In his 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI warned that the widespread use and acceptance of contraceptives would lead to:
- General lowering of moral standards
- A rise in infidelity and illegitimacy
- The reduction of women to objects used to satisfy men
- Government coercion in reproductive matters
That was 44 years ago, let’s see how the world measures up.
Decline in moral standards: It’s hard to judge how far societal morals have dropped when there isn’t really a common standard to measure it by. With the general acceptance of subjective truth (if it’s right for me, what right have you to say otherwise?) a common standard of morality is no longer possible. Logically speaking (which I’ve discovered is a huge no-no in good society), living according to subjective truth and morality alone means that anything is permissible. Seriously, ANYthing. Think about the repercussions for a minute, shudder, then move on.
My “favorite” example of the extreme consequences of subjective morality comes from a conversation I had with a couple I met about six years ago in a hostel in Florence. They had met on the plane to Europe and after a couple passionate nights together decided to tour the continent together, eventually settling in Madrid where they would learn Spanish, find jobs and live a simple, Bohemian life. They were not shy about their relationship, nor were they afraid to state some fairly radical ideas about life and love. We were discussing truth, absolute vs. subjective, and the example of the World Trade Centers came up. The couple stated, with absolute certainty, that the hijackers had not committed any wrong because they had acted on their personal convictions. Because they believed they were doing good they were not morally responsible for the deaths of 3,000 people that day.
Now, this particular example isn’t necessarily a direct result of the sexual revolution, but I bring it up because this is the same radical logic necessary to keep the sexual revolution going strong. In order to ensure that women are allowed absolute freedom over their bodies, their “rights” must be upheld regardless of the consequences. So what if many oral contraceptives are abortifacient? Who cares if they are linked a higher risk of breast cancer? Are increases in promiscuity, infidelity, illegitimacy, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, objectification and the general dissolution of family life worth it? Apparently so. As for abortion, how many times have you heard someone say, “I don’t agree with it personally, but I’m not going to stop someone else from having one, that’s their choice.” In other words, “yeah, I think it’s the murder of an innocent child, but who am I to get in the way of their personal (and legal) right?”
Rise in infidelity and illegitimacy: “By making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, the sexual revolution has made marriage and child support a social choice of the father.” –George Akerloff
In the preview for the movie How Do You Know (2010) Owen Wilson asks his fellow baseballers, how do you know when you’re in love? The answer, when you wear a condom with the rest of the girls. An easy laugh, until you think about how that statement actually plays out in real life. Sex is now seen as a major component, if not the foundation, of most relationships, marriage optional. When sex no longer demands love, respect or commitment (see below) fidelity becomes optional as well. An all too common attitude, which is even heard written into wedding vows, is “I will love you and be true to you until it gets rough and I find something better.” Love is understood as a positive emotion, no action required. When the emotion fades, the assumption is that love has faded as well and must either be rekindled (which takes effort) or abandoned in search of something that feels better. Sex is key in keeping that glow alive and burning so if someone other than your partner is offering better sex (and thus a brighter glow), isn’t it natural to make a switch? How often in the movies does the significant other say, “I slept with someone else but our relationship was on the rocks anyway so I had a good excuse.” This attitude extends far beyond Hollywood.
On to illegitimacy. As one of my favorite posters declares, “sex doesn’t make you an adult, but it might make you a baby.” There is not a single artificial contraceptive that is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy. The simple fact is, if you have sex you risk getting pregnant, even when it’s really inconvenient.
If a woman is not in a committed, loving relationship (aka marriage), the idea of getting pregnant is really scary. Very few women start out with single motherhood as the ultimate goal. Talk about consequences and responsibility! For a man who is not looking for an immediate, life-long commitment (aka fatherhood), the risk of knocking up his girlfriend is a bit intimidating. But, with contraceptives and abortion so readily available, couples begin to think that sex no longer has consequences. Women aren’t afraid of pregnancy and men don’t have to worry about the responsibility that comes with having children. If pregnancy was really no longer a factor, the record numbers of single moms and children born out of wedlock need some serious explanation. Contraception fails, way more often than society likes to admit. Pregnancy is the result, and lots of little babies show up nine months later. Suddenly, responsibility rushes back into the picture and widespread consternation ensues.
*side note: it is a huge pet peeve of mine that most women are completely clueless as to how their bodies naturally function. A woman’s hormonal cycle is built around her fertility and the ebb and flow of hormones is a huge part of what makes us who we are. Understanding this cycle means understanding, not just our moods and physical state, but also how we relate to other people. As our hormones fluctuate, so does our perception of the world around us. A little bit of research will show you that hormones play huge roles in the formation and development of relationships and hormonal contraceptives mess with the natural state of things.
Where a man’s hormones flow like cross-country skiing, a woman’s can be anywhere from a black diamond to a bunny hill. Directly related to this, while a man is always fertile, a woman is not. Super simplified, the average woman’s cycle is about four weeks and she can only get pregnant during one of those weeks. If women took a little time to learn the slopes they wouldn’t risk wiping out quite so often.*
Where sex used to mean love, commitment, intimacy and children, it is now primarily equated with pleasure. Sex is intimate by nature and children happen despite our best efforts, but love and commitment are now optional, and so is responsibility. Just as tragically, respect often flies out the window as well. Which leads us to #3:
Objectification of women for pleasure: The most common example of objectification is pornography. Articles and studies on porn and its effects on individuals, couples, and society are published regularly and resources for addiction are readily available. The statistics for pornography use show that it spans all ages and both genders, with the percent of female viewers rising steadily. I have to wonder if rise in female viewership has to do with the increasing demand for real-life porn. A common answer to women who don’t know what to do with their porn-addicted husbands/boyfriends is now, watch it with him, take notes on what really gets him going, and then take time to experiment together. Get comfortable with the fact that he’s going to want in the bedroom what he sees on the screen. If that doesn’t solve your relationship problems, try a subscription to Cosmo.
It doesn’t take a late-night Google search to find clear examples of objectification. Just watch a little MTV, read a couple tabloid headlines in the checkout lane, turn on the radio and actually listen to the words. “101 sex tricks to keep your guy hooked.” “Just say yes, ‘cause I’m weak and I know you are too.” “C’mon baby, you know you want it!”
Relationships take effort. They require trust, vulnerability, honesty, communication, affection, and a whole lot more. Thanks to the sexual revolution, however, commitment and responsibility are optional and effort is over-rated.
I am going to leave it at 3. There is plenty going on in America to prove #4, just Google Catholic civil disobedience and you’ll see what I’m talking about.