Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What is the contraceptive mentality?

[I feel I should apologize for this long post, but I really wanted to get all of this out. It’s difficult to explain the contraceptive mentality in a short post. Whole libraries could be written about it because it’s so pervasive in our culture.]

A mentality is something that defies definition. It’s more of a psychological syndrome: an expression of attitude and ideas that are related to certain values.

And I think the easiest way to explain the contraceptive mentality is to define it in opposition to the Culture of Life philosophy.

People who hold a contraceptive mentality have trouble seeing it the way that a fish has trouble “seeing” water. It’s so part of the environment that it’s practically invisible.

So, in order to really understand the contraceptive mentality, you have to see it through the lens of the Culture of Life Philosophy.

And for the sake of brevity, I will explain what I consider to be three of the most important beliefs of the Culture of Life, and then explain how the negation of these beliefs expresses itself in the context of our culture.

And then you will have a good idea of what the contraceptive mentality is.

Three Central Beliefs of the Culture of Life Philosophy

1. God is the ultimate decision-maker in the process of the creation of life. Every single human life is the product of God’s active will (although the circumstances leading to the creation are not necessarily; sinful acts are never the product of God’s active will.) Human beings should always respect God’s will in this matter.

2. Every human life is intrinsically valuable and the most valuable thing in Creation. There is nothing more important on earth than a human life. It must never be intentionally destroyed for any reason.

3. Human beings should work with fertility, not against it. Fertility regulation is not a problem, so long as the means do not seek to suppress it or its effects. Fertility is something healthy. It is not something that “gets in the way” of positive sexual activity.

The contraceptive mentality can be summed up as the negation of these three ideas.

So let’s examine how negation of each principle plays out in real life.

1. God often has no part in people’s reproductive acts or decisions. People decide on the number of children based exclusively on worldly concerns, such as personal salary, desire for consumer goods, travel, career advancement, personal interest, quality of relationship, etc. A number of people also hate for the idea of being tied down to children. And if by chance, pregnancy does occur, it is not seen as a blessing. It’s a liability. It’s something to be rid of. God’s gift of life is rejected instead of embraced.

2. Since God is excluded from one’s worldview, the notion that human life is intrinsically valuable is also excluded, because the source of this intrinsic value is God. As human life is not intrinsically valuable, but only valuable according to arbitrary ideas of humanity, then human life can be destroyed if it is deemed inconvenient and undesirable. So abortion is permissible.

3. As God is excluded from one’s worldview, and thus life is not sanctified, there does not appear any reason to oppose contraception. A new life created by an unforeseen pregnancy is not typically seen as a blessing these days. It’s typically seen as tragedy, something bad that must be done away with. Fertility is no longer seen as a positive thing, something good that must always be allowed to function according to its own rhythms. Fertility is the enemy. Contraception is the solution.

Contraception is the symbol of the mentality, although it’s about much more than contraception. Contraception is the symbol that sexual pleasure has become more important than God, human life and working according to the designs of our bodies.

People who have a contraceptive mentality like to create caricatures of those who support a culture of life and they make us out to be anti-sexual pleasure.

The thing is, people who support the Culture of Life are not opposed to sexual pleasure.

They are opposed to sexual pleasure being functionally more important than:

1) God
2) Human Life
3) Respecting the body’s integrity, i.e. Fertility.

As long as those three things are respected, sexual pleasure is okay in the context of marriage (and actually marriage is necessary for those three things).

What do I mean when I say that sexual pleasure becomes functionally more important than those three things?

I mean to say that some people will say that these one or more of these things are more important.

But their actions reveal something quite different.

1. For instance, there are Christians who will say that God has an important role in their reproductive lives, but they will do everything to make sure that their fertility is under their control and not God’s by using contraception. They are not open to God’s Providence.

2. Or, there are those who say " of course a fetus is more important than sexual pleasure." But when they get pregnant, they panic and have an abortion. (“The only moral abortion is my abortion”). They know that sex leads to the creation of life, but they live in denial of the possibility of pregnancy, thinking that contraception is the solution that will stop them from ever having an abortion.

3. Another example: the medical establishment operates on the premise the reproductive health is a function of desire, not a function of the way the body is supposed to work. So they define “bodily integrity” as “whatever the woman wants” not “whatever is supposed to happen”. So aborting an early pregnancy with an EC pill (which they don’t call an abortion) is totally “natural” and respectful of bodily integrity, but an “unmet need” for abortion represents inadequate “reproductive health services”.

Medicine sees the natural working of the human body as health, except the natural working of fertility. More broadly, women see their own bodies as the enemy, not as something beautiful to work with.

The Contraception Illusion

The desire to divorce sex from procreation is so strong in our society that people fail to see what I call the contraception illusion, which is another aspect of the contraceptive mentality.

The contraception illusion is the belief that if an individual consistently uses contraception, he or she will never face an unplanned pregnancy. Therefore, contraception is the best guarantee to prevent unwanted pregnancy and therefore abortion.

I want to say that promoters of contraception tend to understand that this is not true. That’s why they also tend to be strong supporters of legal and accessible abortion.

But contraception illusion is pervasive among “average” people. Especially the young.

Contraception creates the illusion that pregnancy is impossible. The failure rate of contraception is so seemingly small,that pregnancy seems virtually impossible.

The problem is

1) people don’t always use contraception consistently, so that failure rates are higher than perfect use (and probably even "typical use") and

2) even if failure rates were as low as perfect use rates, a low failure rate still means that tens or hundreds of thousands of people get pregnant; and

3) the failure rates are for use for one year. With every year, the risk of pregnancy increases.

People are typically introduced to contraception in their teens or in early adulthood. Sometimes their introduction is informal, through word of mouth. When you’re fourteen or fifteen years old, you don’t think of failure rates and such lofty statistics. Someone just tells you “here, use condoms so you don’t get pregnant” or “you’d better get some birth control so that you don’t get pregnant”.

Even if you get some kind of discussion regarding failure rate, if you, as a teen think that you’re chances of getting pregnant are less than 10%, you think that your chances of remaining pregnancy-free are really good. As it is, teens are naturally prone to magical thinking; statistics like that make them more prone.

And so millions of people use contraception thinking pregnancy won’t happen to them because no one tells them “there’s still a decent chance you might get pregnant over the course of the next five years.”

But then something shocking happens: people do get pregnant on contraception.

And then they are faced with an unexpected pregnancy.

This was not supposed to happen.

That was the promise of contraception. Margaret Sanger promoted birth control for that reason:

In 1922 she wrote;

It is apparent that nothing short of contraceptives can put an end to the horrors of abortion and infanticide.

If you have had any experience with the abortion debate, the single most common solution to “abortion” is said to be contraception. Contraception is widely treated like it never fails.

And what happens when contraception fails? Do people mend their ways and stop having sex when they cannot handle a pregnancy?


They just use more contraception. Or better contraception.

Expecting, once again, that pregnancy shall never happen.

And it happens anyway.

And, as our society acts like contraception can’t fail, they depict sex as something that any individual can engage in without serious consequences. Which of course is not true, but no one suggests otherwise.

Because to suggest otherwise would undermine the contraceptive mentality, the divorce of sex from procreation.

And that would mean taking responsibility. Taking responsibility is far more difficult than having sex.

Feminism perpetuates the contraceptive mentality

The allure of sexual pleasure itself is enough to stop people from really thinking about the consequences of widespread contraceptive sexual behaviour.

But feminism makes the opposition even stronger.

Feminists become feminists because they have or want to have a strong sense of self. And they want that self respected.

They believe that in order for that sense of self to be truly respected, a woman’s autonomy must be respected, above all other considerations.

If a woman must subject her autonomy to any extrinsic force or desire, this is considered degrading to her.

Now, for people with common sense, shaping your will according to reality is not degrading. It’s just natural. Autonomy must not be exercised absolutely, but in relation to what is right and wrong, and the rights and needs of others.

But feminists consider think that that is self-serving patriarchy. They think men get to do whatever they want, without consequence. So that if men sleep around, they never get “punished” for it with pregnancy or parenting. If men are foul-mouthed and assertive, nothing happens to them, but women like that are treated like bitches, and so forth.

So to make a woman’s “bodily autonomy” subject to God, a fetus’welfare or some one else’s wish is considered degrading to her.

She lives under the illusion that the only way she can be valued for her true worth is to be able to decide everything about her body regardless of the consequencesto anyone else. So if the husband is upset about the abortion, tough luck. If the fetus has to die because she doesn’t want to be a mother, tough luck. She thinks that if she can’t do whatever she wants, that she respects her own fertility, she is not in control, not a true person, because she thinks men live that way, therefore women should live that way too.

And so contraception is central to the feminist mentality. The feminist believes that without contraception, female emancipation is impossible. Because without contraception, women will never have control over their bodies. They will be valued as "incubator" not for who they really are, and she will never be "fully human."
But the proponents for the culture of life believe that a person’s will is not the measure of their dignity. A person’s dignity is intrinsic, and it’s only by respecting God’s order of creation can a woman’s dignity really shine forth.

In the feminist mentality, the road to self-respect and a sense of self-worth is paved with battles. Because feminists believe that self-worth is being able to exercise one’s will, and when you have contradicting wills, you will always conflict. Whereas in the mentality of the culture of life, it’s not a battle. It already exists. It’s a matter of oneself living up to that dignity and worth. The struggle, if there is one, is within oneself to live up to the order of Creation, the way in which God meant for everyone to function, because God’s created the world and said “it was good”.


So there you have it folks. A general introduction to the contraceptive mentality.