Nobody has a right to pregnancy-free coitus

Edit on 8/30/2016: after publishing this, the interaction I had in the comments below helped me clarify this concept. Going forward, you will see me referring to the concept like this: “Fertile couples don’t have a right to pregnancy-free coitus,” rather than “Nobody has a right to pregnancy-free coitus.” The first phrase is more accurate. If you read the comments where I discuss menopausal women, you’ll see how I came to this conclusion.

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In Catholic circles there is an idea known as “the contraceptive mentality.” I’m not crazy about the phrase because it isn’t obvious what it means. At least, it wasn’t to me. It was only in the last four months or so that I understood it, even though I embraced the Church’s teaching on contraception 5-6 years ago, before I even officially became Catholic. Once I figured out what the phrase meant, I coined my own phrase:

Nobody has a right to pregnancy-free coitus.

That seems more clear to me. It makes it easier to see how contraception shifts the thought process surrounding sex. Even though not every act of sex makes a baby, in point of fact sex is a normatively and presumptively fertile act. Contraception shifts the thought process at this point. It makes people believe that sex is normatively and presumptively sterile. Once sex is viewed this way, then link between contraception and abortion becomes apparent. If sex is supposed to be sterile, then getting rid of an unwanted baby is justified on the grounds that the pregnancy was unintended. The use of contraceptives buttresses the idea that sex is a purely recreational activity; sex becomes a baby making activity only when the baby is explicitly wanted. Thus, contraception devalues all human life.

Superficially, it seems like contraception would reduce abortion, but this has not been the case. As Janet Smith said:

“There’s not a country in the world which had abortion illegal… in which contraception gets introduced and widely used, that’s when you get pressure to change the laws against abortion.”

And why is that? Because contraception makes people believe that they have a right to pregnancy-free coitus. Even SCOTUS noted the link between contraception and abortion in its 1992 decision known as Planned Parenthood v. Casey:

“…in some critical respects abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception . . . .  for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.”

That’s SCOTUS, a totally secular organization, making the same connection between contraception and abortion that the Catholic Church makes, but using the link as a way to uphold abortion. SCOTUS’ logic is that contraception gives people a right to pregnancy-free coitus, but since contraception can fail, then people need abortion as a way to uphold that right. It is obviously faulty logic, but people are so committed to purely recreational sex, and the false belief that contraception gives them 100% control over their fertility, that they can’t see how tenuous the logic is.

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Author: everybodysdaughter

I'm an adult child of divorce, having been raised in multiple divorce/remarriage situations. I'm writing in order to shed light on the problems of divorce from the perspective of the child. I will also discuss problems with other non-triad family structures, since there is a lot of overlap. People often think that better parenting skills will overcome problems in non-triad arrangements. While I agree that parenting skills are important, they cannot overcome the problems I discuss such as fractured ontology and perpetual liminality. I converted to the Catholic faith in 2012, and will discuss Catholic things from time to time as well.

38 thoughts on “Nobody has a right to pregnancy-free coitus”

  1. I saw your reference to this post when you left a comment at my blog. I largely agree with the broad moral vision laid out here, and I think that if this understanding of sex were pervasive in our society, it would address a lot of our sexual dysfunction. As a society, we definitely need a tighter link in our minds between sex and procreation.

    I’m not sure, however, about your thesis statement as it is worded. To say, “Nobody has a right to pregnancy-free coitus” causes me to wonder what you mean by the word “right.” If you mean “ethical right,” implying that it is unethical for a couple to have sex in a knowingly sterilized condition, then I would disagree. Post-menopausal women have a completely ethical right to have sex with their husbands without the intent or expectation of pregnancy, just for one example.

    I saw your exchange with Arkenaten above, which suggests another line of thought: nobody has a right to what is physically impossible, and pregnancy is always possible when there is coitus. If I have misrepresented you, please correct me. To this I would have two responses:

    (1) Pregnancy is not always possible when there is coitus, in the normal sense of what we mean by possibility. I do believe that miracles happen. I worship a God who gave a son to Abraham and Sarah during her post-menopausal years. But that was a special divine act, not what I would regard as a rare possibility within the normal course of events. Furthermore, I also worship a God who gave a Son to a virgin. So, if we are using miraculous events as our standard here, we would also have to conclude that no one has a right to pregnancy-free virginity either!

    But speaking apart from the miraculous, there are situations that make pregnancy impossible for married couples. If your claim is otherwise, I simply do not agree.

    (2) Furthermore, I’m not sure what the value of making such a statement like that would be in relation to contraception. I could see how it would apply to abortion. A woman gets pregnant (either with or without contraception) and then pleads her “right” to abort the child to avoid the consequences. That’s where our society has been for forty years, and it is tragic.

    But since the decision to use contraception occurs before pregnancy, it’s not the same situation. If a married woman uses contraception, knowing full well that it might fail and that she might get pregnant, all the while intending to carry the baby and care for it if contraception does fail, then she’s not claiming a “right” to pregnancy-free coitus. She is simply seeking to reduce the chances of pregnancy while being willing to be pregnant if that is what happens.

    So, while this article does reveal some of the danger of a normalized expectation of sterilized sex, framing the argument in the terms of rights does not really address the ethical standing of contraception per se.

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    1. I am going to put quotes around your comments so that it is clear which parts I am addressing. I didn’t address every single paragraph, since there was overlap in what I had to say. If I left something out, it was unintentional–ping me again and I’ll respond to it.

      “I saw your reference to this post when you left a comment at my blog. I largely agree with the broad moral vision laid out here, and I think that if this understanding of sex were pervasive in our society, it would address a lot of our sexual dysfunction. As a society, we definitely need a tighter link in our minds between sex and procreation.”

      OK, thanks for the affirmation.

      “I saw your exchange with Arkenaten above, which suggests another line of thought: nobody has a right to what is physically impossible, and pregnancy is always possible when there is coitus. If I have misrepresented you, please correct me.”

      You are very close. Pregnancy is always possible between two people who are both fertile. By contracepting they believe they have a right to the impossible–a guarantee of pregnancy-free coitus. My formulation doesn’t apply to post-menopausal women, since they don’t contracept and are therefore not seeking a right to something that is impossible–they are actually infertile.

      “Furthermore, I also worship a God who gave a Son to a virgin. So, if we are using miraculous events as our standard here, we would also have to conclude that no one has a right to pregnancy-free virginity either!”

      Itis always hard to understand subtlties in written form… but I chuckled at this. Were you being funny? It seems so. But just so we’re clear, I’m not using miraculous events as my standard.

      “(2) Furthermore, I’m not sure what the value of making such a statement like that would be in relation to contraception. I could see how it would apply to abortion…”

      I realize how distasteful it is to link contraception to abortion–I was pro-contraception myself for most of my adult life. I also know that it is counterintuitive. In principle, widespread use of contraceptoin should eliminate abortion. But did you see the quote from SCOTUS in my post? Planned Parenthood v. Casey was a case that the pro-life movement was very excited about. We thought we had a real shot at overturning Roe. But look at SCOTUS’ reasoning for upholding the “right” to abortion–it’s contraception. Why? As I said in the post, contraception leads people to believe that they have a right to pregnancy-free coitus–that they have a right to the impossible–and this is what leads to the justification for abortion. Please read the quote again.

      “A woman gets pregnant (either with or without contraception) and then pleads her ‘right’ to abort the child to avoid the consequences. That’s where our society has been for forty years, and it is tragic. But since the decision to use contraception occurs before pregnancy, it’s not the same situation. ”

      That’s not the reasoning given by SCOTUS.

      “If a married woman uses contraception, knowing full well that it might fail and that she might get pregnant, all the while intending to carry the baby and care for it if contraception does fail, then she’s not claiming a ‘right’ to pregnancy-free coitus. She is simply seeking to reduce the chances of pregnancy while being willing to be pregnant if that is what happens.”

      Before the sexual revolution, the Anglicans were the first Christians to break ranks with the ancient Christian prohibition against contraception–they made an exception for married couples in 1930. A small hole in the dyke became a torrent that destroyed much.

      What do you make of Genesis 38:9-10?

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      1. Hello again. Just three words of response from me.

        First, you wrote, “Pregnancy is always possible between two people who are both fertile. By contracepting they believe they have a right to the impossible–a guarantee of pregnancy-free coitus.” I don’t think that is necessarily true. Some who use contraception may believe they have a right to pregnancy-free coitus, but at least some who use it do so without believing they have an inherent right to such, but merely as a means to reduce (perhaps dramatically) the chances of pregnancy. If they happen to get pregnant anyway, many couples who sometimes use contraception will joyfully receive the pregnancy and baby as a gift of a sovereign God who overruled their own plans. So, I don’t think it’s quite right to attribute the same motive to all who use contraception.

        Second, regarding the SCOTUS reasoning you mentioned, I think you are right that it represents one example where a contraceptive mentality led to a tragic conclusion regarding abortion. But not all who hold to the moral permissibility of contraception in at least some cases would share that reasoning. Contraception may have been a necessary factor in that decision, but certainly not a sufficient one, for many Christians (such as myself) hold that married couples may use contraception and yet regard abortion as murder. And it’s because, as I mentioned above, we do not regard contraception as something that guarantees a right to pregnancy-free coitus.

        Third, my reading of Genesis 38 leads me to conclude that Onan was put to death by the Lord, not for using contraception per se, but rather for his motive in doing so. After the death of his brother Er, Onan willingly agreed to receive the sexual pleasure of being with Er’s widow, but without a willingness to accept the attendant responsibility of raising up a son in his brother’s name, which was his duty as a brother. This is all the more important in the wider context of Genesis, where the theme of “offspring” becomes prominent from Genesis 3:15 onward, where we are led to expect that a particular offspring of humanity, narrowed to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), then narrowed to Judah’s line in particular (Gen. 49:9-10), will arise to be the redeemer of a fallen human race. The story of Genesis 38 shows two thwarted opportunities for the line of Judah to propagate itself due to the wickedness of Er, followed by the selfishness of Onan. And yet, through the deceptive practice of Tamar and the lust of Judah himself (her father-in-law), the line that would eventually bring the Messiah is perpetuated through a terrible act of fornication. In other words, where Onan resisted the opportunity to help bring the promised offspring into the world, God killed him and fulfilled his saving plan anyway, using Judah’s own foolishness to do so. The line of Judah will not be sterilized, not if God has anything to do with it.

        I think that is the main point of Genesis 38, and its only application to us today in terms of contraception is that our motives in using it must be good. In other words, it must not be used to cut off a marriage from the possibility of children altogether, to perpetuate selfishness, to foster a negative view of pregnancy and children, or to lead us to believe that we are ultimately in control of our families and their provision. In other words, if we use contraception as a tool for stewardship, submitting our lives and plans to God’s sovereign will, but managing pregnancy in accord with wise purposes, I think that is fine. If, on the other hand, we live in fear of pregnancy, responsibility, and the need to provide for one more mouth to feed, and we trust in contraception to save us from it rather than trusting in the Lord to provide for our needs, we have given in to a “contraceptive mentality” and are misusing contraception in a sinful way. The heart is what matters.

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        1. “… at least some who use it do so without believing they have an inherent right to such, but merely as a means to reduce (perhaps dramatically) the chances of pregnancy. If they happen to get pregnant anyway, many couples who sometimes use contraception will joyfully receive the pregnancy and baby as a gift of a sovereign God who overruled their own plans. So, I don’t think it’s quite right to attribute the same motive to all who use contraception… many Christians (such as myself) hold that married couples may use contraception and yet regard abortion as murder. And it’s because, as I mentioned above, we do not regard contraception as something that guarantees a right to pregnancy-free coitus.”

          I certainly understand what you are saying here, and I concede that there may be a minority of couples who understand that they are only reducing their chance for pregnancy and thus are not insisting on a right to pregnancy-free coitus. But I think these are the exception, not the rule. Even so, contraception blocks the one-flesh union, since couples are withholding parts of themselves from each other (they withhold their fertility). I won’t go into those details now but here is a link where I wrote more about it.

          https://everybodysdaughter.wordpress.com/2016/05/28/i-used-to-be-pro-contraception/

          I am also unpersuaded that modern man understands sex and human psychology better than the wisdom of 1900 years of Christian history and tradition. In order for Christians to feel comfortable using contraception, they have to jettison that history and tradition and basically say that the church was wrong all that time. It is not coincidental that the widespread acceptance of contraception among Christians just so happens to be occurring in the midst of a cultural sexual revolution that began to sprout after contraception became legal in the mid-1960s. So I honestly believe that Christians who contracept are acquiescing to the culture.

          “Third, my reading of Genesis 38 leads me to conclude that Onan was put to death by the Lord, not for using contraception per se, but rather for his motive in doing so… The heart is what matters.”

          I used to have that view too but I appreciate you sharing it with me.

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  2. I have been married for thirty years and have two fantastic kids. Both were planned, including such details as when might be the best rime to conceive/ carry and or give birth. Living in a country where we can have some pretty wild temperature swings this seemed prudent for the childrens’ sake as well as the mother’s.

    We never wanted more children and ensured we never would. Are you suggesting, with your somewhat judgmental phrase: Nobody has a right to pregnancy-free coitus that our decision not to have any more kids but continue to have a healthy sex life, as married consenting adults was wrong in some way?
    Please explain, as your perspective is somewhat baffling.

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    1. Contraception makes people believe that they have a right to the impossible. For example, if both people are sterilized yet engaging in coitus, they have not eliminated their chance for pregnancy. They have only reduced it.

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          1. Really?
            And what about a woman who has undergone hysterectomy?

            And how does menopause figure in your rather judgmental reckoning?

            Are you suggesting that sex is, therefore, only for procreation?

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              1. I simply do not understand what you are trying to say.
                Let me try to clarify.
                There are definite cases where conception is a impossibility not least because of confirmed diagnosed infertility.
                I am asking you whether you believe that sex is solely for procreation?

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                1. Infertility is the state that comes about as the result of certain processes (menopause, hysterectomy), but those processes don’t confer a a right to pregnancy-free coitus, because as I’ve said, nobody has a right to what is impossible.

                  Do you at least understand the general concept that nobody can have a right to what is impossible?

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                  1. In this context, no, I am afraid not. Your assertion still seems vague to me. Also, you have yet to answer whether you believe sex is solely for procreation.
                    If you could answer this it should move our conversation along a bit.
                    Thanks.

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                    1. It would make it easier for me if you answered my question with a yes or no. As it is, I don’t know how to respond. It seems that you are saying yes, that you agree, but I not really sure and I’d rather not assume.

                      As far as your question regarding sex as soley for procreation: no, that’s not what the Catholic Church teaches. She teaches that sex has a twofold purpose, unitive and procreative.

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                    2. I actually do not understand the question.
                      How can one have a right to something that is impossible?
                      Take time travel for example. It is generally considered impossible, so how could one have a right to it?

                      Maybe you need to rephrase your question and be more specific with your point.

                      ”Unitive and procreative”.

                      So notsolely for procreation.
                      Which I take to mean one can have sex simply for the enjoyment of it, and the proven health benefits as well, yes?

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                    3. “How can one have a right to something that is impossible?”

                      They can’t, but people act as if they can when it comes to contraception. Let me phrase it a bit differently: contraception leads people to believe that they have a guarantee of pregnancy-free coitus. But such a guarantee is impossible to make, since there is always a chance of pregnancy between couples engaging in coitus who are both fertile.

                      Yes, sex is enjoyable and married couples should enjoy it.

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                    4. Ah.. now I am getting the picture. Sorry, for appearing a bit dense.

                      I think I would have to disagree with you here.I would imagine that most people who use contraception are generally aware that there is a chance – albeit relatively small -that contraception may fail.
                      Nothing is fool-proof and there is an element of risk in everything we do, be it have sex, drive a car, possible choking from eating Cornflakes.

                      This does not mean we should not eat Cornflakes does it?

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                    5. Yes, I read it. But at the risk of suggesting cherry picking I would be interested in reading more of the article to understand context .
                      Do you have a link, please?

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                    6. I googled the entire quote and it took me to the article by Janet Smith.

                      To argue for or against sex outside of a committed relationship is not your entire stance, I suspect, so why do you consider it unethical for married couples to use a condom for example?

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                    7. I presume your objection on ethical grounds is that it interrupts/prevents a natural function of the body – ie, the potential to fall pregnant?
                      Would this be the case?

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