I’ve already pointed out that there are three basic rules for Catholic sex:
1. Sex must be limited to husband and wife.
2. Sex must be open to life, and
3. Sex must be approached with reverence and respect – both for one’s spouse and also for the vast Mystery of which marital sex is analagous.
Being “open to life” certainly deserves some elaboration. It is, after all, one of the requirements for what the Church recognizes as a sacramental marriage, a valid marriage.
First of all, being open to life does not obligate us to bear children. For example – I am fifty years old, decidedly perimenopausal, and my chances of being able to conceive, were I presently married, appear to be negligible. Moreover, there are couples who suffer the agonies and heartbreak of infertility. Does this mean our marriages would be invalid? not honored by the Church?
Of course not! The point of the matter is that we do not willfully and deliberately seek to thwart the natural outcome of our union, in the marital embrace, with our spouses. If, by some miracle, I or some infertile couple were to conceive, that child would be welcomed – not hindered – from that conception.
And therein – the deliberate and willful attempt to thwart the natural outcome of that activity which is created by God to result in conception – lies the issue of being open to life.
Conception occurs as the natural consequence of sexual intercourse. Sperm meets egg – voila! a new life is begun. This is a marvelous, almost mysterious occurrence – one that inspires awe in all of us (I’ve noticed that even women who scorn having their own children can go ridiculously and disproportionately ga-ga over puppies, kittens, and foals, which are produced by the same mechanical means).
Fruitfulness is one of the commands that God gave Adam and Eve, our first parents. It is a mandate as well as a privilege to be able to multiply.
Moreover, being childless was considered a curse from God. Remember how Sarah, then Hannah (mother of the prophet Samuel) begged God to remove the curse of their infertility? Throughout the Scriptures, and throughout history, childbearing is a blessing and a joy, both for husband and wife.
Does that mean we have to throw away all common sense and self-control and have as many babies as our bodies will allow?
No! The Church has never taught that husbands and wives have to leave conception, and the number of children they bear, to mere chance. The lament – taken to ridiculous extents in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life,and I’m normally a Python fan but I’ll make an exception to that one, of Catholics being condemned to bearing a child every year is just not realistic.
Yes, it happens – and for some families that is their choice! but that it happens is not the fault of the Church.
According to the Church, if one doesn’t want to make a baby, one must refrain from that act which naturally leads to conception.
This shouldn’t evoke groans and protests from the crowds. After all, insofar as Judeo-Christian history goes, we’ve only had a brief period of treating sex like an inalienable right and a purely physical right at that – something like forty years out of several thousand. Jewish law required periods of sexual abstinence during a woman’s “uncleanness” – during her menstrual period and for several days afterward, until she had undergone ritual cleaning.
Interestingly, the green light for Jewish couples to resume marital relations also coincides with the beginning of the woman’s approaching fertility.
Sex should never be motivated by selfishness. One of the worst wrongs arising out of the push to approve and accept artificial birth control is that it can dangerously reduce sex to little more than a recreation. We take away the “risk” of conception, we remove the reverence of the ultimate meaning of the act itself. We – and I say this as one who used to actively contracept – do little more than mutually masturbate one another.
Rather than an act of self-donating love, entered into with the full realization that our union could result in new life, and reverencing the fertility that God endowed us with, sex becomes an animal pursuit of personal physical gratification.
Think about why artificial contraception was developed in the first place. It wasn’t to protect women from untimely pregnancy; it was to allow males unfettered access to sexual pleasure. Men have had access to condoms for generations. They, after all, are never infertile. And with the development of contraception for women to use, they are absolved, not only of the burden of self-control, but also of the responsibility for choosing self-control. How many times have you heard men criticizing their pregnant wives or girlfriends for becoming pregnant – because she was supposed to be “taking care of that”?
We’ve inculturated a whole generation of males, and are well on our way to ruining subsequent generations, to believe that abstinence and self-control are burdensome , unreasonable, and unrealistic. Everything in our pop entertainments and in the subtle and direct messages we are adopting as a culture says that sex is nothing more than physical pleasure.
I have a lot more to say about this, later.