by Theresa Notare
November 15, 1995
The need to have men take responsibility for family planning is an issue currently--if belatedly--being raised in the secular family planning literature. Now "family planners" are in a quandary. For some time, the family planning world has been preoccupied with the role of the woman in "effectively" using artificial contraception. Little attention was devoted to the man's role. A report of International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) explains why: "the very real threat [emphasis added] which excessive childbearing poses to women's health; the political and practical decision ... to deliver family planning services through maternal/child health care networks; and the strong link between family planning and women's emancipation" (Network, August 1992). To their own surprise, family planning advocates now agree that their "woman only" approach effectively hindered male participation and made no contribution toward achieving equality between the sexes. Hence, they are now scrambling to "correct" that problem.
A number of distortions are evident in their agenda. Most glaring is the disjointed anthropology which they advocate. In their attempt to help women regulate their fertility, IPPF (and others who promote artificial contraception) have missed the essential human equation. They don't get the point--that God created human beings "male and female," and willed an essential unity between the sexes. Human sexuality, especially our ability to co-create with God, most clearly demonstrates that innate complementarity.
In treating women as isolated individuals, IPPF's approach to human nature fosters a radical individualism. It segregates the sexes, negates fertility, minimizes the psychological component of sexual relations, undermines spousal relationships, devalues the child, and fails to acknowledge the spiritual. It assumes as fact the complete sexual autonomy of women. In other words, a woman is independent of a man to the extent she controls her reproductive capacity (including the decision to bring a pregnancy to term). Implied in this notion is the bizarre idea that sexual intercourse is a morally and emotionally neutral solitary act.
Such thinking is a divisive modern myth. It describes a way of being female which considers woman as the only factor in the human equation and completely ignores the male factor. Nor does it even describe women accurately. There is no acknowledgment of women's awesome biological ability to nurture human life. It treats women's cycle of fertility as a disease and fails to understand the significant relationship of women's emotional make-up to their sexuality. Sexual intercourse in this scheme translates into self serving activity that carries some risks (i.e., sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy) which must be avoided.
Counter to such a shallow view of humanity, Catholic teaching offers a holistic vision. A vision of the human family composed of men and women--together--the essential equation for whom human sexuality exists as a relational reality. Differences in body parts and chemistry are written into nature and exist in clear complementarity to each other. They exist not to be suppressed or denigrated, but to be celebrated, cared for, and protected. Societal standards, morals, and structures like marriage are critical to the realization of this plan.
We ignore the psychological emotional aspects of our sexuality at our own peril. We cannot say that "sex is just sex," that "it doesn't matter." Powerful emotions are attached to sexuality. Differences exist between how men and women communicate. Tensions, even damaging hurt are frequently found among couples. Care needs to be taken in understanding male/female emotional differences. Science can inform our knowledge, but Church teachings can provide healthy insights too. Sexual reactions provide the most profound means of male/female communication. Communication that involves spouses giving of themselves to each other without reservation. It is a complete union, a holy union. But how can the depth of honest love-making occur between a man and a woman who are not committed to each other for life? It doesn't. It can't unless a man and a woman are able to say "I will love you and support you unconditionally and exclusively." Without this pledge real human love-making cannot occur--instead it will be fragmented, disjointed, a lie.
Artificial contraception facilitates this deception. In its attack on fertility, it causes the person to say in his or her body language "I am withholding an essential part of myself from you." It also feeds into "user" and "control" mentality--"I will determine when a child will be conceived." It effectively shuts out the Lord of Life. Honesty, vulnerability, acceptance, self-donation, including openness to children and reverence as well as passion are part of the ingredients which comprise fully human love-making. Catholics should especially understand this and therefore should be among those sweeping away the fragments of IPPF's distorted picture. The essential equation, that of men and women--distinctive but one--needs to be restored if our culture is to ever reach full human maturity.
Theresa Notare is the Special Assistant for the Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning of the NCCB's Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.