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?