Natural family planning is the antidote to the harms of the sexual revolution
The practices of chastity and natural family planning are antidotes to today’s debased and despondent culture. The church’s call to self-control and fidelity to our spouses is nothing new, yet it seems revolutionary, and even overly scrupulous, given the past several decades of “sexual revolution” in our country.
No doubt changes in our cultural understanding of sexuality can be attributed to a variety of causes: urbanization (with its increasing independence of young adults from the family home), the introduction of contraception in the form of the “pill,” the creation of the internet and its broad access to largely unregulated information, and other factors. Regardless of the causes, the fact is that Americans today understand the nature of human sexuality in a radically different way than their grandparents did in the 1940s and ’50s and many of their parents in the ’60s and ’70s.
Americans today understand the nature of human sexuality in a radically different way than their grandparents did in the 1940s and ’50s and many of their parents in the ’60s and ’70s.
This fact forms the basis for some of the most intense cultural battles in our society. Before the 1960s, American law regulated sexual acts largely through the definition of marriage. The law was premised on the idea that genital expressions of sex were to occur only between married people. Criminal laws prohibited “seduction,” fornication and adultery, as well as acts of sexual violence. Civil laws similarly provided legal remedies for victims of seduction, adultery and acts of sexual violence.
Almost all of these laws were historically justified as protecting women, children and the integrity of the family. As such, the laws presented no conflict with the religious teachings of most Christian sects, and certainly not those of the Catholic Church. Sexuality has been a subject of church teaching literally since “the beginning” of time, as evidenced by the creation accounts in Genesis so beautifully explained and expanded upon in Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” The need to choose how we express our sexuality, and its connection with procreation and family formation, is a consistent theme throughout Scripture and church teaching.
The cultural consensus endorsing sex only within marriage now seems a thing of the distant past. For the past 70 to 80 years, both cultural and political leaders have waged an unrelenting attack on the Christian anthropology of the person and the very ideas of chastity and sexual self-control. Beginning with early battles over government promotion of contraception through current legal cases involving pornography and sex education, the new conventional wisdom seems increasingly committed to demanding acceptance of an “anything goes” standard of sexual morality.
The new conventional wisdom seems increasingly committed to demanding acceptance of an “anything goes” standard of sexual morality.
Pope St. Paul VI foresaw this unraveling of sexual morality when he issued the controversial encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” He noted the increasing use of “social communication which arouses men’s baser passions and encourages low moral standards,” and warned that, absent unanimous public condemnation of such communication, sexual license might come to prevail over “true liberty.”
Only the most committed libertine could fail to see that his warning has become true.
Our young children are subject to base and degrading performances in the guise of sex education, and colleges routinely encourage students to freely engage in sexual activities so long as they “protect” themselves through condoms and contraception. Condoms have long been available seemingly everywhere (from pharmacies to gas station bathrooms), and now an over-the–counter contraceptive pill is poised to become similarly available after recent approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Of course, none of these “protections” do anything to ease the heartbreak and disgust experienced when young people learn these intimate activities were nothing more than recreation or a form of physical release for their partners.
In her 2022 best-seller The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, the feminist author Louise Perry joins a long line of scholars documenting the belief of many young women that they are no longer able to say no to sex before marriage if they want a permanent relationship. Equally devastating is the number who report feeling compelled to participate in sexual practices or acts of “kink” that repulse them. And between 50 and 70 percent of Americans now cohabit before marriage in large part because of the false belief that this “test” will improve the chances of permanent marriage. It does not.
Artificial contraception has given rise to a false sense that sex can be “safe” between any two people with the proper use of pills or devices.
All of these facts suggest that most young adults accept the teachings of the culture rather than the teachings of the church.
The harmful impact of declining sexual morality is not limited to the unmarried. A recent study found that while a majority of Americans continue to condemn adultery, an increasing number are unwilling to say it is “always wrong.” The advent of Ashley Madison and other “married dating” websites has led to a degradation of marriage and a host of other harms. Yet many participants in these affairs would not choose the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the absence of artificial contraception.
Artificial contraception has given rise to a false sense that sex can be “safe” between any two people with the proper use of pills or devices. It is accepted as a technological solution to the challenges of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Yet any serious review of the health data in this country reveals that unplanned pregnancies are still common and sexually transmitted diseases have become a silent epidemic.
Natural family planning rebuts the basic assumptions of the sexual revolution and the idea that sex is primarily a recreational activity. Its insistence on fidelity and mutual concern lead to a deep knowledge of ways to satisfy a couple’s desires for intimacy within the bonds of marriage. Couples learn new love languages and recognize the mutual sacrifice that each offers the other to sustain their faithful love and commitment. Their general openness to new life evidences the goodness and beauty of every child brought into being through their union, while times of sexual restraint displays the proper valuation of sex in the broad landscape of love. And given recent developments in the science of fertility and the advent of accurate and effective smartphone apps for determining times of a woman’s fertility, a couple now has a healthier and safer method of timing and spacing children than offered by any other device or practice.
Any serious assessment of the contemporary understanding of our sexuality in today’s culture cannot help but result in the verdict that something is seriously wrong. We need a better and more satisfying understanding of the role of sex in our lives and our relationships. Natural family planning and the Theology of the Body offer that better and more satisfying—dare I say more humane—understanding we so desperately need.