DARE TO ASK: Catholics on sex and birth control
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
If Catholicism doesn't allow sex without the possibility of conception, does
that mean Catholic married couples can't have sex after a vasectomy, menopause,
Most Catholics look at the teaching of sex for procreation only as a joke.
For that matter, vasectomies aren't permitted under Catholic "law" because
that's a form of birth control -- allowing sex without the possibility of
pregnancy. To think millions of people quit having sex after the possibility of
conception no longer exists is laughable.
Rachel, 36, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
The church accepts contraception as a side effect of certain medications used
to treat other problems (birth control pills to control heavy periods or
endometriosis) and recognizes the need for contraception in special situations
such as medical problems. Even then, they ask that should conception occur, you
be open to it. At least this is how the nun who did my premarital counseling
explained it when I told her I needed to be on good contraception because should
I conceive while on chemotherapy the baby would most likely have problems.
Susan, 37, Catholic, Chicago
A true Catholic man cannot have a vasectomy -- it's considered artificial
birth control. Same story for female sterilization. Accepted Catholic birth
control consists of abstinence (yeah, sure, in other words, having kids).
M. Maurer, 52, male, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
First, vasectomies: not allowed by the Catholic Church.
"When we render the sex act sterile, we are saying we don't want to image the
love of God," said Christopher West, a leading expert on Catholic sex teachings.
"We want the pleasure but not the responsibility. As soon as you sever sexual
pleasure from the possibility of procreation, any means of sexual pleasure can
So, do those with vasectomies have to remain celibate?
"If a believer truly repents for rendering the sex act sterile, the moral
evil no longer exists," said West, author of Good News About Sex and Marriage:
Answers to Your Honest Questions About Catholic Teaching. "Also, vasectomies are
reversible. If you can restore the physical evil of the vasectomy, you should."
Next, contraception in general: "In a sexual act, you must leave the
possibility of human life entirely in the hands of God. With contraception, you
are taking the power of God into your own hands," West said.
Finally, medical contraception: Intention is the key. According to the
Catholic Church, the pill can be used for medical reasons but just not to avoid
children. As far as a hysterectomy, getting one to remove a tumor would be OK
because the main intent is not to sterilize the woman. (It's also for this
reason that a married couple having sex after menopause is not immoral: It isn't
the woman's intent to become sterile in that case, either.)
However, in the example of Susan above, using contraception during
chemotherapy is not treating a medical condition per se but merely prohibiting
conception, which would be immoral, West said.
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.