Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My 8th Grade Sex Education Class

We should all be well aware there are things happening in our nation that bring the Catholic teachings on birth control and abortion front and center. We hear things in the news about the “The GOP (or Catholic or Republican) War on Women”. We are not short on politicians or feminist organizations or Planned Parenthood supporters to tell us the Catholic Churchis seeking to impose its will on America, and that its traditions and values are straight from the Dark Ages. Nearly every report from a mainstream source I have read likes to point out that many Catholics use birth control, so essentially the Catholic Church is trying to manhandle the government into enforcing the policies it has failed to enforce among Catholics. Cardinal Timothy Dolan (Archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) has done a wonderful job of responding publically and correcting the assumption that opposition to the HHS Mandate is about birth control and women, when it is about religious freedom.

Don’t worry. I am not writing about whether or not this is about religious freedom. That is not the purpose of this CathoFeminism project. There are misconceptions about Catholic beliefs and how they relate to birth control and abortion that I would venture to guess that even most Catholics fall for. I would like to shed some light on this. This is an important subject when the question of Catholicism and Feminism is brought up because many mainstream brands of Feminism criticize the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control and abortion. Most importantly, I would like to start sifting through some of the details.

My excellent 8th grade sex education class was more that your standard abstinence only class. While that was the purpose of the class, it also gave me important information about the various forms of contraception. As that class was over 15 years ago, some new things have been added to the list, but the most important thing that class taught me was the importance of realistically assessing birth control: effectiveness, potential side effects, how it works, what it contains, and exactly why the Catholic Church is against its use.

Here is the most important question: Why does the Catholic Church oppose contraception?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:  (1643) "Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter -appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that ,beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values."

In other words,  Catholics are to see sex as reserved for marriage to bond or unite husband and wife and open to procreation always (unless there is a serious reason not to have a child).  Sex must always be unitive, and open to life. Sex should not be about saying to your husband or wife “I love you, but not all of you.” It is about loving and respecting each other fully (including our fertility),because we are equals.

(You can get much of this information and more from a site like WebMD.) As I recall, we began our class talking about barrier methods of contraception. The most common forms of barrier methods are condoms and diaphragms, though there are others as well. Barrier methods block sperm from entering the uterus. Don’t worry; I won’t give you the entire analysis! I want only to give an overview at this time.  If you were to put them on a line and told to rank the various forms of contraception from least to most problematic, barrier methods are on the lesser end of the spectrum, but they still prevent intercourse from being open to life.

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) can be made of copper or hormonal (like Mirena). IUDs fit with barrier and hormonal contraception because they utilize chemicals or hormones to block sperm. Copper is toxic to sperm (it is also not good for the human body in general, but I digress), but there are now hormonal forms of IUDs that focus on keeping the uterine lining thin, and thickening the cervical mucus so that sperm cannot get through. These also prevent intercourse from being open to life. (Ok, all birth control has been created to avoid pregnancy obviously!)

Hormonal contraception (pills, shots) has the potential to be an entirely different ballgame; an abortafacient. Hormonal contraception utilizes progesterone or estrogen to control the uterine environment: thickening mucus, thinning the uterine lining, etc. This means it is extremely likely that if conception has occurred, the uterine environment will tell awoman’s body it is not pregnant, and menstruation will flush all that is inside the uterus, including the human life (AKA: abortion: hence the term abortafacient). Emergency contraception has also been in the news lately for various reasons, but its claim to fame is that it can be taken after sex and can “prevent” pregnancy. The reality is that it is a beefed up dose of birth control and it tricks a woman’s body into think it is not pregnant and everything is flushed during menstruation (if it works). This kind of birth control is further along on the spectrum I mentioned earlier because it not only eliminates the procreative element for sex, but it takes a human life.

There are other, more permanent, solutions to prevent pregnancy: sterilization (tubal ligation, vasectomy) or abortion. I don’t think I need to elaborate on these.

Thankfully, there are better options for women (Catholic or not) that do not include pumping hormones into our bodies, killing our offspring or inserting torturous-looking devices into our nether regions. These options are the various natural planning methods (NFP): Billings, Creighton, Sympto Thermal Method (STM) and Marquette to name a few. Hormonal contraception manipulates the uterine environment to avoid pregnancy. This fact alone proves that there is science behind what makesa woman fertile or not. The various NFP methods involve tracking certain fertility measures (mucus consistency, cervix location, waking body temperature for example). Look at that. This is not the Rhythm Method! No moon or hocus pocus mentioned. Scientific evidence exists to help a woman not only know her body better, but to avoid pregnancy or conceive successfully. The best part about this option, is that once you have the instruction, the costs are minimal. Depending on which method works best for you, you are talking about a thermometer and some charts, or some charts and a monitor. I will not go into success vs. failure rates of any of these methods. That information is important, but it is not the point that I am trying to make here. (Can you imagine sitting through all of that for weeks as a 13 year old in mixed company?!)

So, I should get to it already, right? My point it this: I oppose abortion and abortafacients (including hormonal contraception) because they take a life. I believe life begins at conception because I am a woman (not because I am Catholic) and none of the other options make sense. It is either a life from the first moment or it would stand to reason that you could take a life at any random moment from beginning to end and it wouldn’t matter. There is never a moment where it could be a cow or a chicken or anything else: when sperm fertilizes an egg, a human life has begun. While Catholicism certainly supports this, I am not pro-life because I am Catholic. I am a prolife feminist because I believe women should not have to choose between being a woman and their children. That is where mainstream Feminism gets it wrong.

As for my opposition to other forms of contraception, that is deeply rooted in my Catholic faith. You will note that at no point did I state others could not hold different opinions, or that the government should be enforcing Catholic beliefs. You see, the beauty of being a human is that we have free will and intellect. Decide for yourself what you believe. You have the right to practice or not practice your faith or lack thereof, as do I. I vote we should all be responsible for paying for our own birth control or family planning methods or lack thereof. Not our employer, not our church, and certainly not our tax payers or government.

So what about you? What informs and guides your beliefs? I am also interested how you remember your sex education classes... informative? Glossed over?


  1. I never got more than the talk about what to do when your period starts. honestly. Yes I know that was eons ago, but it mostly consisted of information about pads and how you will feel (cramps etc) and for sure I never got any sort of good information from my parents. So...I am very glad you got so much information out of St. Mary's. I didn't do a very good job teaching you myself, because I just knew the basics of "you do it, you could get pregnant".

  2. I operated for a long time under the assumption that this was the information everyone recieved in 8th grade. Boy, was I wrong.


Comments are always welcome! Come join me on:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessfayette
Twitter: @jessfayette
Tumblr: jessfayette.tumblr.com