Contraception & Compromised Intimacy
September 1998By Donald DeMarco
Donald DeMarco is Professor of Philosophy at the University of St. Jeromes College in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
What is contraception? Is it the exercise of freedom and the acceptance of responsibility, as some claim? Or is contraception the illusion of freedom and avoidance of responsibility, as we are warned by the Catholic Church? What about contraception in marriage, specifically? Is it an aid to the controlled development of a free and loving relationship between two adult equals? Or is it a barrier to the intimacy that a man and woman called to the vocation of married love are meant to build? No answer can be attempted until we first grasp the relation between freedom and love.
If freedom simply means separation from others, or pure individuality, then love would actually hinder freedom. But without love, man is in a state of misery. Therefore, the freedom man seeks cannot exist without love. Love guides and directs freedom to what is good. To love another person means to use ones freedom in the interest of securing the other persons good. In this sense, freedom is not a terminal value but something that allows a good to be realized.
Contraception compromises the intimacy between husband and wife because it negates part of their being; in particular, that which is ordered to procreation. Another way of expressing this compromise is to say that the unselfishness of their spousal love is diluted by the presence of self-interest. Some secular philosophers argue that such self-interest is not subversive of love. Elizabeth Badinter, in The Unopposite Sex: The End of the Gender Battle, states that the categorical imperative no longer sets out the conditions of the relationship between Ego and Other People, but those of my relationship with myself. It orders me to love myself, to develop myself, to enjoy myself. Contraception is consistent with this withdrawal into the self. Pope Paul VI fully recognized this shift toward the Ego and wrote sadly of the radical under-appreciation of love it presupposes:
In love there is infinitely more than love. We would say that in human love there is divine love. And that is why the link between love and fecundity is deep, hidden, and substantial! All authentic love between a man and a woman, when it is not egoistic love, tends toward creation of another being issuing from that love. To love can mean to love oneself, and often love is no more than a juxtaposition of two solitudes. But when one has passed beyond that stage of egoism, when one has truly understood that love is shared joy, a mutual gift, then one comes to what is truly love.
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