Science

Show Respect for Women: Ban Contraception!

Has Humanae Vitae's proscription against contraception been vindicated?

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Forty years ago, Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, the encyclical arguing that contraception is against God's will. In celebration of its 40th anniversary, Hoover Institution research fellow Mary Eberstadt has written a passionate and subtly misleading essay in the religious and public policy journal First Things arguing that Humanae Vitae's specific predictions of social harm arising from widespread use of contraception have been vindicated. "The encyclical warned of four resulting trends," writes Eberstadt, "a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments."

But before Eberstadt launches into her polemic about the alleged prescience of Humanae Vitae, she detours to a discussion about the myth of overpopulation. She denounces the neo-Malthusians such as Paul Ehrlich, whose book The Population Bomb (1968) appeared two months after Humanae Vitae. "Less than half a century later, these preoccupations with overwhelming birth rates appear as pseudo-scientific as phrenology," writes Eberstadt. While that's more or less true, it's surpassingly odd that nowhere in Eberstadt's essay does she mention the role that wider availability of modern contraception and abortion played in reducing global total fertility rates from 6 to 2.5 children per woman over the past 40 years. With increased literacy, urbanization, and economic growth generally come declines in desired family size, but failing even to acknowledge the wider availability of contraception as a factor in lowering fertility rates reveals a telling intellectual blind spot.

Moving from last to first in the alleged four prescient predictions of Humanae Vitae, isn't it true that some governments spooked by overpopulation alarmists did attempt to impose contraceptive use on their citizens? After all, alarmists like Paul Ehrlich even toyed with (but rejected as politically infeasible) the idea that governments should dump "temporary sterilants to water supplies or staple food. Doses of the antidote would be carefully rationed by the government to produce the desired population size."

No government tried to spike water supplies, but, as Eberstadt points out, the Chinese communists have ruthlessly enforced a one-child policy, and in the 1970s, India ordered more than 7 million involuntary sterilizations. It is worth pointing out that coerced contraception has never been adopted as a general policy in developed countries; even the suggestion that welfare benefits might be tied to willingness to use the long-lasting contraceptive Norplant was rejected. Eberstadt does not explain what the odious population control policies in Third World countries have to do with the voluntary use of contraception in developed countries.

Eberstadt cites the work of economics Nobelist George Akerlof and Brookings Institution economist Janet Yellen who argue that the widespread availability of effective contraception and safe abortion produced a "reproductive technology shock" in relations between women and men that is still reverberating through our culture. Prior to effective contraception, women would only agree to have sex with men who promised to marry them in the event of pregnancy. Men made such promises because they knew that other women would make the same demand. Effective contraception and safe abortion changed that age-old dynamic.

"Women who were willing to get an abortion or who reliably used contraception no longer found it necessary to condition sexual relations on a promise of marriage in the event of pregnancy," explains Akerlof. These women could engage in pre-marital sex without the risk of unwed motherhood. So women who wanted children or who objected to contraception or abortion were at a competitive disadvantage. "These women feared, correctly, that if they refused sexual relations, they would risk losing their partners," writes Akerlof. "Sexual activity without commitment was increasingly expected in premarital relationships."

While it takes two to tango, women now get to decide the outcome of the dance regardless of the preferences of their partners. As Winthrop University economist Robert Stonebraker limns the Akerlof study, "Many men reasoned that they were not to blame for unwanted births. After all, women had access to contraceptives and to abortions. If women choose not to avail themselves of contraceptives or abortions, they should bear the consequences of that choice." For many men, women consciously choosing to have children over their objections often looks like entrapment. It this is mismatch between the desires of some women and some men that has led to the increase in out-of-wedlock births.

Did this titanic shift in sexual power politics lead to "a lessening of respect for women by men?" Polling data would suggest just the opposite. For example, a poll earlier this year found that 97 percent of Americans say that equal rights for women is important and three-fourths believe it is very important. In addition, a Pew Center poll in 1999 asked whether life has gotten better or worse since around 1950 for various groups of Americans. A full 83 percent of respondents said life had gotten better for women over the past half century, while only 9 percent thought their lot had worsened. Also, 70 percent of Americans say that men and women make equally good leaders. And a 2005 Gallup poll noted that Americans no longer differentiate much on the basis of gender in the careers they would advise young men and women to pursue. Recent research suggests that women having careers outside the home actually enhances the stability of marriages.

Despite the proliferation of coarse sexual images in some precincts of the popular culture, the fact is that violence between intimate partners has fallen by nearly two-thirds since 1993. Similarly, rape rates have dropped by more than 80 percent since the 1970s. Although crime trends are driven by many different factors, these data suggest that respect for women has increased rather than diminished since the advent of effective contraception.

Eberstadt also takes after "the Pill's bastard child, ubiquitous pornography." She knows that the old assertion that porn leads to rape is false. Instead, Eberstadt craftily turns to no less a personage than the feminist victimologist Naomi Wolf who complains that porn "is responsible for deadening male libido to real women." Porn doesn't rev men up; instead, it saps their lust. Oddly, in the next paragraph, Eberstadt quotes Bishop Charles Chaput who asserted in 1998: "Contraception has released males—to a historically unprecedented degree—from responsibility for their sexual aggression." Aggression? Just a few lines before, Eberstadt was citing complaints that guys can't be bothered to look up from the alluring images on their computer monitors to catch a coy glance from a real woman.

What about Humanae Vitae's prediction that contraception would lead to increased infidelity? Probably the best numbers available come from the 1992 National Health and Social Life Survey. The survey's findings were compiled in The Social Organization of Sexuality (1994) which reported, "Over 90 percent of the women and 75 percent of the men in every cohort report fidelity within their marriage, over its entirety." Again, data are spotty, but extramarital sex appears to have declined over the past half century or so. Interestingly, the General Social Survey found that disapproval for extramarital sex has increased between 1972 and now, rising from 70 to 80 percent. In 2007, 93 percent of respondents to a Pew Center poll said that faithfulness was very important for a successful marriage.

Of course, part of the explanation for this decline in extramarital sex is that easier divorce means that people are no longer have to tomcat around because they are stuck in unsatisfactory marriages. It's worth noting that more than two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women. The divorce rate tripled in the United States between 1960 and 1980, peaking at 5.3 per 1,000 people in 1981, falling to 4.2 per 1,000 in 2000, and falling again down to 3.6 per 1,000 in 2005, the lowest rate since 1970. Interestingly, a "divorce divide" between the college educated and other Americans appears to be opening up. University of Maryland researcher Steven Martin reports, "From the 1970s to the 1990s, rates of marital dissolution fell by almost half among 4-year college graduates, but remained relatively high and steady among women with less than a 4-year college degree." He further suggests that college graduates might be the vanguard of a cultural shift away from divorce. Contraceptive use is highest among college educated women.

Pre-marital sex has definitely increased since the advent of modern contraception. According to survey data, 48 percent of people who turned 15 between 1954 and 1963 had premarital sex before age 20. That rose as contraception became more prevalent, such that 72 percent of people who turned 15 between 1974 and 1983 had engaged in premarital sex before age 20, a figure that has remained essentially flat. Does this mean that contraception has led to a general lowering of moral standards? That depends on whether or not one thinks that it is immoral to enjoy premarital sex when it is possible to avoid the risk of having an unwanted child. It turns out that most Americans no longer regard premarital sex as particularly sinful. In 1972, General Social Survey polling found that 49 percent of adults regarded premarital sex as always or almost always wrong. By 2000, 63 percent of Americans thought premarital sex is not wrong or only sometimes wrong.

Perhaps the most salient evidence for a lowering of moral standards is the effect that divorce and single-parenthood has on children. The pursuit of marital satisfaction sacrifices the interests of children. While nearly 70 percent of children are growing up with two parents, some research suggests that kids who grow up with two parents tend to do better in school and in life than those who don't. Other research suggests that divorce doesn't necessarily produce emotional and psychological basket cases. In a review of recent research, California clinical psychologist Joan Berlin Kelly found the emotional, social, and academic differences between children whose parents divorce and those from intact families are "quite small." In 2000, Kelly told the San Francisco Chronicle, "The long-term outcome of divorce for the majority of children is resiliency rather than dysfunction." In For Better or Worse: Divorce Reconsidered (2002), University of Virginia psychologist Mavis Hetherington reported, "Twenty-five percent of youths from divorced families in comparison to ten percent from non-divorced families did have serious social, emotional, and psychological problems." This is certainly not good, but it does mean that the vast majority of children from divorced families do about as well as children from intact families.

So on balance, is Eberstadt right? Have Humanae Vitae's dire predictions really been vindicated? For the most part, clearly not. On the plus side, the majority of women who have taken advantage of the availability of contraception have been big winners. By being able to choose when—and if—to have children, they have been freer to pursue life projects in wider social, commercial, creative, and intellectual realms. In addition, many men cherish the experience of sharing their lives with intellectual and emotional co-equals. However, Eberstadt is right that the biggest losers have been women who, in earlier times, would have secured financial and, one hopes, emotional support for herself and her children from a man by the simple act of becoming pregnant. Another hopeful sign that fewer women are pursuing this outmoded strategy is that teen pregnancy rates declined between 1991 and 2006 (with an uptick last year). The chief reason was the increased use of contraception among teens. Perhaps the next generation is adapting to the changed sexual dynamics engendered by the reproductive technological shock of the last half century.

Infidelity is not rife. Human beings learn morality, like everything else, by means of trial-and-error. Sexual moral standards are not lower, they are different. Men and women are still figuring out what the proper balance in sexual relations should be in light of effective contraception. And by most indicia, respect for women by men has never been higher. Women enjoy the same political, economic, and social rights as men for the first time in history. Although some women pine nostalgically for the halcyon era in which all men were Fred Astaire or Cary Grant, the most telling fact is that few American women would turn back the clock to the circumstances of women prior to 1970, much less earlier.

So Eberstadt has it wrong. Humanae Vitae has not been vindicated in most respects. There has not been a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; nor the coercive use of reproductive technologies by our government.

Toward the end of her essay, Eberstadt cites the moral authority of Martin Luther who in "a commentary on Genesis declared contraception to be worse than incest or adultery." This is the same Martin Luther who declared, "Girls begin to talk and stand on their own sooner than boys because weeds always grow up more quickly than good crops." Luther's thinking on the proper relation between men and women is complex, but it should be remembered that he also brutally said, "God formed her body to belong to a man…Let them bear children till they die of it. That is what they are here for…."

Yes indeed, proscribing contraception is really the way to respect women.

Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. Did this titanic shift in sexual power politics lead to “a lessening of respect for women by men?” Polling data would suggest just the opposite.

    Great question!

    Among secularists like myself the answer is a resounding NO! Capable, talented women benefit from this meritocracy.

    Among Pope-Nuts, fundies and Muslims? Who knows? Their hatred of diversity chokes their humanity too much to measure such.

  2. Coercive use of reproductive any technologies by governments is bad. And therefore said technologies must be banned.

    That’s how this game works, right?

    Good article, Bailey.

  3. I’d call safe reliable contraception a godsend. I find it astonishinmg that some people still believe that its availability is anything other than positve. But you should realize I’m astonished by many inanities I witness in the world.

  4. “Women who were willing to get an abortion or who reliably used contraception no longer found it necessary to condition sexual relations on a promise of marriage in the event of pregnancy,” explains Akerlof. These women could engage in pre-marital sex without the risk of unwed motherhood. So women who wanted children or who objected to contraception or abortion were at a competitive disadvantage.

    Never heard this absurd argument before.

    So, instead of letting women experience the consequences of their choices, let’s ban anything that they might choose differently on!

    Although, it’s not necessarily surprising to hear a “market forces are BAD!” argument coming from this camp.

  5. I’d call safe reliable contraception a godsend

    You got that right. For everybody.

  6. …no longer found it necessary to condition sexual relations on a promise of marriage…

    Another thing that pisses me off about this? The assumption that trading sex like a commodity in exchange for marriage was a good thing for women’s status. That only cheapens women, sex, AND marriage. But, of course, those of us who don’t want to play that game are ruining it for the poor, chaste, anti-contraceptive crowd.

  7. Instead, Eberstadt craftily turns to no less a personage than the feminist victimologist Naomi Wolf who complains that porn “is responsible for deadening male libido to real women.”

    Wolf never ceases to amaze with her bone-crushing stupidity. Yes, Naomi, one’s hand and a 2-D screen is so much better than, you know, a real woman.

    Holodecks might be a different story.

  8. And now for something completely irrelevant:

    “violence between intimate partners has fallen by nearly two-thirds since 1993”.

    Both sides (and I am on anti-contraception side) are cherry picking stats.

    Personally, I would never be for any law that tells anyone what to do with their own body. However, I do not think that contraception is in any way in line with classical Christian thought.

    I guess that makes me a fundie?

  9. “Did this titanic shift in sexual power politics lead to “a lessening of respect for women by men?” Polling data would suggest just the opposite.”

    Apparently, a recent study found that women who used contraception were more likely to choose bad mates…

  10. Rape down 80% since the 1970s?

    I guess that’s why the hard-core man haters in the remnant of the feminist movement are hard at work reclassifying anything they can think of as rape.

    -jcr

  11. Yes, Naomi, one’s hand and a 2-D screen is so much better than, you know, a real woman.

    Well, if the “real woman” in question is Naomi Wolf, I think I know which one I’d choose.

    Just sayin’…

    -jcr

  12. In her day, Naomi was semi-smoking hot. Even today I’d take her over a 2-D image.

  13. tl;dr

  14. Personally, I would never be for any law that tells anyone what to do with their own body. However, I do not think that contraception is in any way in line with classical Christian thought.

    I guess that makes me a fundie?

    As one who loves an attack on a fundie, I had to grab on to this.

    Jayson – you deserve nothing but respect.

    First – you allow others to make decisions independent of your belief system.

    Second – your belief system is legitimate inside your own realm – so that includes your children and one who freely chooses to marry you.

    I love diversity. You and I represent such…

  15. One thing that annoyed me throughout the article is that “good decisions” or “wisdom” is equated to “morals”. Even Bailey says that the “morals have changed”. These are not morals. What you do with your own body is not a moral issue, nor is the agreement between a man and a woman to engage in a recreational activity. The Humanae Vitae never actually brings up any moral points, it just brings up what the Pope thought were the practical implications of contraception. What would be immoral in this scenario would be for a woman to get knocked up, purposely, and use that as a bargaining chip to force a man into a lifelong relationship. The moral issue for Christians is that it goes against “God’s will”, the rest is just predictions on how it will effect the world. Bad predictions at that.

  16. Shrike,

    Thanks for the kind words. I’m an odd bird. I often think the message of Christ would have more of an impact if we stopped trying to regulate the behavior of others.

    It was actually REALLY hard for me to come to the place where I am philosophically.

  17. As a Catholic who adheres to the Church’s teaching on the morality of contraception, I have to agree that some anti-contraception people, like this woman saying that Humanae Vitae has been vindicated, drive me nuts. Not because I think contraception is a good thing, but because they’re missing the point. The Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception is inherently spiritual (contraception is a sin not simply because it prevents life, but because preventing life is considered spiritually incompatible with the overall and personal schemes of Christian salvation).

    So any argument that says “Contraception is a sin because it will lead to higher divorce rates [or whatever]” is just a non-sequitur from the Catholic perspective. How do we know if it leads to higher divorce rates? How do we conclude higher divorce rates are a bad thing? If it reduced divorce rates, would contraception be a good thing? Contraception isn’t viewed with apprehension because of its temporal effects. The Church is supposed to concern itself with men’s souls (and women’s), so any argument against contraception has to be made from that standpoint, a spiritual standpoint, and obviously those appeals can only be made to people who support the Church’s vision of salvation.

    It just bothers me so much when my fellow Catholics preach to the billions of people who don’t hold our religious views on tenuous “moral” grounds and ignore the concerns of people actually within the Church who might benefit spiritually from a more in-depth, but less wide-ranging, discussion of the issues.

  18. Similarly, rape rates have dropped by more than 80 percent since the 1970s.

    What is the point in comparing rape rates of the 1970’s to the present when assessing the influence of contraceptives? Contraceptives were very much available and in use in the 1970’s. All this tells us is that there are influences extraneous to contraceptive affecting the rates.

    How about comparing the rape rates of a time before contraceptives were commonly available to a time when they were?

    If you’re trying to quantify the influence of a particular variable, you might, you know, want to isolate that variable….

  19. Jayson –

    As an agnostic, I must ask, why do you let others believe what they want to? I mean, Christ’s message was undeniably one of charity, and what could be more charitable than saving someone’s eternal soul from torment? Even I was resistant, and you respect that I may not want you preaching to me, which I don’t, I must be delusional to you if I would be willing to let my eternal self suffer forever.

    Not trying to attack or mock you in any way, I just honestly never understood moderate Christians. If I believed I could save someone’s life, I would. If I believed I could save someone’s eternal soul, that seems like it would be even more important than their life. Fundies annoy the crap out of me, but at least I understand their reasoning, even if I believe the foundations of it is hopelessly flawed.

  20. I guess that makes me a fundie?

    I hate to say this after that love-fest (really, you seem reasonable enough) but…I would have to know why you think that contraception is in any way legislated by “classical Christian thought” before I could say. Your definitions of what constitutes “classical” would also be helpful. You might be a fundie, or you might just be wrong.

    Still in all, cheers for practicing the whole “log in your eye before the speck in your neighbor’s” thing. Really. The world would be a much better place to live if more people did.

  21. Which is not to say that being a fundie and being wrong are mutually exclusive things.

  22. @Robbie:

    I’m not Jayson, but I think you raise an interesting question that I wrestle with as well, so I’m going to answer it. The briefest possible answer from my perspective stems simply from the issue of free will. I firmly believe that God created humans with the capacity for free will because even though sin, and doubt, and all that, are inherently bad things, the freedom to do what one will, free from coercion and responsible for the consequences, is an inherently good thing.

    If God Almighty (emphasis here on “Almighty”) doesn’t force his precepts and moral standards on humans, who are humans to force his standards (or their perceptions of them) on one another? It is a Christian’s duty, yes, to “witness” to the Gospel in various ways, but it is also a Christian’s duty to bow, not only to the will of Christ, but also to the will of his fellow man, insofar as his peer’s will doesn’t impose on or impede his own.

    Whenever I’ve wrestled with this issue, however, I always remind myself of the question posed by Gandhi: “Why change the world when we can change ourselves?” Personal salvation is ultimately the goal of the Christian; if he can’t save himself, he can’t save anyone. The best I can do as a Catholic is to care for my soul to the best of my ability and for the souls of my neighbors insofar as they allow me to. The rest is between them and Christ.

  23. the religious and public policy journal First Things arguing that Humanae Vitae’s specific predictions of social harm arising from widespread use of contraception have been vindicated.

    It’s ok. I believe Paul Ehrlich claims to have been vindicated. It’s the latest thing. All the old people are doing it.

  24. Yay! A reasonable treatment of this subject!! Sure contraception through society in a tissy for a bit, but societies adapt. I get theological arguments against contraception (even if I don’t agree with them), but I think social conservatives sometimes are just reflexively opposed to change.

  25. Shouldn’t a woman have written this?

  26. Shouldn’t a woman have written this?

    As long as she stays on message.

    Sincerely,

    The feminist movement.

  27. “Although some women pine nostalgically for the halcyon era in which all men were Fred Astaire or Cary Grant ….”

    I hate to bust your bubble, Ron, but Cary was a homo.

  28. I find it very creepy that God has such an interest in what the fuck I do with my penis.

  29. Let’s see . . .

    Self-reported adultery, never the norm, has declined somewhat. Of course, it is very possible that the statistics are skewed by various would-be adulterers staying out of the marriage market altogether. A trend noted in the linked article, and not commented on by Mr. Bailey, is the increased number of single men (and the associated bad behavior of single men). This is not because men have become chaster, but because they can have extramarital sex without the marriage issue being raised. In the unenlightened age, these men might have gone to the altar, assuming some responsibility for supporting their wives even if they weren’t always faithful. (And the cheating figures are for *any* self-reported instance of cheating).

    These men *might* be in “monogamous” relationships rather than in adulterous marriages, or they might be cheating on their girlfriends (assuming they have steady girlfriends) at the same rate they would be cheating on their wife if they’d been married. Hmmm . . . which scenario seems more likely?

    Not to mention the (related) phenomenon of more kids in fatherless households. In the days of slavery and Jim Crow, not exactly times of family-friendly policies, there were more father-headed households among African-Americans than today.

    Bailey cites Mavis Hetherington’s *For Better or For Worse* in response to those who (correctly) list divorce among the problems of the contraceptive mentality. Hetherington acknowledges that there are more problems among kids in divorced households than in intact households. Hetherington responded to this by praising the kids who allegedly *didn’t* have problems for their self-reliance and resilience, declaring that Mom and Dad’s divorce gave them excellent opportunities for personal growth and responsibility. With Dad out of the house, the kids have to take care of Mom more, and that means more working and less lounging around playing video games. Divorce builds character!

    Of course, *any* family tragedy which removes Dad from the scene can have the same character-generating effect, of course. For instance, if Dad is killed by a drunken driver, the kids might have to grow up quicker, take more responsibility for helping Mom, etc., all promoting resilience. That’s not an argument for drunk-driving accidents. Anyway, the lady had to acknowledge the large number of kids who reported being traumatized by divorce, even though *she* didn’t list them as having bad effects. Hetherington said the views of these kids didn’t count; they were suffering false consciousness.

    To show that the contraceptive mentality hasn’t contributed to male disrespect for women, Bailey cites polls saying women are better off today (the polls don’t seem to say that male-female *relations* are better, just the status of women in general, which could be read to mean jobs and income rather than getting along better with the other sex).

    Then there’s this:

    “a poll earlier this year found that 97 percent of Americans say that equal rights for women is important and three-fourths believe it is very important.”

    Well, *that’s* OK then. Did 97 percent of respondents express favorable views of cute little puppies, too?

  30. I just think it’s weird that the same article cites both Martin Luther and the Pope. If you take your faith seriously, how can you accept the moral authority of both at the same time? I mean, each thought the other was going to Hell.

  31. By the way, here is the encyclical *Humanae Vitae* –

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html

    Seth,

    “The Church is supposed to concern itself with men’s souls (and women’s), so any argument against contraception has to be made from that standpoint, a spiritual standpoint, and obviously those appeals can only be made to people who support the Church’s vision of salvation.”

    The view you discuss sounds like some variant of Gnosticism, or one of the other religious systems which minimized (or even denigrated) the physical world. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is one of those groups which sees the physical world as created good, and worthy of some work. (If the physical world was unimportant, why would Christ go to the invenience of taking on full humanity, including a human body – and going through a fairly painful crucifixion?)

    Humanae vitea contains a very specific “non-spiritual” passage:

    “Appeal to Public Authorities

    “23. And now We wish to speak to rulers of nations. To you most of all is committed the responsibility of safeguarding the common good. You can contribute so much to the preservation of morals. We beg of you, never allow the morals of your peoples to be undermined. The family is the primary unit in the state; do not tolerate any legislation which would introduce into the family those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God. For there are other ways by which a government can and should solve the population problem-that is to say by enacting laws which will assist families and by educating the people wisely so that the moral law and the freedom of the citizens are both safeguarded.”

  32. DannyK,

    It doesn’t surprise me that Luther said some of the stuff he did about women. There was something of a misogynistic streak in many Protestant founding fathers. For instance, smashing statues of the Virgin Mary.

  33. So, Mad Max, by your implied assumption that men would be cheating on girlfriends rather than wives, you assume that adulterous men either have a compulsion to cheat, or can never have a meaningful relationship with a woman. Girlfriends are much easier to break up with than wives, for either partner, so I would assume that there would be less adulterers cheating on their girlfriends that may have cheated on their wives. By implying that these men would cheat on their girlfriends instead of their wives suggests that no adulterers cheated because they weren’t happy with their relationship. While some of those men may just cheat in a relationship with a girlfriend, it is unreasonable to say that a marriage, a relationship that is much more complicated and hard to leave than one with a girlfriend, would not give more incentive to cheat. Just because a cheater might always be a cheater, that is not so for every cheating man, and marriage is much more conducive to cheating than a relationship with a girlfriend.

    Besides the rates of cheating men, the fact that more men may or may not be cheating outside of marriage is inconsequential to the fact that these men are now cheating on girlfriends rather than wives. I agree with you that the statistics on divorce only affecting some kids negatively does not make a good argument that divorce rates don’t really matter. For this reason, I think that men being in relationships, whether faithful or not, with girlfriends rather than wives, is a much better situation for the family. If men who would not otherwise get married, or not be happy in a marriage, do not do so because they have contraceptives available, you have preempted a poor family situation that could lead to a divorce, or just a poor living environment for parents and kids alike.

  34. “If men who would not otherwise get married, or not be happy in a marriage, do not do so because they have contraceptives available, you have preempted a poor family situation that could lead to a divorce, or just a poor living environment for parents and kids alike.”

    The thing is, with the widespread availability of contraceptives, one might think that there would be less illegitimacy (and less abortion, of course). But that didn’t happen.

    Strangely enough, despite widespread availability of contraceptives, you have more illegitimacy. So there could still be a problem with “poor living environments” for kids.

  35. Robbie,

    I’m in no way a “moderate” Christian. I believe in the literal resurrection, the inspiration of scriptures, the efficacy of Christ, the depravity of man, the reality of Satan, etc. I share the Christian creed with believing Christians. However, I don’t believe that Christians have a right to force people, through law, to behave a certain way.

    I guess “classical christian thought” was sloppy way to say what I meant. What I meant to say is, Contraception is and always has been contrary to orthodox christian dogma.

    I pray every day that I have the strength to spread the love of Christ. I guess I’ve decided that love isn’t spread on the tip of a sword.

  36. “I find it very creepy that God has such an interest in what the fuck I do with my penis.”

    And the Christians are the ones that are accused of idiotically anthropomorphizing God? An old white man with a pair of binoculars?

  37. I find it very creepy that God has such an interest in what the fuck I do with my penis.

    If Christians are right, then he *made* you that penis. With his “hands”.

    And here you are all creeped out merely because He cares what you do with it. Dude, I think you are missing the forest, etc..

  38. However, I don’t believe that Christians have a right to force people, through law, to behave a certain way.

    This is really the crux of it. Christianity in general seemed to do much better when they didn’t have, and had never tasted, the levers of power.

    When you don’t have the power to force people to do what you wish, you are left with subtler tools (moral suasion, the power of example, etc.) that I think are better bearers of moral or even literal truth than physical power can ever have.

  39. For some reason, lower income black women don’t use contraception as much as other racial groups. As a result, a larger percentage of black children are born out of wedlock.

    Statistically, black women are much more likely to be the victims of abuse,violence or neglect. So their failure to use contraceptives doesn’t seem to be helping them.

  40. I guess “classical christian thought” was sloppy way to say what I meant. What I meant to say is, Contraception is and always has been contrary to orthodox christian dogma.

    So was non-procreative sex, for a significant amount of time. Does that mean you only have sex if you’re trying to conceive a child?

  41. Mad Max,

    There was something of a misogynistic streak in many Protestant founding fathers.

    In fairness, misogyny was a common attribute of many of the early leading figures of the Christian church as well. Then again, misogyny was a common aspect of the ancient world which Christianity sprung from.

  42. I meant to write:

    …many of the leading figures of the early Christian church…

    In other words, in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries.

  43. “The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is one of those groups which sees the physical world as created good, and worthy of some work.”

    –I’m fully aware of this, Mad Max, I don’t appreciate being accused of Manichaeism. I’m saying, however, that Christ himself was decidedly non-partisan and the tradition of the Church has not been to work through the State, but merely alongside or even in spite of the State. Not through legislating morality, but through ministry. Prostitution, for example, has traditionally been widely (and legally) available in Catholic societies, but there was also greater recourse to absolution and penance through the Church. It’s not the job of Christians to imprison, fine, or otherwise impose their morals on people by banning certain behaviors. The Church supplements the temporal aspects of society at large, and it does so from a spiritual perspective. Banning contraception would only remove the behavior (rather, it would just punish it). But the spiritual motivation of the sin remains. Contraception is a sin *not merely* because of the physical consequences of preventing life, but also because of the spiritual depravity of someone who would choose to do such a thing. The Church is responsible for returning individuals to grace, not for actively monitoring people’s sex-lives.

    So the point I was trying to make about the Church concerning itself with souls and not the temporal realm was not that the theology of the Church disregards the physical world, but that any Christian moral framework involving the behavior of humans has to be made from theological (what I was calling “spiritual”) considerations, not from passing temporal situation. You can’t argue contraception is immoral *because* it destroys marriage (for example); but you can argue that the immorality of contraception leads to failed marriage. The problem is that people can, and do, argue the opposite: that contraception *strengthens* marriage. So opposition to contraception has to be made on “spiritual” grounds, which is not the function of the State, and would ultimately undermine the authority of Church (by granting the State the authority to make and enforce moral decisions).

    “Humanae vitea contains a very specific ‘non-spiritual’ passage:

    ‘Appeal to Public Authorities’

    […] The family is the primary unit in the state; do not tolerate any legislation which would introduce into the family those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God. […] ”

    –The problem is that not banning contraception isn’t the same as “introducing” contraception. It’s just not banning it. I’m all for taking on laws that unnecessarily force contraception into people’s lives. For example, the education system has, of late, fought many battles over sex-education, and the tide seems to be turning in favor of “comprehensive” sex education, which means, “teaching kids that they have to use birth control, masturbate, etc.” But I don’t think the solution to this problem is as easy as “abtinence-only” education. I think the State should simple involve itself less with education. Give parents and students tax credits or vouchers to go to the schools they want, that teach the morals they want. Privatize education and the problem lies with the schools, not with public authorities. And if you don’t like the way your child’s school is teaching the matter, it’s easier to go to the local board of education than to petition the Federal Department of Education.

    Or, for another example, there has in the past several years been a trend towards subsidizing people’s birth control. I know all sorts of young women who get reduced prices on the pill because the taxpayers are picking up the tab. This is ridiculous. If people want contraception, they should have to pay for it themselves. There’s no reason the State should be paying for people’s private medical needs. Certainly not non-essential ones, at any rate.

    The issue is less clear cut than: “Humanae Vitae was right, and now the government should do something to stop contraception.” The government shouldn’t involve itself in contraception at all. It shouldn’t protect it, or ban it, or pay for it, or anything. It’s a private decision. Which isn’t to say the Church shouldn’t concern itself with contraception, but the Church shouldn’t be appealing to the State to take its side any more than contraception advocates should appeal to the State to take theirs.

  44. “In fairness, misogyny was a common attribute of many of the early leading figures of the Christian church as well. Then again, misogyny was a common aspect of the ancient world which Christianity sprung from.”

    Well, misogyny wasn’t actually very present “in the Church”, but it is true that misogyny found its way into the Church through the close contact early Christians (obviously) had with ancient society. It’s worth noting, however, that Christianity simultaneously introduced a number of egalitarian ideas that had been lacking in those societies before. My friend’s Anthropology of Gender textbook, for example, attributed the decline (not abolition, but decline) of arranged marriage in Europe to Christian reform, as well as the education of women, which was almost as readily available as male education prior to the Reformation, and which many pre-Christian societies proscribed. The misogyny thing was a bit of give-and-take: Christianity became more misogynistic through contact with European society, but European society became less misogynistic through contact with Christianity.

  45. I just find it odd that an article about a Catholic paper on women and contraception would end with a quote from Martin Luther. Surely if one looked back over the almost 2000 year history of the Catholic Church, one could have found an equally offensive remark by a Catholic.

  46. Do you still find that odd when the Catholic paper in question quoted Martin Luther near the end? Surely if one looked back over the almost 2000 year history of the Catholic Church, one could have found support for the Catholic position that did not rely on someone who started the Protestant Revolution.

  47. The misogyny thing was a bit of give-and-take: Christianity became more misogynistic through contact with European society, but European society became less misogynistic through contact with Christianity.

    “Everything that white people touch turns to shit.”

    See? That’s a waaaay easier sentence to write.

  48. Mad Max –

    Tough luck, Maxie.

    Once again, none of this bullshit under discussion has any meaning or importance whatsoever.

    1. A contract that either or neither party can withdraw from with notice is slavery.

    2. No state has any moral authority to declare categories of contraband that a citizen cannot possess or ingest.

    End of discussion. We don’t have to ever get to the point of discussing the “utilitarian impact” of divorce or contraception, because the utilitarian impact does not matter and the question does not arise.

    Arguing that Woman A should not be allowed to take contraception because if she does some other woman thousands of miles away might end up as a single mother is grossly immoral, abusive, and unjust.

    Arguing that Woman B should not be allowed to get a divorce because of statistical variance in the overall test scores of children of divorced is similarly absurd. Until she actually gets divorced, neither you nor anyone else has any idea how her kids will perform on academic tests in the future.

    The discussion is flawed from the start because it assumes that the reason we would allow people liberty is because it imparts statistical benefit to some other asshole thousands of miles away, and that’s offensive.

  49. Seems either article depends on the glasses of the reader- different lenses see in different focus.

    Bailey’s focus seems to be a matter of economics. While women may be “better off” now than they were 50 years ago (and even this point is arguable depending on circumstances) the social consequences outlining Humanae Vitae seem to be chillingly accurate.

    The real problem is diagnosing a rather large amount of social problems with a single illness. The predictions of Humanae Vitae may not be entirely off base, but to determine all of them to be a direct consequence of contraception seems to be absurd.

    The mid-20th century cultural revolution brought as many problems as it solved. The nation forged in the long years of crisis since has been worked on by more dissolving factors than the use of contraceptives.

    Let’s not reduce ourselves to punditry. Leave the empty rhetoric and Christian ridicule to our private mental closets and focus on the real issue. Whether male and female, and by extension, family relations are better than they were 50 years ago. That to me seems to be the crux of the issue.

    I should think all of us will see some trade-offs in the last 50 years, but I wonder where the balance will finally rest.

  50. Well, what are you gonna do? Give sheep the vote?

  51. I disagree. The encyclical has been vindicated to a degree. The overall collapse of the reproductive rate across Western Civ is clearly the result of The Pill (and egregious cost/taxes/regs levels). The delay in child-bearing to the late 3o’s+ is also producing less healthy human beings. Age that one began OCP is the first question asked in breast cancer screening and is clearly causal regardless of claims to the contrary by Big Pharma. The impact on sexuality is clear, driving the extreme behavior because pregnancy is not a deterrent. Additionally 30% of women on OCP end up with a permanently castrated libido.

    As a libertarian I cannot of course regulate OCP nor should it be. But the consequences of its use should not be buried in politically-correct positivity. Net-net I think The Pill has been disastrous for women, resulting in an epidemic of breast cancer, an epidemic of sexless women and a catastrophic collapse of birth rates.

  52. El Guapo, maybe I’m missing something, but I’m having a hard time seeing how “a catastrophic collapse of birth rates” is “disastrous for women”.

  53. We could have seen these anti-contraceptive arguments coming a mile away. For some people, there is no earthly ill that can’t be traced back to increasing freedom and self-direction for women. And nothing that can’t be made better by getting us poor, misguided simpletons back under stricter control.

  54. El Guapo, maybe I’m missing something, but I’m having a hard time seeing how “a catastrophic collapse of birth rates” is “disastrous for women”.

    because they stopped being vessels for my seed, yo!

    seriously though, that’s crazypants talkin’. controlling baby production is so powerful and important it may very well be difficult, if not impossible, for men to understand.

    plus there are other uses of the pill that are awesome – it’s been a lifesaver for folks i know with dermoid and related cystic growths.

  55. “I don’t appreciate being accused of Manichaeism.”

    I’m sorry; I was out of line.

  56. “We don’t have to ever get to the point of discussing the ‘utilitarian impact’ of divorce or contraception, because the utilitarian impact does not matter and the question does not arise.”

    Maybe we don’t “have to” discuss it, but Ron Bailey did so, and I was commenting on his discussion.

  57. Leave the empty rhetoric and Christian ridicule to our private mental closets and focus on the real issue. Whether male and female, and by extension, family relations are better than they were 50 years ago. That to me seems to be the crux of the issue.

    This actually helps illuminate another problem I have with framing these discussions in utilitarian ways – the fact that it’s completely inappropriate to even try to determine if relations are “better” under this or that regime, because the only people who get to decide what is “better” are the individuals involved themselves. And they’ve already voted for contraception and divorce with their feet, so there’s no point to holding another vote.

    Any relationship that is voluntary is “better” than any relationship that is compulsory. If an increased number of single-parent households is the result of increasing the element of “voluntariness” in male-female relations, then that’s “better”.

    If you had a society where church attendance was mandatory that changed its rules to make church attendance voluntary, if you tried to point to decreased church attendance as evidence of a decay in morality you’d be missing the entire point. A change in marriage rates when legal and technological changes gave people more personal choices is pretty much the same.

  58. Reading the various commentary has been quite entertaining. So I will try not to repeat what has alreadyu been said and leave you with this:
    1. Contraception does not merely affect one’s ability to have children. It is actually prescribed to many teens who have serious uteryn medical problems. And as much as men like to claim Viagra is prescribed “for the heart and blood flow” and get to write it off on medical expenses and insurance, so should women and girls be allowed to have the same medical coverage for birth control pills.
    2. Please stop likening “abortion” to “birth control”. The latter does not affect life any more than having a period. The eggs in question are never fertilized in the first place so unless your particular faith also condemns women for having a period then you are completely mistaken in your understanding of how the pill works.
    3. Life is better now for me, as a woman. I am in control of when I finish my career path and I can decide when I have children and when I am ready to get married.
    4. I believe, personally, that religious zealots simply cannot grasp the concept of people who are both caring, loving individuals who do right for their society who also enjoy sex as a purely physical recreation resulting in no children. In their skewed view of the world, my extramarrital sex with a boyfriend of 5 years whom I live with and share bills with is somehow “worse” than the married couple with 7 kids living on welfare. I just cannot morally agree with that. But hey, taht’s my belief. Atleast I’m not FORCING you to use contraceptives.

  59. Instead, Eberstadt craftily turns to no less a personage than the feminist victimologist Naomi Wolf who complains that porn “is responsible for deadening male libido to real women.”

    If she’s calling herself a “real woman”, then that explains why my libido is dead to her. Why would such bitchy women think that they are the only ones that are attractive when they really are the least attractive? I’d rather chase a happy chubby chick.

  60. I think when she said “real women” she meant as opposed to the pictures and movies found on the jizz-splattered computer monitor in your parents’ basement.

    Thanks for trolling, anyway, Danny.

  61. Seth,

    …attributed the decline (not abolition, but decline) of arranged marriage in Europe to Christian reform…

    I don’t know if the majority of marraiges in Europe were ever arranged. At one time that was of course the case amongst say the Roman aristocracy.

    …as well as the education of women, which was almost as readily available as male education prior to the Reformation, and which many pre-Christian societies proscribed.

    Given that per capita education levels dropped in the post-classic period whatever equality existed did so in a group of societies far less educated than that found in the classical world. In fairness though one could argue that the post-classical world perserved much of the classical world’s knowledge, but in that we are as much indebted to Islamic societies as we are to Christian. And as the killing of Hypatia (in 415 CE) demonstrates, Christians were in no way open to all forms of education.

  62. The one thing that isn’t examined is what is the effect on civilization? The answer is if the intellgent and wealthy delay having children and have less children then the world will become poorer and dumber. You can already see this happening in Europe and Japan. Thinking about this on a timescale of 50 years is the big mistake. China will suffer horribly from their one child policy in the near future due to a population inversion.

  63. What happened? Could a whole thread have been deleted from Reason’s website because of me posting on it? I’m talking about the abortion thread with the grisly picture where I was posting the stuff from the encyclopedia. Where did it go?

  64. Just wanted to say what a good, thought-provoking article that was. Nice to read something that actually blends ideas, statistics and a historical look at a subject.

    http://thegoldenlatrine.blogspot.com

  65. “These women could engage in pre-marital sex without the risk of unwed motherhood. So women who wanted children or who objected to contraception or abortion were at a competitive disadvantage.”

    Well they weren’t at a competitive disadvantage when it came to men who ALSO wanted children and objected to contraception. Those ARE the men such women would be interested in, right? Some men do want children, and for the ones that don’t, well you shouldn’t be trying to get knocked up by them and trapping them into 18+ years of child support, you hos!

  66. Girls begin to talk and stand on their own sooner than boys because weeds always grow up more quickly than good crops.

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