Monday, November 11, 2013

Ordered Towards Procreation

Last time I said that I was going to talk about the argument that “unnatural” forms of sex prevent the great good of new life from coming into being. Most people, in any moral system, will agree that even if it's okay to pursue pleasure for its own sake it must be pursued proportionately: that is, the pursuit of any good (pleasure included) ceases to be morally acceptable if it gravely violates a greater good. So, for example, even though we acknowledge the pursuit of knowledge to be intrinsical good, we would characterize Mengele's experiments as profoundly evil because they involved pursuing the good of knowledge in a way that violated the basic rights and dignity of other human beings. 

The argument often gets made against homosexuality and contraception on the grounds that they do, in fact, violate this principle of proportionality. Sexual pleasure is conceived of as good, but it is claimed that by pursuing sexual pleasure in a way that prevents or excludes the conception of a child this violates the greater good of bringing new life into existence. This argument is apparently quite strong because it yokes together an acknowledgement of pleasure as good with a concern for the necessity to pursue the greatest good. Yet almost no one is convinced by this argument. So why does it fail?

The simple answer would be to say “because people are irrational,” but the truth is that people are often much more deeply rational than rationalists tend to suppose. Rationalists tend to confuse rationality with logical reasoning, and they're not the same thing. When large numbers of people appear to have adopted an irrational position, it very often means that there are hidden assumptions, false axioms, or other mistakes in the “rational” position which people sense intuitively even if they can't put those flaws into words. I remember, for example, that I used to have philosophical arguments all the time with my little sister and she would always be unable to rationally disprove my argument, and yet would always remain unconvinced. One day she said “I always knew that if I just waited, you'd tell me why your arguments were wrong.” She's absolutely right: sooner or later my reasoning usually leads me to the same place that her intuition leads her to instinctively.

What people are sensing intuitively in this case is a subtle flaw in the argument. The argument depends on a belief that because the conception of a new human life is such a great good that preventing that good is immoral. But that's clearly not what anyone believes: no one is going to suggest that a woman has a moral obligation to try to get pregnant every single time she ovulates. If it were true that conception is such a great good that it is always wrong to try to prevent it, it would be wrong for a teenager to choose not to have sex if her only reason for doing so was that she wanted to prevent herself from getting pregnant.

So the argument has to be refined, and it always is refined. It has to say that all sexual acts are intrinsically ordered towards procreation, and that therefore it is objectively disordered to pursue a sexual act if you are intentionally seeking not to procreate. But where is this claim, that all sexual acts are intrinsically ordered towards procreation, coming from? Even if you accept that there is a creator, or a creative logic, that has made the human body and inscribed purpose into its functions you still can't arrive at the conclusion that orgasm is always ordered towards babies unless you assume the Fall. A mere observation of nature tells us that orgasm is frequently not ordered towards babies: that nature herself gives teenage boys wet-dreams, and that human beings (unlike many other species where sex only happens when the females go into heat) naturally pursue sexual intercourse when women are not fertile. In order to arrive at the conclusion that all sexual acts are intrinsically, by nature, ordered towards procreation we must accept the axiom that nature as we actually find her is in a state of disorder. We have to assume that in order to understand the nature of a thing we must divorce it from its actual instantiation in the world and judge it instead according to an abstract ideal that corresponds to a lost state of perfection.

This latter axiom is deeply problematic if we're trying to port Catholic sexual morality to a secular context. Our experience of sex tells us that it is sometimes ordered towards procreation, and sometimes ordered towards other goods: pleasure, strengthening of relationships, bonding, reconciliation, etc. Our experience also tells us that these other goods are actually good, and that sex actually does have the capacity to produce or at least contribute to producing them. Finally our experience tells us that there are cases in which conception is actually not good (when it is imprudent for reasons of health, sanity or survival) or when conception is impossible – but where we have a legitimate desire to seek the other goods that sex can provide. There is nothing inherently incoherent or irrational in the belief that sex has multiple possible teloi all of which are morally valid provided they are pursued in a way that is commensurable with other goods.
This means that if we are going to produce a coherent argument in favour of Catholic sexual morality it is going to have to show either that sexual pleasure, as such, prevents a greater good in every case and that it can therefore only be justified by the even greater good of conception (this is basically the stance of many thinkers in the early Church); or that the denial of sexual pleasure produces goods which the person might be persuaded to pursue for their own sake. The idea of trying to defend the former claim in the contemporary secular world seems laughable, so next time we'll try to pursue the latter.


  1. As a gay man with a lot of theological education, I have given the issue of Catholic sexual morality a lot of thought. I will honor you with just three of them :)

    First, the entire edifice of the Church's moral teaching on sex is built on the axiom that the only natural and non-sinful use of sexual intercourse is between a husband and wife, with the act open to procreation. Punkt. Anything else falls outside the realm of the permissible. To OK anything at all outside that realm implodes the entire, as the current Pope says, "moral house of cards." I am not saying this to criticize the axiom --it makes huge sense-- but to point out the single thought that drives everything and that makes any exception to it impossible, without having to create a new system from scratch.

    Second, both consciously and unconsciously, the Catholic moral is meant to promote and protect the "matter" of the sacrament of Matrimony: the husband-wife-children unity. What used to be called, without quibble, marriage, and family. Anything that does NOT promote that or that DOES threaten it, even remotely, will be resisted mightily. The RC version of the rabbinic "building a fence around the Torah." And if the Western collapse of marriage, family and male-female relations in the last 50 years is any indication, this concern is quite valid.

    Third, however, for someone like me, a good old Kinsey 6, whose only erotic drive is toward other men, I have rejected the proscription against homosexuality on grounds that its acceptance translated into an intolerable level of shame and self-loathing, a kind of soul-suicide. Why? Because, despite all the personalist window dressing, the Church's sex morality is about acts. And I am someone that its system cannot see, much less approve of because I am not suffering from an extraneous condition called "same sex attraction." Like it or not, my identity as a man and as a human person is inseparable from my erotic drive. I recognize this is a new form of identity. But it is mine and the Church cannot recognize it and therefore does not in fact talk to me.

    That said, the shape that the "LGBT" thing has taken over the last 40+ years --allied to feminism and all things Left-- is very problematic indeed and I stand at a distinct distance from it. But I could never, in good conscience, confess to a priest that I was sorry for making love with another man. That would be a lie.

    To me, it's an insoluble dilemma. I do not feel at all addressed by Catholic morality, since I am someone it does not believe exists. As well, I don't expect that the Church can (or even should) risk its coherence for such a tiny, though extremely loud and powerful, minority. Separation of the ways is the only path for men like me.

    Good luck with your project.

    1. "Like it or not, my identity as a man and as a human person is inseparable from my erotic drive. I recognize this is a new form of identity."

      It's not only new, it is objectively a false form of identity.

  2. Dear DrAndros,
    I too am a gay man with considerable theological education (mostly self-educated, but still,,,), and I too have given a great deal of thought to Catholic sexual morality. My conclusions are rather different from yours.

    Your first two points I would accept with only a little tweaking, but I find your point #3 to rest upon a seriously flawed assumption. The Church indeed does recognize, and has always recognized people like you and me. It is indeed true that it is action and not orientation that carries the whole weight of this teaching. Thus it is that the church is little concerned with the nature of temptation, but rather with how it is that one responds to that temptation, whatever it is. There has always been a realistic recognition that sexual attraction is a constant in the human psyche, and there has always been a recognition that God has specific standards as to what sexual activity He blesses - precisely as you point out, within legitimate marriage and open to procreation. As you say, 'punct.'

    The same rule applies to everyone, regardless of what form the attraction (or 'temptation') may take. It is true that St. Paul spent little time dealing specifically with homosexual acts and Jesus spent none, but both spent a recognizable amount of effort in describing marriage. It's what is accepted that matters here, not what is forbidden. If it doesn't fit the template, it doesn't fit the Christian life. Punct.

    Scripture and tradition indeed do recognize that there is sexual attraction that does not fit within those parameters, and does expect that such attraction be resisted. Both Scripture and Tradition are open and frank in recognizing that there are those whose attractions are like yours and mine, but consciously refrain from stating that there are therefore exceptions to the common rule. There aren't.

    To make such exceptions for a gay man would logically require making the same kind of exception for a man attracted to women other than his wife - in fact, once such an exception is made, there remain no rational grounds for any sexual restrictions whatever, and no rational basis for a stable monogamous family. This you did point out. You know, I'm not at all happy with the prospect of a world like that, and I'm afraid we've gone a long way toward it. I can't see that as healthy.

    Yes, I am gay - but I am celibate, not out of guilt, but out of awareness that I can thus help build a healthier society.

  3. I tend to agree with Mr. Pacht that the Catholic system does in principle have space for such as ourselves. Indeed, if I didn't, I probably wouldn't be Catholic; or I'd be a profoundly diseased, demented person, constantly tormented by insupportable guilt. (I have my guiltfests like the next fellow, of course, but I'm talking about a way of life that is severely disordered by guilt.)

    However, I agree with Andro that the actual practice of the Church has left us with -- let's say, a very great deal to be desired. The official language of the Church's documents is hostile to language of orientation, which I don't believe is necessary or helpful, and, as I've lamented elsewhere, its actual resources for living as a celibate outside of a priestly or religious context are in my experience woefully inadequate. The side-effects of the kulturkampf about marriage make things significantly worse, not only because folks like us get caught in the crossfire, but also because single lay Catholics in general can be made to feel like second-class citizens; it's a complaint I've heard from my straight friends as well as my gay ones.

    In brief, while I don't believe that Catholicism-in-itself is the problem, I do believe that Catholicism-as-it-is, in our time and place, is most definitely part of the problem -- "the problem" here being, how are we supposed to live our lives as Christians who are attracted to the same sex? And the bad facts are, no matter how solid the doctrine is, and no matter how winsomely presented, simply expounding the doctrine can't fix that problem. That requires conversion of heart from the whole Church, straight as well as gay, and even, I would go so far as to say, salva reverentia, from the clergy as well as the laity. (This is one of the things I find so wonderfully refreshing and encouraging about the example our Holy Father is setting, on this subject as on many others.)

  4. Hi Melinda,

    My wife and I must be outside the sesus fidelium with regard to sex outside ovulation. She only desires sex when ovulating. However, this has given me a keen awareness that the intensely pleasurable act (and it is definitely more pleasurable for me too at that time due to how her body changes) performed during ovulation is meant to result in a specific unique person. The pleasure is inseparable in time (and space - but for contraception) from one specific sperm's ability to join with the released egg to form a unique genetic individual, a person that could be created at no other time or place.

    So morally I do think that the intense pleasure during ovulation is a gift for the creation of that unique individual. I guess, luckily because of our situation I can recall exactly the times that two of my children were conceived and so those memories and that knowledge are quite wonderful treasures to have.

    Additionally, I'm not sure if you adequately explain the position of the Church with regards to Natural Family Planning. I thought that the position of Natural Family Planning was that it was fine to "pursue a sexual act if you are intentionally not seeking to procreate". The only condition was to not use any artificial means to prevent conception and that the desire not to have children not be an inherently selfish one. So they recommend pursuing sex outside the ovulation window and have developed natural and technological methods for monitoring fertility.

    The benefit of this position is that it keeps sex as a risky thing to do, and risk is one of the things that can increase sexual pleasure. To me, it does lose something when its safe and controlled.

    As for wet-dreams, well firstly its not just for teenage boys. I wouldn't even put it in the same category as orgasm. Physically it is more like a release valve for a biological process aimed at sexual activity. The only thing is that it taps deeply into the subconscious. Sometimes I feel like it is a direct communication with eros and the strange dreams that bring it on can linger with you for days. To simply call them "wet-dreams" really vulgarises the process and I'm amused thinking at how matter of fact and completely incorrectly my female elementary school teacher described the process.

  5. DrAndroSF

    I have a situation that is not addressed by Catholic Morality. I am married but my wife nearly died in childbirth and can not risk another pregnancy. So she won't contemplate sex without contraception. So we have been in a constant struggle with Church teachings.

    For a long time I saw myself as someone outside the moral teaching of the church, someone who the church does not address pastorally, through no fault of my own (I try to live the Church teachings).

    I approached a priest pastorally about the situation and we both agreed that the situation was "not perfect" but he told me that I shouldn't feel guilty or shame about it. What I needed to do was give the situation to Christ, give who I am to Him. The sexual activity between my wife and I is significantly limited due to this situation, but we sometimes relent. I confess any actions that involve contraception because I do not want to be separated from Jesus by any distance... and I move on. If I can't do this then the phrase "Jesus died for our sins" means nothing. He is the ultimate authority that circumvents the system. To paraphrase Jesus, the system was created for people, not people for the system. People come first.

    Not sure if you can relate to that or not.

  6. Melinda, once again I'd like to recommend that you write a letter to Pope Francis about your observations of human nature. Perhaps you could do so after this series is wrapped up, and you could reiterate the points you've made in this series, or even copy-and-paste the text. I really do believe that your words could help with his outreach to flesh-and-blood humans.

  7. Interesting, as always Melinda! I do have a question: I'm not sure who says that orgasm is always ordered towards procreation--wet dreams in adolescent males is seen as a natural physiological response of the human body, which is involuntary. It may bring pleasure, but the pleasure it brings is the result of the natural functioning of the body. This is a normal physiological process of a teenager's (or an adult male of any age) body. There is no "use" of the sexual faculty in a teenager who experiences a wet dream. In the case where the sexual faculty is consciously used, this is where one must be open to life, right?

    I sort of feel that you're erecting a false concept of what the Catholic view of sexuality here is: there's nothing wrong within the Catholic view of sexuality of a man and woman pursuing sex because of the enjoyment of it, just so long as they don't contracept, and realize that the proper use of sex includes procreation.

    I always like to think of contraception like the vomitoriums of ancient Rome. There's no problem with me pursuing a burger at my favorite brewery because of it's so amazingly good. What would be problematic is if I ate the burger, and then vomited it out, ignoring the fact that the primary purpose of eating is sustenance, and that pleasure is secondary, but often is the motivation behind eating.

    I think sex is viewed the same way in Catholic thinking, especially in the thinking of JPII, particularly in Love and Responsibility.

    I think the Catholic view of sex is the most sane, and I think it applies to this paragraph:

    "Our experience of sex tells us that it is sometimes ordered towards procreation, and sometimes ordered towards other goods: pleasure, strengthening of relationships, bonding, reconciliation, etc."

    Most of the time in Catholic circles, I'd say sex isn't approached with the goal of procreation as its end--it is more often the result of pleasure, or strengthening relations, etc...but it must always be open to procreation. And I don't think anyone in the Church (at least now) would say that pursuing having sex for any of those reasons is questionable, or wrong. Sort of like eating a favorite meal is done without much consideration of the sustenance derived from the meal itself, though by eating food and not vomiting it out, we are open to the primary purpose of eating: keeping the body sustained.

    1. This is one of those arguments that almost works -- and I agree that it's a very strong one. One problem is that most contemporary people don't object to vomitoria on the basis that they're immoral, but rather on the basis that they're gross. They don't object to bulimia on the basis that it's intrinsically evil, but rather on the basis that it reflects an unhealthy way of relating to the body and of regulating one's emotions. No one believes that when a married couple with legitimate reasons to avoid pregnancy makes love in order to show affection that they are regulating their emotions in an inappropriate way.
      The bigger problem with this analogy, though, lies in the fact that the analogy isn't clean. If I eat food, regardless of my motivations, I know that I am going to digest it. Within nature, eating food is always ordered by the body towards digestion. But within observable nature, sex is not always ordered towards procreation. If I've just eaten a good meal, and I eat another good meal, I get fat. If I've just gotten pregnant, and I have sex again I don't get more pregnant. If the Church taught, as Plato and some of the Fathers did, that sex during pregnancy, or menses, or after menopause, is unnatural then the whole thing would be coherent, it would hang together. The fact that there is near universal agreement that it is perfectly permissible for a married couple to have sex when it is literally impossible for them to get pregnant presents a very strong case for supposing, from a secular standpoint, that the connection between sex and procreation is not necessary in the same way that the connection between eating and digesting is.

    2. Hi there...just getting back to this after a rather hectic schedule. I'm wondering about this:

      "But within observable nature, sex is not always ordered towards procreation."

      But isn't sex always ordered towards procreation? Even if the use of sex A) wasn't chosen for that reason, or B) was prevented for any number of reasons (including old age, or the fact that a woman is already pregnant, or even if the procreative potential is blocked through contraception), isn't it still ordered towards procreation? The generative nature is why there is a reproductive system, right? That's what our sexual organs are ordered towards, which supersedes whatever particular aims or goals which we have in mind when we have sex.

      How we choose to *use* the sexual faculty doesn't change what it's ordered towards--and I think therein lies so much of the problems with sexuality today.

      Of course, all analogies aren't completely "clean," but I think it's cleaner than you're painting it here. A woman who is pregnant obviously doesn't get "more pregnant" since her body is operating according to the design of the reproductive system. A person's body who eats too much, and gets fat as a result, is evidence that the digestive system is working the way it's designed to work too. Menstruation is also a natural aspect of the reproductive system, and so too menopause. Aquinas somewhere speaks that infertility as a result of menopause is accidental: motherhood is still an essential part of the female nature, regardless of her old age, and in Christian thought this is why marriage between the elderly has always been allowed. It may not make sense to the secular world, but I would argue that's not because Catholic thinking is irrational--rather it's because the secular world has lost the ability to think rationally and I think we should challenge the thinking of the secular world by intelligently making our case.

      I think of Janet Smith who's talk on contraception, using reason and natural law arguments, has convinced thousands and thousands of couples to leave behind contraception. We're made for the truth--and the Church's thinking on sex (including sex after menopause) is the truth about sex. It fits like lock and key into the way we're made by God.

  8. "no one is going to suggest that a woman has a moral obligation to try to get pregnant every single time she ovulates"

    What a euro-centeric argument! There are indeed *many* tribal cultures in Africa and the Americas that mourne menstruation as the loss of a child. Of course, those are usually cultures so on the brink of starvation, that breastfeeding for a few years works nicely for contraception.

    1. I didn't know that. That's really interesting. Thanks!

  9. It seems like many of the old Natural Law arguments are tailored for an ancient (and obsolete) view of biology. It's not that a woman has an obligation to become pregnant every time she ovulates, but a man had an obligation to attempt to fertilize an egg with every intentional ejaculation. The ancient view was that semen was "seed" and the woman merely the "ground" in which it developed. Other ancients considered the female orgasm analogous to the male orgasm and thought it to be required for conception.

    With modern science, we now know that the ancients had the biology completely wrong.

    Most Natural Law argument against contraception also also end up knocking out NFP and intercourse during times of infertility. "Wasted seed" is "wasted seed".

    But an argument that knocks out NFP either imposes an impossible burden on the ancients (to only have sex during times of fertility when times of fertility were not known) or tells moderns that ignorance of fertility is more virtuous than knowledge of it.

    Such arguments are, at any rate, not the teaching of the Catholic Church. Instead, the current teaching seems to be that the sexual act in marriage as almost an end in itself and that the sin is in violating the act* which the Natural Law shows as an indivisible whole.

    The problem is that such a view of the sexual act not only doesn't match the experience of most couples, but it isn't logical. Even assuming the sexual act as it was created is the greatest good and is what bonds the couple together in the strongest way (and which I would agree with) it does not necessarily follow that pursuing sexual pleasure in another way is wrong, especially if there are good reasons not to engage in the natural sexual act.

    It is incoherent to argue that, for example, a back massage is something good and enjoyable that married couples can do for each other, that sexual intercourse that knowingly will not lead to procreation is also something good and enjoyable, but a "genital massage" between spouses is somehow wrong and disordered.

    If the Church cannot show that certain acts are directly wrong, then they must show that they prevent us from achieving a greater good. In other words, the Church must show that there is a good in abstaining from such pleasures beyond that which is gained from such pleasures.

    There is evidence that this may be the case in ordinary circumstances. Abstinence can make the heart grow fonder and help couples deepen there intimacy. Still, the benefits from abstaining from sexual enjoyment in a marriage are similar to the benefits of fasting—there is a real danger that either can go too far. No, you won't die from a lack of sex, but scripture itself speaks of the spiritual dangers of prolonged abstinence in marriage. (1 Cor. 7:5) The Church recognizes the risks of fasting and exempts those who cannot fast from fasting. Yet there is no similar recognition in sexual matters.

    *In the case of sterilization, including hormonal "contraception", the problem is with violating the body. Deliberately making a functioning body system non-functional is disordered. The argument against sterilization is both logical and coherent.

    1. I would love to see these points addressed by the Church. The good present in non-procreative sexual closeness is very obvious to my Catholic friends and most strive to follow the Church in this detail only out of obedience (rather than understanding).

      I know in our own marriage I have an extremely hard time following the 'no illicit orgasms' rule because I do not believe it is wrong as long as both spouses are being loving and attentive to the other (just like in regular intercourse). It's one of those do I obey purely out of obedience or can my conscience tell me something here? kind of questions....

    2. There is something to be said for obedience to the Church. The old no-meat-on-Friday rule made no sense, so they got rid of it except for Lent. Years later, people are seeing that it had value and is coming back in some areas.

      Still, Friday abstinence is a matter of discipline, not the universal moral law.

      Second, if you look at couples' fertility vs. their ability to raise a child, most couples will be avoiding pregnancy for most of their marriage. Even if a couple "fills a minivan", they will spend most of their marriage avoiding, especially if they marry young. In the past, child mortality was high and couples needed to have a large number of children to ensure that a few survived to adulthood. Fortunately, child mortality has dropped dramatically, but people's ability to parent hasn't increased dramatically. This changes marital and family dynamics. The classic idea that having children is the norm and avoidance the rare exception doesn't reflect current reality.

      I don't have the answers, but I wish the Church would better address the questions.

    3. One can make compelling arguments against "genital massage" or the "genital kiss" (as the Victorians called oral sex, they wisely believed it a privilege reserved to the married) OUTSIDE of marriage. It can lead to heartbreak, bonding without a true commitment, and the whole mess of NSA (No Strings Attached)/FWB (Friends with Benefits), STDs. Tell a bunch of hormonal teens "don't engage in oral sex&mutual masturbation outside of marriage"-and you can make a coherent argument. Delayed sexual activity is beneficial. But try telling them "don't engage in oral sex&mutual masturbation when you're married" and you come across as a dictatorial chaperone intent on following the couple into the honeymoon suite. It's like "we saved ourselves for marriage, now go away!"

      Besides, condemning "genital massage" and "genital kissing" within marriage conveys the message "treat the area under your spouse's bikini line like the Bikini Atoll* unless for procreation." What a great message. Sounds like a perfect recipe for sexual rejection, neuroses&making your spouse feel unloved&disgusting. Where in the Bible does it say spouses CAN'T engage in such activities? It doesn't. One can delay the onset of sexual activity for teens, but good luck policing married couples (especially those who saved themselves for marriage!)

      Also, the arguments against oral sex&mutual(?) masturbation within marriage make the whole "you can kiss, caress&massage your spouse wherever you&they want" into a lie as much as Obama's "you can keep your health plan." Spouses ARE free to kiss&caress each other in however they want, as long as it's loving, attentive, respectful and faithful.

    4. *The Bikini Atoll is a part of the South Pacific that was (and is) polluted by nuclear testing.

      There is no good in abstaining from the pleasures of "genital massage" within marriage. St. Paul NEVER policed the sexual techniques of marrieds. He worried about real issues like fornication, adultery, promiscuity. Not once didn't he counsel spouses against engaging in "genital massage."

      It's a case of creating a crisis. Making a problem out of something that isn't one. We should applaud couples who save themselves for marriage, who don't contracept, who are faithful. Forbidding oral sex and mutual(?) masturbation within the context of a monogamous heterosexual marriage makes keeping the Law unnecessarily burdensome and causes more harm than good.

    5. The condemnation of genital massage WITHIN the context of a one man/one woman monogamous marriage in "Good News about Sex&Marriage" as well as "Holy Sex" and "For Better Forever" strikes me as setting the stage for unhealthy neuroses. It's passing judgment on acts of affection. It sets the stage for turning the bedroom into a place of judgment&criticism. There's a Catholic apologist who said he once orally pleasured his wife, but she harshly accused him of insulting her fertility. Needless to say, I felt for him. I know how painful it feels to show affection for someone you love... only for the beloved to angrily lash at you&condescendingly judge you&your motives. One goes from being emotionally vulnerable to defensiveness&building walls.

      The authors of these books are saying "if you show affection for your spouse by massaging or kissing their private parts, you'll bring down God's wrath, but God doesn't get so angry if you give a kiss or a massage." I don't see how intimate acts of affection can be harmful. I don't see how a loving God can punish mutual loving activities as "disordered and sinful." A loving God who punishes loving acts between spouses sounds diabolical.

      Showing affection (and receiving affection from one's spouse) is inherently good within marriage. There's nothing sinful about receiving a kiss from one's spouse, so neither is receiving a kiss on one's private parts from one's spouse. These authors are being dangerous in castigating affection between spouses. Oral sex&genital massage are legitimate acts of affection within one man/one woman marriage. Nothing in the Bible condemns it... and affection is inherently good. The ability to give&receive affection within marriage is important to love&marriage.

  10. I have come to hate that phrase "ability to raise children". Perhaps I'd feel differently if God had seen fit to bless us with more than one- but that one was born at a time when by all outside materialistic appearances, I was unfit (in fact, I had been unemployed for a year and a half at that point). Despite being open to life, God has not seen fit to give us another, and had we taken the advice of so many and aborted, we would have no children at all.

    One should not restrict one's procreation to the financial security of the moment- financial security is fleeting. As can be fertility at all.

    1. I think you're mistaking "ability to raise children" for "financial security." One of the really good points about Simcha's book is that she points out how financial factors will differ radically depending on the family. My husband and I were also unemployed (and unmarried) when I got pregnant with my first -- but we live in Canada (we've got excellent baby-bonuses and good social security up here) and we both have families of origin that would never let us or our children starve or become homeless. Our position isn't even remotely analogous to that of someone who has no job, no social security net to fall back on, and no significant family or community relationships to help out. The worst that we really had to fear was embarrassment, inconvenience and humiliation. If you're facing the prospect of watching your newborn starve, or of having your children taken away by the state because you can't afford to care for them, that's more than just "financial security."
      That aside, "raising children" means more than just being able to afford them. I have six. One of mine is severely autistic and is a flight risk. It's super-stressful because if you stop watching him for even five minutes he might decide to climb out a window and take off into the woods. Also, about a year ago I had a really traumatizing miscarriage that left me psychologically paralysed for the better part of 6 months. It's legitimate for me to say "Right now I am stretched to my max just trying to give my existing children the love and attention that they need. I don't have the emotional capacity to care for a newborn." Obviously if I did get pregnant, lack of emotional capacity would not justify abortion, but it certainly justifies taking reasonable measures to avoid pregnancy.

    2. It is valid to claim you don't have the excess emotional capacity to care for a newborn in addition to the six you already have. I too am a father of a special needs boy who demands a lot of time- so much so that my wife and I discovered a new form of spacing birth control by accident called toddler-in-the-bed (and more than toddler- took until he was 7 to get him to sleep alone, not for a lack of trying). I can't imagine having four to six children and still having time for any marital intimacy at all- and I consider parents who somehow find a way to be my heroes (oddly enough more than that, parenting help seems to come in the form of older siblings taking care of younger ones.( I grew up in a "rural neighborhood" where such large families were common, as well as the German Apostolic Christian Church that considered my family to be anti-life and evil for having that famous American birth control device, a television- they commonly had 10+ children in a family).

    3. "Ability to raise children" is much more than finances. It includes emotional capacity as well as the parents' time and energy.

      As for the financial aspect, the newborn stage is just one stage. The question is not just "can we afford another baby", but "will we be able to afford another teenager in ____teen years".

      Seeing that few of us can make accurate 18 year financial forecasts, the decision pursue pregnancy or to avoid it for a time is a matter of faith and discernment.

    4. Most of us don't even know our own emotional capacity, until it is tested and we find out we're far stronger than we'd ever thought.

      Financial, emotional, time and energy can't actually be predicted at all, and it is nearly worthless to try. In the mean time, the first world nations are down to below replacement rate, and the third world is headed there. Fecundophobia has become a real issue. And for every parent that regrets having "too many" children, there are several people who regret having too few.


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2. Assume the goodwill of the other person, especially when you disagree.

3. Don't make judgments about the other person's sinfulness or salvation.

4. Within reason, stick to the topic of the thread.

5. If you don't agree to the rules, don't post.

We reserve the right to block any posts that violate our usage rules. And we will freely ban any commenters unwilling to abide by them.

Our comments are moderated so there may be a delay between the time when you submit your comment and the time when it appears.