Make it Real

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.

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  • Guest

    I also prefer the real thing when it comes to marital relations, but as far as soda…it's not like "real" soda is such a great quality drink!  I love diet soda and detest the taste of regular cola.  However, I do realize that it is a poor substitute for water and healthy drinks, so I only indulge on weekends.

  • Guest

    Very thought-provoking article; thank you for juxtaposing two widely different ideas such as these to make a powerful case for Keeping It Real, both in married love and enjoying a refreshing drink.  Perhaps next time, I'll take a glass of water instead of a diet coke!  Smile

  • Guest

    I have been thinking about how the 'contraceptive' mentality can apply to many other things too, lately:  That extra dessert that you don't need after dinner (you are already full and the food has satisfied your nutritional needs and you enjoyed it.. another one would only be satisfying your want for pleasure). 

    More recently I have been thinking about Martha Stewart and the whole house decorating movement that has become wildly popular through magazines and reality tv shows and decorating channels.  The whole idea of housekeeping and beautifying your home is to serve those in your family, and your guests, by creating a warm safe haven from the world.  The latest tv shows, magazines, etc…seem to make it more about ME and how I can one-up the neighbors etc..  I"m not sure if that makes sense or not.. but to me all of these things should be centred around serving others, or the keeping the natural order of things, and we go wrong when we use them for our own pleasure or pride.

  • Guest

    Catholicmommy,

        I think you're right, that the whole home improvement/decorating movement is often about "keeping up with the Joneses".  Some of those gourmet cooking groups turn into that, too;  each couple tries to prepare a more impressive meal than the last couple who hosted.  It doesn't have to be that way, but it often is.   

  • Guest

    The contraceptive mentality spills over into other aspects of life, just as living in true sacrificial love does.  So a couple who has no children might pursue having an Architectural Digest home to give them satisfaction. It will be beautiful — even impressive — but it will not know the sound of children's feet running through it and young voices laughing and crying through the days and nights of life. Whereas families that are truly open to life are going to be too busy to try to keep every thing so perfect.

  • Guest

    While I agree to the importance of being open to life, there are two oft repeated assertions in this article that always get my hackles up.  I feel like often when these issues are discussed, openess to life is emphasized for the unitive sake of sexuality in marriage.  In reality, I think the struggle for holy, unitive sexual expression in marriage is extraordinarily more complicated than this, and that while the contraceptive aspect is perhaps is most obvious and easiest to fix, still hardly scratches the surface of the matter. 

    Second "contracepting couples are more likely to experience infidelity, infertility, and divorce".  Contracepting couples are more likely to be secular people with no faith foundation to defend against these moral and social ills.  Noncontracepting couples are more likely to be practicing, if not devout, Catholics who actively defend their marriages against divissive influence.  Convincing more people to be open to life will not automatically fix any of these other issues, which are wider than the scope of fertility.  If all methods of contraception disappeared, I don't know that people would get more holy.  But if people got more holy, contraception would decrease, and respect for life would flourish.

  • Guest

    My husband and I are open to life, but we don't have any children running through our home.  My home is modest but beautiful, and I do love it.  I would love it more if there were children here, but nonetheless my husband and I are a family unit even if we are never blessed with children.

  • Guest

    A lttle bit of dieting from sex is not such a bad idea either.

  • Guest

    Claire, I did not mean to imply that everyone whose home does not contain children is not open to life.

    Stirling, I wish that contracepting couples were more likely to be secular.  Certainly the one corrallary you note is correct — that couples open to life tend to be practicing Catholics bringing many other strengths and graces into marriage. But survey after survey shows that practicing Catholics tend to contracept at nearly the rate of the world around them.

  • Guest

    Do you think it possible for graces to flow into a union if a couple may not be as holy as one may wish but are still open to life through strict obedience and not love?

    Is a Catholic truly practicing if they contracept at the same rate, or any rate for that matter, as the world around them?

    Hillbilly 

  • Guest

    "In reality, I think the struggle for holy, unitive sexual expression in marriage is extraordinarily more complicated than this"

     

    Stirling, this is a very good point.  My husband and I don't contracept  (not just because we're faithful Catholics, but also because we have been trying to get pregnant), but yet we still struggle to realize the unitive aspect of our martial act.  While contraception is a huge issue, it's not the only impediment to this.  In our case, we've been trying to conceive since the moment we got married 3.5 years ago, and therefore we really have to guard against the stress that this puts on our martial act;  it has the potential to really minimize the unitive aspect of it.  Since my last miscarriage, we have decided that we're not going to pay attention to the calendar and we're not going to consciously try to conceive anymore.  We're just going to remain open to life and focus on adoption.  We're hoping that letting go of our attempt to control the situation will restore more unity to our martial act. 

  • Guest

    "In reality, I think the struggle for holy, unitive sexual expression in marriage is extraordinarily more complicated than this"

    Yes, but the point being made (I think) is that contraception instills fakery and disordered expectations into all sexual relationships, even marriage. And I think that as for the second assertion that annoys you, Mr. Addison is noting correlation, not causality.

    (edit) While it would be nice to address all the things that cause problems in marriage, I expect that it is in the interest of both saving space and taking on a societal blind spot (society IS blind to the harm of contraception) that the writer sticks to that. (end edit)

  • Guest

    That's true, Arkanabar.  I agree that it was appropriate for this article to focus on contraception.  But I think the point Stirling brought up is valuable:  that we need to be mindful of other factors that can diminish the unitive aspect of the marital act.  The example I gave from my own marriage is only one;  I'm sure there are many other factors.  However, I certainly think contraception is the most widespread factor, one that is rightly addressed frequently on this site, and should be addressed from the pulpit much more than it is (at least in my liberal diocese).

  • Guest

    Hillbilly, I'm not quite sue what you mean by your statement,

    Do you think it possible for graces to flow into a union if a couple may not be as holy as one may wish but are still open to life through strict obedience and not love?

    Yes, I think graces can still flow into a union.  None of us is  as holy as we'd like to be.  Obedience is Love.  Jesus even says he wants our obedience and not our (pharasaical) sacrifices.

    Even a spouse who cooperates with an NFP method despite not believing the Church's teaching, but is willing to go along with it for the sake of the other is showing love.

    Jesus was obedient unto death on a cross.  He didn't wake up and say, "Gee!  I'd like to suffocate to death on a cross!"  He did say, "Thy will be done."

    We are being sanctified. ie continually growing in holiness. (St Paul tells us this…) The spiritual journey is a process that lasts a lifetime.  Few achieve the Beatific Vision in this life.  Even St Paul seems to have grown in holiness, too, based on evaluating his story.  St Peter certainly became holier too….he's a changed man from the Gospels to Acts.

    I think you will find you are already a lover of God's Will as expressed through the magisterium of His church since you practice NFP.

     May you continue to grow in wisdom and in grace.  Even contemplating these issues shows you're well on your way.

     

  • Guest

    "Do you think it possible for graces to flow into a union if a couple may not be as holy as one may wish but are still open to life through strict obedience and not love?"

    I agree with Elkabrikir, unequivocally, yes, obedience is perhaps even more grace-filled since we are serving His will and not our own.

    Some time ago I was on a mission to find the Church's teaching on what precisely defines the minimum requirements for unitive marital intimacy.  The best I could find was Christopher West's book, "The Good News About Sex And Marriage".  This is an excellent book which I recommend.  He defines the underpinnings of sexuality in marriage as the renewal of wedding vows in its totality of self giving and mutual love.  Anything less is a misuse of the gift of sexuality.  But this is no small task, especially when Retrouvaille defines the third stage of marriage as "misery".  This is where things get complicated.

  • Guest

    Stirling and Elkabrikir, I agree with you both for the most part.  Love is not a feeling, it's a decision, so deciding to obey the teachings of Christ's Church is an act of love.  I also see Hillbilly's point that this obedience can reflect different degrees of holiness.  To use myself as an example:  I obey (and agree with) the Church's limits on infertility treatments.  This is an act of love.  However, this act of love would be holier if I did it with a spirit of embracing my cross rather than resenting it.  Some days I do better with this than others.

  • Guest

    Claire,

    I think the very fact that you are "sweating blood" during your "agony in the garden" of infertlity clearly illustrates the wrenching nature of agape love.  It is about the other.  In your case the other, principly, is God and his law.

    "Resenting your cross" shows you are human and struggling with the outpouring of supernatural grace to overcome your natural feelings, along with putting behind you the serious temptations to ART.  You are echoing Christ's words, "Get behind me you Satan!" even in your  weakest moments of not feeling like it.

    If you did not recognize your weakness and feel remorse for it, you wouldn't need a savior, Jesus Christ.  Truly you are an example of St Paul's words, "It is not I who live but Christ within me." and "I am strong when I am weak."

    Continue persevering in His Grace.  Your humility will win you the Crown of Glory!

  • Guest

    Thank you, Elkabrikir.

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