The Church’s teachings on sexuality and family planning continues to be both poorly understood and poorly regarded. Almost 50 years after Humanae Vitae reasserted the Church’s advocacy for healthy and moral means of family planning over artificial contraception, a Pew Research Poll found that 76 percent of Catholics still believe the Church should permit the use of artificial birth control.
The UK-based Wijngaards Institute recently leapt upon this ongoing confusion to issue an appeal, sponsored by three prominent U.N. organizations, for the Vatican to accept popular attitudes on birth control.
Although dissident organizations like the Wijngaards Institute assert that the Church’s position on sexuality is the result of antiquated, patriarchal, theological navel-gazing, there is a growing body of medical, social and environmental science — all but completely ignored by the Church’s critics — that strongly supports the Church’s thinking on these matters. In a recent issue of the journal “Evolutionary Psychology,” Lisa Welling, Ph.D., of Oakland University surveyed almost 180 studies pointing to the negative physical, emotional and relational consequences of hormonal contraceptives. Her comprehensive review reveals many surprising facts.
Physical health deficits
Welling reports that hormonal contraception users demonstrate an increased risk of life-threatening blood clots, myocardial infarction, ischemic stroke and weight gain. Users also experience more sleep disruption than non-users and are at a higher risk of gallstones. There is also evidence that women on the pill may experience an increased risk of migraines, high blood pressure, cervical cancer, breast cancer and fetal abnormalities. To be fair, Welling notes that while individual women may experience slightly greater risk of these disorders, the increased risk for all women is very small, leading most experts to consider hormonal contraception to be medically safe. Even so, these risks are unnecessary, considering advances in fertility awareness methods that make Natural Family Planning as effective as hormonal contraceptives, but without the side effects.
Less known are the psychological problems that have been found to be associated with hormonal contraceptive use. According to Welling, women on the pill experience higher rates of depression and, because hormonal contraceptives impact the body’s stress-managing system, women on the pill can experience both greater emotional instability and a worsening of the symptoms associated with many types of psychiatric illness. Ironically, though hormonal contraceptives are popularly thought to enhance sexual freedom, they have been consistently shown to decrease both a woman’s libido and her ability to have healthy and fulfilling sexual relations.
Building on these findings, recent studies have revealed that because the pill affects the body’s ability to identify and process unconscious, biological sex-indicators (e.g. pheromones, ovulation signs), women on the pill are less attractive to men than naturally cycling women. Likewise, women using hormonal contraceptives are more likely to choose men who are genetically incompatible and, in general, tend to be attracted to different types of men than they are when they are cycling naturally. In fact, a separate study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that contraception can even cause marital instability when a woman who began her marriage on hormonal contraceptives subsequently discontinues their use.
Here’s another inconvenient truth. Hormonal contraceptives are wreaking havoc on the environment. The chemicals used in hormonal contraceptives are transferred directly to the water supply through urination. Currently, there is no practical or economic way water treatment plants can remove these toxins. Because of this, artificial reproductive hormones are accumulating in both the natural and drinking water supplies. Articles published in “Scientific Reports” found that male fish, frogs, rats and other vertebrates living near water treatment plants are developing female characteristics, often leading to population collapse.
Even more worrisome, according to studies published in the medical journal “PLOS Genetics” are the growing concerns that hormonal contraception pollution may be a significant factor in the decades-long global increase in the rates of poor reproductive health of human men, including increases in the rates of testicular cancer and low sperm counts.
Social justice issue
Because of this evidence, more than 500 theologians, physicians, social scientists and other scholars joined moral theologian Janet Smith, Ph.D., in publishing a rejoinder to the Wijngaards report, asserting the Church’s teaching.
To say that something is “immoral” means more than saying it’s wrong. It means that a particular thing stands as an obstacle to God’s plan for our physical, emotional, relational and spiritual well-being. The evidence is clear. Artificial contraception is immoral, not because a bunch of grumpy old men in pointy hats say so, but because it is bad for women’s physical and mental health. It is bad for their relationships. It is bad for the environment. The truth is out there for anyone open-hearted enough to look.
Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books, including “Holy Sex!” Learn more about his work at www.CatholicCounselors.com.