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“Ask a Priest: Why the Church’s Teachings on Premarital Sex and Contraception?”
Q: I am a young woman and was raised in a devout Catholic family. But I have a lot of problems with teachings on premarital sex and contraception. The teaching on premarital sex seems outdated and unnatural, now that people get married so late in the West. Basically, I am told it is a sin because the Church says so, [based on] the Bible and then a few vague statistics trying to prove that it will be harmful and ruin future relationships or your marriage. In a serious relationship it seems like a good way to show love and be close to each other. Teachings on contraception don’t make a ton of sense either. I come from and know a bunch of big families and as nice as it is to have siblings, big families seem to have more problems than not with too much responsibility being put on the older kids or some of the kids being “forgotten.” Anyway, mortality rates among infants and children have greatly reduced, making many pregnancies per woman unnecessary. I also find it a bit stupid when it is seen as “generosity” to have more kids. It seems rather irresponsible for many people to have (many) kids. Also, wouldn’t contraception reduce rates of abortion? Oddly, although I am not against contraception, I would be hesitant to be put on it, due to hormonal changes and side effects and in that sense, I would prefer NFP or condoms. I am sorry if I did not phrase the questions clearly. I wonder if there are more natural law and scientific arguments for/against premarital sex and contraception? – G.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It’s understandable that you might find Church teachings in this area difficult. The wider society has lost a supernatural view of sexuality and family life, and so the messages around us don’t always reinforce a Christian outlook.
The roots of Catholic teaching in this particular area go back to Genesis 1:27-28 – “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.”
Sexuality has a twofold dimension: unitive and procreative. It’s through the cooperation of spouses that God raises up new life.
That means spouses are called to a sacred mission, to partake in the very creative love of God himself. It is the integrity of that mission that the Church proclaims and defends.
In fact, the rise of contraception has helped to destroy countless marriages and families and has led to a catastrophic rise in venereal disease and abortion since the 1960s.
Contraception doesn’t reduce abortion, by the way. It encourages promiscuity, which leads to an increase in unexpected and “unwanted” pregnancies (see U.S. bishops’ conference webpage).
The contraceptive mentality has also fueled irresponsibility among men, since they often feel as though they can have sex without any kind of commitment.
Given that your own dignity as a woman is threatened by the prevailing mindset (whether you realize it or not), you might want to do a bit of research.
Suggested resources would be:
— Janet E. Smith’s “Contraception, Why Not?”
— Deborah Savage’s “Reflections on the Revolution” in the journal First Things
— Catholic Answers’ tract on birth control
— Ascension Press’ Theology of the Body for Teens
— Pope St. John Paul II’s theology of the body
And by the way, one of the biggest problems facing the world is population decline.
I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers.
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Lately, I have been thinking about premarital sex and sex-hungry college students and the demands of Christianity to remain abstinent until marriage, and I’m beginning to think that it’s quite unrealistic and that maybe those who champion abstinence don’t take original sin and its influences very seriously.
Maybe there is a compromise, like in the way we realize that original sin inevitably causes strife and war, so we have a just war theory as a compromise. Abstinence is like naively asking belligerents to lay down their guns and to become pacifists, which some of us intuitively know to be unrealistic in our sinful world. We must choose the lesser of two evils, so we work out a compromise: just war theory. Even Moses had to make compromises with sin and the Israelites if I’m not mistaken (I’m thinking here about divorce).
Original sin inevitably leads to fornication, so maybe we should find a compromise. What that compromise is I haven’t figured out, and maybe it’s because too much energy is spent on trying to push abstinence and no masturbation. What do you all make of it?