Recently, I gave up diet cola.
I began to see that my attitude about diet drinks had become dangerously close to a contraceptive mentality. What do soft drinks and sex have to do with one another? Well, you see, I was "contracepting" nutrition with the diet drinks, and I decided that (at least for me) my attitude was a near occasion of sin. I was drinking diet cola instead of water, substituting something good and healthy (water) with something that was in its essence an empty simulation of something else.
Now, all you diet soda drinkers out there, please don't send me hate mail. I'm not condemning diet soda, but my own experience offers a good jumping off point to discuss why contraception is wrong. It's an instructive example because you don't need complex theology to explain it.
When I grew up, "cokes" were a treat (all soda is called "coke" in Texas regardless of brand); most of the time we didn't even have cokes in the house. Then came high school — there was a coke machine in the lunch room, and I was in situations where I made my own choices more often. Lunch cokes led to dinner cokes — then I got cokes whenever I had the choice. As I got older, I learned that there were lots of calories in those cokes, so I switched to diet cola. Despite the fact that I really didn't like the after-taste, I acquired a taste for them. I enjoyed the taste and the fizz — much more tasty than water, juice, or tea — so I began to buy cases of the stuff. Thirsty? Grab a diet cola. Soon I was consuming three or four diet colas ever day. Water? Juice? Fugetaboutit. I could drink as many cokes as I wanted with no caloric consequences. Caffeine buzz and fizzy water — what a combo!
The problem I have with diet drinks is that they're an empty copy of the real thing. If you look at the ingredients of your average diet cola, it's carbonated water, artificial color, artificial flavor, and artificial sweetener. About the only thing that's "real" in the whole can is the water. Land sakes — if you want a coke, have a coke!
Sexual relations using artificial contraception, no matter whether one selects pills or "barriers" are a lot like that diet cola: a poor imitation of the real thing, empty of all "nutrition". The various methods popular in our society separate the two functions of human sexuality — the procreative and the unitive — turning the man and woman inward and away from each other. Contracepting couples are more likely to experience infidelity, infertility, and divorce. The widespread use of contraceptives has opened Pandora's Box and we have been visited by a host of demons who sell their version of self-centered pleasure seeking at the expense of love, life and for-life bonding.
Despite the obvious contradiction that is created in the act by the use of contraceptives, some people develop a "taste" for that sterile imitation of life-giving love. Deprived of the "emotional nutrition" that a healthy male-female relationship is ordered to have, the relationship becomes disordered. It should surprise no one that society at large values women much less since contraceptives have become widely available.
Sexual relations as God created them are a deeply meaningful experience between husband and wife. It is a beautiful gift from our Creator that bonds man and wife and allows them to participate in God's creative power. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes Pope John Paul the Great's Familiaris Consortio when it succinctly defines the authentic husband-wife relationship:
Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death (#2631).
Just like the diet cola, contracepted relations simulate the real thing without any of the spiritual or emotional substance that is ordered to be there. What's worse, contracepted sex is more than merely empty of nutrition; it's actually an open door for worse problems. Pope Paul VI wrote prophetically in 1968 of the consequences for the society that embraces artificial contraception:
Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings-and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation-need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that 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 (Humanae Vitae, 17).
Can there be any more damning indictment to the contraceptive culture than predicting the consequences of inserting contraceptives into the male-female relationship? The explosion in divorce, abuse of women, pornography, and abuse of children since 1968 is a direct result of the "diet" our society has undertaken in male-female relations.
Personally, I prefer the Real Thing.