Apologies for the blog silence – I did hope to post Part II yesterday, but Part II ended up being too long (as you might imagine). So this post only deals with one ‘point of collusion’ as I mentioned in Part I and is one of many potential future installments on my thoughts on possible points of collusion in the ABC (artificial birth control) and NFP (natural family planning) debate. (See the first post if you haven’t already.)
Real Lives – Unrealistic Sex
One of the points Bethany Patchin and others who jumped into this discussion is that NFP doesn’t seem very realistic. For example, Patchin says in the New York Times column:
Wanting to make love to your spouse often is a good thing, but NFP often lays an unfair burden of guilt on men for feeling this,” the Torodes wrote. And it is “a theological attack on women to always require that abstinence during the time of the wife’s peak sexual desire (ovulation) for the entire duration of her fertile life, except for the handful of times when she conceives.
This is one of the often-made arguments against the idea of contraception, which is that it just isn’t realistic because it just isn’t where real peoples’ lives are. This argument is made in a number of ways:
1. NFP isn’t “realistic” for peoples’ sex lives especially because couples have to avoid each other at precisely those times of the month they often most want to have sex
2. NFP is irresponsible because it leads to high numbers of children
3. NFP isn’t scientifically based
Of these statements, the first is often true (though dependent on the couple), the third assumption is largely false (though dependent on the method of NFP in use and by what a couple means when they say they use NFP – the withdrawal method, for example, is NOT a method of NFP but surprisingly, sometimes people see it as a natural family planning method… see the above link for more on the various efficacy rates), and the middle assumption is so dependent on cultural ideals about what constitutes a “high number of children” and what it means to be “irresponsible” that it just doesn’t carry much meaning at all.
But, there have been many other people who have dealt with all these questions in the past. What I want to say that may be distinctive is: I don’t think most of people – no matter how they’re understanding contraception – are all that “real” about sex.
There’s a common (and really, really old) joke about NFP: that it makes parents. The flip side of that is the presumption that using contraception is responsible and pretty much never leads to pregnancy. That’s just an unreal statement – sex makes parents. Not all the time, of course – and maddeningly, never at the “perfect” time. I always seem to be in those conversations where women discuss surprise pregnancies – it’s always a pill baby or a Depo Provera baby – or just last week, I met two someones, one whose husband had had a vasectomy several years ago, and another who had had a tubal ligation following her third pregnancy a few years ago. But – “Oh, my word – we’re pregnant!”
So the joke should really be that sex makes parents. But that statement comes with a lot of caveats: sex makes parents sometimes. You don’t always get pregnant when not using contraception; you often don’t get pregnant when you want to; and the most apparently fail-safe artificial contraceptive technique will, in fact, fail sometimes and in unpredictable ways. Infertile couples try really hard to time sex just right to get pregnant, while others struggle because they seem to get pregnant just by looking at their spouses the wrong way.
Sex is not entirely predictable – and that’s the reality. But moreover, this is exactly why sex is not just a “private” thing that affects only me (or only the couple).
Our efficient and technologically driven society isn’t prepared to deal with the mystery that still remains about sex and pregnancy. If someone gets pregnant, she is more often than not labeled as irresponsible (because of using the “wrong” thing or because of using the “right thing” the wrong way). Workplaces that employ women aren’t prepared to think about the fact that the women who work there aren’t, in fact, machines whose bodies can be efficiently regulated; government policies are similarly situated.
We, as a whole society, need to be more honest about the ways in which our view of sex and the contraceptive technology that links to it and makes us think that pregnancy and babies happen (or not) at will, affects in a false way our ability to be understanding, responsive and compassionate toward women and children.
We are uncompassionate toward women with infertility (“just relax”), women who get pregnant while on the job (“did you mean to do that?”), women have have a lot of children (“don’t you know there’s something to fix that? It’s called contraception”), women who are poor, women who are on the so-called career track, and so on.
So what do you all think? Point of collusion, or not?