The Purpose of Marriage: Gen 1 or Gen 2?

The bible begins with two creation stories, and each has its own purpose. Gen 1 tells the story of how all creation came to be, with the creation of humanity, male and female, as the culmination of creation. In this story, which is dominated by themes of generation and fertility, God tells people to be fertile and multiply, fill the earth; eat these things for your food, and leave those things as food for the animals. This is a story about the world, and humanity’s relationship to the world.

Genesis 2 tells a story about humanity. In Gen 2:18, God says “It is not good for the human to be alone,” determines that none of the animals are suitable companions for the human, and fashions a suitable companion from the side of the human, from the very same flesh. (Note the single-nature anthropology implied here: ie, there is a single human nature shared by women and men.) Gen 2:24 says “that is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” This is a story about the origin of marriage.

Notice that the story about the origin of marriage says nothing about procreation.

Catholic moral theology is grounded primarily in natural law, rather than scripture. Catholicism embraces the “two books” approach to revelation: that is, that God is the author of both the book of creation (ie, the entire created natural order) and the book of the Bible. It calls the former “general revelation” and the latter “special revelation.” The paradigm of natural law assumes, first, that there is an objective moral order (ie, that actions are objectively right or wrong, good or evil); and second, that it must be possible for all people to discern this objective moral order from general revelation. (Because God is just, and would not hold all people responsible for their good or evil actions if it were not possible for all people to distinguish between good and evil, whether or not they accepted the bible as the word of God.) In general, it focuses on identifying the “right use” of our abilities by discerning God’s intended purpose for those abilities. Right uses are those which align with God’s intended purposes.

Catholic teaching on marriage recognizes both a procreative and a unitive purpose to marital sex: that is, it is intended both for reproduction, and for the expression and strengthening of the unifying love between the spouses.

But since Humane Vitae, which declared artificial contraception illicit (while still permitting natural family planning, and marriage of persons who are barren or sterile) and required for the first time that every marital sex act be “open to new life,” the procreative purpose has effectively trumped the unitive purpose. Whenever a married couple cannot, in good conscience, lovingly accept the gift of a child (eg, because of the health of either husband or wife, or the stability of the relationship, or to avoid either imprudence or improvidence), the church teaches that the couple may not licitly express and strengthen their loving union through sex.

Without challenging the fundamental grounding of Catholic moral theology in a natural law paradigm, I argue that the theology of Catholic marriage — which logically need not restrict itself to general revelation — ought to be significantly influenced by the only story in the Bible whose purpose is to offer an explanation for marriage. This story clearly privileges the unitive, not the procreative, purpose of marriage.

As the extraordinary synod of bishops on the family begins, let us keep all its participants (bishops and non-bishops, married and non-married) in our prayers, praying especially that they will be open to the Word and the Breath of God in their meditations on how the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love can most efficaciously be lived out within the vocation of marriage.

Gracious God, we pray for your holy catholic church.
Fill it with your truth;
Keep it in your peace.
Where it is corrupt, reform it.
Where it is in error, correct it.
Where it is right, defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, reunite it;
for the sake of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Amen.

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38 Responses to The Purpose of Marriage: Gen 1 or Gen 2?

  1. Very interesting.

    But the argument that only Gen 2 is about marriage whereas only Gen 1 refers to fertility stands against two millennia of Jewish and Christian interpretation, which reads these two (different) stories in light of each other. That is, accepting their juxtaposition as intentional, both from the human and divine authors’ perspectives, undermines the argument to separate the unitive and procreative functions of the essential male-female covenant.

    • I do not argue here that they should be entirely separated; but that the unitive might reasonably be privileged in certain circumstances.

      I commend to your consideration the lived experiences of couples for whom natural family planning has created marital difficulties.

      • But if Gen 1 precedes Gen 2, the text would more reasonably be taken to argue the opposite, if there is any precedence at all.
        I’ve read the post you linked to quite a while ago. But I find that pathetic ( “pathos”) arguments like these, at least while I’ve been observing policy discussions all various areas of life, have become clubs with which the rhetor batters the audience into a suspension of logic (“logos”). I’m always reminded of the idiot reporter in 1988 who asked Michael Dukakis concerning prison release if he’d change his mind if his daughter had been raped by a prisoner out on the release program he was advocating. Perhaps more currently, the ubiquitous refrain of “it’s my right/life/etc.” is the pathetic club. I assert that the pathetic belongs in a different plane—as the source for *how* theological is articulated and applied, not as a source of *what* is determined to be right.
        But, of course, that’s just me — a trained biblical scholar, who also converted to Catholicism and has six children with his wife. I clearly argue from within the ivory tower.

        • But if Gen 1 precedes Gen 2, the text would more reasonably be taken to argue the opposite, if there is any precedence at all.

          Why would you privilege canonical order over the explicit association with marriage in the second narrative?

          Are you arguing that the tradition of reading the two stories in light of each other effectively flattens any difference in their content, thus leaving only canonical order to provide interpretive weight?

          I assert that the pathetic belongs in a different plane—as the source for *how* theological is articulated and applied, not as a source of *what* is determined to be right.

          Interesting. I don’t think the question of ‘what is right’ is fully qualified outside the context in which it is to be applied.

          May I ask from what tradition you converted, and whether that was the same tradition in which you received your biblical training? I’m always interested in people’s faith journeys.

          • Sure. Raised Lutheran, educated Wheaton College, spent 20s as roving evangelical, 30s as Anglican, and then took the (for us) logical step to RCC. Our reasons were theological–a hazard of being a critical biblical scholar is that my wife (who is my enduring conversation partner) and I realized that we either had to abandon orthodox Christianity or face up to the implications of the role of tradition. We chose the latter path.
            As for Gen 1 and 2, I haven’t argued anything substantive yet. I’ve merely pointed out issues you’ve not addressed. I look for a well-supported rationale when I see arguments like yours, and I provided two textually better alternatives–either we allow linearity to represent precedence or we read the two texts as having the same weight. What I haven’t seen is any argument for assigning priority to the second text over the first.

      • waywardson23 says:

        The stories are painful to read, but what specifically is causing the pain?

        The women tended to have two things in common: (1) They had an authoritarian religious background and a negative sense of spirituality, i.e. “God is out to judge you” instead of “God loves you” and (2) They did not have adequate training in the method nor adequate medical support for health problems. Neither of these is a problem with Church teaching, although certainly these problems are often caused by those who represent the Church.

        • I disagree with your interpretation of these women’s experiences; but granting your interpretation for the sake of argument, what do you conclude about how their testimony should inform church teaching and practice?

          • waywardson23 says:

            Point 1: I think there are real consequences to stressing the moral law outside of the broader context of the gospel.

            Point 2: Laypersons who promote the methods do need to take them seriously as science. That doesn’t always happen. I see this as part of a broader problem of antagonism between the Church and the scientific community. Whoever’s fault it is, the Church is losing.

            • Hm, perhaps I wasn’t clear, because that’s not responsive to the question I intended to ask. Let me try again.

              These faithful Catholic women (couples, really) have offered their testimony about their experiences with NFP and the damaging effect it had on their marriages. How do you think the church should receive their testimony? And how respond to it?

              Your comment seemed to imply that their critique (that NFP was detrimental to their marriages) can and should be dismissed, rather than engaged, because they were doing it wrong. Does that accurately describe your view?

  2. By the way, I agree with your wish and prayer at the end. My goal is to push for greater clarity in how scripture is used in theological discussion. And I admit that my current context in which I drive my graduate students like lazy cattle possibly makes my interactions come across rather crusty. For what it’s worth, ny excuse is that I am naturally impatient, have little extra time, and I take the pursuit of Truth seriously.

  3. A relevant comment from the synod:

  4. waywardson23 says:

    What do you consider to be “unitive sex”?

    It seems like you are assuming that the unitive purpose of sex could be fullfilled by contracepted sex. Yet this seems to ignore the impact of the contraceptives themselves on the married couple’s sex life. For example, sex with a barrier is physically less “unitive” than sex without. Hormonal contraceptives and sterilization have physical and psychological impacts. Even if contraceptives were permitted a couple may not be able to fully “express and strengthen their loving union through sex.”

    When would the impact of the contraceptives nullify the unitive aspect of sex in marriage?

    • When would the impact of the contraceptives nullify the unitive aspect of sex in marriage?

      When the contraceptives interfere with the expression and strengthening of the couple’s loving union more than the absence of sex interferes with it. Which I would leave to the discretion of the couple.

      Humans are analog, not digital. Very little in our embodied lives can be adequately or appropriately described with binary true/false logic.

      Hormonal contraceptives and sterilization have physical and psychological impacts.

      So does the fear of an imprudent or medically hazardous pregnancy.

      • waywardson23 says:

        So does the fear of an imprudent or medically hazardous pregnancy.

        Thus the need for accurate methods of fertility awareness, no? Let’s not forget contraceptives have a failure rate too.

      • waywardson23 says:

        Which I would leave to the discretion of the couple.

        Fair enough. But if a couple wanted guidance as to whether use of contraceptives was interfering more than abstinence (or not avoiding pregnancy) what guidance would you give?

        • Ah, I should have said “discernment” rather than “discretion.” Thus, I would send them to a spiritual director who is experienced in helping people in the discernment process.
          I don’t think there’s much in the way of objective content that can be given as guidance to a couple about whether X or Y is doing more harm to their marriage; it would be a process of prayerfully reflecting on what they experienced with each.

          • waywardson23 says:

            And my cynical self sees that as becoming “do what you want”, which will be the cultural norm more often than not.

            • Wow, really? You don’t trust discernment? It’s fundamental to the application of all Catholic moral theology to the complex reality of lived situations, and connects to the foundational principle of Catholic moral theology that what is good leads to human flourishing.

              Or are you just cynical because discernment is too often improperly taught, inadequately supported, and not practiced correctly? 😉

          • waywardson23 says:

            Haha, yes, discernment is not well supported.

            Sometimes people do need clear specific guidance. Friday abstinence used to be a requirment. There were plenty of problems with it, so they allowed people to choose their own penance, maintaining the practice only during Lent. But few people did anything, so the old practice is coming back.

  5. waywardson23 says:

    I can’t reply directly, so I will start a new thread.

    These faithful Catholic women (couples, really) have offered their testimony about their experiences with NFP and the damaging effect it had on their marriages. How do you think the church should receive their testimony? And how respond to it?

    Your comment seemed to imply that their critique (that NFP was detrimental to their marriages) can and should be dismissed, rather than engaged, because they were doing it wrong. Does that accurately describe your view?

    I think the critique should be engaged, but my first question would be why it was detrimental to them when it has been beneficial to other couples.

    The Brazilian couple at the synod addressed a major problem: NFP gets a bad reputation because it’s not well taught. Couples don’t understand the method and they can’t use it effectively. This is not the fault of the couples, but of the teaching organizations. Some organizations are more concerned with the theology than the science and don’t put enough time and effort into instruction. Some instructors don’t see the couple’s intimate life as a high priority. I have heard more than once instructors tell couples that extended abstience is “your cross to bear” or “maybe God’s way of telling you to have another baby”, which is bad theology and a cop out.

    Sometimes heath problems are an issue. Whatever health problems are going on, contraceptives generally don’t solve them. (If they do solve the health problems, they are permitted. See HV 15.) Medical guidance and pastoral guidance are necessary in these cases.

    I also read in many “I hate NFP” posts deeper personal, marital, and theological issues. Some women do not feel comfortable with their bodies and as a result have difficulty with the method. These issues are addressed by secular instructors, but not always by Catholic instructors. Some materials avoid even the term “sexual intercourse” and encourage women not to chart unless they absolutely need to.

    Several of the women in the article grew up as strict “orthodox” Catholics or were fundamentalist converts. They tend to have a Neo-Jansenist theological outlook, which sees God as an angry rule-giver and not a loving father. There is also a lot of pressure in these communities to marry young and produce babies for the Church, which, quite frankly, is a recipe for miserable (and often invalid) marriages. Anyway, the oddities of the “orthodox” Catholic community are a blog post in themselves.

    Once again, contraceptives won’t solve marital problems or a negative theological outlook. I can show you no shortage of Protestant sites where couples have no shortage of marital and sexual problems, even with contraception.

    What I ask is why should the Church change their teachings when many of the problems are caused by misunderstanding the teachings or failure to implement them properly? Second, to the extent that the teaching itself is the problem, how are contraceptives the solution? Finally, is there an argument for changing the teaching that is not inherently consequentialist?

    If you are wondering what the Church should do, I think that for starters, the Church has to engage this flawed right-wing “orthodox” Catholicism and teach the true faith. It seems Pope Francis wants to do just that, but is facing resistance. I also think that because these teachings are so closely tied to the Catholic right and their bad theology that most mainstream Catholics haven’t really engaged with the teachings and often don’t know how. Following the teachings can be a big positive for a couple, but are not always presented that way. Finally, the issue seems to have been caught up in another battle between theologians and the Vatican over papal authority. I think Pope Francis’s more collegial approach will diffuse that issue.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I see that you would take this testimony primarily to diagnose and remedy systemic problems with how the church teaches its current doctrine, and how it supports those who are faithfully attempting to follow its current doctrine, both on marriage generally and on a specific licit method of birth control. That all makes sense to me.

      (Although I would take the seeming parity of “marriage” and “a specific method of birth control” as the objects of church teaching that need this kind of support as suggestive that something may not be quite right here, because “marriage” and “a specific method of birth control” are wildly different theological categories. But I doubt there’s much fruitful discussion we could have on this point, so moving on.)

      Remedying systemic problems going forward doesn’t help those whom the church has already failed, though. So let me ask a couple of hypothetical questions:

      – Suppose that there is a couple who have been badly taught as to NFP, and are in a situation such that there is no way for them to remedy that teaching: say, they are not aware that they *have* been badly taught (so it doesn’t occur to them that there is help to be sought), and their pastors and other church ministers supporting marriage have nothing to offer but more bad teaching. Suppose this couple has faithfully tried NFP, and it has had damaging effects on their marriage. Is it then morally permissible for this couple to use other means of birth control, for the sake of their marriage?

      – Suppose there is a woman for whom, physiologically, NFP does not provide a reliable method of birth control, even when it is used correctly. Is it morally permissible for her and her husband to use other means of birth control, for the sake of their marriage and family?

      • waywardson23 says:

        Thank you for your response. You make an excellent point. It should not be the job of the Church to teach a specific method of birth control. That is the job of the medical and scientific community. Since they haven’t done it, the Church (including laypersons) has gotten stuck with the job, which causes all sorts of problems.

        It seems like many of the “hot button issues” are at their root part of a wider conflict between the Church and the scientific community. Volumes could be written on that.

        Anyway…

        I would say that both of the couples in the example have been shortchanged by the medical community and perhaps shortchanged by the Church. The ultimate answer is proper instruction for the first couple and improved research for the second, but that doesn’t help them here and now.

        As for what the couples should do, a bad situation does not make contraception morally permissible. Either it is permissible or it isn’t. (I don’t think the Church can say it is permissible without profound implications about marriage, sexuality, and procreation.) Furthermore, the assumption seems to be that contraception or sterilization will solve their problems. It may prevent them from becoming pregnant, but it may cause other problems. The justification seems to be that the positive effects make contraception permissible, but such effects are not guaranteed.

        Conversely, it is not certain that their current situation will continue. This woman wrote several posts about much NFP sucked…and then she GOT it. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/barefootandpregnant/2014/09/the-super-sublimation-of-nfp.html

        That being said, if the couple did choose contraception or sterilization under such difficult circumstances, their culpability would be likely be low. I would not judge someone in that situation, their marriage, or their faith. I think some of the rhetoric thrown around can be far more damaging than the problem itself.

        • Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I was particularly struck by this:

          a bad situation does not make contraception morally permissible. Either it is permissible or it isn’t.

          This, I think, is the heart of our differences. I don’t think that “actions” can properly be said to exist outside of the complete context in which they occur. So it strikes me as nonsensical to declare the absolute morality (as opposed to the presumptive morality) of an action in se, because the action is not fully qualified without also considering the actors and the situation.

          Assumptions about the actors and the situation are not infrequently built into the language that we use when declaring moral absolutes (eg, “murder”, “stealing”), and are therefore not available for interrogation or moral reflection until a specific case arises in which our moral intuition challenges them (eg, “in self defense”, “to feed one’s starving children”).

          Interestingly, I think that while our intellectual approachs to moral theology differ, our moral intuitions are similar, because your statement that

          if the couple did choose contraception or sterilization under such difficult circumstances, their culpability would be likely be low. I would not judge someone in that situation, their marriage, or their faith.

          is not at all far from my statement that such matters should be left to the discernment of the couple.

          And I agree with you that “some of the rhetoric thrown around can be far more damaging than the problem itself”; I might even go so far as to say “more sinful.”

          Thanks for this fruitful conversation!

          • waywardson23 says:

            You are right that we aren’t very far apart.

            It’s a very fine point, but I would not say that killing in self-defense and stealing to feed one’s children are not so much morally proper as morally justifiable or morally excusable. It’s an understandable and sometimes justifiable reaction to a bad situation, not a positive good in itself.

            The problem is when we start seeing killing in self-defense as a an exception to the rule against killing or a as moral good instead of an justifiable wrong, then we get Stand Your Ground laws and George Zimmermans.

            The Church sees contraception as an objective moral evil. The Church rejects strongly the philosophy of popular culture that sees it as good and liberating, thus implying that children are bad and burdensome. (I think this philosophical rejection is why they are so insistent on the point.) With couples having recourse to both abstinence and NFP to prevent pregnancy, there is no situation that completely justifies it.

            Frequently, however, couples do use it for well-intentioned reasons. Marital issues are doubly complicated because they involves the cooperation of two people. This is why Pope Paul (and Pope Francis) recommend to confessors “much mercy and attention to concrete situations.”

            And yes, assuming the worst about a couple’s motivations and attitudes is the sin of rash judgment.

            Excellent discussion.

            • The Church rejects strongly the philosophy of popular culture that sees it as good and liberating, thus implying that children are bad and burdensome. (I think this philosophical rejection is why they are so insistent on the point.)
              This is an interesting point, because I don’t see the discourse about contraception within marriage as philosophically about liberation, but about responsibility and prudence (thus the term “family planning.”)

              I certainly agree that sometimes a perceived insistence on one point produces an equal or greater insistence on its opposite. And your comment makes me wonder whether the insistence on liberation doesn’t arise in part from rhetoric that emphasizes “children as gift, not burden” in a way that ignores the very real physical, emotional, financial, and practical difficulties of gestating, bearing, and raising children — difficulties which still frequently fall primarily on women.

              With couples having recourse to both abstinence and NFP to prevent pregnancy, there is no situation that completely justifies it.
              Which brings us back to my initial point: if contraception is never completely justified because abstinence is always available (NFP being a carefully applied subset of abstinence), this causes the procreative to always trump the unitive.

        • I find the scientific community generally does a good job teaching contraception (when they are permitted to, but that is mostly a different issue). The problem for this discussion is that they found that NFP is not a very good method of birth control. It has a higher failure rate than other methods.

          If I understand correctly, couples should avoid sex at any time when they do not have the economic and personal resources to care for another child. I would take that to mean “no sex once you have about 4 children” because you are approaching the limit where you will be unable to give each child the personal attention that they deserve. Of course, poor people run out of money before they run out of time, so their limit might be lower.

          So the unitive purpose loses out to the risk required by the procreative purpose?

          Of course, this only applies to PIV sex; oral sex has much lower risk of pregnacy, though anal sex has higher risk than those purity pledge kids think. I find it amusing that the Church’s teachings might be taken to advocate the kinkier types of sex as a way to avoid pregnancy.

          • waywardson23 says:

            [WaywardSon – I have edited your comment to remove language I perceive as atheist-bashing. Atheists, non-Catholics, and anyone else who does not understand the teachings of the Catholic church are welcome to comment and contribute to conversations on this blog. Please be respectful and charitable when you comment here. Thank you.]

            The problem for this discussion is that they found that NFP is not a very good method of birth control. It has a higher failure rate than other methods.

            Is anyone in the scientific community asking why NFP has a higher failure rate? Is it because the method is failing or because couples are choosing to have more children? If the problem is the method, is anyone doing anything to improve the method to lower this failure rate? If not, then why not?

            The scientific community is failing the people who want to use NFP and don’t want to use contraceptives. I would hope that the scientific community would see the menstrual cycle as something that could be understood and not a great unsolvable mystery.

            If I understand correctly, couples should avoid sex at any time when they do not have the economic and personal resources to care for another child. I would take that to mean “no sex once you have about 4 children” because you are approaching the limit where you will be unable to give each child the personal attention that they deserve. Of course, poor people run out of money before they run out of time, so their limit might be lower.

            You aren’t even close to understanding correctly. Who says that a couple should only have 4 children or that you must have a certain amount of money? That’s a rule you came up with, not the Church.

            Second, if a couple did need to limit their family size, Natural Family Planning is an option.

            [Insulting comment to atheists redacted.]

            Of course, this only applies to PIV sex; oral sex has much lower risk of pregnacy, though anal sex has higher risk than those purity pledge kids think. I find it amusing that the Church’s teachings might be taken to advocate the kinkier types of sex as a way to avoid pregnancy.

            The Church teaches that the husband must ejaculate inside the wife’s vagina, so if someone thinks that oral sex and anal sex are acceptable ways to avoid pregnancy, they are sadly mistaken.

            Thank you for your post. You have unwittingly shown exactly what the conflict between science and the Church is. [Insulting comments to atheists redacted.]

            • If you’re not already aware of it, you might be interested in the Society for Menstrual Research, an organization that supports such scientific research, tends against the use of hormonal contraceptives for health concerns similar to those you mention, and works to fight against the continuing stigma surrounding menstruation that undoubtedly contributes to the relative lack of research in this area.

              My own opinion, as someone with a background in the physical sciences although not specifically in biology, is that I would be surprised if NFP techniques could be developed that would reliably work for every woman on the planet regardless of her state of health and her environment. I don’t think there’s any mechanism that would physiologically lock the various fertility indicators used by NFP to actual fertile periods, because they seem to be mostly correlative rather than causal.

            • Is anyone in the scientific community asking why NFP has a higher failure rate? Is it because the method is failing or because couples are choosing to have more children? If the problem is the method, is anyone doing anything to improve the method to lower this failure rate? If not, then why not?

              I think the failure modes are fairly well understood. There are technical problems of implementing the various forms of NFP (identifying ovulation, irregular cycles, etc), and then there are the human factors issues (errors, failure to consistently apply).

              I know Christians are supposed to resist temptation, but if I understand correctly, you also know that people are not always able to resist. I assume that you therefore expect failures.

              When you study the effectiveness of a method of birth control, you only study couples who are not choosing to have children during the study period. So, no, it isn’t because they are choosing more children.

              Virtually all scientific research is funded by somebody who is interested in the problem. The world is a big place, and there are many people who advocate NFP, so it would make sense for some of them to be researching in this area. Maybe the Catholic Church would help out with some money. I’m just speculating, though — I do not know of any NFP research.

              You aren’t even close to understanding correctly. Who says that a couple should only have 4 children or that you must have a certain amount of money? That’s a rule you came up with, not the Church.

              This is why the teacher always insists that you show your work.

              1. I assume that parents have some moral obligation to their children, and that those obligations include satisfying both physical and emotional needs.

              2. I assume it is immoral to voluntarily accept an obligation when you know in advance that you will be unable to satisfy that obligation.

              3. I assume that beyond about 4 children, parents will be unable to give each child the personalized attention that they will need to grow to well-adjusted adults.

              4. I assume that beyond about 4 children, many parents will be unable to provide basic physical needs.

              5. With the high failure rate of NFP (as high as 25% per year), any NFP user must assume that sex might result in another child to care for, and are therefore assuming that obligation.

              6. Combine 1-5 to have a moral obligation not to create children that you can’t take care of.

              If the Church does not teach #6, then presumably I am wrong about the Church’s position on one of my premises. Can you identify which one? I didn’t exactly show all my work in #6 — do you see a flaw in my logic?

              I can see that this logic would limit the poor, but is there any reasonable alternative?

              Weirdly specific or not, that raises the question of how unitive are oral and anal sex?

              Works for me, but I’m a heathen and a pervert. 🙂

              Would it be presumptuous of me, waywardson, to suppose that you would not have to ask that question if you had tried it? Since your religion prevents you from these and many other interesting variations, perhaps you will accept my declaration from personal experience:

              Sex in all its forms can be loving and intimate thing that people do together. It doesn’t have to be, but with someone you love, it usually is. It can be a gift that you give, that you receive. or both. It can be fun. It can be serious. It can be consoling. It can be celabratory. For some people, it can even head off a migraine (totally serious).

              I’ve even been with women who said that giving oral sex is much more intimate than PIV (penis in vagina). So, I would have to argue that oral/anal are just as unitive as any other kind of sex.

          • If I understand correctly, couples should avoid sex at any time when they do not have the economic and personal resources to care for another child.

            This is a moral argument that is often made from prudence and responsibility: ie, it is morally wrong to have children that you cannot properly provide for. But I don’t think the church explicitly teaches this. Indeed, I have heard a sermon from a Catholic priest that explicitly exhorted Catholic couples not to stop having children for this reason, but instead to trust that God will provide. (Admittedly, this was juxtaposed with a rather racist “like the Muslims do, or they’ll outbreed us.”)

            A more valid argument against this reasoning, in my view, is that it unduly burdens the poor, who might not then ever be able to morally have children. It can also lead to a creeping increase in the material resources considered necessary to properly care for children, thus further burdening the poor. I think we are already seeing this happen in the US in various ways.

            So the unitive purpose loses out to the risk required by the procreative purpose?
            Yes, that is the point I’m making.

            Of course, this only applies to PIV sex…

            As WaywardSon already mentioned, the church teaches that the right use of sexuality requires that the man ejaculate in the woman’s vagina. (Which, again, strikes me as so weirdly specific that it suggests something is wrong with the reasoning – a point that Salzman and Lawler also make, I think.) Of course, that’s not to say that this is always clearly taught; and the occasional rapprochement between Catholic conservatives and evangelical purity culture probably raises the likelihood of such misunderstandings.

            • waywardson23 says:

              This is a moral argument that is often made from prudence and responsibility: ie, it is morally wrong to have children that you cannot properly provide for. But I don’t think the church explicitly teaches this.

              The argument is as old as at least Aquinas and is in alluded to in Gaudium et Spes and Humanae Vitae. But no, it is not explicitly taught.

              I also know some Catholics, including the priest you mention, mistake “generosity and openness to life” for an “outbreed the heathens” natalism. (One prominent apologist from the 1930s explicitly endorsed the natalist/God will provide reasoning, so this was a common view. But he also said that Prime Minister Mussolini was making Catholic Italy into a great nation, so take that with a grain of salt.)

              Which, again, strikes me as so weirdly specific that it suggests something is wrong with the reasoning – a point that Salzman and Lawler also make, I think.

              Weirdly specific or not, that raises the question of how unitive are oral and anal sex?

            • waywardson23 says:

              Yes, I am aware of (and encouraged by) Society for Menstrual Research. I am also aware of the recent boom in charting apps and devices. But I do know that such work has been slow to catch on in the mainstream.

          • waywardson23 says:

            I apologize for my earlier statements. I read some of the comments as an attack when they were meant to be an inquiry.

  6. waywardson23 says:

    I certainly agree that sometimes a perceived insistence on one point produces an equal or greater insistence on its opposite. And your comment makes me wonder whether the insistence on liberation doesn’t arise in part from rhetoric that emphasizes “children as gift, not burden” in a way that ignores the very real physical, emotional, financial, and practical difficulties of gestating, bearing, and raising children — difficulties which still frequently fall primarily on women.

    Quite true. I think that both “sides” have doubled-down repeatedly since the 1960s (1920s?). I do see Catholics, then and now, ignore the very real costs and difficulties of childbearing. I also see from secular society an increasing antipathy toward children and large families, especially among the poor and non-white.

    Which brings us back to my initial point: if contraception is never completely justified because abstinence is always available (NFP being a carefully applied subset of abstinence), this causes the procreative to always trump the unitive.

    And to my question as to whether the unitive can truly exist without the procreative.

    I think this discussion has come full circle.

  7. waywardson23 says:

    A Dying Atheist

    I’ll respond here because we’re running out of space on the thread.

    I think the failure modes are fairly well understood. There are technical problems of implementing the various forms of NFP (identifying ovulation, irregular cycles, etc), and then there are the human factors issues (errors, failure to consistently apply).

    I know Christians are supposed to resist temptation, but if I understand correctly, you also know that people are not always able to resist. I assume that you therefore expect failures.

    When you study the effectiveness of a method of birth control, you only study couples who are not choosing to have children during the study period. So, no, it isn’t because they are choosing more children.

    Virtually all scientific research is funded by somebody who is interested in the problem. The world is a big place, and there are many people who advocate NFP, so it would make sense for some of them to be researching in this area. Maybe the Catholic Church would help out with some money. I’m just speculating, though — I do not know of any NFP research.

    Since you don’t know of any NFP research, I will summarize what I have found:

    1. NFP methods have a very high perfect-use effectiveness rate in controlled studies (99.6%-98%). When user-error is included, the rates are still better than many contraceptives (98%-95%). Most pregnancies occur when couples knowingly used a day of possible fertility. Is this a weakness of the method or did they decide to have a baby?

    2. Controlled studies also have “the best” instruction. In one multi-method study, one of the methods studied was incorrectly taught and the effectiveness dropped dramatically.

    3. Anecdotally, most of the problems with the method happen during post-partum and breastfeeding. Unfortunately, this can lead to a “breastfeeding trap” where the woman gets pregnant, breastfeeds, gets pregnant again, breastfeeds, etc. Women with irregular/unusual cycles can have problems tracking their cycles, but irregularity often correlates with subfertility, so the problem for them is more often excessive abstinence than unplanned pregnancy.

    4. Very few couples in the studies actually avoid all genital contact. Nearly 2/3 of the couples in the Frank-Herrmann study supplimented with condoms. Most studies take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to non-PIV sex.

    5. In the Catholic view, whether most people are able to resist temptation doesn’t factor into whether something is right or wrong. Nor does a “good” result. The ends do not justify the means. Most people are to some degree consequentialists, and see the ends as justification in themself.

    6. The Catholic Church doesn’t have as much money as people think they do. Billions of dollars in assets and billions of dollars in liabilities. Some Catholic universities have been researching the methods, but they are not enough.

    This is why the teacher always insists that you show your work.

    1. I assume that parents have some moral obligation to their children, and that those obligations include satisfying both physical and emotional needs.

    2. I assume it is immoral to voluntarily accept an obligation when you know in advance that you will be unable to satisfy that obligation.

    3. I assume that beyond about 4 children, parents will be unable to give each child the personalized attention that they will need to grow to well-adjusted adults.

    4. I assume that beyond about 4 children, many parents will be unable to provide basic physical needs.

    5. With the high failure rate of NFP (as high as 25% per year), any NFP user must assume that sex might result in another child to care for, and are therefore assuming that obligation.

    6. Combine 1-5 to have a moral obligation not to create children that you can’t take care of.

    If the Church does not teach #6, then presumably I am wrong about the Church’s position on one of my premises. Can you identify which one? I didn’t exactly show all my work in #6 — do you see a flaw in my logic?

    I can see that this logic would limit the poor, but is there any reasonable alternative?

    Your logic is solid, but your premises are flawed. I would challenge premises 3, 4, and 5.

    Premise 3: I think most Westerners have an inflated idea of the amount of attention a child needs from their parents. A child in a family of 10 may get little individual attention from their parents, but has 9 brothers and sisters. I was raised as an only child and children need more than just personalized parental attention. It would have been nice to have siblings.

    Premise 4: I also think Westerners an inflated idea of what “basic physical needs” are. The assumption among many in the US is that children need their own room, lots of toys, a college education, etc. That’s not cheap. Even though people may know that children don’t need all this, the idea that children need a lot of stuff is pretty ingrained into our culture.

    Westerners assume Premises 3 and 4 without questioning them. When meeting other cultures, they can end up imposing these values on the population without realizing it. This is why Western aid has met with such resistance in certain areas of the world.

    Premise 5: Mostly addressed above. Basically, the more serious the reason to avoid pregnancy, the more cautious couples are with the method. If you use the most conservative method the most conservative way (Symptothermal, post-ovulatory only), it is nearly 100% effective. This effectiveness comes at a price as the couple will be abstaining for most of the cycle.

    Would it be presumptuous of me, waywardson, to suppose that you would not have to ask that question if you had tried it?

    I haven’t always been a saint. (I’m still not a saint!) So yes, I do have personal experience in this area.

    Other forms of sex can be pleasurable, but my experience is that they nowhere near as intimate. I have not had the experience of women saying giving oral is more intimate than PIV, even women who like giving oral. Many women don’t like giving oral sex or receiving anal sex, plus anal sex is risky even if both partners do enjoy it.

    Sex in all its forms can be loving and intimate thing that people do together. It doesn’t have to be, but with someone you love, it usually is. It can be a gift that you give, that you receive. or both. It can be fun. It can be serious. It can be consoling. It can be celabratory. For some people, it can even head off a migraine (totally serious).

    I agree with all of this, but sex can also go horribly, horribly wrong, even in marriage. It can become that divides the couple instead of unites them. Some things can unite a couple and some things really don’t, and it’s not always easy to tell what is and is not good for you. (I love cookies, but that doesn’t mean they are good for me.) I think that people tend to assume the unitive aspect without looking to see what is and is not really unitive.

    Thank you for the comment.

  8. Reading this article and the subsequent discussion, I cannot help but remember something my roommate told me freshman year of college: “A Conservative is someone who admires a radical hundreds of years after he’s dead.”

  9. Pingback: Blogiversary: Four Whole Years?! | Gaudete Theology

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