Abstinence for Married Couples?

The birth control battle rages on. Rick Santorum’s campaign has been energized by the birth control debate. Obama made a decision about birth control that was objected to by the Catholic church, and Santorum used the opportunity to emphasize his socially conservative belief system. This in turn has rallied the social conservatives around the topic of birth control. Birth control is a problem for some folks.

So much of a problem that one State Representative makes the argument that abstinence works 100% of the time. She is basically saying that if you can’t afford birth control, you can always stop having sex.

From a socially conservative’s perspective, birth control is a personal responsibility and possibly faith issue.  A Puritanical leftover is partly to blame – sex is not to be discussed in the open or admitted to – a directive from a church’s hierarchy – like the pope – might also be a motivator. From a progressive’s perspective, it is a personal responsibility issue and a social responsibility issue. Progressive’s know that people are more likely to use birth control when access to it is easier and cheaper, so they want to make it available as widely as possible. The general reasoning behind this progressive viewpoint is based on the fact that the world has too many people already, they don’t want to pay for or deal with the problems added to society due to a child that is the result of an unwanted pregnancy, and women should have control over their own bodies and what’s happening inside of them.

Once again the social conservatives fall back on tradition and authority. Traditionally, women did not have control over their own bodies. Traditionally women have been raped, married against their wishes, sold, traded, beaten, killed – all around dominated.  Even though this is 2012, you do not have to look very hard for evidence of dominated, strictly controlled women. Even in liberal wedding ceremonies, we maintain the tradition of “giving the bride away” from one man to the next. Authority is paired with tradition when you have male authority figures (clergy, lawmakers) telling women how to behave . Otherwise known as a traditional authority informing you of proper tradition due to their authority. The layers are deep but repeat the same things – women cannot deal with cannot be trusted to handle their own sexuality or figure out their place in the community. It has been pointed out many times how congressional hearings on this topic did not include any women and indeed refused to let a woman supporter of mandatory b.c. coverage speak, instead the “expert” panel was filled only with religious men. The Huffingtonpost has the story here.

Progressives believe in being responsible with their fertility – that can be shown by the birthrates attributed to progressive women vs. conservative. In fact, around the world the more educated a woman is, the more likely she is to be progressive, the more likely she is to have less babies. Progressives take into account the incredible amount of time and energy needed to give birth and raise a child, so if a woman knows that she can’t handle the task, they want to give her the option to not take on the responsibility. Progressives believe that women can decide for themselves with or without the approval of a man, God, or other authority.

Now let’s talk abstinence and punishment.

Consenting adults get to have sex. It is one of the free-est funnest entertainment options we have. It can be a really healthy activity for your mind, body, and heart. No paperwork, no permission needed, minimal mess. Progressives celebrate this and appreciate the spreading of good will and empowerment. Social conservatives only celebrate this in the context of a marriage sanctioned by their religion – which often times also instructs them to avoid contraception.

For social conservatives, sexual activity outside of this sanctioned arrangement is sinful which brings us to another favorite tactic of social conservatives – punishment. In their worldview, sexual deeds done outside of a divinely sanctioned marriage call for punishment. Punishment should (and will ) be meted out by the authority – ultimately by God casting one into hell, but it also works if one of “God’s chosen” can get some punishing done right here on earth.  This is why disgust with the woman instead of compassion for her comes from social conservatives dealing with the issue of unplanned pregnancy. This is why social conservatives have such a problem with gay people and gay marriage – it takes their Godly prototype and throws the traditional order out of the window.  Taken to the nth degree, this is why Fred Phelps’ church (the “God Hates Fags” church) feels righteous when they picket with hate filled signs at military funerals- they are delivering a punishment that was brought on by sexual sin.

Social conservatives are trying to legislate their idea of morality and discussing American culture as if it was their own personal religious culture. Progressives might wish for a society that is more sexually and fiscally responsible, but they are want to work with what they’ve got – not what they wish they had.  Progressives recognize that birth control is empowering – not just for women – for all of us. We are sexual animals that have a basic lifelong biological drive to be sexual. In the past, the highest possible birth rate was desirable because it meant the continuation of the species. Today the highest birth rate possible actually threatens the continuation of the species and habitability of the planet.  It is not pragmatic to suggest that we only have sex when we actually want to procreate, most natural sex drives would have us copulating thousands of times for every one time that fertilization is successful. It is against nature to abstain indefinitely.

However, abstinence is a solution offered up even to married couples that struggle to independently afford birth control. This all fits in with the idea that punishment is deserved and appropriate for anyone that cannot live within the strict constructs of social conservatism AND that God (the ultimate authority for Christian conservatives) has already rewarded those he is pleased with, with ample money to provide for themselves.

If you want to shake things up, ask a social conservative about punishment. When they make a statement around some activity they disapprove of in politics or society, ask them if they feel that punishment is in order, why, and what is appropriate. If you are a social conservative, let’s hear from you – do you like seeing people punished for something you see as sinful? How about the progressives? Where does punishment fit in your worldview? It is interesting to hear the answers – probably just as much for them as it is for you.


4 thoughts on “Abstinence for Married Couples?

  1. Holly Sarratt Frye says:

    Not as civil as I had hoped.

  2. Chris says:

    I agree with Holly — I think you’re making several assumptions about abstinence and not realizing that there are many couples that feel caught in the middle on this issue.

    I think there is too much talking about the extremes (i.e. Fred Phelps) and less about those in the middle who struggle with decisions such as these all the time. (to use or not to use birth control).

    Yes, the Catholic Church is a big proponent against the use of birth control. However, throw that out for a moment and think about the following:

    — Birth control is a foreign chemical being ingested in the body.
    — It suppresses several natural functions of the body (thickening cervical mucus, hardening the lining of the uterus, suppressing ovulation.)
    — It has a lot of potential side effects some serious, some not so much (mood swings, heart issues, various forms of cancer, etc.)
    — The hormones are manipulated. The pill only simulates what an actual cycle is. An actual cycle has different hormonal interactions compared to when a women is taking the pill.
    — Certain estrogens get through water treatment plants at a 25 percent rate and are poured into the rives and oceans.
    — oh yeah, it costs a lot — even if you’re on insurance, you’re paying for it one way or the other. Whether through increased premiums, or copays, etc.

    Pros (other than the obvious of unwanted/unplanned pregnancies):
    — you can have sex just about whenever you want.
    — Some studies have indicated a less risk of certain cancers with those who use it a long time.

    So, even if you disagree with the argument from a philosophical standpoint, there are health and environmental effects to consider. (I’m really trying here to not interject moral or religious arguments, so please call me on the carpet if you disagree with the above points.)

    But there are methods that people who are not on either extreme side use. Some use the pill, others use Natural Family Planning. First, the rhythm method is outdated, old and hasn’t been used in years. The rhythm method was based on the “average” women’s cycle. If you’ve got a 28-32 day cycle, great, that old, outdated method might work for you.

    However, there are several methods of natural family planning that have been tested in various studies and have proven to be effective as much or more so than the pill and other BC methods (condoms, diaphrams, etc.) Today’s “NFP” methods are based on the single woman using the method. The methods give couples the ability to observe and interpret fertility signs that women see and experience every cycle.

    I’m not going to go into the effectiveness arguments or the jokes. From my personal experience (and I was a skeptic when we started), it works. Here are the pros and cons from my own experience.

    — Once you are trained how to apply the method, there’s no cost, ever.
    — Environmentally, it’s very green. Most methods require you to purchase a book to be trained and a thermometer. Obviously, there are resources involved to create those materials, but that’s it. (and it most cases, you can recycle the box it comes in)
    — It can help identify issues with the female reproductive system.
    — no “ick” factor involved (such as the use of condoms.)

    — abstinence. (In the typical female cycle, this lasts about 10 days. It can be longer, and in some cases, where the abstinence that is required is extremely long — it could be a sign of larger health issues.)

    Some other things about the method that I have personally experienced — if the partner is involved in helping to chart, it encourages communication between the couple. The abstinence time can encourage couples to do other things that they haven’t done in a while. We’ve been to ballgames, bowling, ballroom dance lessons, chick flick movies, etc.

    This is not addressing rape and other violent crimes. I’m addressing the use of birth control and what the potential consequences of using them. This is also not a philosophical argument — although I could go there as well, but I wanted to address the health, economic and environmental aspects and say that people who use NFP to avoid using the pill have other motivations for doing that instead of, or in addition, to religious and moral arguments.

    So, please don’t try to pin this into two categories of “progressives/liberals” and “conservatives.” This can about (and I believe should be)so much more than that.

    Just my take.

    My first reaction to this post was that you were focusing a lot on what is heard in the media — social conversatives saying abstinence is the only way to go. I don’t think that’s a fair picture of many of us that use “natural” methods of family planning. Are there some extremes — of course, there always will be — on both sides.

    I think this particular post has the perception of being one sided. You use phrases such as “Progressives believe in being responsible with their fertility” and “Progressives recognize that birth control is empowering.” This gives the impression of a “holier than thou” type of argument, especially when you couch conservatives in a negative light using phrases like this: “which brings us to another favorite tactic of social conservatives – punishment.” I would challenge that by asking you to talk to those individuals who are against artificial birth control and abortion but also support centers that are there to support pregnant moms who might be surprised by the pregnancy. (birth centers, teen support centers, etc.) That’s not punishment, that’s supporting those who choose to carry the baby — but that’s another argument for another day.

    These are just some points to think about. I hope not to see an attack (from other commenters) about how NFP doesn’t work and all the silly little jokes that people use. We’ve heard them, it works for us, don’t judge us by our decision to use it. We’re very happy with our decisions. On the other hand, I’m not going to judge you — that’s not my job. I’m just trying to get some information out there that might change people’s perceptions and give others something else to think about with this issue.

    I just think when you pin this argument down to two camps — “progressives and conservatives” — you’re really missing a big audience of those moderates caught in the middle who are looking at different issues — environment, affordability, health, etc. There’s a lot more to this than a couple of extreme camps.

    • Amy Meier says:

      Thanks for your take.

      You raise good points about health and there are indeed lots and lots of tangents the health care debate can inspire. However, right now it is in the news because social conservatives are pushing the agenda. Santorum and Romney are trying to out-conservative each other.
      Thanks for the feedback on the other aspects.

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