How Birth Control Makes You an Object of Sexual Pleasure

A college professor taught me the word “casuistry” when it came up in office hours during a conversation we were having about a presentation I was slated to give on John Donne. It has two definitions: the first more technical definition has something to do with applying abstract rules to concrete instances. The second, in more common usage, is something like “specious, sophistic reasoning.” It’s especially associated with the Jesuits, who (allegedly) used it to rationalize light punishments for aristocratic sinners. It’s a great word. I especially like to use it when I’m losing an argument, because even if, say, my husband is being perfectly logical, nothing undermines a debate by calling him a casuist.

This is all background to how I found myself spewing “Casuistry! Casuistry!” at my computer screen the other night. I, like I’m sure many of you, have been kind of befuddled about this whole birth control thing, and I don’t just mean the obvious point that I cannot for the life of me figure out why people who resolutely oppose abortion would oppose what has to be the easiest way to prevent abortion, nor do I mean the political aspect, which has been thoroughly and thoughtfully covered on this site already. I mean specifically why Natural Family Planning (NFP) is A-OK, but hormonal and barrier birth control isn’t, since NFP lets you have sex without getting pregnant, and, according to some, is actually just as or even more effective. (I know that people really believe in this, because I have some Catholic Facebook friends who proudly post all the time about how their children are planned, thanks to NFP. Anecdata FTW.)

So the other night, my husband and I were watching the Daily Show, which in my case means pacing around behind the couch in agony, since these people make me so crazy that even the gentle cloak of satire and commentary can’t always mitigate the pain, and I looked it up. Priests for Life – kind of ironic for a religion based around death? – lists four ways in which NFP is different from artificial birth control, henceforth known as ABC:

1. NFP sex remains open to the possibility of life. ABC, however, is what slutty sluts use in order to “undo” the act of intercourse, “closing” themselves off from conception. Why is this specious? Artificial birth control fails. It did for me! Everyone who has sex accepts that it might fail – implicitly, explicitly, whatever. The only acts that are really closed to life are ones where semen doesn’t come in contact with the vagina. This website was not clear on whether oral or anal sex is acceptable in marriage. Anyone happen to know? I can’t bring myself to do the research.

2. NFP is based on “virtue,” i.e. self-control – because you have to be self-controlled not to have sex at certain times of the month. Couples who use ABC, however, treat each other “primarily as objects of sexual pleasure.” (OK, to be fair, the article only says that they “risk” treating each other that way.) With NFP, virtue, rather than pleasure, is the dominant element in sex. Why is this specious? Because it’s perfectly possible to treat your partner as an object of sexual pleasure for 21 days out of the month and then to abstain for seven (or however long). Seriously. This one is just dumb.

3. NFP means both partners have to be involved in contraception. This is the only point in the article that I liked. Sure, ideally, both partners in a marriage or relationship should be involved in contraception. I can, however, quite easily think of any number of instances in which might not be possible. Why is this specious? Well, it assumes that everyone is having sex in marriage, which I understand is the Catholic ideal, but doesn’t take the possibility of rape into account, or that a couple might have different ideas about family planning.

4. NFP can also be used to GET pregnant. This is what actually prompted me to yell, “Casuistry!” since that’s basically like saying that ABC can be used to achieve pregnancy, because if you stop taking it, you might get pregnant.

And the kicker? The priest writing this article announces at the end that “there are differences between NFP and artificial birth control.” O RLY? What are they, you ask? But no. That information is not for, you know, people who might actually need it, unlike priests: we’re told to “let these suffice for now.” In case you haven’t met your quota of rage for today, here’s a link.

To be clear, I have no problem with NFP in itself. Hormone- and medical-device-free birth control sounds awesome, and if it works for you, double awesome. It’s the specious reasoning that makes NFP different from artificial birth control that drives me crazy. Does anyone have experience with NFP? Am I missing something? Have you found a good way to respond to people who seriously think birth control is only for sluts?

 

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Firstmute

Firstmute has a seventeen-month old, a nearly finished dissertation, and a pile of unfolded laundry. In between dealing with those three things, she likes to read, craft, watch movies, and get outraged.

32 thoughts on “How Birth Control Makes You an Object of Sexual Pleasure”

  1. I have practised and do practise the Fertility Awareness Method which is not unlike NFP but tends to be less inclined to the creepy religious overtones and more crunchy granola (for example, it promotes knowing when you are fertile as knowing when you ought to be using some kind of birth control like condoms &/or when you should be having a sextravaganza if you *want* to get up the spout). I love it, it’s great, it’s ‘worked for me’, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone else or even for most other people.

    (&, obviously, it’s also only really a viable option if you’re in a committed, monogamous relationship. So for everyone else it’s kind of not useful for birth control purposes. Really interesting from the standpoint of learning more about yourself and your cycle and becoming more in tune with your gyno-health, but not for BC. The book Taking Charge of Your Fertility is the ‘bible’ of this. There’s also a website called MyMonthlyCycles that is a great resource if you’re interested.)

    For one thing, many women are known to experience more sexual desire and pleasure when they’re at their most fertile (if they aren’t controlling their cycle with hormonal birth control). So one of the problematic reasons against promoting NFP is that it’s basically saying that couples shouldn’t have sex at the time when the woman is most likely to experience the most sexual pleasure unless they have the resources to sustain a pregnancy.

     

  2. The way it was explained to me (when my husband and I were forced to go to marriage prep classes so I could give my parents the Catholic wedding for their daughter they always wanted) is that #3 is the main reason why NFP is not the same as birth control.  By involving the man, you are both making a united decision about when and if you will have sex.  You are also minimizing the chance of getting pregnant, while at the same time leaving the door cracked open for the Holy Spirit to come in and bless your marriage, since Catholics believe that babies are the incarnation of their parents’ love.  The whole idea is to treat sex like a holy sacrament each and every time you have it.  The church believes that birth control reduces it to an animal behavior, rather than a spiritual experience.

    I have to say, I am no longer Catholic, but their explanation made me hate the church just a little bit less.  In fact, the reason I left the church is because I realized that I couldn’t just “a la carte” it.  If I was truly going to be a Catholic, then I would have to follow all of the rules, not just the ones I agreed with.

  3. Here’s the thing – the last point is absolutely true.  Natural Family Planning, when done right, is more than just abstaining from sex when you might get pregnant, it’s understanding how the human body works.  And it is fucking amazing.  And if you are charting your temps, you can use it to prevent pregnancy, and the next month, you can use it to help time your sex so that you can get pregnant more easily.

    I think saying NFP is A-Okay and ABC is not is utter bullshit.  But the last point is true.  And also, I loooove NFP.  Love it.  I think it’s amazing.  I think *I’m* amazing, which I didn’t know until I started understanding my cycle better.

  4. So I actually looked up and discussed with my priest once the Catholic church’s stance on oral sex (I hadn’t actually even thought of anal at the time). If used as foreplay, then it is perfectly acceptable. Just so long as the sperm has a chance at that egg ;)

  5. So this is how I see this, from the inside. The Catholic hierachy, when the pill was first a thing did the conservative, anti-woman thing and cryed about how slut pills were the worst ever. No one noticed much at first, because there were all sorts of other people who thought slut pills were the worst ever too.

    Well, now, time marches on and all, and just about all the Catholics start telling their priests that, “Hey, you probably don’t know about this, but it sucks not being able to plan when you have kids. This is why:” and explained. And the hierarchy hemed and hawwed, and was forced to see that kid planning is in fact a good thing. But they had already said no pill! So NFC! We don’t have to admit we were wrong!

    Ok, so now we can try and only have kids on our own terms, why is it a problem to use a pill? It is cause we say so, apparently. And they will persist in this horse shit until someone at the top decides that it is horseshit, or it start to stink so bad the Vatican has to throw it out because no one will touch it with a ten foot pole.

    (And if the spelling on this is aweful, I apologize. This was typed on my phone that has no spell check, and I am woefully reliant on that tool.)

  6. This piss off of course is that even if you confronted people with the de-bullshiterization that is an article like this, the only end result is a fantastical display of the mental acrobatics that is cognitive dissonance, and your points will remain “wrong”.

     

    It’s a stunning thing to see LIVE.

      1. Well, that’s why it has to do with “women can’t take control of their bodies.”

        There’s a number of things going on. 1) Married people should have sex. More significantly, women should be willing to have sex with a man when they’re in a married relationship. 2) Sex for pure recreation is bad. 3) Women who want to have sex for pure recreation are slutty slut sluts, and if they’re always willing to “give it up,” then men will only regard them as sexual creatures.

        So, by putting women in a situation where they’re expected to abstain for a few days, AND by “keeping it more open” for the possibility of conception by not putting artificial things in the way, a couple things are happening.

        First, sex is being constructed as not entirely recreational, because while the intention to get pregnant isn’t necessarily there, the method is closely linked to fertility and pregnancy, whereas ABC is being constructed as purely anti-pregnancy.

        Secondly, by “forcing” their men to abstain with them for a few days, the women aren’t always giving it up and therefore have escaped sluttery. Thus, they aren’t seen as purely sexual beings.

        But it’s all about taking women’s bodily control away from them, because it puts them in the “you can’t always want sex, or you’re a slut” category, and it means that they have to have a man who isn’t just going to rape them. Really, they can’t get raped at all.

        So, really, by making it like that, women are really only allowed to have bodily control “with permission” from their husband. Cause I bet these same folks don’t think marital rape is a thing that can happen.

    1. Not to mention the fact that semen can hang out and remain capable of fertilizing an egg for a couple of weeks!  The window for having sex and having a near 100% possibility of not creating a baby is actually smaller than the window having a near 100% chance of making one…

      NFP is not reality…

                    1. Some studies, I seem to recall, say that douching might actually increase the chances of a woman becoming pregnant because it sort of washes the sperm up and in, you know?

                      Although, it may be that the terrified-of-pregnancy part of my brain made that fact up in some horrific alien-bursting-forth-from-my-vagina dream.

  7. Does not compute. Maybe people using NFP have a possibility-of-conception fetish?

    Ok, that was flippant, and I’d actually love to use fertility awareness one day when an unplanned pregnancy wouldn’t be a disaster, but this… does not compute. For the record, I know a lot of Catholic couples, and not one uses NFP.

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