NOTE: This article features some sensitive topics that may not be suitable for younger readers. Please use discretion.
What is contraception? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, contraception (artificial) is defined: “The use of mechanical, chemical, or medical procedures to prevent conception from taking place as a result of sexual intercourse.” (CCC, Glossary)1. In a society that makes these things so available, why is it wrong to use them?
Drugs, when used in a medical context, are intended to fix some faulty aspect of our body or mind. At their very core, contraceptives are trying to fix something that isn’t broken: human fertility. In fact, they are damaging one’s capability to reproduce, if not destroying it. Assuming that the marital act is being enjoyed by a married couple, the use of contraception is a wholly unnatural roadblock that has been placed between that couple and the primary goal of sex: procreation.
The holy, ever-lasting union of marriage is often perceived as being an earthly contract that can be severed like any other one through a divorce. But Jesus elevated this bond to a sacrament, an unbreakable union. And marriage has two ends. The first is to maintain the unity and oneness entered into by husband and wife and help the two build a relationship with God. They have become one together so that they can help each other get to heaven. And the second end is to allow a husband and wife to become co-creators with God in bringing forth new life.
It’s a privilege to be in that state, pursuing both of these goals in union with God as well as your spouse. That union can easily be broken when one or both spouses decide that one or both of these goals are not worth pursuing: They want the children but do not want or respect their marriage. Or, they want to be married and in love with their spouse, but they do not want children. Or, they neither respect their marriage nor remain open to life. Those are all distorted visions. A couple does not have to intend to have children when engaging in the marital act, but a couple always has to be open to the possibility of children. People utilizing different forms of birth control are shutting that door.
As the CCC continues in its glossary definition of contraception, “Contraception offends against the openness to procreation required of marriage and also the inner truth of conjugal love.” 1
As explained by Pope St. John Paul II in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, “Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality.” 2
While those are certainly monumental reasons to not use contraception, they aren’t the only ones. The self-serving properties of contraception elicit an aversion for moral reasons, but what about from a medical perspective?
What would you do if somebody asked you to expose yourself to plutonium, uranium, or radium, elements known to cause cancer due to their highly radioactive nature? Understandably, you would say no. Nobody in their right mind wants cancer or to die prematurely.
Then why do so many women take the birth control pill, contraception? At the time of writing this article, if you look up “the pill” on Google, the top search result is Planned Parenthood’s website which touts the safety and affordability of modern contraceptives, and alongside the search results is an information guide from “Power to Decide” that says the pill “may protect against ovarian cancer”. You’ll see nothing explicit about the fact that estrogen-progestogen oral contraceptives are ranked by the IARC as a group 1 carcinogen right alongside radium, sun radiation, and tobacco smoking.
The National Cancer Institute has data that in over fifty studies, women who actively use oral contraceptives have a 24% increase in risk of developing breast cancer. Additionally, women who have used oral contraceptives for five years or more have a 60% higher chance of developing cervical cancer.3 Contraception causes a host of medical issues and health complications, and yet it is championed as a tool for helping women.
- Birth control leads to cancer. According to the IARC, estrogen-progestogen oral contraceptives are ranked as a Group 1 carcinogen. Contraceptives have chemicals in them intended to kill or stunt life, counteracting our body’s capabilities to reproduce. It’s unnatural and the consumption of contraceptives leads to chemical-filled waste that makes its way into our water. The University of Colorado Boulder did a study that found that breast and prostate cancer was on the rise, and it was linked to birth control.
- Contraceptives can function as abortifacients as well as birth control. The list of birth control options that can double as abortifacients include but are not limited to The Pill, Ella, Norplant, Depo-Provera, Plan B/Morning After Pill, Preven, The Patch, Ortho Evra, IUDs, Nuvaring, Lunelle, RU-486 (mifepristone), and methotrexate & misoprostol. In other words, these and other drugs do not always function as preventative measures. Sometimes, conception takes place, and these “medications” will terminate the pregnancy through chemical abortion.4
- Birth control increases blood clots which can lead to strokes and heart attacks.5 We recently got a front-row seat to just such a high-profile case when Hailey Bieber had a stroke in March of 2022 and her physician linked it to her use of birth control. Further, her physician said that she should never have been prescribed birth control in the first place because of her family’s history of health issues. But her prescribing doctor, like many others, didn’t care about the side effects or consequences.
- Women on the pill are twice as likely to contract HPV.6 HPV is one of the most common STDs and it permeates a population through sexual activity and contact. When women are led to believe that birth control will protect them from the consequences of sleeping around, they think a lot less about the potential of catching a disease. Instead of relying on self-control to prevent pregnancy, women are turning to birth control so that they can engage in sexual activity. Thus, HPV is spread.
- Birth control can decrease libido.7, 8 For the first time in human history, we are consistently and regularly providing our bodies with a reason to stop producing a drive to have sex. Our instinctual human desire for sex is based upon our capability to procreate and potentially have offspring. It’s coded into our DNA as a species. After about 75 years and a handful of generations of force-feeding harmful contraceptives to our bodies, these health complications are beginning to add up.
- Birth control increases the risk of ectopic (or tubal) pregnancies.9 Hormonal contraceptives are so effective that when their user decides that they actually do want to have a child or when a surprise pregnancy does occur, there’s an increased chance that the baby will get stuck in the fallopian tube before making it to the womb. These types of pregnancies are notoriously fatal, both for the mother and the child. Sometimes, the only way to ensure survival is to extract the fallopian tube with the baby inside or to make an incision and remove the baby from the tube. Babies do not survive this process.
- Birth control increases the risk of infertility.10 So many parties will try to pawn this idea off as a myth, but the correlation is clear. While contraceptives themselves do not directly cause infertility, they distort the hormone balance of women to such a degree that the body no longer feels the need to produce eggs. This infertility can be short-term, long-term, or permanent. Different bodies recover from the lack of a regular menstrual cycle, conception, or pregnancy in different ways.
- Depression is a leading side effect of birth control.8 A few years ago, a handful of studies came out linking contraception to depression, including a study from JAMA Psychiatry. Their study showed in detail how women who began taking regular contraception in their teens permanently damaged their brains and their ability to reason and deal with anxiety, stress, and depression.
- Hormonal birth control increases anxiety and nervousness.11 In that same vein, contraception has a wide-ranging array of effects on women’s hormones which can affect their stress, anxiety, and nerves. A person’s dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, cortisol, and norepinephrine levels can fluctuate heavily while on birth control, causing mood swings and constant mental imbalance.
Looking at contraceptives through a physiological lens can open our eyes to even more dangers. In 1995, a Swiss biological researcher named Claus Wedekind did a study on women’s selection of potential romantic interests based on scent and the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a vertebrate-based locus that expresses specific gene factors through sweat. Wedekind’s hypothesis was that women would prefer the scent of a man who was abundant in gene factors that they were deficient in, and reject the scent of men whose genes could not compensate for their own deficiencies. In essence, their genes should fit together like puzzle pieces to produce healthy offspring. Wedekind gave his male subjects t-shirts that they would wear for three days without deodorant or artificial scents. Then, he put the t-shirts into plastic bags and allowed the female subjects to select which scent they found most appealing.
80% of the time, Wedekind’s hypothesis was correct: women would choose men who could balance their gene abundances and deficiencies. But 20% of the female subjects seemed to be choosing the least genetically compatible male subjects. Wedekind went back and looked at these female subjects and discovered that they were all on birth control. Birth control was short-circuiting their ability to select a fitting and compatible counterpart.12 The inception and/or discontinuation of the use of birth control can drastically shift the way a woman feels about her husband, sometimes with tragic consequences.
In the early 2000’s, Wedekind’s findings were affirmed by the studies of numerous scientific institutions, backing up his theory that not only does the MHC have a large impact on a couple’s compatibility but that birth control distorted women’s capability to use it.
So, what are the solutions to this problem of acquiescing to our pride and selfishness? How do we avoid the tragedies of divorce and abortion? What can we do to balance our practicality and our morality? Many negatively ascribe the concepts of abstinence and natural family planning as the “Catholic” version of birth control. It accomplishes the same thing, so how is it any different? So many people choose to cohabitate before marriage and have premarital relations that these concepts seem foreign, odd, and strange.
Natural family planning is different because it’s a disconnection from our personal desires and pride. Contraception is the pursuit of receiving the pleasure of sexual relations while attempting to eliminate the outcome of pregnancy. But natural family planning is making the sacrifice of abstinence. It’s providing an opportunity for each spouse to open communication and grow in intimacy and romance in other ways besides indulgence in sexual relations. Obviously, sex is a good thing within marriage, but it shouldn’t be a couple’s only path for intimacy with one another.
Men or women in unhappy marriages often say, “Where did the romance go?” The problem is, too many couples are relying solely on physical attraction, sexual gratification, and their base desires to fuel their lifelong romantic union. Marriage and love are intended to be founded and centered in Christ and His plan, which is why contraception is such a selfish practice. We are called to embrace God’s plan, whether that means welcoming more children, abstaining from our desires, or planning according to our personal situation.
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- Church, Catholic. “Glossary.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, Libreria Editrice Vatican, Vatican City, 1997.
- Pope John Paul II. “P. 32.” Familiaris Consortio, Paulinas, Colombia, 1980.
- IARC. “List of Classifications by Cancer Sites with Sufficient or Limited …” List of Classifications by Cancer Sites with Sufficient or Limited Evidence in Humans, IARC Monographs Volumes 1–133, 24 Mar. 2023, monographs.iarc.who.int/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Classifications_by_cancer_site.pdf
- Sullivan, D. M. (2006). The Oral Contraceptive as Abortifacient: An Analysis of the Evidence. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 58 (3), 189-195.
- Commissioner, Office of the. “Birth Control.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, www.fda.gov/consumers/free-publications-women/birth-control.
- D. Cibula and others, Hormonal contraception and risk of cancer, Human Reproduction Update, Volume 16, Issue 6, November-December 2010, Pages 631–650, https://doi.org/10.1093/humupd/dmq022
- Casado-Espada, Nerea M, et al. “Hormonal Contraceptives, Female Sexual Dysfunction, and Managing Strategies: A Review.” Journal of Clinical Medicine, 25 June 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6617135/#sec5-jcm-08-00908title.
- Danielle, Cooper, et al. “Oral Contraceptive Pills – Statpearls – NCBI Bookshelf.” Oral Contraceptive Pills, 24 Nov. 2022, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430882/.
- Larimore, W L, and J B Stanford. “Ectopic Pregnancy with Oral Contraceptive Use Has Been Overlooked.” BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 12 Aug. 2000, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1127814/.
- Harrison, Donna, et al. “Systematic Review of Ovarian Activity and Potential for Embryo Formation and Loss during the Use of Hormonal Contraception.” The Linacre Quarterly, 3 Jan. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6322118/#:~:text=The%20authors%20found%20that%20abnormal,women%20using%20hormonal%20birth%20control.
- Mu, Eveline, and Jayashri Kulkarni. “Hormonal Contraception and Mood Disorders.” Australian Prescriber, 1 June 2022, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9218393/.
- Wedekind, Claus. “MHC-Dependent Mate Preferences in Humans.” Proceedings. Biological Sciences, 22 June 1995, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7630893/.