What does the Church teach about married love?
What does this have to do with contraception?
Are couples expected to leave their family size entirely to chance?
What should a couple do if they have a good reason to avoid having a child?
Is there really a difference between using contraception and practicing Natural Family Planning?
Is there ever a time “contraceptives” may be used for medical reasons?
WHAT DOES THE CHURCH TEACH ABOUT MARRIED LOVE? Marriage is more than a civil contract; it is a lifelong covenant of love between a man and a woman. It is an intimate partnership in which husbands and wives learn to give and receive love unselfishly, and then teach their children to do so as well. Christian marriage in particular is a “great mystery,” a sign of the love between Christ and his Church (Eph 5:32).
Married love is powerfully embodied in the spouses’ sexual relationship, when they most fully express what it means to become “one body” (Gn 2:24) or “one flesh” (Mk 10:8, Mt 19:6). The Church teaches that the sexual union of husband and wife is meant to express the full meaning of love, its power to bind a couple together and its openness to new life. When Scripture portrays God creating mankind “in his image” (Gn 1:27), it treats the union of man and woman as joining two persons equal in human dignity -“This one, at last, is bone of my bones / and flesh of my flesh” (Gn 2:23), and as being open to the blessing of children -“Be fertile and multiply”(Gn 1:28). (Back to top)
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CONTRACEPTION? A husband and wife express their committed love not only with words, but with the language of their bodies. That “body language”—what a husband and wife say to one another through the intimacy of sexual relations—speaks of total commitment and openness to a future together. So the question about contraception is this: Does sexual intercourse using contraception faithfully affirm this committed love? Or does it introduce a false note into this conversation?
Married love differs from any other love in the world. By its nature, the love of husband and wife is so complete, so ordered to a lifetime of communion with God and each other, that it is open to creating a new human being they will love and care for together. Part of God’s gift to husband and wife is this ability in and through their love to cooperate with God’s creative power. Therefore, the mutual gift of fertility is an integral part of the bonding power of marital intercourse. That power to create a new life with God is at the heart of what spouses share with each other.
To be sure, spouses who are not granted the gift of children can have a married life that is filled with love and meaning. As Pope John Paul II said to these couples in a 1982 homily, “You are no less loved by God; your love for each other is complete and fruitful when it is open to others, to the needs of the apostolate, to the needs of the poor, to the needs of orphans, to the needs of the world.”
When married couples deliberately act to suppress fertility, however, sexual intercourse is no longer fully marital intercourse. It is something less powerful and intimate, something more “casual.” Suppressing fertility by using contraception denies part of the inherent meaning of married sexuality and does harm to the couple’s unity. The total giving of oneself, body and soul, to one’s beloved is no time to say: “I give you everything I am—except. . . .” The Church’s teaching is not only about observing a rule, but about preserving that total, mutual gift of two persons in its integrity.
This is a teaching that many couples today, through no fault of their own, have not heard (or not heard in a way they could appreciate and understand). But as many couples who have turned away from contraception tell us, living this teaching can contribute to the honesty, openness, and intimacy of marriage and help make couples truly fulfilled. (Back to top)
ARE COUPLES EXPECTED TO LEAVE THEIR FAMILY SIZE ENTIRELY TO CHANCE? The Church teaches that a couple may generously decide to have a large family, or may for serious reasons choose not to have more children for the time being or even for an indefinite period (Humanae Vitae, no. 10).
In married life, serious circumstances—financial, physical, psychological, or those involving responsibilities to other family members—may arise to make an increase in family size untimely. The Church understands this, while encouraging couples to take a generous view of children. (Back to top)
WHAT SHOULD A COUPLE DO IF THEY HAVE A GOOD REASON TO AVOID HAVING A CHILD? A married couple can engage in marital intimacy during the naturally infertile times in a woman’s cycle, or after child-bearing years, without violating the meaning of marital intercourse in any way.
This is the principle behind natural family planning (NFP). Natural methods of family planning involve fertility education that enables couples to cooperate with the body as God designed it. (Back to top)
IS THERE REALLY A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN USING CONTRACEPTION AND PRACTICING NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING? On the surface, there may seem to be little difference. But the end result is not the only thing that matters, and the way we get to that result may make an enormous moral difference. Some ways respect God’s gifts to us while others do not. Couples who have practiced Natural Family Planning after using contraception have experienced a profound difference in the meaning of their sexual intimacy.
When couples use contraception, either physical or chemical, they suppress their fertility, asserting that they alone have ultimate control over this power to create a new human life. With NFP, spouses respect God’s design for life and love. They may choose to refrain from sexual union during the woman’s fertile time, doing nothing to destroy the love-giving or life-giving meaning that is present. This is the difference between choosing to falsify the full marital language of the body and choosing at certain times not to speak that language.
The Church’s support for NFP is not based on its being “natural” as opposed to artificial. Rather, NFP respects the God-given power to love a new human life into being even when we are not actively seeking to exercise that power. (Back to top)
IS THERE EVER A TIME “CONTRACEPTIVES” MAY BE USED FOR MEDICAL REASONS? Catholic teaching does not oppose the use of hormonal medications – such as those found in chemical contraceptives – for legitimate medical purposes, provided there is no contraceptive intent.
Unfortunately, many physicians often turn to the pill as a first option, rather than as a last resort. If your doctor has you on the pill for medical reasons, it would be important to receive a second opinion, preferably by a doctor trained in NaPro Technology (Natural Procreative Technology) through the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction. NaPro trained physicians are often able to find alternatives to the pill, by addressing the root cause of the medical problem. The good news is, there are many medical alternatives available, and you owe it to yourself to explore these options. To find a NaPro trained physician, visit www.fertilitycare.org. Look under “Find a Medical Consultant.” (Back to top)
Adapted from Frequently Asked Questions on Sexuality & Family Planning, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/love-and-sexuality