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Men and Contraception: Loving Our Wives and Laying Down Our Lives

September 11, AD 2012 15 Comments

Recently, I noticed that our editor had put out a call to some of our female columnists to address a newly released study by the Archdiocese of Baltimore about Catholic women and contraception. Suffice it to say that the survey of Church-going Catholic women found that a substantial minority were in agreement with the Church’s teaching, much more than the Guttmacher Institute’ self-serving (and self-selecting) survey suggested.  Moreover, the newer survey showed that many women are interested in learning more about the Church’s teaching on contraception, though few want to learn about it in the context of morality per se, and fewer wanted to hear about it in a homily.

This seems to be the culture’s attitude towards discussions of contraception.

Interesting as all this is, I can’t help but notice that these studies are overlooking an important demographic. Both the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Guttmacher Institute studies have focused solely on the attitudes of women towards contraception. Now, to be fair, this is consistent with the Guttmacher Institute’s general position concerning contraception (and ultimately also abortion), and the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s study may have been somewhat spurred as a response to the older Guttmacher survey. Therefore it might be fair to start by asking if this issue actually affects men too.

The basic premise behind the contraceptive mentality used to be that it would create equality—by which is meant something more akin to equivalence or interchangeability—between men and women. The ladies could finally have a career, both before and after marriage: the old and honorable vocation of wife and mother was abandoned—and that of husband and father with it—to be replaced by the career. The victory of the feminists was completed, or perhaps derailed, when in pursuit of equality of women in the workplace, society denigrated the supremacy of those same women in the home.

So where do men come into all of this, besides that our own vocations as husbands and fathers are tarnished and discarded [1]? The secular cynic might quip that men merely don’t want to pay for the contraceptives—the phrase “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free” comes to mind here [2]. Yet even by the progressive definition of equality, men ought to be footing at least half of the bill for the contraceptives, so the cynic reasons that there is an economic impact to all of this [3]. Isn’t this ostensibly the rationale behind forcing employers or insurers to cover contraceptives for their employees: that the men won’t do it and the women shouldn’t have to pay for it alone?

We are not, however, secular cynics but rather sincere Catholics or even merely struggling Christians. As such, we surely recognize that contraception does affect men, both morally and spiritually. It affects us spiritually because it is a deterrent to our honest discernment of God’s will for us and for our families. It affects us morally, because we are also responsible for the contraceptive culture, and moreover are also complicit in those acts of contracepted copulation in which we engage.

In layman’s terms, it takes two to tango, and it is our role to lead, both in dancing and in the domestic Church. Sometimes that leading takes the form of making sacrifices.

The meaning of marriage may be love–

Though its primary point is procreation–

So to cherish and comfort his wife

Are among the greatest joys in a husband’s life.

We husbands should certainly cherish and comfort our wives, for we must love them above all others save God. The greatest of all loves on earth we must reserve for our wives, not merely eros or filos or estorge (though these we need to), but their perfection, agape.

This greatest love is divine in nature, that is is comes from God and is perfected in Him. Therefore, we should consult God concerning the meaning of agape love, and when we do we see than he answers thus: “There is no greater love than this: that a man lays down his life for the sake of his friends” (John 15:13).

“Get Thee Behind Me Satan” by James Tissot. Even Christ’s closest friends, the apostles, did not get why He had to die as He did.

The “friends” in question must include first and foremost a man’s wife, and then secondly his children. Therefore, the greatest act of love which I can give my wife is to lay down my life for her. This is exactly what Saint Paul tells us to do in his Epistle to the Ephesians: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that he may sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25).

Christ carried our sins for us when He carried the cross to Calvary. He laid down His life for us then. He showed us that it is indeed possible to lay down one’s life for his friends, even when those friends did not understand (see Matthew 16:22-23).

The contraceptive culture of death—and its widespread acceptance by women—presents us our own challenge. Here we are challenged to lay our own lives down for our wives, that they (and we) might be holy and without blemish.

During my skimming of both studies, there are a few related questions which I did not notice, but which I think would be very illuminating if answered honestly. How many of the ladies who are set against the Church’s stance on contraception would give it a second consideration if their husbands were supportive of NFP? I don’t here mean that the husband in question wants to use NFP, but merely that he would be willing to use it. And how many are opposed to NFP out of fear, not only against its perceived inefficacy, but out of fear that their husbands would disapprove or even (if secretly) ridicule them? Finally, how satisfied are you really with your current birth control methods—and have you ever wanted to switch?

Gentlemen, would you willingly lay down your lives for your wifes if they asked it? Would you, even if they did not, if you perceived that they needed it from you? Would you lay down your lives for them even if you did not understand why? Our contraceptive culture is urging us to answer in the negative.

These questions are essentially the same: will you love your wifes as Christ loved the Church? Many men have, in answering no, denied this question three times. Our is a culture of death, as such it is in sore need of witnesses to the Gospel of life. That witnessing begins with a sort of martyrdom in the home when we die to the convenience of contracepted copulation.

Society says that we don’t count, that contraception is not a men’s issue. Christ plainly shows us that as a sin it certainly is a men’s issue: and as such, we must reject it both in fidelity to Christ and in love of our wifes. Men matter, and it is our duty to lead our family–including our marriages–away from sin.


[1] That is already a large loss.

[2] Which should hopefully be setting off warning alarms for the ladies: he’s insisting that you pay money so that he can reject an integral part of you?

[3] Even if the Obama administration refused to actually discuss the economic consideration when formulating their malicious mandate.

About the Author:

JC is a cradle Catholic, and somewhat of a traditionalist conservative. He earned his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Texas at Austin in the summer of 2014. He is currently a tenure-track assistant professor of physics at a university in the deep south. He is a lay member of the Order of Preachers. JC has been happily married since June of 2010. He and his lovely wife have had two children born into their family, one daughter and one son; they hope to have a few more. He has at times questioned – and more often still been questioned about – his Faith, but he has never wandered far from the Church, nor from our Lord. “To whom else would I go?”

  • Elizabeth Hoxie

    Great thoughts. A lot of men seem to have an “eww yuck” attitude toward their wives’ cycles. I too wonder how many women would stop contracepting if their spouses took a genuine interest in natural family planning — not just for the sake of postponing pregnancies but because we are our bodies. One of the many things I love about my husband is that he’s taken the initiative in this area of our marriage. He knows more about my biology than I do!

    • I find the biology rather fascinating, but I’m a bit of a geek anyway. And with our difficulties with finding a method that works for her, I’ve had to do a LOT of research. (Billings Ovulation Method, FTW!)

      I took the lead on this issue in our marriage after learning just how bad various forms of contraception are for women’s health. From a health perspective, charting is really common sense.

      Asking your wife to alter her biochemistry for sex? Not cool.
      Permanently damaging either your body or hers for sex? Also not cool.
      Learning more about how her body works and respecting her body? A smart and healthy decision.

      I have a LOT of problems with how some well-meaning Catholics promote NFP. I believe that some NFP advocates push far more women away than they bring in for a variety of reasons and they unintentionally set couples up for failure by not giving them a path to success.

      But fertility awareness is solid science. It is very empowering for women and good for women’s health. And it’s the far more important component of NFP. While some women do not accept the Church’s teachings on sexuality, fertility awareness is a healthy choice for nearly every woman–including those who are not married.

      And many women do secretly hate their contraceptives. Google “birth control pill side effects” (or any other contraceptive) and read all the complaints. They are tired of the side effects and are looking for a better alternative. They just don’t believe that one is possible. Showing her a better way and supporting your wife in this healthy decision (and even insisting on it) is part of loving your wife.

  • CG

    Great article. I couldn’t help but laugh when I read, “Christ carried our sins for us when He carried the cross to Calgary,” though. I’m not sure Christ walked all the way to Alberta. 🙂

    • That is a pretty funny typo. It should be fixed now.

    • Well, darn. Brilliant editing job, Chelsea. Sorry about that, JC. :-/

      • Ha, no worries. It was my typo; I was just glad to get my occasional alliteration through.

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  • Anthony

    “The meaning of marriage may be love–

    Though its primary point is procreation–

    So to cherish and comfort his wife

    Are among the greatest joys in a husband’s life.”

    Where did this come from? Marriage is a Sacrament, bearing children is not a Sacrament. Procreation without Love is for creatures without souls. I think that if we adopt a Procreation before Love attitude towards marriage – which was strongly preached pre-Vatican II – then couples can easily allow the Love and Romantic side of marriage to get snuffed out. I would think that Love is the primary reason for marriage and children are an expression of this Love. It reasons to follow that the more children in a family the more love in a family because the more souls that are able to love. I’m sure I’m taking you the wrong way, but just wanted to comment…

    • Dietrich von Hildebrand–who had a profound impact on the second Vatican council, as well as Pope John Paull II’s Theology of the Body–wrote:
      “Love is the primary meaning of marriage just as the birth of new human being is its primary end….Two human beings can also turn to face one another, and in touching one another in an interpenetrating glance, give birth to a mysterious fusion of their souls. They become conscience of one another, and making the other the object of his contemplation and responses, each can spiritually immerse himself in the other. This is the I-thou relationship, in which the partners are not side by side, but face-to-face.

      Of all terrestrial communions, conjugal love is the most pronounced form of an I-thou relationship. The beloved person is the object of our thoughts, sentiments, will, hope, and longing. She becomes the center of our life (as far as created goods are concerned). He whose heart is filled with such conjugal love for his beloved lives not only with his beloved, but for his beloved.” (Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love)

      So he draws a distinction between procreation as the primary end (purpose) of marriage, but love as its primary meaning. So marriage is “for” procreation–and this is thus its primary point–but its meaning is that the couple love each other, and this is what marriage signifies. The two things, love and children, or intimacy and procreation, are intricately interwoven. Each child then becomes an expression of the love between the man and his wife–as is each full and free act of sexual intercourse between the husband and his wife.

  • PatientlyAggrieved

    I suspect that if more men realized what the Pill was doing to their wives’ libidos, they’d be borderline insisting that their wives practice NFP.

    As a Catholic (convert) man married to a (still) Protestant wife, I’ve been as supportive of the idea as I can be, but one cannot make another person wake up consistently early and do the relevant examinations and charting, if that other person insists on an easier route.

    I suppose most men have discovered the fact that their wives’ libidos have a “recharge cycle”: They may be powerfully interested in lovemaking on Day X, but once that need is satiated there will be a period of time before their interest rises to a “powerful” level again.

    Well, off the Pill, my wife’s recharge cycle was roughly 2-3 days, from powerful to powerful.

    Good times.

    On the Pill, her recharge cycle is about 7-8 days from powerful to *random*, where random means a 50% chance of powerful, and a 50% chance of, “Meh, okay, I’d probably better show some affection for my husband’s sake, and maybe I’ll get into it myself once things get going.”

    I hate the Pill. Hate the damned thing, all day long.

    They say this isn’t uncommon at all…and by “they” I don’t at all mean the pharmaceutical manufacturers, who have done an excellent job of downplaying the stats on this. I mean the shy little articles you find here and there which ever-so-gently break the surface tension by tentatively suggesting (while insisting they’re oh-so-happy for all the pill has done for women, yadda, yadda) there’s a measurable downside for a product which, in 20-to-40% of women, will squash their libidos down to a nearly inaudible murmur from which they are easily distracted by anything from a thrice-read paperback to television show outtakes on YouTube.

    No wonder it’s called the Divorce Pill. I’m not thinking in that direction, and I won’t, and I don’t think my wife ever will. But I bet a heckuva lot of men whose minds are blown by how very disinterested their wives have become, who’ve tried all the romantic gestures and all the housework-doing and come up empty, and haven’t the foggiest idea why the women who once couldn’t stay away now barely seem to notice them…I bet a lot of those men get thrown for a loop, reacting with alternating anger and bewilderment right up to the moment that their wives unconcernedly divorce the poor saps, who never knew what hit them.

    • Thank you such raw honesty. I wish the “war on women” crusaders could read your words, but unfortunately they aren’t likely to visit websites like this.

    • waywardson

      Aaah, the FOURTH mechanism of how the Pill prevents pregnancy.

      As a husband, sometimes you DO have to be insistent about things. Because your wife probably doesn’t notice how the Pill has changed her. The side effects can be subtle, but they are noticeable. Same with the supposedly “hormone free” IUD (which isn’t).

      As for the effort, I think some NFP advocates make the method out to be far more work than it needs to be. The Billings Ovulation Method requires no waking up early, no playing with cervical mucus, no touching anything “down there”, and has only four simple rules.

      Marquette Model uses a fertility monitor–even easier and no more expensive than the Pill.

      If she is concerned about abstinence, “abstinence” required by the method is not as strict as the “abstinence” required by the Church. This can be a dicey issue in a mixed marriage. Just don’t do anything that can lead to pregnancy during the fertile period.

      But I suspect there is probably something more going on here. Women are raised to see the Pill as something “liberating” and “responsible” and NFP as “Vatican Roulette”. You two have to dig to the root of why she really uses the Pill to find a solution.

    • Elizabeth

      Wow. Thank you for being so blunt.
      Honestly, you could probably practice NFP without your wife ever touching a chart. She’d have to be willing to make observations, but if you take responsibility for sticking the thermometer in her mouth in the morning and reminding her to check mucus signs, it would take very little effort on her part.

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