Blog Post

Humanae Vitae and the #MeToo Movement

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

If Pope Paul VI was alive today, he would have every right to look at the #MeToo movement and say, “I told you so.” And he did – 50 years ago when he issued papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which put forth the Church’s teaching on love and marriage and on the use of artificial birth control. Since that time it has been called everything from puritanical to completely out-of-touch. But one thing it’s rarely been called is exactly what it turned out to be - the truth.

As shameful as it is, the #MeToo movement has gone a long way toward openning the eyes of the American public to the truth about the deplorable status of women in today’s culture. The sexual revolution that was supposed to liberate us, empower us, lift us out of our subservient place in society, was an abject failure. What happened?

There are certainly many factors that have contributed to this rapid decline of women’s status in the world over the last 50 years but the advent of contraception played a major role. Sadly, women were so focused on their professional advances that they barely noticed the alarming declines women were experiencing on the personal level. The contraceptive mentality that was ushered into place during these last five decades has slowly eroded our relationships, our families, our self-esteem, our happiness.

Pope Paul VI warned about this exact scenario in Humanae Vitae.

“ . . . a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”

When men forget the reverence due to women, when they reduce her to a mere instrument for their own satisfaction, and when they don’t consider her to be worthy of care and affection, this mentality can produce only the most bitter fruit, such as:

The #MeToo movement.

In a country where 81 percent of women will experience sexual harassment in their lifetime, it’s a wonder the movement took so long to get started.

Divorce and infidelity.

“ . . . [C]ontraception makes infidelity easier, and infidelity leads to divorce,” writes Dr. Janet E. Smith in Why Humanae Vitae Was Right. “That the increase in the number of divorces coincides with the increased use of contraception makes one suspect a causal connection of some kind.”

Abortion

Nearly half of all abortions occur in women who use contraceptives. This proves that men and women who are imbued with the contraceptive mentality are so intent upon not being pregnant that they are prepared to do whatever it takes to fulfill that intention. This intent has been deadly, and not only for the 60 million Americans who have lost their lives to abortion. The number one killer of pregnant women today is not hemorrhage or hypertension - it's murder.  And more than half of those women were killed by their partner.

Domestic Violence.

Although always a problem with women, domestic violence is still far too prevalent. According to the United Nations Study on the Status of Women, somewhere in America a woman is battered, usually by her intimate partner, every 15 seconds. Intimate partner violence alone affects more than 12 million people every year.

Pornography

The advent of the Internet and its easy access to pornography only exacerbated the already steep decline in women’s status in our world. Too many women find themselves competing with the airbrushed models in pornographic publications that are now so prevalent that almost half (46%) of all American men between the ages of 18 and 34 intentionally view pornography, which degrades and humiliates women, in any given week.

Psychological Abuse.

Nearly half (48.4%) of women in the U.S. have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Sexual Violence

More than 35 percent of women in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

“The level of sexual violence in our society is at epidemic proportions,” writes Dr. Mary Anne Layden, Director of Education, Center for Cognitive Therapy, Dept. Of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania.

“We are experiencing a sexual holocaust. One in eight women are raped, 50 percent of females will be sexually harassed on their jobs. By the time a female in this country is 18 years old, 38 percent have been sexually molested. We are the most sexually violent nation on earth.”

This is what happens when human beings are objectified, which is precisely what contraception does to women. It makes them into the sex objects they were trying not to be!

“Paul VI warned of ‘the man’ losing respect for ‘the woman.’ He saw that the use of contraception encourages ‘the man’ to look upon ‘the woman’ not as a special woman with her own needs and desires, not as a female with a marvelous procreative faculty, but as an object,” writes Janet E. Smith, Ph.D., in her book, Why Humanae Vitae was Right.

“He can easily come to look upon her as one from whom he can derive sexual pleasure without risking the personal boding that comes through participating in sexual intercourse that is open to procreation.”

This is why, in the same book, Cormac Burke describes contraceptive intercourse as an exercise in meaninglessness, like going through the motions of singing without letting any sound come out. Instead of accepting one another totally, by rejecting a spouse’s fertility, the contraceptive spouses are rejecting part of each other. They reject the power of their mutual love to be fruitful.

“The anti-life effect of contraception does not stop at the ‘No’ which it addresses to the possible fruit of love,” Burke writes. “It tends to take the very life out of itself. Within the hard logic of contraception, anti-life becomes anti-love. Its devitalizing effect devastates love, threatening it with early aging and premature death.”

And women know it. They sense it. As Smith writes, many of the women she’s encountered admit that they know they are being exploited and feel degraded by the use of contraception. They know it’s robbing them of their dignity. But she gives in because she feels compelled to do so, to satisfy her man.

Thus, she ushers a new tyrant into her relationship.

As Ruth D. Lasseter writes, “Under the guise of helping love, artificial contraception cunningly establishes a tyrant in the marriage: the sex act declines from a reaffirming of the whole marriage covenant, true love-making, to joint seeking of mutual satisfaction. A subtle shift, but a decisive one, away from God and the covenant of marriage.”

In today’s world, where marriage is no longer a prerequisite for sexual relations, the same dynamic is at play only it’s negative effects are enhanced by the lack of a formal commitment to the relationship.

She goes on to list the well-documented symptoms attending this shift, the woman’s sense that she must be “available” to her husband at all times; the anxiety about her “performance” and sexual attractiveness.

The man too becomes aware of a vague sense that something is wrong. He no longer delights in his bride and begins to think of her as a way to appease his passions. He tries to talk with her about it and it ends up in a fight. They just can’t seem to come to an understanding of what’s wrong.

“This couple may in every other way be moral and exemplary Christians; it has never occurred to them that artificial contraception could be destroying their marriage covenant and their love,” Lasseter writes.

The good news is that more and more women, for various reasons, are ditching the pill and turning to more natural methods of family planning.

Natural Family Planning (NFP) has come a long way since the days of the “rhythm method” aka “Vatican roulette.” Now there are phone apps and sophisticated monitoring devices and a variety of methods for couples to choose from. These are becoming especially attractive to millennial women who see synthetic hormones and metal devices as unnatural and unhealthy.

And because NFP requires involvement by both spouses, their relationships are improving as well.

Regardless of the reasons behind the sudden interest in NFP, moving away from artificial contraception and the profound damage it does to our bodies and our relationships can only be a good thing.

And, in a way, so can the #MeToo movement.

“Perhaps our current #MeToo crisis has the potential to provoke greater sympathy for Humane Vitae’s holistic vision of human sexuality,” writes Helen Alvare in the latest issue of Columbia magazine, “and a second look at the Church’s age-old wisdom.”

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