self-assured feminist actually chose it?

Oh you heard me right.  I wasn't born Catholic, I converted for a hundred reasons and one of them was theology of the body and sexuality.  (Apparently that's not an uncommon thing... just ask Blythe and Anna and many more I'm sure.)  There are thousands of words I could write about why a contraception-free life is particularly appropriate for a Christian, but I'm not going to.  Because the point of this post is not meant to be religious.  Others have done that, and done it well.

What I want to talk to you about is straight up feminism, and why our culture of contraception is destroying women.


Let's look at human history.  Before the mid 1800s condoms did not exist.  Before the mid 1900s the birth control pill did not exist.  Certainly humans are humans and there were plenty of people who found ways around pregnancy before then, but in general fertility was a "take what ya get" type of situation.  That means that for thousands of years people assumed that sex very, very frequently made babies.  The potential for new life couldn't be removed from the sexual act because there just weren't many options about it.  It was simply physiology, a part of the human experience that was taken for granted.

In the past 60 years this has changed drastically.  There are now more options for birth control than I can even keep up with (and the overwhelming majority put the burden of both responsibility and side effects on women, but more on that later).  All of this "advancement" is hailed as progress for feminism, but is that really accurate?

Looking at today's society, I'm thinking not.

You already know the stats, or at least you can probably guess at them: divorce, single motherhood, abortion, and pornography have skyrocketed in the past 60 years.  (Speaking of porn, researchers are finding that the demand in pornography is not only for easier accessibility - most of our children will be exposed to it before they are teenagers - but for increasingly violent depictions.  The violence and humiliation, of course, is against the women.)  Certainly these things would exist had the world never been introduced to contraception, but the scale at which we're seeing them and the impact on society is tremendous.  And in the majority of these cases women are the ones suffering, women are carrying an unfair weight of society's burden.

Speaking of unfair weight, the consequences of contraceptives on the female body are steep indeed. Someone very dear to me almost died this year when her IUD ruptured inside of her and she was saved by emergency surgery.  When I did a little research, I quickly learned that this is not unheard of.  This is something that happens with IUDs.  And what about hormonal birth control?  Well for women over 35 it puts them at risk for a heart attack or stroke, and even young women often suffer side effects like horrible mood swings, chronic headaches, and weight gain in addition to a greater risk for breast cancer.

Did you catch that I mentioned weight gain? It's ironic that a contraceptive should make you gain weight, because after we removed the dignity of fertility from sex our female bodies became available for public consumption.  Suddenly everyone is invited to weigh in (no pun intended) on what a woman "should" look like, what our respective "flaws" are.  We are left with poorer self image, more body dissatisfaction, and more eating disorders than ever before.  This isn't feminism, but no amount of  naked celebrities on magazines seems to be fixing it for us.

Additionally, we are hearing more and more about the issue of "consent", which is of course an important point (and always has been) but the degree to which the conversation is widespread and necessary these days is disturbing to say the least.  Rape is being seen as something that "just happens" at parties now. Formed in a culture of sex removed from reproduction, young men and teen boys in particular are increasingly demonstrating a warped sense of entitlement to the female body.  This is dangerous and dehumanizing for both parties.

Well, you say, those idiots just need to respect women.

No argument here, and I will never stop advocating that individuals be held accountable for their actions.  Absolutely.  But when the problem is as looming and as widespread as we are seeing it in our cultural landscape, shouldn't we start addressing the disease?  The problem has only gotten worse in the past decade, despite our self-congratulatory strides in feminism.  Maybe, just maybe, we should try another angle.

Simply put: sexuality and fertility were never meant to be separated. When they are, society breaks down.

So now that I've been a total downer, what's my modest proposal, you ask?  Well quite simply, doing away with it all.  Starting over again and seeing if we can repair this broken system we've fractured left and right: seeing if we can rediscover the mystery and dignity of the female body.

Eric and I decided a few years ago to use Natural Family Planning, and it's transformed our understanding of intimacy, sexuality, and quite honestly, acceptance of babies.  No it's not the rhythm method, yes it really works (well, for most people and if used correctly), yes it requires periods of abstinence, no that's really not going to kill anyone, yes there are professionals out there who can teach it to you and even doctors that practice it, yes it can be practiced by anyone, married or not.

{NFP deserves its own thorough post, but there is plenty of excellent information at the tip of your fingers these days.  It doesn't have to come from me.}

I'll end with a quote by Wendell Berry, that well of wisdom on American social change:

"We have been unable to see the difference between this kind of restraint- a cultural response to an understood practical limit- and the obscure, self-hating, self-congratulating Victorian self-restraint, of which our attitudes and technologies of sexual 'freedom' are merely the equally obscure other side. This so-called freedom fragments us more vehemently and violently than before against our own bodies and against the bodies of other people."

Is there a possibility of me having more babies than I "plan"?  Sure there is.  But I've seen the correlation between contraceptives and a very broken society, and I just can't un-see it anymore.  Having my family plans changed unexpectedly seems to me a very small price to pay for the welfare of my fellow women, and my country as a whole.

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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)