All told, while attending different schools, I have lived in a dormitory for a total of ten years. Dorm life breeds a certain familiarity with people far beyond one’s friend group. Little discretion is often used when sharing the facts of one’s life. One year, a girl that I lived near involved herself in a relationship with a certain young man. He had been an acquaintance and I did not know him well, but nonetheless I had the unfortunate privilege of coming to know some very intimate personal details about him via a former roommate of mine and girlfriend of his. This was on the heels of yet another previous friend of mine and another former girlfriend of his. (The dating game can be a very messy business indeed). I’ll never forget the day when Jill came to me and said, “Jack* says we’re going to get married, so why does it matter if we wait?”
She was a budding, not-so-logical-at-times feminist as was Jack. But on this particular point, strange as it may seem, I found it difficult to argue with her reasoning. After all, if the two of them were truly on the fast track to marriage, who was I to disagree? Though I couldn’t adopt her stance for myself, her desire for marriage was infectious and I found it difficult at times to question her reasoning. Except for the fact that scripture teaches abstinence before marriage (Gen. 34; Deu. 22:13-28; 1 Cor. 6:9; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19-21; Heb. 13:4), she actually made some sense. Or at least, I tried to convince myself that she made sense and genuinely hoped the best for them both.
As their relationship “progressed” and had continued for some time, I would occasionally be on the unfortunate end of her tales of escapade while bumping into her on my way to the library or before a class began. The issue of contraception inevitably came up. One evening sitting in her dorm-room, I noticed that the look in her eyes was similar to the look I imagine Eve casting at Adam as she held up the forbidden fruit. Jill rummaged through her bag and triumphantly held up a cunning little white box, announcing, “I am now in FULL control of my body!” (emphasis hers.) “No more condoms!”
And, according to the newspaper I found in my mailbox just yesterday and the recent political skirmish, “most” of American Catholics might have joined her in cheers and slogan shouting in support of contraception: an irritating little secret celibate priests would rather no one know--including God. She, too, could have the joy of special knowledge and experience without consequence. Or so it seemed.
Somehow, Jill was not in “full” control because the issue of baby-prevention resurfaced later that year when she and Jack were careless and he forced her into frantically obtaining a “morning after” pill. After this traumatic experience which she relayed with some guilt and emotional turmoil, Jill explained that she wasn’t sure if Jack was right in his conclusion that abortion was just as viable a contraception option as all of the other choices. I was stunned that she would even be considering that he might be correct. She reasoned, or at least tried to, that barrier methods, the morning after pill and abortion, were all somehow on a level playing field. There was certainly some very creative, but not unheard of, rationalizing to escape responsibility.
“He said that it’s the same thing, if you really think about it.” Now this was something that I couldn’t wrap my mind around. Where was I to turn? When Jill and I were trudging through the college years, we had no church dogma by which to guide our sexual interest. This was unlike the archaic stereotyped chaste “Catholic girls.” There was no black and white theology for sexuality on the campus we lived on!
What made the difference between, say, my mom’s 1950s era framing of sexuality and sex and what Jill and I encountered? After all, if my mom encountered things like pre-marital sex, extramarital sex or homosexuality (as she certainly did since it has existed since shortly after the fall), then at the very least, her familiarity with it was probably orders of magnitude different. But what factors led to such a radical difference? If I had to implicate one major factor it would assuredly be the ‘C’ word: contraception.
If the Adventist church sometime around its origins had issued a statement of belief that contraception was the sin of Onan (Gen. 38:9,10; Deu. 25:7-10) and that anyone who used a contraceptive agent would have a similar fate, perhaps Jill would not have fallen prey to Jack's rationale, and Jack would have come to different conclusions while interpreting the word fornication when he read his Bible. But because Jill and Jack could participate in the gifts intended for marriage without the “dreaded and unfortunate side effects” of such intimacy, the line as to when and where their intimate act could or should be done was blurred and then finally obliterated.
Arguably, contraception allows more stewardship for the Christian in terms of planning for the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of the children brought into this world. In addition to considering the quality of parenting, the mother and father are able to give and understanding the significance of the social and political circumstances they find themselves in. However, it is often used more for convenience and ease of sexual pleasure.
Some would argue that sexual activity is for one purpose only: procreation.***** This stance is frighteningly utilitarian and can take some, if not all of the joy out of the gift. It also ignores the many times that sex does not in fact lead to a child. While contraception may allow couples to exert more control over the number of children they have, there are also several natural methods of fertility awareness which also allow for the best of both worlds: sexual pleasure and procreation.
However, arguably the most alarming downstream consequence for a culture with the free use of contraception is that it ultimately provides the option of bypassing the context where sex should take place: marriage. And this has the potential to radically alter a person’s worldview. It allows for sex with a perception of minimal risk or commitment. This is clearly a misuse of contraception from a biblical perspective. It engenders an atmosphere of arrogance and a potential demeaning of something that God intended to be holy.
Years later, Jill and Jack are still not married despite their verbal and physical vows made to one another. Though the “safe-sex” they enjoyed courtesy of contraception in its multiple varieties did not produce children, neither did it produce devotion or the planned matrimony. It did, however, produce something else, something completely un-safe, and fraught with consequences. The once gentle, happy manner of Jill changed into the hardened attitude and practice of an addict: user and used. And Jack added another -ism to his academic list, that of Atheism, an arguably very natural end result to a created being yearning for moral autonomy while trampling on God’s laws. Of course there was more on the road to his becoming an atheist and her becoming an addict, but it would be grossly naive to assume that their ungrounded intimacy did not play a significant, if not the significant role. There are certainly more unintended consequences to “safe sex” than our society would have us believe. The potential wreckage of a body that is objectified, a mind that is perverted and a soul that is destroyed is absolutely horrific.
So then, is the use of contraception a potentially salvational issue? Definitely. Both Jill and Jack were active and thriving in the Christian faith prior to their involvement with each other. I believe that if they had not considered contraception an option for the Christian, they may have waited to unite themselves sexually until marriage, thereby leading healthy lives devoted to God and each other; a light in this dark world.
The use of contraception outside of the context of marriage is clearly a trap. But what about its use in the context of marriage? In my opinion, the question of whether or not contraception should be used outside or inside of marriage must be asked separately. In my mind, it would be similar to asking if, in considering the enjoyment of alcoholic beverages, one could justify driving while under the influence. One may argue wholesale against the use of contraception despite the context, but the reasons are vastly different and therefore must be addressed in its own right.
*Not their real names.