What is a “contraceptive mentality?”

If you read Catholic or NFP blogs long enough — or have a wife who does — you’ll eventually run across the phrase “contraceptive mentality.” Most of the time it is in the form of a warning: “Using NFP with a contraceptive mentality is just as bad as contraception itself.”

There’s just one problem with this claim. It is complete rubbish.

Let’s look at the history of the term.

Familiaris Consortio – 1981

John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio was the first church document to use the phrase “contraceptive mentality.” Speaking of the situation of the family in the modern world, the pope says:

On the one hand, in fact, there is a more lively awareness of personal freedom and greater attention to the quality of interpersonal relationships in marriage, to promoting the dignity of women, to responsible procreation, to the education of children. There is also an awareness of the need for the development of interfamily relationships, for reciprocal spiritual and material assistance, the rediscovery of the ecclesial mission proper to the family and its responsibility for the building of a more just society. On the other hand, however, signs are not lacking of a disturbing degradation of some fundamental values: a mistaken theoretical and practical concept of the independence of the spouses in relation to each other; serious misconceptions regarding the relationship of authority between parents and children; the concrete difficulties that the family itself experiences in the transmission of values; the growing number of divorces; the scourge of abortion; the ever more frequent recourse to sterilization; the appearance of a truly contraceptive mentality.

Interestingly enough, it appears as the third item in a list of sins against life: abortion, frequent sterilization, and the contraceptive mentality. In this context it seems clear that the term means the tendency to use contraception.

Evangelium Vitae – 1995

The next major document to use the term was John Paul II’s Encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Here the pope condemns the use of contraception as a means of lowering abortion rates

It is frequently asserted that contraception, if made safe and available to all, is the most effective remedy against abortion. The Catholic Church is then accused of actually promoting abortion, because she obstinately continues to teach the moral unlawfulness of contraception. When looked at carefully, this objection is clearly unfounded. It may be that many people use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation of abortion. But the negative values inherent in the “contraceptive mentality”-which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act-are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the pro- abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected. Certainly, from the moral point of view contraception and abortion are specifically different evils: the former contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love, while the latter destroys the life of a human being; the former is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage, the latter is opposed to the virtue of justice and directly violates the divine commandment “You shall not kill”.

Again, the context indicates that the “contraceptive mentality” is the tendency to contracept. It does not refer to less than perfect intentions when using NFP.

The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality – 1995

This document, issued by the Pontifical Council on the Family uses the phrase not once, but twice.

92. Through a trusting and open dialogue, parents can guide their daughters in facing any emotional perplexity, and support the value of Christian chastity out of consideration for the other sex. Instruction for both girls and boys should aim at pointing out the beauty of motherhood and the wonderful reality of procreation, as well as the deep meaning of virginity. In this way they will be helped to go against the hedonistic mentality which is very widespread today and particularly, at such a decisive stage, in preventing the “contraceptive mentality”, which unfortunately is very common and which girls will have to face later in marriage.

This first usage is ambiguous on it’s own. But later we see…

136. In the first place, parents must reject secularized and anti-natalist sex education, which puts God at the margin of life and regards the birth of a child as a threat. This sex education is spread by large organizations and international associations that promote abortion, sterilization and contraception. These organizations want to impose a false lifestyle against the truth of human sexuality. Working at national or state levels, these organizations try to arouse the fear of the “threat of over-population” among children and young people to promote the contraceptive mentality, that is, the “anti-life” mentality. They spread false ideas about the “reproductive health” and “sexual and reproductive rights” of young people. Furthermore, some antinatalist organizations maintain those clinics which, violating the rights of parents, provide abortion and contraception for young people, thus promoting promiscuity and consequently an increase in teenage pregnancies. “As we look towards the year 2000, how can we fail to think of the young? What is being held up to them? A society of ‘things’ and not of ‘persons’. The right to do as they will from their earliest years, without any constraint, provided it is ‘safe’. The unreserved gift of self, mastery of one’s instincts, the sense of responsibility — these are notions considered as belonging to another age”.

The “contraceptive mentality” is being pushed by organizations which promote abortion and contraception. Again, no references to misuse of NFP.

What does it matter?

It matters because NFP is not just “Catholic contraception.” Saying things like, “Using NFP with a contraceptive mentality is just as bad as contraception itself,” blurs the sharp differences between the two approaches.

Yes, one can misuse NFP out of fear or selfishness. But the sin there is fear or selfishness, not a “contraceptive mentality.”

NFP is intrinsically opposed to the contraceptive mentality.  As Humanae Vitae says, “Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character.”

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About Joshua Michael

Writer. Catholic. Fan of John Henry Newman and the Inklings.
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34 Responses to What is a “contraceptive mentality?”

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  2. Rick says:

    I think what “contraceptive mentality” means is when a couple decides how many children they are going to have. The opposite is to simply leave that up to God. Couples without a contraceptive mentality never give any thought to how many children they are going to have, but are open to whatever number of children God decides for them to have. Today, couples never never sit down and decide the number of boys and number of girls they are going to have (since science has not yet gotten to the point of being able to provide the means for couples to make that decision). Deciding how many children to have, to a couple without a contraceptive mentality, is just as absurd as sitting down and deciding what percentage of their children are going to be boys and what percentage will be girls.
    I think when people talk about using NFP with a contraceptive mentality what they mean is refusing to be open to every conjugal act producing its natural potential results. There’s something wrong with that, whether that refusal is expressed by using natural or by using unnatural means.

    • Rick: While that may be how you use the term, it isn’t how the Church uses it. The Church’s documents, including those cited above, are clear that it is legitimate for a couple to limit the number of their children for serious reasons, even indefinitely if the reasons persist.

      For instance, Humanae Vitae states that:

      With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.

      Misusing the term in the way you suggest inadvertently ends up condemning what Paul VI praises as “responsible parenthood.”

  3. Lazarus says:

    Sure, the Holy Father has never specifically equated fear- or selfishness-based misuse of NFP with a “contraceptive mentality.” Even if this proves that the “contraceptive mentality” never uses NFP, what difference does that make? Even if we shred the straw-man that says “Selfish use of NFP is as bad as contraception,” what have we gained? It doesn’t need to be equally bad in order to be wrong—why bring it up?

    I care nothing for labeling mentality A as “contraceptive” and mentality B as merely “selfish.” I care for honesty, and I do not respect the false security gained from saying “I’m not contraceptively-minded.” We should ask ourselves not if the word “contraceptive” applies to us, but to what extent birth-preventative use of NFP as such (outside of real necessity) is selfish.

    Not ready for children yet? Try waiting to get married. That’s what’s meant by an “unreserved gift of self, mastery of one’s instincts, [and a] sense of responsibility.”

    • Lazarus: That isn’t a straw man. It is a direct quotation from someone who campaigns against “NFP with a contraceptive mentality.”

      “I care nothing for labeling mentality A as “contraceptive” and mentality B as merely “selfish.””

      You don’t care for describing reality as it is? That doesn’t sound particularly honest, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding what you mean.

      We should be asking ourselves both whether we are being contraceptive and (if we’re not) whether we are being selfish in our use of NFP.

      Waiting to get married is certainly appropriate for some people. But it isn’t the Church’s requirement. As long as a couple is open to life (as NFP inherently is), there is no obstacle to marriage.

      • Lazarus says:

        Joshua: If your post is a purely philosophical description of reality as it is, I apologize and retract my statement about not caring. Let’s split some hairs. (I insist, however, that there are no straw-man arguments anywhere that aren’t believed by at least a few poor souls–citing them doesn’t make those arguments relevant to real debate.)

        All the documents you cite use “contraceptive mindset” in the way you describe. You are correct. Those who say that NFP buys into a contraceptive mentality are therefore either guilty of a fallacy or using the phrase in a manner different from the encyclicals (the Magisterium has never claimed the authority to set all psycho-social vocabulary). In the latter case, surely you understand the point they are making?

        I like to describe reality as it is. Let’s describe this debate: what is it really about? Are you concerned to debunk the old “Contraceptives prevent birth. NFP prevents birth. Therefore NFP is contraceptive!” fallacy? It’s obvious that you’re not. What, then?

        Yes, NFP is open to life–it does nothing artificially to prevent it. Yes, validly married couples are ipso facto open to having children. No, the church does not demand that couples begin producing progeny nine months after the wedding. But let me ask this:

        A husband and wife make love on a certain day for the sake of building up their union. They have chosen this day because conception is unlikely to occur. They will accept a child conceived on this day, if the unlikely does occur. They very much hope that it does not. They have no real necessities preventing them from having children. Is this contraception? No. Is it gravely disordered? No. Is it entirely right and good? No.

        Now, have I described a mindset leading to a selfish use of NFP, or have I described a contraceptive mindset? If the “contraceptive mindset” can be used in any other way than in the encyclicals, the latter. If not, the former.

        The term “contraceptive” was first used in 1891. It was the adjectival form of “contraception” (coined 1886), meaning “against conception.” It referred not to just any anti-conception (such as the celibacy then practiced by the Shakers), but one precisely that wanted to keep the sex and prevent the conception. Under this broad usage, anyone would have then been free to describe acts of sodomy or bestiality as contraceptive. Philosophers didn’t create these terms–they create very few terms.

        So. If a person has a mindset, and this mindset leads him or her act in a way that enjoys sex and avoids conception, how is this not a contraceptive mindset? If a person has a mindset that says “I want sex and don’t want children… at least not yet,” how is this not a contraceptive mindset? Maybe it’s not an artificially contraceptive mindset, but that’s a whole different question, now isn’t it?

        The encyclicals aren’t using “contraceptive mindset” to describe the mindset leading to a misuse of NFP. This does not mean that “contraceptive mindset” can’t describe a mindset leading to a misuse of NFP. If a husband and wife who have no urgent reason not to have children yet use NFP in such a way so that they don’t, I’m not going to come and paint “CONTRACEIVERS!” on their front door. However, if they deny that “contraceptive mindset” has anything to do with them–just because “contraceptive” is an ugly word–I will not congratulate them on their logical consistency.

        And I hope nobody tells me that as a good Catholic I should just use the terms the Holy Father provides… unless the unexpurgated Denzinger reads “matters of faith, morals, and lexicography.”

        • Lazarus: The point of this post is to clarify what the term “contraceptive mentality” means, and that misusing it does a couple of things that should be avoided.

          1. It causes people to be confused about the teaching of the Church when the term is co-opted and given a subtly different meaning.

          For instance, telling people that consubstantial means “of similar substance” rather than “of the same substance” is obviously a bad idea.

          2. Due to this change in meaning, people inadvertently end up condemning (in the name of the Church) choices that the Church has deemed acceptable. See Rick’s comment above for an example.

          • Lazarus says:

            Please, Joshua, answer one question for me: Do you, in fact, understand that Humanae Vitae is describing those who have “serious reasons” for not having additional children?

            Please, for the love of God, tell me that you understand that!

            The document says nothing in defense of those who lack “serious reasons” for using NFP to avoid having any (not additional) children. You, yourself describe such a thing as a selfish misuse of NFP. My only point is that there is no way to prove that the phrase “contraceptive mentality” cannot apply to this selfish misuse of NFP. The distinction you’re trying to make is between an artificially contraceptive mindset and a contraceptive mindset generally, not between a selfish mindset and a contraceptive one. I hope this is sufficiently clear.

            This is becoming surreal…

          • I do understand that HV is describing those who have serious reasons to delay/avoid conception. This applies regardless of how many children the couple have.

            To give a simple example, if a couple found that there were extremely serious health risks to the woman should she become pregnant, that would justify the use of NFP even if they had no children.

            Regardless, my point is that since NFP is by definition not contraceptive, describing the misuse of NFP as contraceptive is misleading. It leads to easy dismissal of NFP as “Oh, that’s just Catholic contraception.”

            My concern in all this is that the Church’s teachings are portrayed accurately, rather than in a slapdash way which equates “use of NFP that I think unjustified” with “contraceptive mentality.”

            Does that help clarify things at all?

          • Lazarus says:

            Let me make sure I’ve got this right:

            1) NFP is not contraceptive.
            2) Therefore “contraceptive” cannot be used to described NFP.

            Sound good?

            A logical argument contains premises and it contains conclusions. When the premise is the conclusion, it’s called a tautology.

            Prove to me that NFP cannot by nature be used according to a mindset that can be described as “contraceptive,” and you’ve proven your point. This, however, is exactly what you haven’t proven.

            Perhaps you’ll say that NFP is natural and anything described as contraceptive is artificial. Says who? The word “contraceptive” is not so narrow as you suppose. This argument is only a rephrasing of your first premise, anyway.

            In common usage, “contraception” is understood to refer to any artificially contraceptive practice, device, or pharmaceutical. That’s fine. The word “contraceptive,” however, can describe more than practices, devices, or pharmaceuticals. It can also describe cultures, nations, sects, individuals, mindsets, &c. (In all this I am guided by both the standard usage of the word and by its etymology. If you’d like to prove that it means something else, go ahead and try. You cannot, however, begin with another meaning as your premise. Look it up.)

            “Contraceptive” means “against conception.” So what would a contraceptive mindset be? Two people using prophylactics and saying “We want sex but are against conception” clearly have a contraceptive mindset. Two people saying “We want sex and are very much for conception–conception would cause severe health problems, though, so we reluctantly avoid it” clearly do not have a contraceptive mindset.

            Two people saying “We want sex and we’re against conception so we’re having sex now when conception is very unlikely” have a contraceptive mindset–their mindset is against conception. Their practices are not artificially contraceptive, and according to common usage, they are not using “contraception.”

            Here’s the test: Am I, in my mind and heart, against conception, or am I for it but restrained by serious reasons?

            Anyone using NFP with a mindset that is against conception is, by definition, using NFP with a contraceptive mindset. I’m sorry if you don’t like this, but words don’t care about our tender feelings. I sympathize with your desire to keep nasty words like “contraceptive” as far away from yourself as possible, but this isn’t the way to do it. All that’s necessary is to say, “I’m for conception but am restrained by serious reasons.” Say this–honestly–and you’re safe.

            As for your statement that serious reasons can apply regardless of how many children (if any) a couple has already, I agree. My point was that your quote from Humanae Vitae only mentions the case of those who have children already. Your statement is a logical extrapolation, though a valid one. The difficulty is this:

            When did these serious reasons develop? If they suddenly arose after the wedding, applying Humanae Vitae’s argument is valid. If they were present before the wedding, things aren’t so simple. If two people have serious reasons not to have children until a certain situation is resolved, why are they getting married? If their reasons are so serious that they cannot, in good conscience, allow themselves the joy of fulfilling their desire for children, why are they getting married?

            There are valid reasons to marry other than to have children, of course, but these other reasons must allow for an openness to conception. If, when the priest asks, “Are you open to new life?” the answer is “We’re not really open to new life right now, but maybe our situation will change,” if he’s an honest pastor he’ll say, “Well, come back when it does.”

            If you can’t prove that the word “contraceptive” applies only to artificial contraception, if you can’t prove that a mindset that is against conception isn’t a contraceptive mindset, it doesn’t matter what you reply. The point stands. If there’s something slap-dash about “contra” meaning “against” and “conceptive” meaning “relating to conception,” you’ll need to help me out a little: I’m not seeing it.

          • Lazarus: This will likely be my last reply on the subject.

            Since you’ve already admitted that in common usage “contraception” is equivalent to what you call “artificial contraception,” I would think you’d see my point. But say we used your broader definition of “contraceptive.” Under those terms using NFP with a “contraceptive mentality” isn’t just possible; it’s inevitable! By your definition of “contraceptive,” NFP is always contraceptive!

            Now, if we lived on an island where everyone else shared your understanding of the term, that might be fine. But we don’t.

            And in fact, the Church has used a specific vocabulary to instruct the faithful on these matters. In this vocabulary, contraceptive always means what you call “artificially contraceptive,” and NFP is always defined in opposition to contraception. For instance:

            In the light of the experience of many couples and of the data provided by the different human sciences, theological reflection is able to perceive and is called to study further the difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle: it is a difference which is much wider and deeper than is usually thought, one which involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality. – Familiaris Consortio

            Could the Church have used different language? Perhaps. But it didn’t.

            So when discussing the Church’s teachings, one should either use terminology in the way that the Church does, or should have the honesty to say up front, “Hey, even though I’m talking about the Church’s teachings, I’m using ‘contraceptive’ and ‘contraceptive mentality’ in a way that the Church never does.” The latter option seems ridiculous to me, so I just try to encourage people to use the Church’s own language.

            Regarding the question of whether it is a morally legitimate choice to marry even if one has serious reasons to avoid children, I think the answer is an obvious yes.

            For instance, in the case of serious health reasons, the couple could choose to remain perpetually continent. (“Celibate” marriage has a very long history in the Church.) No obstacle to marriage there.

            Or the couple could choose to practice NFP in the strictest possible fashion. Again, no obstacle to marriage.

            And where the Church doesn’t place any obstacles to marriage, I don’t presume to place any myself.

          • Lazarus says:

            There you go again quoting documents condemning contraception when this blog post purports to be about contraceptive mentality. It’s precisely your point that only a mindset which uses contraception can be contraceptive, and my point is the opposite. We both condemn contraception–to cite documents that condemn it to prove that you’re right is just a non sequitur.

            If only people on my little island think that a “contraceptive mindset” can mean more than an artifically contraceptive mindset, there would have been no reason for this post in the first place. Your whole complaint is that many people use the phrase “contraceptive mentality” to mean exactly what I’m saying it can mean.

            NFP is not always contraceptive. NFP is a practice, and a contraceptive practice is, by nature, contraception. NFP is not contraception. We’re not talking about practices, we’re talking about a mindset. If you don’t see how terms describing mindsets are broader than terms describing practices, then I really can’t help you.

            I’d love to see where the church defines “contraceptive mindset.” You keep showing me documents (with which I’m long familiar) that speak against contraception (contraceptive practices). I’m not using terms in a way contrary to church teaching–you’re trying to stretch church teaching to enforce your own narrow definitions. Good luck with that.

            As for what you’ve said concerning obstacles to marriage, it’s obvious that you need to spend some time with the Code. It’s a better use of your time than making me waste mine.

            You should probably reply to this one last time, since it’s your blog. I can’t imagine that it would matter to you that I won’t come back to see if you do.

            In other matters, I wish you a fruitful life in Christ. God bless.

          • Lazarus: You’ve already admitted that the term “contraceptive mentality” is used by the Church in the way that I described in my post, and not in the broader way that you’re defending.

            Using the broader way is a rhetorical sleight of hand, whereby people go from “The Church condemns the contraceptive mentality,” to “The Church condemns [use of NFP I disapprove of],” even if the latter is never even mentioned in the Church’s documents.

            I’m quite familiar with the Church’s canonical requirements for marriage. I imagine that you’re just surprised to find that the Church continues to allow “celibate” marriages on the model of Mary and Joseph. If I’m correct, I recommend reading through Rae’s posts on the subject.

  4. Pingback: Words Matter: Contraceptive Mentality | Catholic Life

  5. I like this post Joshua. Very informative.

    I’m wondering how the term came to be applied in the way we most commonly hear about it within NFP circles. I don’t think I’ve ever heard NFP mentioned without there also being a reference to the contraceptive mentality.

    I think too many people in strongly pro-life circles pass judgment too quickly on what might be a contraceptive mentality. For many people, there are very legitimate reasons for not having more children from physical health problems to mental health problems. Several couples I know have had damaging effects in family life and marital life from having more children because they were afraid of the contraceptive mentality. They just got overloaded beyond their capacity for mentally handling the challenges of extra children. One woman I know really went off the deep end and lost custody of her children.

    I like the way Dr. Janet Smith explains it. It’s different for everyone. As you said in the comments above, I’ve seen magisterial reference to responsible parenthood. We shouldn’t negate this. I don’t know exactly what the answer is. I think it’s different for everyone. I know a few couples that would be a little more sane without a few of those last kids. Is it bad that they had them? No! Should they have? It’s hard to say. Maybe they didn’t discern as well as they could have. Those kids are here and now they should be seen as a blessing.

    This is an important topic though and one that really needs to be investigated. There’s a problem with people being a little bit too cavalier in the use of this contraceptive mentality card. And, there’s a lot of good, well-meaning people that are having a very difficult time because they were guilted into having too many kids and now they aren’t able to parent responsibly.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Lazarus says:

      Wouldn’t you draw a distinction between couples who use NFP to avoid having children they could raise but don’t want and couples who use NFP to avoid having children they want but can’t raise? The “contraceptive mindset” might not apply to the latter group, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used to describe the former.

      And I agree: God forbid that any child be brought into the world by feelings of guilt.

    • Thanks, Marc. I really appreciate your point about couples being pushed into having more children than they should. Coming from a background where I knew families with 13+ children who didn’t get nearly the attention that they should have, I think that’s especially important to keep in mind.

  6. Pingback: Contraceptive Mentality and Sexual Desire | Catholic Life

  7. Itstheorientation says:

    For the other side, see:

    Then contrast w/this video on “Thou Shalt Not Kill” by Cardinal Pell

    Why 98% of Catholics of childbearing years are using contraceptives/vasectomy is that they don’t buy the jesuitical argument that it is okay to kill someone as long as you INTEND to relieve their pain or that you can intend to kill as long as you DO nothing (don’t act).

    Bishop Olmsted has just released new guidelines that ask a person to spell out what they want “removed” or what treatment terminated, once a “doctor” has certified (said) they have 3 months to live and again 7 days to live [select tab 3 – end of page “respect life”]. He indicates food and water should not be terminated, but what if you need BP medicine or pacemaker or Plavix to prevent stroke and “care giver” just cuts it off? If one has 3 months or 7 days to live, one can suddenly “stop” taking care of the person or start commiting suicide? This is the same as providing contraception if just had intercourse in case of rape, or abortion okay to 3 months. Are these deaths “natural”?
    http://www.diocesephoenix.org/about-policies.php

    It is the same w/ “natural” family planning: if it’s okay to PLAN your family (and call that RESPONSIBLE parenthood – was God not responsible when He said “be fruitful and multiply”; was He not responsible when he made marriages produce 8-20 children), why all the histrionics? Also, as anyone who ever used NFP knows, every two years you have a baby. It is quite funny to see all these people working in the “prolife” movement or volunteering/working at the church w/no children or one or two or who stopped at five (like Nancy Pelosi). Then there is the one couple who is having babies every two years that drop out of this “prolife” hypocrisy or join the crowd–and both husband and wife become “extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist” as soon as they do (and up their Korban to the priest’s pot).

    To me the “contracept mentality” is a mentality that does not trust in God and contracepts His will to replace it w/a “family” plan that produces after-birth abortion, gay (sterile/fruitless) marriage, and “assisted” suicide. Currently the Roman Catholic Church wants to satisfy both the flesh and God — i.e. however many kids God sends, “natural” death, and/or heterosexual couples are the “ideal” but if you can’t meet the ideal, the Church is there to provide you with an “outlet” — unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Not only God sees into our heart, we see there too–unless our church makes us blind, deaf and dumb (see EME above). Many people are going to wake up in hell.

    • GeekLady says:

      …while most of this comment is not especially coherent, I just want to point out that here there is drawn a false equivalence between what is due the dignity of a living person and what is due to a child not yet in existence. You can’t murder someone who does not exist,especially not by neglect.

      • Itstheorientation says:

        yeah, but you can develop an anti life mentality that leads you to kill (while covering it in words like “dignity”, “respect”, pride) — the child who has a handicap or the husband wounded in war or a car accident, or the sick or elderly… or the baby that was supposed to be “contracepted” according to your plan, i.e. anyone who interferes w/what you want that month.

        • GeekLady says:

          This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. How on earth is not attributing human dignity to people who do not exist supposed to cause me to increase in sinning against the dignity of people who do?

    • barefoot Momma says:

      You do realize that the 98% is completely bogus, don’t you? Further, why would you judge that people who actually practice nfp have children every 2 years? People who are aware of their fertility manage to cooperate valiantly with God to discern whether or not they should ask for another child. God gives us obvious signs of fertility as a gift – choosing to remain ignorant of them isn’t particularly appreciative.

  8. ChronicSinner says:

    Lazarus…well done. Your take on the matter that NFP can indeed be abused and become a function of a “contraceptive mentality” is not only philosophically more accurate, it’s also more logical and hence more Catholic, than Mr. Michael’s since a couple who uses NFP with a selfish intent does in fact engage in a contraceptive mentality. In other words, you cleaned his clock.

  9. Susan Peterson says:

    Also, I believe Mr. Michael is wrong that a couple with serious reasons to avoid [any] children could validly marry intending to use NFP to avoid having any children. One can marry saying, I know we are too old to have children, but if God would send us one, we would be delighted. One can’t marry saying, we know if Joe and I have a child it has a 50% chance of having this terrible painful, fatal degenerative disease, and since we wouldn’t abort such a child or use preimplantation genetic tesing and discard such an embryo, we don’t want to take the risk , so we intend to use NFP to avoid chidlren alltogether. In such a case, the speaker and Joe should not marry. To give consent to marriage requires assent to all the purposes of marriage which includes having at least some children.

    I think that it is so difficult for many people to use NFP, and using it is such a variation from the norm, that there ought to be at least an intial presumption of good faith in people who are eschewing artificial contraception and using NFP.

    But if you look at the views of the Fathers of the Church, the desire to have sex while avoiding children was almost universally condemned. (I think John Chrysostom at least thought that having children was not the ONLY valid reason to have intercourse.) The permission for “recourse to the infertile period” was really quite a step away from tradition. I trust the guidance of the Church by the Holy Spirit and believe that it made exactly the right distinctions and steered just the right course between the “no sex except for children” and the “all sex all the time children are optional” positions.

    While NFP never distorts the meaning of any individual act of intercourse, and therefore those practicing it never commit the sin of contraception, they may be committing other sins. It is possible to avoid children in order to keep up ones social status and send one’s children to the best schools, or for them to be able to engage in the amusements common in ones social class. The spectre of being too poor for your kids to join ski club or go on art department trips to Italy (both things from which some of my children were excluded, that is why these came to mind) may seem truly serious to some people. It may be that they really believe that if they had more children they could not maintain a “decent” standard of living as they understand that, and that they would really harm the children they have. Are they sinning? Maybe only God knows the answer to this, as He knows what they understand and what they are able to bear. But I don’t think that in the abstract we can exclude the possibility of sinning in this way.

    • Katerina says:

      It was explained to me by a canon lawyer that a couple with serious medical reasons to avoid any children can still validly marry, so long as they were open to the prospect of rethinking this if their medical situation (in the light of technological advances) would change that. An incurable genetic condition may be well managed or treated in ten years, and cured entirely in twenty. If that occurs, the couple is bound to rethink their decision to avoid pregnancy using NFP. If it doesn’t, they can continue this indefinite avoidance.
      That’s how I understood his explanation. Perhaps another canon lawyer could chime in…?

  10. Margaret says:

    It’s also possible that even in this age of Twitter and TMI, some people still practice discretion and modesty, and keep private matters private. The fact that a couple has no obvious (to you!) reasons for spacing their children, or stopping at five, or whatever, doesn’t mean they don’t, in fact, have serious reasons for doing so. Nor are they obliged to share it with you, or apologize. Perhaps there may be somebody, somewhere, using NFP for reasons that would be universally, objectively acknowledged as selfish. But I’ve only met this person in the abstract, and never in real life…

  11. Tradtrub says:

    The only excuse to use any type of conception avoidance techniques is called GRAVE reasons, of which there are very, very few according to the church. These are not taught in the sexed up TOB/NFP couples classes at your local NO church, and therefore leaves NFP open to tremendous abuse at a great risk to the catholic soul. So I will continue to refer to it as catholic birth control. Margret is correct about the TMI and and private matters, but the terms used above to rightfully descrive what NFP is (birth control) do not offend those that have GRAVE reasons. It only offfends those with a guilty conscience.

    • Mikayla says:

      “Sexed up TOB/NFP classes at your local NO order church?” Really? The classes at the dioceses and archdioceses I’m familiar with quote extensively from encyclicals when they describe marital relations. If you think encyclicals such as Casti Connubii, Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio, and Evangelium Vitae are “sexed up”, I’d say you have a problem.

      What the Church *actually* teaches about NFP is not that there are very few grave reasons for which it is morally acceptable to use NFP to space/delay/avoid pregnancy. An early translation of Humanae Vitae used the word “grave”, but this was a poor translation. A better one – and one shared on the Vatican website’s official English translation of Humanae Vitae – is “serious” or “just.” This does not have the super-serious life-threatening connotations of the word “grave” in English. But, as in Latin languages, “grave” means serious or weighty, not light or trivial. The average method-required abstinence across all major modern NFP methods for a couple intending to space/delay/avoid pregnancy is half the cycle. On a practical level, I very much doubt that any couple with light or trivial reasons for avoiding pregnancy will have those reasons withstand such a significant method required abstinence.

      What the Church *actually* teaches about NFP, I can tell you.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites “just reasons.” (CCC #2368)

      Humanae Vitae is the most authoritative and arguably most important statement of the Magisterium about this. In the official Latin it cites seriis causis (“serious causes” or “serious reasons”) as necessary for the intent of a married couple to avoid conception to be licit.
      
”Si postea ad condiciones physicas, oeconomicas, psychologicas et sociales respicimus, ii paternitate conscia fungi dicendi sunt, qui aut, prudenti consideratione magnoque animo ducti, statuunt numerosiores suscipere liberos, aut, seriis causis moralibusque praeceptis observatis, animum inducunt ut, vel ad certum vel ad incertum tempus, aliam filium non gignant.” (HV10)

      With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time. (HV10)

Humanae Vitae also cites “well-grounded reasons… arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances…” (HV16.) 

“Si igitur iustae adsint causae generationes subsequentes intervallandi, quae a coniugum corporis vel animi condicionibus, aut ab externis rerum adiunctis proficiscantur, Ecclesia docet, tunc licere coniugibus sequi vices naturales, generandi facultatibus immanentes, in maritali commercio habendo iis dumtaxat temporibus, quae conceptione vacent, atque adeo nasciturae proli ita consulere, ut morum doctrina, quam modo exposuimus, haudquaquam laedatur.” (HV16.) 

Reference to “upright and serious” (“honesta et gravia”) reasons is made as well in the same section. 

In addition to Humanae Vitae, there is also Pius XII’s October 29, 1951 address to Italian Catholic midwives. The most relevant paragraph – in the original Italian – first mentions serios motivos – “serious motives.” The text does also, at the end of the preceding paragraph and later in the relevant one, mention “grave motivo” and “graves razones.” The translation of the Italian grave(s) as “grave” is more excusable than the translation of the Latin seriis or the Italian serios as “grave.” However, it is still a mistranslation. The Italian grave (and the Latin gravis) essentially mean “heavy” or “weighty” – as opposed to “light” or “trivial”. In other words – “serious.” Furthermore, it is fairly clear from the wording of the paragraph that Pius is using graves as a synonym for serios – i.e., “serious.” In addition, one has to read that address in the context of his November 11, 1951 address to the Congress of the Family Front and of the Association of Large Families. 

There he says that the moral limits surrounding the avoiding of pregnancy by natural means are “truly very wide.” Thus, they would encompass all those reasons that would be called “serious” – not merely a small subset of such super-serious reasons that would in English be called “grave.”

The Vademecum for Confessors on this topic does not use the word “grave” either, instead using the more accurate Church terminology of “serious motives” and “proportionately serious reasons”:

“However, profoundly different from any contraceptive practice is the behavior of married couples, who, always remaining fundamentally open to the gift of life, live their intimacy only in the unfruitful periods, when they are led to this course by serious motives of responsible parenthood. This is true both from the anthropological and moral points of  view, because it is rooted in a different conception of the person and of sexuality. The witness of couples who for years have lived in harmony with the plan of the Creator,  and who, for proportionately serious reasons, licitly use the methods rightly called “natural,” confirms that it is possible for spouses to live the demands of chastity and of  married life with common accord and full self-giving. (Pontifical Council for the Family,Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life, 2.6)

This is not all that new, either. The Sacred Penitentiary under the Pope Pius VI issued a statement on the use of periodic continence in 1932, referring back to a decision of the Holy See in 1880 (which itself was foreshadowed by a response to an individual enquiry a quarter century earlier.):

Question: “Whether the practice is licit in itself by which spouses who, for just and weighty causes, wish to avoid offspring in a morally upright way, abstain from the use of marriage; by mutual consent and with upright motives; except on those days which, according to certain recent [medical] theories, conception is impossible for natural reasons.

      “Response: Provided for by the Response of the Sacred Penitentiary of June 16, 1880.”

The response from 1880 that was “Spouses using the aforesaid method are not to be disturbed; and a confessor may, with due caution, suggest this proposal to spouses, if his other attempts to lead them away from the detestable crime of onanism (understood at the time to be withdrawal or barrier methods of contraception) have proved fruitless.”

There is plenty of evidence to suggest the Church guides its faithful in balancing the generosity and prudence required for responsible parenting in terms of “just,” “serious,” “reasonable”, and “well-grounded” motives that allow for (in Pope Pius XXII’s words) “truly very wide” reasons touching on the physical and psychological wellbeing of the wife and husband, along with their existing duties to family and other external/social circumstances that could affect their discernment (economic etc.) These should not be light or trivial. Your assertion that there are “very, very few” grave reasons suitable to justify NFP to avoid pregnancy is not supported by the weight of authoritative statements specifically on the topic of periodic continence for family planning.

      • Mikayla says:

        My paragraph breaks didn’t all transfer through to the comment. Apologies for the wall of text; it’s not how I wrote it!

  12. Emilee says:

    NFP is absolutely NOT contraceptive, even if a couple is avoiding pregnancy for an extended period of time or indefinitely. (Their reasons for doing this is between them and God; we can’t judge that.) Has anyone who opposes this statement, that NFP is absolutely NOT contraceptive, ever considered how NFP works? During fertile times, the couple abstains from all sexual activity. If periodically practicing abstinence is contraceptive, then are virgins using contraception? If so, all people who have never had sex, including newborns, are using contraception, as well as those who periodically abstain from sex when practicing NFP.

  13. Pingback: When is it permissible to avoid pregnancy using NFP? : Catholic Stand

  14. Pingback: NFP and worrying about the “contraceptive mentality” | Embers of Incense

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