Are sex and procreation connected?

December 28, 2005 | 171 comments
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First, I’d like to thank Matt Evans for the invitation to be a guest contributor to T&S. On the too few occasions that I’ve taken the time to look through T&S, I’ve seen a lot of interesting and often edifying discussions. I hope I can contribute constructively.

For my first contribution, I’d like to address the question: Is there a connection between having sex and having children?
And some related questions: What is sex for? Is sex necessary for procreation? Is sex necessarily for procreation?

I would like to suggest that the answers to these questions define a great chasm between a gospel understanding of human sexuality and a current secular (I use the term secular to mean “of the world�) understanding of human sexuality. I realize, of course that in defining simply two views, I am over-simplifying what is in fact a large spectrum of ideas into two categories, but I maintain that this reduction offers a useful map to the understanding of human sexuality in the world. Although I state the “gospel perspective� in particular LDS terms, I have found many others of other faiths who share much or all of the gospel perspective. It is also clear to me that Latter-day Saints and others of faith, including myself, are inevitably affected by the secular understanding of human sexuality, especially to the extent that we do not carefully examine our beliefs and their sources.

The gospel answers to these questions include:

Sex is a sacred physical union that God designed to take place exclusively within marriage.
By divine design, sex, marriage, and procreation are inseparably and exclusively linked together.
Sex is divinely appointed as “the means by which mortal human life is created.�
Fertility, sexuality, and progeny are profound gifts of God.
Sexual activity always carries with it some level of potential for pregnancy. The responsibility for any pregnancy that may occur should be borne by both the man and the woman, who assume that responsibility within the marriage covenant.

The secular answers to these questions include:

Sex can pretty much mean what humans choose for it to mean.
Sex is for pleasure.
The link between sex and marriage is optional.
The link between sex and children should be absolutely and completely a matter of the choice of the woman (or couple). As a matter of basic human rights, women must have means to completely control when or whether they are pregnant, independent of their sexual activity.
All humans have a basic right to enjoy sexual pleasure in whatever form they choose to, with whomever they choose to, as long as they don’t violate someone else’s sexual rights in the process.
Sex should be engaged in responsibly. Responsible sex means using birth control and “protection� to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection.
Humans also have a basic right to reproduce as they choose to, with or without marriage, with or without sex.

In one respect, the gospel perspective on sex and procreation is the same as an honest biological perspective, regardless of religion. To have sexual intercourse, whether or not contraception is used, is to incur some possibility of pregnancy. Of course, there are certain biologic exceptions, such a woman who has had her ovaries removed. But I would maintain that even with biologic exceptions, the underlying spiritual principle is the same. No one should have sex with someone that he or she would not be willing to have a child with. In a gospel context, of course, that means sex should occur only within marriage.

In contrast, the secular belief that sexual activity is (or should be) independent of the possibility of pregnancy is based on an unrealistic reliance on a mythical, non-existent perfectly effective contraceptive. It runs up against biologic reality. Carried to its extreme, this viewpoint requires abortion. If women must be allowed to choose whether or not they can be pregnant, independent of sexual activity, and if no contraceptive is 100% effective, then women must have access to abortion as a back-up.

At this point, some might suspect or object that I am suggesting that sex should only be engaged in for the purpose of procreation. Not at all. Sexual intercourse has two great functions ordained by God: procreation (Genesis 1:28) and marital unity (Genesis 2:24). Both functions are both essential to marriage and to legitimate sex. I believe that each act of sexual intercourse can be considered a renewal of the marital covenant to receive any children that the Lord might send, and to be “one flesh.� President Spencer W. Kimball explained,

In the context of lawful marriage, the intimacy of sexual relations is right and divinely approved. There is nothing unholy or degrading about sexuality itself, for by that means mean and women join in a process of creation and in an expression of love.
Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, P. 311

Parley P. Pratt stated it this way:

The object of the union of the sexes is the propagation of their species, or procreation; also for mutual affection, and the cultivation of those eternal principles of never ending charity and benevolence, which are inspired by the Eternal Spirit; also for mutual comfort and assistance in this world of toil and sorrow, and for mutual duties toward their offspring.
Key to the Science of Theology, Ch.17, p.169

At this point, some might wish to emphasize that most married couples have sexual intercourse many more times than they give birth, and properly so. Additionally, some couples find themselves in a situation from medical conditions, or from age, that prevent procreation. Surely they can also properly engage in sexual activity within marriage. Does that not imply that sexual activity in marriage has the primary purpose of marital love, with procreation being secondary?

In response to this, I think it is misleading to use frequency counts to define fundamental realities. It is worth considering how the brethren refer to sex. Virtually without exception, in General Conference and other settings, sex is referred to as the “sacred powers of procreation,� or similar terms. It is not referred to as the “sacred powers of marital unity,� even though marital unity is also an essential function of sex. I take this to demonstrate that sex is inherently and inseparably identified with procreation, at least as much as it is with marital unity, whatever the individual circumstances of the couple may be. Even if the “100% effective� contraceptive were to exist and be widely accessible, I don’t think it would change the fact that sex is spiritually identified as the “sacred powers of procreation.�

Sex is divinely ordained as “the means by mortal human life is created.� We should respect and uphold the divinely mandated and inseparable link between sex and procreation, between married love and new human life.

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171 Responses to Are sex and procreation connected?

  1. Sue on December 28, 2005 at 1:01 am

    This is well written, but I’m not sure what the overall point is. Are you saying that we should not have sex unless we are willing to do so without birth control?

  2. J. Stapley on December 28, 2005 at 1:08 am

    I like what the Church Handbook says on this topic. It states under the title ,Birth Control, that the decision of how many children a couple should have is between them and the Lord. Moreover, it states that “Church members should not judge one another in this matter.”

    Further it relates that:

    Married couples also should understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife.

    Good stuff.

  3. Tatiana on December 28, 2005 at 1:15 am

    I would be interested in hearing how effective are the natural family planning methods that you espouse. I found your article very interesting, and it challenged beliefs that I’ve long held. I currently hold the understanding that natural family planning isn’t nearly as effective as artificial methods of birth control. If I’m mistaken, I’d like to learn differently. Have you done studies that show that with proper training, or new methods, NFP can be as effective as other methods?

  4. Charlie the Convert on December 28, 2005 at 1:19 am

    Is it not interesting to note the language the Lord uses in the scriptures to describe his relationship between himself and the Church or himself and the House of Israel. In one he calls himself the Bridegroom and the Church the Bride. In the other he calls himself the husband and his wives (the two houses of Israel) harlots. Why does the Lord use this most intimate relationship to explain his purpose to us. Do we fear who we are as a people? What we want and who we are may be two different things. The history of God’s people are full infidelity. Adultery can happen to God’s people in many ways. Most anyone can have sex, but true love is born of the fire of adversity. It is in this birth coupled with true ordinances of the Temple that the fruit of eternal seed is produced which shall go on forever. However, “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” You need both true experiences and true ordinances to gain the insight that God has for us. Words cannot write the things you speak of.

  5. Russell Arben Fox on December 28, 2005 at 8:49 am

    Brother Stanford,

    “To have sexual intercourse, whether or not contraception is used, is to incur some possibility of pregnancy. Of course, there are certain biologic exceptions, such a woman who has had her ovaries removed. But I would maintain that even with biologic exceptions, the underlying spiritual principle is the same.”

    Contained in this passage, it seems to me, is a crucial presumption on your part. I’m not arguing that it is necessarily an incorrect presumption; I just want to identify it as playing an important theoretical role in what you are asserting. Your argument about sex and procreation turns upon an identification of what you call “an honest biological perspective” with divine design: since bodies naturally work in a given way, then that way of working must be proper to the ends for which God designed our bodies. As you note, it is a presumption shared by a great many general authorities: since sexual intercourse between men and women is both naturally and in the scriptures connected with the possibility of procreation, then of course any proper understanding of human sexuality must incorporate in a central way the act of procreation. And once that presumption is in place, quite legitimately “natural” exceptions–not just women who have had their ovaries removed, but men born sterile, hermaphodites, etc.–all become easily and legitimately marginalized exceptions. Even actual praxis–i.e., “frequency counts,” etc.–becomes of marginal concern: once a definition of sexuality is in place, the fact that technology has enabled a significant percentage of all acts of sexual intercourse to take place in ways that do not, in fact, activate that procreation-centered definition is besides the point; the “spiritual principle” remains the same.

    Of course, what this really comes down to is a version of natural law, the Aristotelian telos, etc. I’m not saying this is wrong; I just want to be clear, at this early stage in your argument, that this is in fact what you are doing. There are, I think, very interesting questions as to whether Mormonism can or should sustain such a “theology” of nature; if you think your assertion doesn’t in fact involve such presumptions, I’d be interested in hearing how you get around them.

  6. Wm Jas on December 28, 2005 at 9:54 am

    Of course reproduction is the main biological purpose of sex, but why should we consider an activity to be morally acceptable only when it is being performed for the purpose for which it originally evolved? The human ability to accurately throw an object at a target almost certainly evolved for the purpose of hunting, not playing basketball, but that doesn’t make basketball evil.

  7. Matt Evans on December 28, 2005 at 9:54 am

    Russell, can’t we avoid the issue of Mormonism’s support for natural law by recognizing, as you do in your comment, that the scriptures and general authorities connect sexuality with the possibility of procreation? That moves us squarely into the realm of scriptural and prophetic authority, Mormonism hallmarks.

  8. Matt Evans on December 28, 2005 at 10:02 am

    Mormonism also adds the unique (and unfathomable) doctrine that procreation is not just a mortal process but a celestial one as well. God procreates and so will we. Endlessly, apparently.

  9. annegb on December 28, 2005 at 10:22 am

    And that, Matt, is why I have no interest in going to the Celestial Kingdom. I think those of us in the lower kingdom will have the life of Reilly. So long, suckers.

  10. Russell Arben Fox on December 28, 2005 at 10:48 am

    “[C]an’t we avoid the issue of Mormonism’s support for natural law by recognizing, as you do in your comment, that the scriptures and general authorities connect sexuality with the possibility of procreation? That moves us squarely into the realm of scriptural and prophetic authority, Mormonism hallmarks.”

    Perhaps, but I would like to hear from Brother Stanford whether or not some of the theoretical implications I sketched out above resonate with what he believes. It’s entirely possible, of course, to come to Catholic-type natural law understandings of human sexuality without embracing the whole teleological superstructure (with implications for birth control, IVF, etc.). But of the two quotes he relies upon to take this first step regarding intercourse and procreation, only one–the one from President Kimball–seems arguably to stand solely and entirely upon the presumption of prophetic authority and scriptural fiat; the other–the one from Parley P. Pratt–seems quite convinced that this argument flows naturally from the “object of the union of the sexes,” with concomitant “principles” and “duties” following thereof. Again, I’m not arguing against the latter approach, or even suggesting that the two can’t go together, but it is something I’m curious about. I’d be surprised if Brother Stanford, having written for other Christian publications, hasn’t had occasion to reflect of these various issues before.

  11. Friend on December 28, 2005 at 10:50 am

    I am a great believer in self restraint in the marital relationship. However natural methods have no moral superiority over other methods. God said “multiply and replenish the earth”. A couple that successfully avoids conception for ten years using natural methods is less in compliance with this commandment than a couple who have four spaced children using other contraceptive methods.

  12. diogenes on December 28, 2005 at 11:02 am

    can’t we avoid the issue of Mormonism’s support for natural law by recognizing, as you do in your comment, that the scriptures and general authorities connect sexuality with the possibility of procreation?

    Hardly. When parsing an argument based on the philosophies of men mingled with scripture, Russell is quite right to begin by sorting out which is which.

  13. J. Stapley on December 28, 2005 at 11:04 am

    Mormonism also adds the unique (and unfathomable) doctrine that procreation is not just a mortal process but a celestial one as well.

    Unfathomable is right. We really have no basis for projecting our physiological fecundity onto the eternities except a few herisies and speculations.

  14. Kingsley on December 28, 2005 at 11:06 am

    Amen J. Stapley.

  15. Adam Greenwood on December 28, 2005 at 11:16 am

    The idea is by no means a touchstone of orthodoxy, but I think there’s more to the belief in divine procreation than just a few scattered heresies and speculations. One of the things I most dislike about the modern re-assessment of Mormon belief is the move to marginalize and treat as idiotic all the prior beliefs. We may dislike the idea of divine procreation; we may think it foolish on numerous scriptural grounds, etc., but we shouldn’t imitate the early apostate church in the Mediterranean and set about dismissing and tarring all prior views.

    For the record, I think there are scriptural and prophetic grounds that are indicative of divine procreation (though not definitive proof of it), but the idea gives me the willies. Emotionally I would prefer some process of creation that was much more antiseptic, but I try hard to recognize that my willies don’t disprove it. I used to have the willies when it came to deification too, but after a long time wrestling in the spirit I’ve come to appreciate the beauty and truth of it. So for now I disregard my willies and remain agnostic. J. Stapley and Kingsley could profit by my example. Or, if not, they could profit by Brother Stanford’s example and try and present the argument for their viewpoint instead of dismissing opposing viewpoints out of hand.

  16. meems on December 28, 2005 at 11:29 am

    re: #8 – annegb. the irony here is that you will actually be in the CK due to your faith, honesty, good works, etc, and people like me who really want to get in will be waving to you from the TK on the closed circuit cameras. And then, if Geoff J. is right, we’ll all be sitting there going, what the…? You mean I have to go put on a body and do this whole thing over again?? When can I rest?

  17. Matt Evans on December 28, 2005 at 11:34 am

    J. and Kingsley,

    What we can’t fathom is infinity and its implications. What our doctrine makes easy to fathom is the central role of procreation for God and man. It is foundational to God’s work and glory on earth and in heaven. God’s eternal increase (and ours) depends upon reproduction. Reproduction and eternal increase are practically synonymous — that’s why eternal increase is only possible within a sealed marriage. We can’t be heirs of God without it (D&C 132).

  18. danithew on December 28, 2005 at 11:34 am

    Meems, that part about possibly having to go through this again is giving me the willies. I’d prefer something much more antiseptic.

  19. Kingsley on December 28, 2005 at 11:39 am

    Adam, talk about your overreaction. GBH said essentially the same thing in those controversial interviews a few years back. I believe D&C 132 (which is very vague on particulars), but the idea of physical sex–producing what? spirits by the trillions who then take on entirely new features with a second set of parents on earth? etc.–between gods is speculative and, in some cases, heretical. I have a hard time seeing where J. Stapley dismissed anything as idiotic etc.

  20. Rosalynde Welch on December 28, 2005 at 11:44 am

    Thanks, Brother Stanford. I have a few questions along Russell’s vein; I’m not sure if you’ll be responding on this thread, but perhaps Matt is acting as your proxy?

    Like Russell, I’m interested in the coincidence (or disjunction, as it may be) of the “honest biologic perspective” and the “gospel understanding” of sexuality and procreation. It seems to me that while the two may mutually support your main point here—viz., that sex and procreation are linked—the biological perspective challenges nearly all the other tenets of the “gospel understanding” you lay out above: that sex is confined to marriage, for example, or that responsibility for pregnancy rests with both men and women both seem completely unsupportable from a biological point of view.

    If we jettison the “honest biologic perspective” and go merely with revealed doctrine, as Matt suggests, it seems you’re left with a serious difficulty, namely that GAs have stopped preaching against the use of contraception. As for your suggestion that the stock euphemism “sacred powers of procreation” for sex in general conference signifies a prophetic endorsement of your position—well, color me unconvinced. I think it has a lot more to do with squeamishness about explicit language in the presence of women and children.

    I’m attracted to much in your vision, but I’d like to understand the nature of the grounds for your argument more fully.

    Also, just out of curiosity: what about couples who are physically able to procreate, but for whom an additional pregnancy would pose a heightened risk to the life of the mother or the chance of passing along, say, a devastating genetic defect to children. Since sex should always entail the possibility of pregnancy, would you advise these couples to remain permanently celibate, just accept their heightened risk, or use artificial means of controlling fertility?

  21. Kingsley on December 28, 2005 at 11:46 am

    Matt Evans, like I said to Adam, I believe in eternal procreation. I just have no idea what it means exactly. And neither does anybody else on earth, insofar as we know.

  22. Matt Evans on December 28, 2005 at 11:50 am

    Rosalynde, just to clarify, I’m not Brother Stanford’s proxy and can’t and don’t speak for him. I know neither his views or the subject area well.

  23. Matt Evans on December 28, 2005 at 11:53 am

    Kingsley,

    I don’t know what eternal procreation means either, beyond showing that reproduction is crucial to God and his work.

  24. Kingsley on December 28, 2005 at 12:03 pm

    Matt Evans, agreed.

    Adam, here is GBH on deification.

    “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it … I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.”

    Also:

    “That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.”

    I think his stance is a nice, safe, steady one to assume, yes? Also, when you talk of accepting the “beauty and truth” of something, and then encourage others to follow your example, you seem to be implying that they’re either blind or disbelieving. I find the idea of becoming like our Parents and having eternal families very true and beautiful, but I’m not going to insist on how it actually works.

  25. J. Stapley on December 28, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks for the proxy comments, Kingsley. You said what I would have, especially with regards to Adam. I would appreciate any clarification as to why my comment in question is anything other than accurate.

  26. ed on December 28, 2005 at 12:33 pm

    I think I understand the view of sexuality that Dr. Stanford is promoting, and I think he makes some good points. But I’m puzzled by the structure of his arguments. It seems like he’s freely mixing up positive and normative questions in such a way that to obscure more than illuminate. For example:

    “Are sex and procreation connected?”

    Of course they are….I don’t think even Hugh Hefner would deny that.

    “What is sex for? Is sex necessary for procreation? Is sex necessarily for procreation?”

    What a confusing mix of questions. The first is ambiguous, the second appears to be a positive question, and the third a normative one.

    “By divine design, sex, marriage, and procreation are inseparably and exclusively linked together.

    This is phrased as a positive statement (which seems obviously false), but it’s really a normative one (although it’s not clear what he means by “exclusively”). And stating that this is the “gospel answer” is begging the question.

    Besides, what are we really talking about? Is this all just a prelude to Dr. Stanford’s opinions about birth control?

    I think the fruitful arguments would have to proceed along two lines:
    (1) What do authoritive sources tell us about sex, and how much of that can we attribute to cultural assumptions versus permanent divine truths?
    (2) What does observation and experience teach us about the effects and purposes of sex in a relationship?

  27. Otto on December 28, 2005 at 12:38 pm

    We really have no basis for projecting our physiological fecundity onto the eternities except a few herisies and speculations.

    And, for some perhaps, hopes… :)

    There’s another question that has been hinted at here by Russell and others: if there is something sacred about sex, and its sacredness is tied to the possibility of procreation, does that mean that certain sex acts between sealed, consenting adults–acts that do not involve the physical actions associated with sperm and egg being joined–have no sacred element? One could perhaps argue that even for an infertile couple or couples in some other situation in which children won’t be produced, intercourse’s spirituality relates to the _idea_ that the act is associated psychologically and/or biologically with procreation. But what about the many other things that people do, including fine upstanding temple-going Mormons, in the bedroom, other than babymaking-style intercourse?

  28. D. Fletcher on December 28, 2005 at 12:58 pm

    I can’t help think that this kind of obvious logic, when related to morality, would suggest that all couples who physically can’t propagate because of physiological abnormalities, should be legally separated, or at least required to be abstinate.

    Sex is for many things, including the sealing of a commitment of the partners.

    Yes, this is my opinion.

  29. Kingsley on December 28, 2005 at 1:13 pm

    “Sex is for many things, including the sealing of a commitment of the partners.”

    When my freshly-married friends discuss this topic with their new insights, D. Fletcher’s point is the one most often brought up. Also, that sex is kind of fun and funny and all.

  30. Sue on December 28, 2005 at 1:15 pm

    Rosalynde, great points. I am looking forward to Brother Stanford’s comments (I hope he will be back to comment.) Brother Stanford, I’ve been told that if I have another child, my uterus will rupture and I will probably die. According to your ideology, what should a woman in my situation do?

  31. Kingsley on December 28, 2005 at 1:22 pm

    I once heard Elder Featherstone tie President Packer’s comment that “romance is deeply religious” directly to sex, in a long, rambling, hilarious sermon, the basic point of which was: husbands and wives, make Love and not just Babies: be romantic.

  32. annegb on December 28, 2005 at 1:25 pm

    Meems, this is what I’m saying. I’m tired. I suppose if I die and go through that LSD high and feel all up, maybe I’ll do what I do when I take too much excedrin and think I can take on the world. But right now the thought of eternal parenthood and marriage just gags me. To explain, I am going through menopause, which may be too much information, but perhaps good for the guys to know. Brace yourselves.

    Also, I don’t want to be in the Celestial Kingdom if all my brave, smart alecky, smart friends on the blog are not there. I think maybe God is like us, more than those long faced hypocrites Joseph Smith talks about. Not to brag or anything.

    In my current mood, I also think sex is over-rated. I went back and read every word of the opening post and I have to say, “Dr. Stanford, your initial question, ‘is there a connection between having sex and having children?’–we need to talk.” That’s one of those “should we love Jesus?” questions we get asked in Sunday School.

    Then, I read the rest of it. And I agree with you. Too much hanky panky goes on today in our liberated society without a thought to the responsibilities involved. Your point is subtle, hard to pick up (well, for me, high school diploma girl), but boy, do we need more of it.

  33. Russell Arben Fox on December 28, 2005 at 1:31 pm

    It seems like a lot of us are piling on Brother Stanford before he has a chance to respond–though I’m sure, given the provocative challenge which his thoughts regarding sexuality and procreation pose to contemporary mores, that this isn’t anything new to him! I’d just like to endorse what Rosalynde wrote above: “I’m attracted to much in your vision, but I’d like to understand the nature of the grounds for your argument more fully.” I really mean this–I’m in general disturbed by the way notions of “choice” and “control” have wormed their way into and thus altered our understandings of what I take to be very essential and necessary aspects of human flourishing, and to the degree to which NFP represents one additional way to combat that modern tendency, I’m all ears. But like Rosalynde, I want to know how what I’m hearing comes together, and what implications it may (or may not) theoretically have for, again, sexual intercourse as a practical matter, as Otto (#26) and Sue (#29) bring up.

  34. annegb on December 28, 2005 at 1:44 pm

    Well, Russell, what I think he’s saying is you can’t separate the two. It is not just a practical matter, or is it just an expression of love. Also all the other things people think. I don’t think he’s saying “only have sex if you want children” and I can’t find where he said he doesn’t prescribe birth control.

    I agree with you and Rosalynde, there needs to be more defining, but I’m intrigued. It’s like having a word on the tip of your tongue.

  35. b bell on December 28, 2005 at 1:52 pm

    I am not finding this post to be controversial. Sounds like something I would teach my YM about sex. We do teach a different understanding about sex, procreation, and marriage then the secular world.

    When the good DR moves from this to the anti-BC topic that is where he and I will part ways. Although I sympathize with the idea of NFP I am not sure its that effective. Plus is the last 30 years the Bretheren have stopped preaching against BC. I have to go with the Bretheren on that.

    NFP usually in my opinion leads to lots of kids. I have 4 and plan on having more but like to have more control over the process.

  36. greenfrog on December 28, 2005 at 2:20 pm

    To have sexual intercourse, whether or not contraception is used, is to incur some possibility of pregnancy.

    Curiously, Bill Clinton would probably agree with this statement.

  37. Sara R on December 28, 2005 at 2:27 pm

    For those who want to skip ahead and learn the nitty-gritty of NFP:

    NFP is observing signals from the woman’s body to judge her fertility, and abstaining during the fertile time. Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is using the same signals to judge fertility, and using barrier methods during the fertile time.

    NFP’s effectiveness varies with which set of rules you follow, your willpower in following those rules, and your own fertility. If the rules are followed the effectiveness rates are in the 97-98% range. The biggest problem is people discarding the rules in the heat of the moment (because if you break the rules, you are by definition at your most fertile).

    More info on NFP is available from the Couple to Couple League, a Catholic organization. http://ccli.org/nfp/basics/advantages.php More info on FAM is available in Tony Weschler’s clear and excellent book, “Taking Charge of Your Fertlity,” and at her website http://www.tcoyf.com

  38. danithew on December 28, 2005 at 2:30 pm

    At some point this discussion is going to turn to a whole new definition of the acronym “VD”.

  39. Julie M. Smith on December 28, 2005 at 2:37 pm

    Sara R and anyone who wants to respond about NFP: my understanding is that Dr. Stanford will be posting specifically about NFP in a future post, so let’s hold off that discussion for that thread.

  40. Tatiana on December 28, 2005 at 4:53 pm

    What does 97-98% mean? Is that in one year’s time? That 2.5 out of 100 couples conceived? Or is it over the course of the study? (Are we talking months or years or how long?) Or is it per episode during fertile times? Over a whole lifetime? Depending on the time frame, those are very different answers. Does it mean, for instance,that I could expect to have 2 – 3 children that I didn’t plan for over the course of my married life?

    I’m very attracted to this method. Dr. Stanford’s post and article sound so appealing. But I want hard numbers on the relative pregnancy rates of various methods. Everything I’ve read, plus anecdotal data, points to NFP as being quite ineffective compared to other methods of birth control.

  41. Just sayin' on December 28, 2005 at 5:18 pm

    As recently as nine years ago in General Conference, it was said that birth control is contrary to temple covenants.

  42. Mark B. on December 28, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    Maybe it’s 2.5 surprise kids for every 100 times you have sex.

  43. LisaB on December 28, 2005 at 5:46 pm

    RE: comment 23 and thereabouts–I think it’s a stretch to pretend that we do NOT teach eternal procreation. And that it’s a basic–not some mystery or hidden doctrine. I just taught the last Gospel Principles lesson of the year to our investigators, new members, and missionaries last week. One of the main points of the lesson (yes, in the manual–check out the final Gospel Principles lesson on the lds website if you don’t believe me) was eternal increase meaning a continuation of seed/ literal offspring. That’s a main reason we’re told we need physical bodies and a physical/literal resurrection.

    I don’t have time now to round up additional quotes in support of this teaching being fairly mainstream. Perhaps another day?

  44. Kingsley on December 28, 2005 at 5:53 pm

    LisaB, no one is pretending any such thing. Of course eternal procreation is a mainstream teaching; physical copulation/impregnation/labor (you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other, yes?) is not.

  45. Ana on December 28, 2005 at 5:55 pm

    Thanks, D. Fletcher. You said very nicely what I was wanting to say in my BIW (Bitter Infertile Woman) way. It’s been 7 years now since we ended treatments in favor of pursuing adoption, but sometimes these discussions still leave me feeling left out.

    Dr. Stanford, I never met you in my adventures in fertility treatments at the U of U. I guess I’m a little surprised that someone with your medical specialty wrote a careful and well put-together post about sex and fertility without talking about what it means that there are exceptions to the rule. I think there’s important meaning there.

    But right now, my kids are pulling me out into the California sunshine.

  46. LisaB on December 28, 2005 at 6:10 pm

    I’ll find my quotes, Kingsley. I believe it is.

  47. LisaB on December 28, 2005 at 6:11 pm

    and ps–too bad you have such a dim view of “the act”!

  48. Kingsley on December 28, 2005 at 6:17 pm

    A few questions a new convert once asked me after hearing the “doctrine” of physical reproduction in the beyond:

    Is blood not crucial to the reproductive process there; did I used to look like my Heavenly Father and Mother only now I don’t; is every one of the billions of human beings on this planet the product of a physical union between two People; what is a spirit, anyhow, and do you raise it from infancy to adulthood in (billions of) house(s); no, wait, worlds without end, trillions and trillions and trillions of houses; does each individual spirit grow in the woman and depart from her in the traditional way; if not, why is only the first part of the reproductive process done in the traditional way; if so, yikes; again, what is a spirit, what is an intelligence; are they complementary strands of spirit DNA preexisting in spirit bodies, etc.; if not, why is a sex act of any kind necessary to make them; if so, why a physical sex act; etc. etc.

    It’s easy to see why the Brethren (with certain famous exceptions not recently brought up in General Conference as far as I can recall) try to stay within the bounds of the scriptures and give a frank “We don’t know” to questions regarding such issues.

  49. Kingsley on December 28, 2005 at 6:18 pm

    LisaB, what dim view? I am as puzzled by your reading of my posts as I am by Adam’s. Refusing to speculate about the sex act there isn’t the same as dissing the sex act here.

  50. J. Stapley on December 28, 2005 at 7:39 pm

    Yep, LisaB., celestial sex is speculative at best, heretical at worst. Kingsley is, again, right on.

  51. Christian Y. Cardall on December 28, 2005 at 7:55 pm

    J. Stapley and Kinglsey, how can D&C 132:19, 63 be understood? In light of such language, calling it heretical seems like quite a stretch.

  52. danithew on December 28, 2005 at 8:03 pm

    We believe in a literal corporeal resurrection and in eternal marriage or celestial marriage. Why would two perfectly healthy married people “with parts and passions” (as they say) eschew sex? Doesn’t make sense to me.

    At worst the idea that such a relationship would be sexless is just as speculative or just as heretical.

    The part I’m less sure about is the reproductive aspect of it all. Why would corporeal beings have “spirit children” (without bodies). I have no idea.

  53. Phouchg on December 28, 2005 at 8:10 pm

    “Sex is dirty only when it’s done right”. – Woody Allen

  54. jjohnsen on December 28, 2005 at 8:15 pm

    While I’m open to hearing more about NFP, the little that has been said here makes it sound more like planning a business trip than making love. Maybe I’m just a young romantic that needs to grow up, but the thought of asking my wife if she would like spend some quality physical time getting closer, a week from Thursday, sounds pretty boring.

  55. Kaimi Wenger on December 28, 2005 at 8:31 pm

    J., Lisa, Kingsley,

    Speculative or heretical, J.? Yikes!

    So heaven — the place of ultimate happiness — will exclude one of life’s most enjoyable activities? You might as well say that there will be no books in heaven; no cheese; no music. If it’s truly heaven, then there is going to be sex there. (Sorry if that sets off your TMI meters, Flanderites, but sometimes you have to say it like it is).

    Mr. Sayin,

    Citation, please.

    Johnsen,

    I think the same, though perhaps those who have tried can explain a bit, carefully (yes, Rosalynde, this puts you in a damned-if-she-does, damned-if-she-doesn’t place). But it does sound like the stuff of comedy. In fact, wasn’t there an episode of Felicity where she put “have sex” into her day planner, and her boyfriend made fun of her for it? (Kaimi goes and blows all nacle credibility he may have once had by admitting to having watched Felicity.)

  56. Stephen M (Ethesis) on December 28, 2005 at 8:38 pm

    Of course reproduction is the main biological purpose of sex, but why should we consider an activity to be morally acceptable only when it is being performed for the purpose for which it originally evolved? The human ability to accurately throw an object at a target almost certainly evolved for the purpose of hunting, not playing basketball, but that doesn’t make basketball evil.

    Actually, I’d always wondered by basketball was evil. This explains it.

    Thanks!

  57. Kingsley on December 28, 2005 at 9:08 pm

    Danithew, right, the reproductive aspect brings up all sorts of questions whose answers we just don’t have (e.g. what is the true nature of intelligence or spirit). Christian, I only meant that, not having much information, it might be easy for speculation to slither headlong into something worse. I suppose that’s a truism that applies to many (or any) of Joseph Smith’s statements. Kaimi, no, you are wrong, there is no cheese in heaven as there are no udders there.

  58. Bookslinger on December 28, 2005 at 10:36 pm

    annegb: You don’t have to avoid the Celestial Kingdom altogether in order to avoid divine parenthood. Only the highest of the three orders in the CK continue in marriage and “perpetuation of the seeds.” The lower two orders live singly and separately without increase.

    Being faithful to one’s baptismal covenants is the key that opens the door to the CK. Being faithful to temple covenants, including temple marriage, is the key to the highest order of the CK. And of course, the Lord’s atonement and resurrection bring it all to pass, not that anyone “deserves” exaltation or any degree in the CK on their own merits.

  59. Sara R on December 28, 2005 at 10:47 pm

    Okay, I’ll respond to Kaimi’s question, hopefully without TMI. We’ve used NFP imperfectly in our 10.5 years of marriage. We had trouble conceiving our first baby. It took me until I was two years off the pill before I got pregnant. I was reluctant to get on the pill again because that long wait for a baby really depressed me. Using the information from NFP, I got pregnant (on purpose!) with my second child two years later. We put a longer space in between child #2 and #3 successfully with NFP knowledge plus occasional condoms when I was fertile. It took 4 cycles to conceive her. After #3 we successfully avoided pregnancy for 2 1/2 years before unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant for 5 months, when I got a breast cancer diagnosis at age 32.

    That takes us to the present, avoiding pregnancy for very serious reasons. The cancer is estrogen positive (i.e. grows faster with more estrogen), making hormonal methods of birth control not allowed. Currently we are using NFP and carefully abstaining during the fertile time. (Having to recover from a double mastectomy sure helps one abstain!) Soon I’ll be on chemo, or perhaps “just” chemically induced menopause, and that should further reduce my fertility. And I think dh & I weren’t extraordinarily fertile to begin with, as our history shows. With the knowledge I have gained from NFP, I ought to be able to get clues about any unexpected time of fertility and be able to act accordingly.

    I was introduced to NFP because I really didn’t like how long it took my body to be fertile again after taking the Pill. The doctors say that the Pill couldn’t have caused infertility for that long, but I’ll always wonder. The knowledge from NFP helped me get my second two kids faster than I would have otherwise. We haven’t had any accidental kids in our 10 years of marriage. But accidental kids are more common for people who are more fertile.

    I didn’t get into NFP for religious reasons, and like I said we have sometimes used barriers. I did appreciate that the knowledge and freedom from hormonal contraception that NFP gave me helped me have the children when we felt God inspired us to have them. NFP required that we reevaluate each month whether it was time for another child, which we might not have done with another method of birth control.

    And I can’t blame the breast cancer on the Pill! (Unless it’s those three months at the beginning of my marriage that did it.)

    Did it reduce spontaneity? Not really. I charted each day, and I knew when I was fertile and when I was not and kept dh informed. Sometimes we used barriers, but we knew that was still taking more of a risk than abstaining, because if the condom broke it broke at a fertile time. When we did abstain, that just made us more eager for our time of abstinence to be done.

  60. Ivan Wolfe on December 28, 2005 at 11:20 pm

    I agree.

    Basketball is evil.

  61. Bookslinger on December 28, 2005 at 11:32 pm

    Based on clues in Dr. Stanford’s article in First Things and clues Matt gave, I’d assume he is in his mid-forties, and his wife in her early to mid-forties.

    Now that she is in the age range where she may still be fertile, but when pregnancy might not be desirable for several factors (health issues, increased probability of a problem pregnancy or delivery, increased probability for genetic disorders, etc., or just plain “7 is enough”) I’d like to hear her opinion on whether NFP, without any other form of contraception, is sufficient for her.

    It is in those last years of fertility when indicators start becoming irregular, and baselines change, that NFP becomes trickier to implement. I doubt the 97.5% effectiveness rate holds in the upper age range of fertility.

    I also sensed a somewhat Luddite attitude in his article towards even non-abortifacient contraception (barrier methods, tubal ligation, vasectomy). Here we have someone whose career revolves around using medical technology to increase quality of life, increase length of life, and even increase patients’ ability to procreate, yet he refuses to be a provider of even non-abortifacient contraceptive technology to manage fertility, not even allowing exceptions for medical reasons about risky pregnancy.

    To carry his “don’t interfere artificially” doctrine to its logical conclusion, one would shun all technology-based medical care, for any sickness could be deemed “God’s will.”

    I see a double-standard, and also a cavalier attitude towards those women in their mid 40-’s and older, who have done their duty, borne and raised children, yet may still be fertile for another 10 years, and for most of whom pregnancy during that period would be medically ill-advised, and any risk of pregnancy would be unacceptable to them.

    We use medical technology to “interfere” in the human body all the time to reduce the risk of possible negative outcomes. We use medicines to reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure not because they always cause problems, but because they increase risks. We deem those risks worthy of using technology to interfere in those natural processes.

    Pregancy during a woman’s mid 40′s and later is also high risk. Some may say the cutoff point is early 40′s, depending on the level or risk they are willing to assume.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Stanford’s doctrines of procreation and sexuality. But his dogmatism concerning technological interference doesn’t seem to allow for obvious exceptions that readily come to mind.

    If I were a 40-something married worthy Mormon woman, I’d be offended.

  62. annegb on December 29, 2005 at 12:10 am

    yeah, basketball sucks.

  63. annegb on December 29, 2005 at 12:10 am

    yeah, basketball sucks.

  64. danithew on December 29, 2005 at 12:45 am

    Stephen M (Ethesis), Ivan Wolfe and Annegb …

    After reading your comments against basketball I was tempted take this opportunity to deliberately break every comment policy at T&S. The problem is that the comment policy is quite detailed with all kinds of points to it. And I’m lazy.

    But due to your opposition to basketball, I have to wonder whether any one of you is worthy of a temple recommend.

    Just kidding.

  65. Stephen M (Ethesis) on December 29, 2005 at 1:49 am

    What can I say, basketball wasn’t on the interview questions.

    When I was younger, MIA consisted of choosing up six person teams to play half-court. We had thirteen kids in the group. Luckily for me, I liked to read. With glasses I suffered up to a 25% displacement in vision, which made shooting difficult. These days I wear contacts and things are where I see them.

    But annegb was right to post that basketball sucks twice. ;)

    At least this led me to Ivan’s blog, another Texan!

    Hurrah!

  66. Sara R on December 29, 2005 at 2:08 am

    Since Dr. Stanford isn’t answering–

    Yes, NFP is trickier to do in perimenopause. But fertility in general goes down too, so you probably aren’t getting too many pregnancies just based on age. You’d have to compare the fertility rate of women who aren’t using any contraception at all (not that high), to the fertility of perimenopausal women using NFP despite the difficulty. (Infertile people would look like they have really good birth control, even though that’s not why they’re not producing kids.)

    I don’t know of any studies that have been done on perimenopausal women. As I recall there’s a chapter in the Couple to Couple League’s book about NFP in perimenopause (the moral of which was, it’s difficult but worth it if you really believe in it).

    Charting is handy during perimenopause even if you aren’t using it for birth control. Periods become very irregular, but if you detect ovulation you can be pretty sure you’ll get your period a couple of weeks after that.

  67. Sara Steed on December 29, 2005 at 2:15 am

    Just continuing the thread of eternal increase…here’s my thought process thrown out there:

    Obviously Heavenly Father and Mother were Gods (having a physical, tangible, perfected body)when we were birthed as spirit children–different matter than a God’s body. In mortality, man and woman perpetuate physical yet imperfect bodies for a spirit. In the mortal realm, sexual intercourse leads to a body of the same nature as the creators. So, going back to my first statement, if procreation as gods happens the way it does here on earth, why would Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother have spirit children and not children with physical bodies (not regarding the perfection process that comes through the Atonement and the Resurrection)?

    I don’t have an answer, and if my logic is faulty, please correct :)

  68. Sara Steed on December 29, 2005 at 2:23 am

    …not that my security in the gospel hinges upon an answer to this or even thinking about it at all…

  69. Jack on December 29, 2005 at 2:25 am

    It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, we hope for a restoration of sorts in the resurrection. On the other, we hope for progression. I think both are happening.

  70. Howie on December 29, 2005 at 5:49 am

    “Imagine that, if you will. Veritable teenagers–and all of us for many decades thereafter–carrying daily, hourly, minute-to-minute, virtually every waking and sleeping moment of our lives, the power and the chemistry and the eternally transmitted seeds of life to grant someone else her second estate, someone else his next level of development in the divine plan of salvation. I submit to you that no power, priesthood or otherwise, is given by God so universally to so many with virtually no control over its use except self-control. And I submit to you that you will never be more like God at any other time in this life than when you are expressing that particular power.”

    - BYU President Jeffrey R Holland, Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments, 12 Jan. 1988, BYU Marriott Center

  71. annegb on December 29, 2005 at 8:45 am

    I am totally going to throw up. And never go visiting teaching again.

  72. b bell on December 29, 2005 at 10:41 am

    “I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Stanford’s doctrines of procreation and sexuality. But his dogmatism concerning technological interference doesn’t seem to allow for obvious exceptions that readily come to mind.”

    This is my view as well. I thought about it last night as I was grouting a shower and the dogmatism is not LDS. There are no GHI instructions, temple rec questions etc that support NFP. Plus I am not sure what the real difference is between abstaining at certain times to avoid pregnancy (Birth Control) and artificial Birth Control. Both prevent pregnancy. NFP takes us past LDS teachings and somewhere else. (hint Pope)

    The doctrine he mentioned up above is correct though. I agree with Lisa B on eternal increase. Clearly in the mainstream of LDS doctrine. If not thern what is the point of Exhaltation?

  73. Just sayin' on December 29, 2005 at 10:49 am

    Here’s the citation for the talk in General Conference where the GA emphatically stated that preventing the birth of children is wrong:

    ” “Thus we see that in marriage, a husband and wife enter into an order of the priesthood called the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. This covenant includes a willingness to have children and to teach them the gospel. Many problems of the world today are brought about when parents do not accept the responsibilities of this covenant. It is contradictory to this covenant to prevent the birth of children if the parents are in good health.

    “Thirty-five years ago when I first started practicing medicine, it was a rare thing for a married woman to seek advice about how she could keep from having babies. When I finished practicing medicine, it was a rare thing, except for some faithful Latter-day Saint women, for a married woman to want to have more than one or two children, and some did not want any children. We in the Church must not be caught up in the false doctrines of the world that would cause us to break sacred temple covenants.” –J Ballard Washburn, “The Temple Is a Family Affair,â€? Ensign, May 1995, 11

  74. Just sayin' on December 29, 2005 at 10:57 am

    And it was in April 1995, so ten years ago, not nine as previously stated.

    Interestingly, the General Conference live addresses and the printed versions in Church magazines are public documents that all members (and not) can access. The General/Church Handbook of Instructions is only available to men who lead in priesthood capacities and most members don’t even know it exists.

    It would seem that the latest statements in GC are the last word on birth control/procreation/sex etc.

    Also, in a 2003 General Conference, another General Authority derides parents with only one or two children as being parents of “trophy children” and imputes materialistic motives that these parents might not even possess:

    “We see young men refusing to marry; young women foolishly surrendering their virtue in pursuit of lustful relationships; couples who purposefully refuse to have children or who opt for a “trophy child” because a family would interfere with plans for adventure, leisure, or maximum financial gain.”

    -Elder James L. Dunn, “Words to Live By”, General Conference April 2003

  75. Chad too on December 29, 2005 at 11:17 am

    b bell: The difference in some minds is that where NFP prevents pregnancy by never allowing the requisite ingredients to mix, “The Pill” does it by not allowing a fertilized egg to attach to the womb.

    To use Dr. Stanford’s word; since conception actually does occur some consider pill-based contraception to be an abortifacient as an otherwise viable embryo is flushed from the system.

  76. Kingsley on December 29, 2005 at 11:30 am

    Howie, thank you for sharing Pres. Holland’s beautiful opinion. It’s a little hard for me to get my mind around, however, the idea that merely having sex is the most godlike thing you can do. Seems kind of over the top. Shakespeare scribbling in the dark, after all, is just as divine an image as lovers dribbling in it. Isn’t sex just one of many, many, many lovely things this life affords? Cheese, for example, as Kaimi pointed out.

  77. Susan M on December 29, 2005 at 11:32 am

    I thought the pill prevented ovulation from even happening? (But I haven’t used birth control for years, maybe it’s different now.)

  78. b bell on December 29, 2005 at 11:34 am

    Hey Chad.

    That is of course true but again there are no LDS statements or policies regarding the Pill. Its OK to believe this but its simply not OK to say that LDS teaching support this idea. Its taking us somewhere else where the LDS teachings simply do not extend to. There is never been a LDS teaching that considers unimplanted embryo’s to be children or that use of the Pill is abortion. I recall the stem cell controversy. Our LDS politicians from both parties essentially said the same thing.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that if you feel that artificial BC is wrong then you can also extend the logic and say that any form of BC is wrong including NFP. Both prevent pregancy in the end.

    I am just to pragmatic to believe this.

  79. Otto on December 29, 2005 at 12:47 pm

    I agree with Lisa B on eternal increase. Clearly in the mainstream of LDS doctrine. If not thern what is the point of Exhaltation?

    If feel this is a common teleological means vs. ends mixup among Mormons. Eternal increase as “the point” of exaltation? I think it’s the other way around. Increase equals an expansion of the circle through which joy circulates–that’s why God’s work and glory is our eternal life, and our whole purpose of existense is to experience joy. Joy only exists in its transference, just like the priesthood only functions through acts of service towards others. Increase isn’t an ends, its a means toward the end of joy.

    Saying that “the point” of exaltation is eternal increase is sort of like saying that “the point” of family history is adding names to one’s family tree. No, the point is adding _people_ to the family tree, people with whom we presumably will _enjoy_ being sealed to for eternity. In that sense, temple work is just another aspect of “eternal increase” — geared not towards some vague sacredness inherent in one’s awe towards the infinity of divine statistics, but in the actual experience of joy in being with and serving those to whom one is sealed.

  80. LisaB on December 29, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    Hmm… I’ll have to think on this Otto.

  81. Adam Greenwood on December 29, 2005 at 1:50 pm

    “celestial sex is speculative at best, heretical at worst”

    I don’t see on what authority you can claim this. We simply know nothing about the conditions of reproduction, which means that we could equally well say that ‘the absence of celestial sex is speculative at best, heretical at worst.’

    I very much dislike this kind of burden of proof shifting where, in an area in which there’s little reason to judge one way or the other, someone starts talking like people on the other side have adopted a marginal position and they must assemble convincing evidence if we’re to think that they’re not kind of loony.

  82. Adam Greenwood on December 29, 2005 at 1:52 pm

    Otto,

    I think I mostly agree with you, but I’d add that one’s object cannot be joy, with people (or eternal increase) as a means to it. Because, of course, if people are only a means to some other end, then we wouldn’t enjoy them.

    Lots of truths to be found in the Dominical paradoxes.

  83. Julie M. Smith on December 29, 2005 at 2:15 pm

    Just sayin’–

    You should read the entry on Birth Control in the book True to the Faith, as (1) it is not ambiguous and (2) it is authoritative and (3) all members are strongly encouraged to have access to it.

  84. annegb on December 29, 2005 at 2:18 pm

    I do not find that quote beautiful. I do not want to have children eternally, I tell you. Not after reading about it all night, then I turned on the TV to Tsunamis and TLC was showing natural childbirth experiences.

    I am not trying to be light here on purpose. This simply does not appeal to me. Not only detailed discussion of preventing pregnancy among mixed company, but also eternally dealing with the problems of family. I’m sorry, I object. I cannot believe I have a body, how I ever made it through the first estate is a mystery to me. I’m saying.

    You are so going to have to come visit me. But call first, stay only two days, and don’t bring your cat. And don’t come while I’m in this body.

  85. Paul on December 29, 2005 at 2:43 pm

    Dr. Stanford’s post seems to be nothing more than a restatement of the generally-held LDS belief on contraception from 20-30 years ago. Just as cultural Mormons hold on to errors in “Mormon Doctrine” to justify their belief in non-doctrinal dicta, Dr. Stanford is laying the groundwork to restate–in a future post–the anti-contraceptive dogma that was very prevalent decades ago, though no definitive doctrinal support exists. Stanford is free to hold that opinion. He is not free to pretend it is doctrinal.

    Having said that, I tend to agree that artificial contraception and artificial conception are unnatural. I find it hard to believe God sanctions one but not the other.

  86. Julie M. Smith on December 29, 2005 at 2:47 pm

    Actually, Paul, I don’t think that’s true. If you look at the past belief that birth control is wrong, the focus is not on birth control per se but the focus is on limiting children. So if NFP is used to limit children, I think that it would be just as contrary to the old counsel as the pill or anything else.

  87. b bell on December 29, 2005 at 3:24 pm

    I agree with Julie that the past displeasure with BC was simply about people limiting their families. Not a statement on the actual morality of a particular method of BC.

    Since I have so many kids and plan on having perhaps 2 more I feel pretty safe in my use of BC. If you saw us on Sunday you would put us in the multiply and replenish crowd. Other people need to come to their own conclusions about their individual BC use. But more to the effect of family limitation not BC morality.

    As for eternal increase this is clearly taught in the D&C no question Section 132 vs 19. I will stick with that and defend the D&C and our traditional understanding. Thanks.

  88. Paul on December 29, 2005 at 4:02 pm

    I think this is just a new face on the same body. puns intended. NFP is less effective at preventing conception than BC.

  89. Paul on December 29, 2005 at 4:08 pm

    So, b-bell, at what point is one safe to assume that s/he has multiplied and replenished the earth? 3 or more kids? 4 or more? 5 or more? If one or two children are merely trophy children (I know you did not say that; someone else did) what about 3, 4, 5, 6? And please do not give me the punt answer of it depends. Of course it depends. What I am asking is: what minimum number of children satisfies the multiply and replenish doctrine for an average, healthy, financially stable family in your opinion?

  90. Adam Greenwood on December 29, 2005 at 4:09 pm

    15.

  91. manaen on December 29, 2005 at 4:19 pm

    “If for certain personal reasons a couple prayerfully decides that having another child immediately is unwise, the method of spacing children—discounting possible medical or physical effects—makes little difference. Abstinence, of course, is also a form of contraception, and like any other method it has side effects, some of which are harmful to the marriage relationship.” (Ensign, 8/1979, p.23)

  92. b bell on December 29, 2005 at 4:21 pm

    Paul,

    You are threadjacking… I say 75 Hah hah.

    I would probably say that when the spirit tells you to stop having kids you have done your part. My mom stopped at 5 at age 31 and my old man had some $$. She says that the spirit told her she was done.
    She also claims that she had to stay away from babies for 10 years to avoid wanting a 6th.

    FWIW
    Some of my mission buddies think that 2 children replenishes (replaces) the parents and 1 more additional child multiplies the numbers. That is not my theory just one I have heard from my mission buddies. No GA statement to back it up.

    Since the spirit has told us 1-2 more that is where we are going health and sanity (big issue) permitting.

  93. Paul on December 29, 2005 at 4:22 pm

    Here, here, Adam. I agree.

  94. Paul on December 29, 2005 at 4:25 pm

    Thanks, b-bell. I have heard the same multiply and replenish logic used. It makes sense but has no other foundation. I agree that the spirit must dictate. I also agree that a sane parent of 3 kids is better than an insane parent of 5.

  95. Clark on December 29, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    Manaen, well said. The idea that lack of sex is somehow better birth control than say condoms or birth control pills seems dubious to me. Now birth control pills can have huge side effects. My wife faced pretty severe personality changes on them so we had to go off them. However condoms have obvious problems as well. (They come off, they break, they give a sense of false confidence for acts prior to the condom use, etc.)

    Also, as Julie points out, focus on birth control isn’t historically tied to problems inherent with birth control (as we find in the Aquinas influenced Catholic theology) but on limiting children.

  96. Julie M. Smith on December 29, 2005 at 4:29 pm

    Clark, just to clarify–those weren’t manean’s words: they are from an Ensign article written at the behest of and with the approval of Pres. Kimball.

  97. manaen on December 29, 2005 at 4:32 pm

    Old Catholic joke:

    Q: “What do we call people who use the rhythm method?”
    A: “Parents.”

  98. b bell on December 29, 2005 at 4:39 pm

    Paul,

    I have 4 kids 5 and under. Sometimes I think I am insane right now….. The big question I get is…. When is the next one? I always say I will be having baby exhaustion for at least three more years then we will maybe have 1 or 2 more.

    My wife then says no one more year. Then I faint when she says this.

  99. manaen on December 29, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    I just read some of the later comments and realized that a larger extraction from the article I quoted in #91 may be helpful. I recommend the entire article.

    ***************************************
    […]
    .
    “Our growth process, then, results from weighing the alternatives, studying the matter carefully, and seeking inspiration from the Lord. This, it seems to me, is at the heart of the gospel plan. It has always given me great joy and confidence to observe that in their administration of God’s teachings, our inspired prophets do not seek to violate this general plan of individual agency, but operate within broad guidelines that provide considerable individual flexibility.
    .
    “I recall a President of the Church, now deceased, who visited his daughter in the hospital following a miscarriage.
    .
    “She was the mother of eight children and was in her early forties. She asked, ‘Father, may I quit now?’ His response was, ‘Don’t ask me. That decision is between you, your husband, and your Father in Heaven. If you two can face him with a good conscience and can say you have done the best you could, that you have really tried, then you may quit. But, that is between you and him. I have enough problems of my own to talk over with him when we meet!’ So it is clear to me that the decisions regarding our children, when to have them, their number, and all related matters and questions can only be made after real discussion between the marriage partners and after prayer.
    .
    “In this process of learning what is right for you at any particular time, I have always found it helpful to use a basic measuring stick: Is it selfish? I have concluded that most of our sins are really sins of selfishness. If you don’t pay your tithing, selfishness is at the heart of it. If you commit adultery, selfishness is at the heart of it. If you are dishonest, selfishness is at the heart of it. I have noted that many times in the scriptures we observe the Lord chastising people because of their selfishness. Thus, on the family questions, if we limit our families because we are self-centered or materialistic, we will surely develop a character based on selfishness. As the scriptures make clear, that is not a description of a celestial character. I have found that we really have to analyze ourselves to discover our motives. Sometimes superficial motivations and excuses show up when we do that.
    .
    “But, on the other hand, we need not be afraid of studying the question from important angles—the physical or mental health of the mother and father, the parents’ capacity to provide basic necessities, and so on. If for certain personal reasons a couple prayerfully decides that having another child immediately is unwise, the method of spacing children—discounting possible medical or physical effects—makes little difference. Abstinence, of course, is also a form of contraception, and like any other method it has side effects, some of which are harmful to the marriage relationship.
    .
    […]
    .
    “So, as to the number and spacing of children, and other related questions on this subject, such decisions are to be made by husband and wife righteously and empathetically communicating together and seeking the inspiration of the Lord. I believe that the prophets have given wise counsel when they advise couples to be considerate and plan carefully so that the mother’s health will not be impaired. When this recommendation of the First Presidency is ignored or unknown or misinterpreted, heartache can result.
    .
    “I know a couple who had seven children. The wife, who was afflicted with high blood pressure, had been advised by her physician that additional pregnancy was fraught with grave danger and should not be attempted. But the couple interpreted the teachings of their local priesthood leaders to mean that they should consider no contraceptive measures under any circumstances. She died from a stroke during the delivery of her eighth child.
    .
    “In summary, it is clear to me that couples should not let the things that matter most be at the mercy of those that matter least. In searching for what is most important, I believe that we are accountable not only for what we do but for why we do it. Thus, regarding family size, spacing of children, and attendant questions, we should desire to multiply and replenish the earth as the Lord commands us. In that process, Heavenly Father intends that we use the free agency he has given in charting a wise course for ourselves and our families. We gain the wisdom to chart that wise course through study, prayer, and listening to the still small voice within us.�
    .
    […]
    .
    (Ensign, Aug., 1979, p. 23)

  100. Clark on December 29, 2005 at 5:49 pm

    Julie (#96). Yes, I know. He did supply the reference and put things in quotes. (grin) But it was a quote well worth quoting.

  101. Matthew Crowley on December 29, 2005 at 6:15 pm

    Re: #85 Ding, ding, ding, ding. Agree about your point that this is cultural and not doctrinal. I think when one puts this discussion into the context that twenty or so years ago it was the policy of the Church to withhold a temple recommend from married couples engaging in oral sex (don’t hear that question anymore do you?) any appeal to authority on this topic becomes at least a little problematic.

  102. Phouchg on December 29, 2005 at 11:42 pm

    What if the spirit says “do not have any children, period”?

    Way back when I was a senior in HS, a full 12 years before I joined the church, I had this very strong impression that I would not be a father. Of course I was the ultimate nerd (band, chorus, A/V club, D&D) so I would never have a date. I have had dates (many) and marriages (2), but still that prompting I had in HS grows to this day. I had a vasectomy 18 months ago (age 37) and I am more sure of my decision than ever.

  103. Adam Greenwood on December 29, 2005 at 11:59 pm

    If you are sure that’s what God wants of you, then you don’t need our confirmation. Do what you ought.

    I’m sorry for you, but remember that God sometimes has us suffer in this life but in the long run no blessing is denied to the faithful.

  104. Phouchg on December 30, 2005 at 9:43 am

    I was not looking for confirmation. I was just asking a question.

    Do not be sorry for me. Believe me, I am not suffering. But if I had kids I would jump off a building.

  105. Maxinne (po-Mo spelling) on December 30, 2005 at 10:17 am

    Joe, thank you for daring to be yourself. This is a provocative thread. BTW, I’m a friend of your brother, Ted.

    The topics of sex and birth control are close to my heart or perhaps another organ. I’ve researched, written, spoken about birth control in Mormon culture since about 1987, including short articles entitled “Compulsory Pregnancy” and “Multiply and Replenish–If You Want To,” as well as a research article in 1999 (nearly identical to Melissa’s article four years later).

    Anyway, I agree with you on several points, yet disagree with you on others.

    I agree that the intimacy of intercourse deserves commitment from partners.

    I agree that people have idealistic views of birth control, especially the pill, but not because it’s unreliable, rather because people ignore the health risks of the pill. However, people ignore the health risks of pregnancy too, which is far more dangerous to a woman’s health and life than any form of birth control including the pill and abortion. A pregnancy stresses the health and life of a mother to its limits. There is no such thing as a risk-free pregnancy; every pregnancy risks a woman’s health in a variety of ways. It is such a serious burden to the body, that woman needs to listen to her body and follow her inner wisdom about whether to undertake a pregnancy or not. A friend of mine died from a so-called risk free pregnancy.

    Also, abortion is not the only recourse for failed birth control (i.e., the morning after pill and other treatments). However, abortion is a method of birth control, so I fail to understand why people find that odd.

    Intercourse does not incur pregnancy; they are two different processes. Fertilization is what incurs pregnancy. There are plenty of infertile women who can have unprotected sex during ovulation and still not get pregnant. Thus it does not follow that one shouldn’t have sex unless they’re willing to have a child with their sex partner. Intercourse cannot be equated to pregnancy nor parenthood.

    However, intercourse is inexorably linked to intimacy, as well as exchange of body fluids, germs and microbes, thus it is a great responsibility deserving of commitment, bond, honesty, sincerity. But intercourse is not inexorably linked to pregnancy.

    Intercourse that is independant of pregnancy or parenthood is not based upon a faulty view of birth control. It’s based upon the reality that sex and pregnancy are not the same thing.

    Meanwhile, if sex should only occur within marriage then the prophet Joseph sinned, and Abraham Lincoln would never have been born.

    I certainly agree that “if women must be allowed to choose whether or not they can be pregnant…and if no contraceptive is 100% effective, then women must have access to abortion as a back-up.” If women are not allowed to choose whether they can be pregnant, that is compulsory pregnancy. Babies are not made by fertilization alone, they are made by women’s bodies. It should be a woman’s decision whether to allow her body to be used as a host for the birth and growth of another human being.

    I agree that procreation and marital intimacy are sacred things, to be respected. And I agree that “worldly” views or values or trends tend to cheapen and destroy the sanctity of sexual intimacy, which is precious. Sex without intimacy, bonding and spirituality can be depraved, empty, degrading, lifeless.

    I agree that sexuality is inexorably connected to our divinity. It is the divine source of our being, our spiritual and physical life force, which continues through both the sex act and procreation. Yet sex itself can be unholy or degrading, even if the couple is married, if there’s no respect or love present in the act. It may be more sinful to have sex with a spouse you abhor, than to have sex with a lover you adore.

    I certainly hope that “most married couples have sexual intercourse many more times than they give birth.”

    I agree that “100% effectiveâ€? contraceptive would not “change the fact that sex is spiritually identified as the “sacred powers of procreation.â€?” I agree that “Sex is divinely ordained as “the means by mortal human life is created.â€?”

    However, the link is not “inseparable” between sex and procreation, nor “between married love and new human life.”

    Sex can occur without procreation. And unmarried love can bring children into the world. Unfortunately, new human life arrives every day whether love was involved or not.

    I’m not a regular blogger at all, so I may not reply or get back to this thread but thanks for the engaging discussion.

    Maxine Hanks

  106. Joseph Stanford on December 30, 2005 at 10:55 am

    I enjoyed reading through the responses to my post. These are obviously sensitive issues. I would like to emphasize that 1) I do not claim to declare church doctrine; 2) Church policy and doctrine are clearly that choices about sex and procreation are the privilege and the responsibility of the married couple and the Lord. I support this completely. I do not presume to judge anyone for making choices or believing something differently than I do in these matters.

    Having said that, these are not matters of little importance. Nor do I believe that they are self-evident and need no discussion. These are some of the most important choices a married couple makes. So it is important that couples consider these choices carefully, obtain the best information that they can, and make the best choices they can, with prayer. Unfortunately, much of the information out there is incomplete or flat wrong. For instance, I have published (in peer-reviewed medical literature) studies documenting that a majority of physicians are uninformed or misinformed when it comes to natural family planning (NFP). (Nurse midwives did better but most of them were misinformed also.) I think that one of the reasons that the Church (wisely) takes few, and relatively cautious and vague statements on medical issues is that medical facts and understanding change with time, more often than not.

    I have a few responses to the discussion.

    #2, 72 and others. I find it interesting that those who quoted the Church handbook did not mention that it also still specifically discourages sterilization (which obviously many church members choose). The Church handbook contains policy for priesthood leaders to refer to. It obviously does not contain instruction for members, since members are not given access to it. (What is or is not church doctrine and how it is developed and codified are separate issues that I believe I have seen discussed on T&S in the past.) Related, I find it an interesting position seemingly implied in some posts that since in recent years, few GAs are saying anything specific about birth control or that it is not a touchstone for the temple recommend interview, it must be an area where anything goes. Or that unless a GA says something to support NFP, it must not be worth consideration. I don’t find those lines of reasoning very convincing. Obviously, it is an area where none of us (including myself) is given authority to tell someone else what they should do. But that is not the same as saying there are no moral issues involved.

    #3, 11, 40 and others. As was suggested, I will in fact be posting soon on NFP and effectiveness as a separate threads.

    Sara R., thank you for jumping in with your posts on practical experience with NFP. One of the main sources of prejudice against NFP is that few people know anyone that has used a modern method successfully, which leaves a lot of room for myth and prejudice. Thanks for being willing to share.

    #45. I plan to start a new thread regarding fertility treatment.

    #75, 77, 78. Another future thread.

    Joseph Stanford

  107. Joseph Stanford on December 30, 2005 at 11:01 am

    A few more responses.

    #4, 70, and others, Amen. Sex is mysterious and sacred. Like the family of which it is the foundation, that is precisely why it is profaned so extensively in the world. (I am not saying that the mechanics of sex are necessarily exactly the same celestially as telestially.) To the extent that we focus on the mechanics or regard the idea of sexual union to be outside religion or outside the celestial world, I believe to that extent we have been influenced by the world.

    #5, 7, 10, and others. I think the “honest biological perspective” that I described is not only concordant with GA views, but with scripture (Genesis 1:28; 2:24 and others), and as you say, with a natural law perspective. In general, I am sympathetic to the idea of natural law (Alma 30:44; D&C 88:34-39), as well as specifically in this case, though I am no philosopher and cannot make a detailed philosophical argument. In saying this is consistent, I am not arguing that we can derive everything we need to know morally from a biological perspective or from natural law.

    #26. Hugh Hefner and his like in the world absolutely deny the link between sex and procreation with their entire approach to sex. I am not saying they are stupid and don’t understand Biology 101. I am saying that their moral approach to sex is that is for fun, that procreation can and absolutely should be excluded unless it is positively chosen. The opening statement for their approach would probably sound a lot like #6.

    #20- The issue of a couple in which the woman has a relative or an absolute contraindication to pregnancy, either for herself or for offspring. To really respond adequately to someone in this situation, I would need to sit down in person and talk about a lot more than can be done online, logistically or appropriately. But, let’s assume for the moment that the contraindication is in fact absolute- for example, the best medical judgment is that the woman would have a 1% or greater chance of dying if she got pregnant. At that point, I would advise the couple that medically, their “100%” options are: 1) hysterectomy/oophorectomy (removal of the uterus and ovaries); 2) complete abstinence from genital contact; 3) orchiectomy (removal of the testicles). Their “99%” options are 4) sterilization of the woman or man; 5) injectable progestins (Depo-Provera); 6) the levonorgestrel IUD; 7) NFP based on reliable markers of ovulation, with intercourse confined to the postovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle (and abstinence, not condoms during all other phases of the cycle); 8 ) oral contraceptives taken absolutely every day, with no exceptions or misses. None of these choices are easy and all have their problems. I would not presume to make anyone’s choice for them. I believe there are reasons to encourage choices #2 or #7, and I would encourage any couple in this very difficult situation to fully consider them.

  108. danithew on December 30, 2005 at 11:21 am

    Dr./Brother Stanford … thanks for visiting the thread and giving some responses. I enjoyed reading them.

    By the way, I want to just say congrats on being one of the first medical doctors to provide serious content in the ‘Nacle. I have often thought to myself (in a humorous way) that the difference between LDS lawyers and LDS doctors is that LDS lawyers have time to blog.

    Really, I’d like to see more LDS doctors sharing their thoughts in the ‘Nacle. I feel you’ve made already made a positive contribution by showing up.

  109. annegb on December 30, 2005 at 11:34 am

    I was going to play with your heads and try to say something deeply spiritual and try to post positive comments under another name, but I just cannot do it. “I cannot post a lie” -Tom Sawyer? Could we possibly say the word intercourse more times? What is with you guys?

    Only the thought that this could be read by a million people today makes me cautious about begging you to please shutup, shutup, shutup.

    You’ve done what TLC and all day of sitting around crying from exhaustion yesterday did not. I am turning off m computer and going to bed. I am going to read Teacher Man by Frank McCourt.
    Maybe even The Ensign.

  110. annegb on December 30, 2005 at 11:36 am

    In just a minute.

  111. Adam Greenwood on December 30, 2005 at 11:46 am

    PhouchG,
    It sounds like what the Spirit is telling you lines up with your own wishes. Nothing wrong with that. But your wishes are of the kind that will eventually have to go by the wayside. So my advice to you is not nourish them.

  112. Christian Y. Cardall on December 30, 2005 at 12:04 pm

    Just to follow up on Bro. Stanford’s views from an “honest biological perspective”: Bro. Stanford, how do you feel about the spaying and neutering of household pets? Among LDS creation narratives is the notion that not just humans, but also animals are to fill the measure of their creation by multiplying and replenishing the earth, and having joy therein. Do spaying and neutering represent frustration of divine intentions on a par with reproductive technologies employed by and on humans?

  113. diogenes on December 30, 2005 at 3:00 pm

    I take it that under Dr. Stanford’s “honest biological perspective,” tasting or eating foods for pleasure, without intending to derive nutrition, is a violation of God’s law, since the natural purpose of the mouth, esophagus, gut, etc., is “obviously” for nourishment — a conclusion supported, of course, by the many scriptural and general authority passages about eating and nutrition.

    (And which also perhaps explains why Mormons are always blessing the food that “it may nourish and strengthen us.”)

  114. Adam Greenwood on December 30, 2005 at 4:08 pm

    Interesting point, Diogenes. I was thinking of a similar analogy. When I get a chance I’ll post it.

  115. Otto on December 30, 2005 at 4:34 pm

    Mormons are always blessing the food that “it may nourish and strengthen us.�

    Yes, I’m always amused at that pause when the person saying the blessing realizes that the food about to be eaten has no nutritional value: “And please bless these… Krispy Kreem donuts and root beer floats… that they may, er, nourish and strengthen our bodies…”

    To get back to Bro. Stanford’s post and response:

    I feel a little guilty to have been part of the pile-on before he had a chance to respond. Still, I’m confused about what he terms the “honest biological perspective,” in that I don’t really understand how it intersects with the gospel perspective. It seems to me that once someone tries to exercise some control over wether or not sex produced conception, whether that control takes the form of timing or of contraceptives, it’s all the same. The only difference is a curious kind concessionism built into NFP: we’ll try to control it, but with statistically more flexible means — or, in other words, we don’t want to have a baby yet, but if God really wants it to happen, we’ll supply the ingredients so we can say we left the possibility open.

    Doesn’t the argument thus pull in two seemingly opposite directions? On the one hand, advocates for NFP argue its effectiveness if implemented correctly; on the other hand, if there is some spiritual superiority to NFP, it would seem to reside in the fact that it’s _less_ effective at preventing pregnancy.

    Also, am I correct in assuming that in Bro. Stanford’s view, any sexual activities (I don’t want to get to graphic, but you know what I mean) that don’t involve vaginal intercourse (and thus really don’t have _any_ possibility of creating pregnancy), fall outside the boundaries of “spiritually-oriented” sex?

  116. Sara R on December 30, 2005 at 5:26 pm

    Otto,

    Here are my answers:

    Watch for the upcoming post about NFP (or follow the links I provided earlier in this thread) for information about NFP and effectiveness. Modern symptothermal methods predict a woman’s fertility very accurately. It involves the woman taking her temperature every day (the temperature goes up about a half a degree shortly after ovulation) and noticing her level of cervical fluid. It’s not the same thing as the rhythm method stats that the contraceptive manufacturer’s charts like to quote.

    If you use NFP to avoid successfully pregnancy, you really really have to not want a baby, for good reasons. Otherwise when push comes to shove the couple is likely to say, “Sure, we want a baby!” at the spur of the moment and knowingly risk it. This could be one of the reasons why NFP couples tend to have more children. It could also be that people who choose NFP are more open to life and children in general. It could also be that couples who choose NFP optimize the fertility they have, by making it easier to conceive children, and by not experiencing side effects of some kinds of birth control that can make it more difficult for women to have children in the future. I liked NPF because cause and effect stayed so clear. When we used it to avoid pregnancy, we knew we were making a sacrifice, so we made sure it was for a good reason. Since we made that sacrifice monthly, we revisited that decision every month.

    As I learned from reading Ann Landers when I was a teenager, some kinds of non-intercourse genital contact can lead to pregnacy (IMO, in the case of extraordinarily fertile people). Cervical fluid is the highway the sperm take, and at there’s plenty of cervical fluid outside of the vagina at the height of a woman’s fertile time. Otherwise, in my marriage I judge “spiritually-oriented sex” by other criteria (e.g. does anyone feel degraded). Of course when we want to have a baby we make sure we are doing what is most likely to lead to that goal. (Okay, that was borderline TMI. Sorry.)

  117. Otto on December 30, 2005 at 5:38 pm

    Sara,

    Thanks for the response. Your viewpoint as a practitioner of NFP is very informative.

    I’m still curious about Bro. Stanford’s position, however, because I think you make some distinctions that I don’t detect in his post and comments–especially with regards to what counts as “spiritually-oriented sex.” I thus don’t sense in your comment the tension I observed in his post and comments–the tension between NFP advocacy in terms of effectiveness vs. NFP advocacy in terms of spirituality (which he seems to link directly to the possibility of its being potentially less-effective at preventing pregnancy).

  118. rich on December 30, 2005 at 11:02 pm

    just watched a 3D imax film with my 4-year-old about animals in south africa and learned that the leopard mates once a year over a 3-day period . . . and during that 3-day period, the couple copulates over 100 times.

    doctrine and covenants seems to suggest in section 88 (vs. in the 20s) that animals live a celestial law . . . so i’m wondering, why did god command leopards to have sex so many times in just a few days? does god want animals to have sex for the fun of it, in a way unrelated to procreation? kinda seemed relevant to this very sexy post . . .

  119. Sara R on December 31, 2005 at 1:24 am

    You may as well ask why female rabbits ovulate after copulation. (No NFP possible for them!) Animals differ.

  120. Andermom on January 1, 2006 at 12:23 am

    My husband and I have used NFP/FAM since about 2 mo. after we got married. The reason we started using NFP is because we were poor students and couldn’t afford the BC pills. Since then we have insurance again and can afford the pills, but now we continue to use FAM for a few reasons which are as follows.
    -The long tern affects of BC pills are poorly studied and rarely disclosed and often discretited by many Doctors.
    - I personally believe BC pills are an abortifacent. They work by doing the following: 1. Suppressing ovulation(not preventing, just making it less likely) 2. Reducing Cervical Fluids/mucus so sperm will not survive as long, or move as quickly. 3. Making the womb a hostile environment to a fetilized egg. I depends on where you believe life actually starts.
    - I find it to have a more even distribution of labor. I put up with taking my temperature etc. and my husband puts up with using a condom for a week or so. I think it’s more fair than my being responsible for taking pills everyday and dealing with the emotional/physical consequences while my husband does nothing.
    -There is still a chance that BC pills won’t work, and that I could get pregnant anyways. Being on the pill in early pregnancy probably isn’t good for the baby. It’s like spermicide, sure most of them won’t survive, but the ones that do will probably get messed up in the process.

  121. Rosalynde Welch on January 1, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    Otto, I don’t claim to answer for Joseph Stanford, but perhaps I’ll take a stab at your question from my understanding of the position he shares with others (among whom, incidentally, I don’t count myself.)

    The perspective Joseph Stanford is incrementally laying down for us does not undertake as the ultimate good to maximize the number of children born to a couple; that is, its spiritual value does *not* lie in the “the fact that it’s _less_ effective at preventing pregnancy.” (Indeed, others who share his position oppose the use of assisted reproductive techniques, though I’m not sure of Dr. Stanford’s view.) The moral offense does not inhere in limiting the number of children per se. Rather, the offense lies in the disruption of a divinely-ordained moral semiotics of sex and reproduction. On this view, sexual intercourse—the moral signifier—entails two specific conceptual meanings (not necessarily material results, of course), procreative and unitive—the moral signifieds.*** Moral offense lies in wilfully disrupting the inherent semiotic link between sex and procreation (or, indeed, between sex and marital unity, the other meaning). Thus a couple who abstains from sexual intercourse in order to avoid pregnancy, not disrupting the correspondence between the act and its meaning, commits no moral offense. The couple who artificially changes the conditions of intercourse to preclude pregnancy, on the other hand, disrupts the divinely-ordained correspondence.

    I’ll admit, there’s an elegance to the system of meaning and correspondence that I find very attractive here, although, as I suggest above, I suspect that the argument is built on natural law grounds that I find unsatisfying. (Alas, a lovely semiotics alone does not a compelling argument make.) Furthermore, the principle of fecundity and fruitfulness that undergirds the moral semiotics I lay out above is, I think, abundantly present in Mormon thought—although, again, I think other strands of Mormon thought severely challenge the natural law framework in which it’s based.

    Indeed, I’ve often thought that the polymorphous social changes that have altered institutions and social formations so drastically in recent decades—much of the alteration for the worse—nearly all go back to the abrogation of the link between sex and reproduction within marriage made possible by artificial contraceptives. The heartbreaker, of course, is that easy, affordable contraception has been so good for so many individual women. When it comes to the competition between needs of individual women and the needs of stable social formations, as we so often find, there’s no win-win scenario.

    ***(For the infertility objectors: note that the procreative meaning of sex is morally conceptual. Yes, this may leave you feeling left out. If I were infertile I know I would experience anguished doubts about the value of my marriage and, indeed, my own spiritual value. Nevertheless, infertile sex retains its procreative moral meaning, even though the realization of that meaning may be frustrated by natural obstacles. If this doesn’t make sense from a moral framework, try the analogous evolutionary framework: even though infertile sex is unsuccessful in reproducing the genes of its participants, the drives that motivate the act, and its biological meaning, nevertheless imply that reproduction *from an evolutionary perspective*.)

  122. Adam Greenwood on January 1, 2006 at 8:20 pm

    “When it comes to the competition between needs of individual women and the needs of stable social formations, as we so often find, there’s no win-win scenario.”

    Sad wisdom.

  123. Bookslinger on January 1, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    “Just sayin’” quoting J Ballard Washburn: “It is contradictory to this covenant to prevent the birth of children if the parents are in good health.”

    Health is one of the obvious exceptions. But, Dr. Stanford’s position, according to his 1999 article, seems to be to refuse, recommend against, and teach against all forms of birth control (even non-abortifacient barrier methods) except NFP in all circumstances.

    Suppose you and your 30 year old wife have 3 small children. Suppose your wife develops a condition where a further pregnancy has a 50% chance of resulting in her death. Using NFP, you have a 2.5% chance, (every year so it’s cumulative) of her getting pregnant. Are you willing to play Russian Roullette with the life of your children’s mother?

    As for quoting G.A’s at General Conference, let me point you to a quote by Elder Nelson that really opened my eyes:

    “Through the years you will note that apostles and prophets teach the rule. We don’t teach exceptions to the rule. Exceptions are left to individual agency and accountability. The Lord knows we live in an imperfect world. He knows it is ‘ripening in iniquity’ (D&C 18:6). His judgments will be fair, just, and merciful.” Spoken by Elder Nelson at a CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 6, 2005. Brigham Young University

    My life took a bad path for a long time because I used to believe that
    statements by the Apostles at General Conference were absolutes. I was kind of “fundamentalist.” And I had a big problem when observed reality in the church didn’t match the Brethren said “must be.”

  124. Melissa on January 2, 2006 at 1:01 am

    “If I were infertile I know I would experience anguished doubts about the value of my marriage and, indeed, my own spiritual value.”

    I’m intrigued. Please say more, RW. Help me understand why infertility would cause you “anguished doubts” about your “spiritual value”?

  125. Jim F. on January 2, 2006 at 1:41 am

    I agree with Melissa: I’m intrigued by the comment. Would you expect infertile or impotent males to have the same kinds of doubts? Why or why not?

  126. Chad Too on January 2, 2006 at 2:07 am

    RW: I’m really trying to give you the benefit of the doubt here, but do you really think there is such a rigid connection between the worth of a marriage and the presence of genetically-related children? That somehow a man and woman who, due to physical obstacles beyond their control, aren’t able to create and carry embryos are somehow of less value spiritually? If so, one word: hogwash.

    I suggest you volunteer to work in the nursery at the St. Louis temple on a day when adopted children are going to be sealed to their adoptive parents. The ceremony is beautiful but more importantly when all is said and done those children (and parents) are entitled to all the spiritual blessings that came to your children as a result of being born in the covenant.

    There is not one speck of common blood between me, my wife, and my son. Blood alone does not guarantee a continuance on the other side or else the sealing power would not be necessary. What makes us an eternal family is the same thing that so affects yours — the binding power of the Holy Priesthood.

  127. Christian Y. Cardall on January 2, 2006 at 7:46 am

    Rosalynde: Moral offense lies in wilfully disrupting the inherent semiotic link between sex and procreation (or, indeed, between sex and marital unity, the other meaning). Thus a couple who abstains from sexual intercourse in order to avoid pregnancy, not disrupting the correspondence between the act and its meaning, commits no moral offense.

    As I said here, I don’t understand why Dr. Stanford considers abstinence from all forms of mutual sexual expression during fertile periods the only moral stance. If marital unity is also a legitimate meaning, why should other forms of mutual sexual expression that have zero chance of pregnacy—and that a couple judge to be more unifying than abstinence—be immoral?

  128. Rosalynde Welch on January 2, 2006 at 9:40 am

    Eek, Melissa, Mark, and Chad Too— I was sinfully unclear. Let me rephrase: I certainly don’t question the value of *other* infertile or adoptive couples and individuals; Chad’s beautiful and moving defense of adoptive families (thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt, Chad!) perfectly reflects my own feelings about the noble parents and precious children who come together by adoption. And I know a number of childless or small families, made that way by primary or secondary infertility—and, indeed, childless unmarried women and men—who contribute inestimably to the value of my own life and community.

    BUT I recognize that an emphasis on fertility in marriage *may* lead some infertile individuals and couples to question their own value. I was trying to acknowledge the realness and the real cost of these feelings, rather than simply dismiss them as invalid or unwarranted, while nevertheless maintaining what I see as the coherence of the fertile-marriage vision. (Like I said, I don’t hold this worldview myself, but I think it’s coherent.) For what it’s worth, my surmises about my own response to infertility are based on my observations of dear ones who have struggled, some for many, many years, with it, on my experiences with pregnancy and childbirth in the various communities I inhabit, and on my intense anxiety about aging past childbearing years. In fact, I think my anxieties reflect a kind of psychic and spiritual pathology—albeit one that many women share and that is perhaps an inevitable byproduct of our emphasis on female fertility.

    As for Jim’s question about the differential response of women and men to infertility: while I know that men suffer disappointment and grief from an inability to engender or raise children, it seems to me that women suffer more—and this would seem to follow rather naturally from the greater emphasis on female fertility and motherhood in the present-day. (This is just my gut feeling, however; I could be wrong.) Perhaps if we move toward a greater emphasis on male fertility—as we see in the Old Testament, or early LDS thought, for example—the responses would equalize?

  129. Bookslinger on January 2, 2006 at 9:53 am

    Melissa, Jim F, Chad:

    Though spiritual self worth shouldn’t be tied to biological fertility, it often is in some (many?) people’s, mostly women’s, minds. I don’t think Rosalynde was saying that infertile women should doubt their spiritual value, she was just acknowledging that it’s common, almost natural to feel that way. When someone finds out they are infertile, it can be the dashing of their hopes and dreams they they held most of their life.

    God hard-wired the “mother instinct” in most women. I’ve heard more than one woman say “My body is screaming at me to get pregnant.”

    The church also inculcates that with the “woman’s highest calling is motherhood” teaching. By not always enunciating the exceptions in every breath, that teaching makes it difficult for some women to focus on adoption when they find out they are infertile.

    Granted, some women never have the “my body is screaming to get pregnant” phase. And for most who do go through it, it only lasts for a period of time.

    But to go through that “my body is screaming to get pregnant” and then find out you can’t get pregnant, some women feel like they are defective.

    There is so much emphasis in the church, both doctrinally and culturally, on getting married and having children, that many women find it hard to deal with when they find out they are the exceptions. Being single or childless can be like a car wreck, it’s something that’s supposed to happen to other people.

  130. Christian Y. Cardall on January 2, 2006 at 10:51 am

    Rosalynde, you’ve labeled the fertility vision coherent. Would the spaying and neutering of household pets destroy that coherence, since these are also commanded to fill the measure of their creation by multiplying and replenishing and having joy in their posterity?

  131. Sara R on January 2, 2006 at 11:01 am

    It took me a couple of years to have my first, and that was a tough time for me. A big part of that was if I wasn’t a stay-at-home mom, I had to do something else in the meantime. I didn’t know how long it would take me to get pregnant, or whether or not I should start another degree for a more long-term career. Some men may be sad about infertility, but since most men are in the workforce, they wouldn’t be reminded of it day to day in the way that the wannabe stay-at-home mom would be reminded. I don’t think it would strike at the core of identity in quite the same way.

  132. Sara R on January 2, 2006 at 11:08 am

    Christian, I’ve read “The Art of Natural Family Planning,” the Couple to Couple League’s book of instruction about NFP. It didn’t say anything in it about animals. I haven’t heard of any pronouncements from the Pope on the matter either (not that I’ve studied it). I vaguely recall that a character in one of the Avonlea books (set in a time when birth control was morally unaccceptable to Protestants and Christians alike) mentioned the necessity of drowning kittens because otherwise cats would overrun the world. That’s the best I can do.

  133. Matt Evans on January 2, 2006 at 11:18 am

    Rosalynde and Adam, there’s no need to lament only the inevitable conflict between individuals and society to women — there is inevitable conflict between a stable society and *all* individuals, even men. Most of those who paid the ultimate price to make our society free have been men, and men have risked much more venturing far from hearth and home.

    Christian, it seems to me that the right to kill animals for human purposes includes the lesser right to prevent animals from reproducing when that suits human purposes. The lesser right to keep animals as pets in the first place — alienated from their kind and from opportunities for reproduction — stems from our rights to dominion, too.

  134. Rosalynde Welch on January 2, 2006 at 11:51 am

    Christian, my understanding of this worldview comes mostly from the Catholic context, in particular Paul VI’s 1968 Humanae Vitae encyclical. I don’t believe that the Catholic vision assigns the same procreative morality to animals that it does to humans, thus I don’t think that spaying/neutering would be a problem. If indeed the Mormon worldview does assign the same eternal procreative potential to animals that it does to humans (and I’m not sure if it does), then yes, I think there may be an inconsistency in spaying/neutering.

  135. Russell Arben Fox on January 2, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    “If indeed the Mormon worldview does assign the same eternal procreative potential to animals that it does to humans (and I’m not sure if it does), then yes, I think there may be an inconsistency in spaying/neutering.”

    This is tempting me to haul out a Sunstone paper Mark Bigelow and I wrote years ago on, among other things, the possibility of a Green or “deep ecological” reading of the creation story, particularly as contained in the temple ceremony. Very very short version: given that it is plain that the many varieties of creation inhabit “spheres and elements” that overlap, invade, or are even parasitic upon one another (predators and prey, etc.), it can’t be that respecting the command that the beings of this world “fulfill the measure of their creation” demands an absolute “hands off” approach to dealing with other–or even our own–species. Good stewards or gardeners manage and sometimes consciously limit the natural resources and variety which affects their work; since we are all essentially in a stewardship relationship to the natural world (including our own place in the natural world), the same principles would seem to follow.

  136. Christian Y. Cardall on January 2, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    Sara R., I’m aware that the First Things article does not mention animals. But in a certain creation account very important to and authoritative for Mormons, fertility of animals is described with the same language and imperatives as that of humans.

    It is true that later in this important Mormon experience certain additional restrictions are prescribed for humans that are not given for animals, but it seems to me that Bro. Stanford’s views rely more on the former imperatives that are common with animals, and that the latter specifically human-related restrictions say nothing about either the use of reproductive technology or complete abstinence from all forms of mutual sexual expression by legally and lawfully married persons. Hence if views on reproductive technology are derived from the former imperatives, it seems reasonable to ask if similar views follow for animals on a similar basis.

  137. Christian Y. Cardall on January 2, 2006 at 1:37 pm

    Matt, the fact that animals have been given a divine command to reproduce means that preventing reproduction by animals is not necessarily a lesser right. God did give dominion, which presumably includes a right to kill for humans’ food and clothing. But killing for other purposes might be deemed an unrighteous exercise of dominion. And depending on one’s views of the relationship between the use of technology and the divine reproductive imperative given to animals and humans, so might spaying and neutering also be deemed an unrighteous exercise of dominion.

  138. Christian Y. Cardall on January 2, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    Russell, that—stewardship—is exactly where I was headed with this line of argument. Expecting no one to argue against spaying and neutering but instead see these technologies as a reasonable exercise of stewardship, it seems the use of reproductive technology by humans is eminently justifiable in Mormonism on a similar basis of stewardship. (Different forms, or avoiding technology altogther, might be more or less desirable for various reasons; but that’s a separate argument from normative morality.)

    Of course, Rosalynde was astute enough to not to rise to the bait. But I’m still curious to know what Dr. Stanford would say.

  139. Joseph Stanford on January 2, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    Very interesting comments.
    First, I apologize for not being fast enough for this group at starting the NFP and infertility threads, so that multiple things are being discussed here simultaneously. I will get to those threads as fast as I can.

    Regarding eating for pleasure. I find nothing wrong with eating for pleasure, within reasonable limits. But eating is obviously primarily for sustenance. I do think there is something disordered and obviously unhealthy with over-eating that results in obesity (whether or not it is a “sin” is another question and I think depends on the circumstances of the individual which ultimately only God can judge). And it seems obvious to me that it is wrong to eat and then induce oneself to throw up afterwards to avoid the consequences of the caloric intake. Whatever one chooses to eat, one should accept the caloric consequences. That seems to me to be the best analogy to sex and accepting the potential procreative consequences. People may differ as to whether this means we shouldn’t use a hormone or device to prevent the natural processes that may lead to fertilization. I would hope that most people on this forum would at least agree that it would be morally objectionable to interrupt the process of human development after fertlization (or some might say, implantation) to avoid the consequences of the original sexual intercourse.

    But I am getting ahead of myself a bit, as is this discussion in general. People seem to think I am trying to establish a complete moral framework for NFP with this one principle, which I am not. My thesis for this thread is that the link between sex and procreation is divinely ordained and should be respected. I fully understand that different reasonable people of faith (LDS or otherwise) may differ in their understanding of what they consider adequately respects the link. But at a minimum, it seems to me that it means no abortion for birth control. I want to emphasize again that even if one accepts any kind of birth control method other than abortion, the exclusion of abortion is fundamentally different than the world’s doctrine, which is that sex and procreation are, or should be, completely separate. The worldly ideal of women having absolutely complete control over when and whether they have children (independent of sexual activity) REQUIRES abortion, because no method of family planning is 100% complete. If most of us can agree with this (or agree to disagree), then perhaps we can move to other threads and other considerations.

  140. Joseph Stanford on January 2, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    Regarding animals. I agree with the posts regarding man’s dominion (in terms of stewardship, not exploitation) over animals. Further, animals are fundamentally different than humans (whether or not they have common evolutionary origins and whether or not they have souls). For purposes here, let’s just note that animals do not have given to them no have the capacity to obey the commandment “thou shalt not commit adultery,” let alone the commandment not to look on a [wo]man and lust after her[him] in the heart. Obviously, animals cannot practice NFP. They don’t have the understanding. I am not a veterinarian or comparative biologist, but I think it’s a safe statement that no animals understand the connection between sex and pregnancy. So I have no qualms about sterilizing animals when it is consistent with good stewardship over them. But I don’t see how that necessarily justifies sterilizing humans. It seems a very strange application of “natural law” to say that whatever we do to animals, we can necessarily do to humans. In fact, there are many things that we can do to animals that we shouldn’t do to humans, such as kill them for food or leather, use them for medical research that has no direct benefit to them or may harm them, and so forth.

    #121, as far as I understand her terms, is correct about how I see the procreative and unitive aspects of human sex.

    I also think she is right on target in describing how the worldly doctrine of the separation of the two (and its pursuit through various contraceptives) has in fact contributed to many social problems. When people first introduced oral contraceptives in 1960, they were heralded by many as a savior for society. Abortion, divorce, unwanted pregnancy, would all go down forever. They all went up- dramatically. Coincidence? I don’t think so. At the very least, the pill didn’t help these problems, and there is plenty of reason to suspect it made them worse.
    “Indeed, I’ve often thought that the polymorphous social changes that have altered institutions and social formations so drastically in recent decades—much of the alteration for the worse—nearly all go back to the abrogation of the link between sex and reproduction within marriage made possible by artificial contraceptives. The heartbreaker, of course, is that easy, affordable contraception has been so good for so many individual women. When it comes to the competition between needs of individual women and the needs of stable social formations, as we so often find, there’s no win-win scenario.”

    Except that I would argue that there is a healthier and effective alternative that does create a way out of this false dilemma of individual versus social interest, as I will state in future threads. (And just to head off wild speculation- no, I do not advocate making contraception illegal or harder to get. To reiterate from the 12/25 thread, I do not tell women or couples that they shouldn’t use the birth control pill or that they are sinning if they do so.)

    #120- I still hope to get to a thread on postfertilization effects of some forms of birth control.

    #123- I think it’s fair to say that human nature is such that most people are inclined to think of themselves as the exception. That is not to say that there are no exceptions. The case of an absolute contraindication for pregnancy is the same as raised in #20 and my response is in #107.

  141. Matt Evans on January 2, 2006 at 6:48 pm

    Christian, it seems inescapable to me that the right to reproduce is contingent and subsidiary to the right to life, and if humans have the moral responsibility to determine which forms of plants and animals live and die, we have the lesser and ancillary right to prevent their reproduction. Because spaying and neutering are encouraged to prevent animals from becoming pests, and because I believe humans have the right to kill plants and animals that are pests, I believe it is a proper exercise of our dominion to prevent plants and animals from becoming pests. (It would seem strange indeed if we couldn’t keep pests from reproducing and had to kill them rather than prevent them.)

    I think it would be possible to justify human use of birth control on the basis of our sterlizing animals were it moral to kill excess people, as it is to kill excess plants and animals.

  142. Christian Y. Cardall on January 2, 2006 at 10:30 pm

    Rosalynde (#121): Moral offense lies in wilfully disrupting the inherent semiotic link between sex and procreation (or, indeed, between sex and marital unity, the other meaning). Thus a couple who abstains from sexual intercourse in order to avoid pregnancy, not disrupting the correspondence between the act and its meaning, commits no moral offense.

    Under this logic there would be no moral offense only if the abstinence were continuous. A pattern of sexual intercourse that purposefully avoids fertile periods constitutes just as willful a break between the act and its procreative meaning as any other means of contraception. Indeed, we must go further and recognize that, given knowledge of fertility cycles, preservation of this semiotic link demands that intercourse be undertaken only during the fertile period. In this respect, we have a case where ignorance truly would be bliss.

    Needless to say, this inevitable consequence stinks—whatever the elegance of the argument that leads to it.

  143. Christian Y. Cardall on January 3, 2006 at 7:21 am

    As I understand Bro. Stanford’s argument regarding animals, it hinges on understanding: those capable of understanding that God has commanded procreation through sex have an obligation to abstain from sex when procreation is not appropriate, rather than employ technology to avoid the procreative result of sex.

    I agree that because of lack of understanding animals would not be under any obligation to voluntarily abstain; but I have a question about whether this argument based on understanding is sufficient justification for Bro. Stanford to approve of the sterilization of animals. For when a human has insufficient mental capacity to have the understanding to abstain, those with stewardship over him regulate his social environment in such a way as to enforce abstinence on his behalf rather than resort to technology deemed repugnant to divine commands to procreate. Since for Mormons animals have received the same divine command to procreate, it seems the more consistent stance for someone with Bro. Stanford’s views of reproductive technology would be, when they take on stewardship of a household pet, to regulate the pet’s social environment so as to enforce abstinence on its behalf if procreation is inappropriate, rather than give in to the worldly expedient of reproductive technology allegedly repugnant to divine intentions.

  144. Otto on January 3, 2006 at 8:51 am

    Under this logic there would be no moral offense only if the abstinence were continuous. A pattern of sexual intercourse that purposefully avoids fertile periods constitutes just as willful a break between the act and its procreative meaning as any other means of contraception. Indeed, we must go further and recognize that, given knowledge of fertility cycles, preservation of this semiotic link demands that intercourse be undertaken only during the fertile period.

    Christian hit the nail on the head. Modern NFP involves all sorts of “artificial technology.” I don’t discern the clear line between this and other forms of birth control. And I still don’t understand how NFP can claim both moral superiority based on the possibility of childbirth and practical adequacy based on its effectiveness at preventing pregnancy.

    Also, I’m not sure that other methods of birth control really sever the connection between sex and procreation in the way Bro. Stanford and others have suggested here. Is the semiotic connection based on our psychological awareness of the possibility of procreation? If so, we all understand that connection — that’s why, when we decide to, we used birth control. It’s not like using a condom makes us actually forget that sex can make babies.

  145. Christian Y. Cardall on January 3, 2006 at 9:18 am

    Matt, help me out of my confusion. Suppose one’s stance is that
    H1. God commanded humans to multiply and replenish the earth;
    H2. Therefore there is no such thing as an excess person;
    H3. Therefore people shall not be killed because they are deemed pests; nor their births prevented artificially in order to prevent them from becoming pests.

    If this person also believes (as Mormons do) that God also commanded animals to procreate, the same logical chain follows:
    A1. God commanded animals to multiply and replenish the earth;
    A2. Therefore there is no such thing as an excess animal;
    A3. Therefore animals shall not be killed because they are deemed pests; nor their
    births prevented artificially in order to prevent them from becoming pests.

    Suppose someone accepts both H1 and A1. It then seems incoherent to say H2 follows from H1 while denying (as you seem to) that A2 follows from A1.

    I’m not saying it’s impossible to hold both H1 and A1, while simultaneously accepting H2 and denying A2; but this only seems coherent if H2 does not follow from H1, but from something else.

    I suspect Catholics don’t face this dilemma because they don’t hold A1 (it not being in Genesis, but elsewhere in authoritative LDS creation lore). Perhaps they would say animals procreate automatically and thus needed no commandment, whereas humans’ ability to abstain made a commandment necessary. I suspect that to Catholics the Mormon position A1 is theologically unsound because animals are not rational and therefore cannot respond meaningfully to commandments.

  146. Christian Y. Cardall on January 3, 2006 at 9:34 am

    So I guess what I’m saying is that the unique Mormon truth A1 together with the reductio ad absurdum A3 takes Mormons to a different place than the Catholic position H3. Instead of considering unbounded fertility and end-of-life issues being considered manifestations of God’s will with which man ought not tamper (including, I would guess the pope would say, by NFP or capital punishment of murderers), man in becoming like God is expected to learn to exercise responsible and proper stewardship over the lives of both humans and animals. This stewardship may include things like contraception, capital punishment, and so on.

  147. Rosalynde Welch on January 3, 2006 at 10:57 am

    Christian and Otto, here are the passages relevant to your objections from the papal encyclical I referenced above:

    The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. (12) … Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious. In reality, these two cases are completely different. In the former the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature. In the latter they obstruct the natural development of the generative process. It cannot be denied that in each case the married couple, for acceptable reasons, are both perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and wish to make sure that none will result. But it is equally true that it is exclusively in the former case that husband and wife are ready to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable. And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love.

    According to my understanding of this position, God has naturally ordered human sexuality so as to provide periods of infertility for the exercise sexual intimacy that does not result in pregnancy. To make oneself aware of and to avail oneself of those periods—even if that awareness derives from “artificial” means such as taking one’s temperature—is not unlawful, because it does not intervene between specific acts of intercourse and consequent conception in the way that barrier, hormonal, and abortifacient methods do. Abstinence, by avoiding the act altogether rather than by avoiding its consequences, does not represent the same sort of “have your cake and eat it too” intervention. It seems to me that this distinction between abstinence and other forms of contraception is, at least, comprehensible. (Whether it is defensible, of course, is another question—and I tend to think that the coincidence of divine and natural ordering of sexuality implied above is not.)

    Otto, no, the correspondence between sex and reproduction, on this view, has nothing to do with human understanding, although human understanding can be applied to it; it has everything to do with a divinely ordained moral order that links objects (or acts) and meanings (or consequences.) Furthermore, as far as I know, the Catholic view does not claim superiority for NFP based on the possibility that pregnancy will accidentally result, as you continue to assert. I’d encourage you to google and read the text of the encyclical, if you’re interested in understanding the position more fully.

    (Listen, I’m not defending it, I’m just trying to articulate it honestly—which, it seems to me, should be the first step in any serious critique.)

  148. Matt Evans on January 3, 2006 at 11:05 am

    Christian,

    Because I don’t believe that human moral worth or God-given rights stem from the universal commandment for all life forms to mulitply, I don’t believe the worth or rights of other forms of life stem from that commandment, either. For that reason I reject that premises H2 and A2 follow from H1 or A1.

    I understand you to be saying that if we accept that our stewardship over other life forms includes the right to prevent their reproduction, it is probable that as stewards of our own lives, we have the moral right to prevent our own reproduction as well. The reason I don’t accept that argument is because I believe our right to sterilize plants and animals stems from our right to control their living and dying generally, a right we do not have towards humans. Were it immoral for us to kill plants or animals that had become noxious to human needs, I think it would probably be immoral for us to sterilize them, too, because sterilization is a form of extermination. (Sterilization preserves the individual but exterminates a class: the Nazis could have exterminated the Jews by removing the ovaries and testicles of all with potential to reproduce — the outcome would have been delayed but the same.)

    Because God has not approved of our killing excess humans, as he has our killing excess forms of other life, I do not believe the morality of spaying and neutering animals, or sterilizing any other form of life, in any way supports the morality of preventing human reproduction. Support for human birth control must be found elsewhere.

  149. Otto on January 3, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    as far as I know, the Catholic view does not claim superiority for NFP based on the possibility that pregnancy will accidentally result, as you continue to assert.

    I never asserted, or meant to assert, that the Catholic view asserts that. I was trying to ascertain Bro. Stanford’s position. I’m frankly only interested in engaging with the NFP philosophy in general only to the extent that it figures into an LDS discussion. I didn’t have the vatican in mind at all when writing any of my comments — except to whatever extent Bro. Stanford aligns papal thought with LDS thought.

    Also, if the connection between sex and procreation doesn’t have to do with human understanding (in, as you say, this view), what is the nature of the connection between human ideas about sex and the social ills we’ve been decrying in this thread?

  150. Christian Y. Cardall on January 3, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    Rosalynde, thanks for clarifying the pope’s position. (Don’t worry, you made clear previously it wasn’t your position, so don’t think my strong verb in #142 was aimed at you, or I should say, your arguments!) So I was wrong about the pope; I thought his much-vaunted consistency would extend to looking upon NFP as another way to ‘have one’s cake and eat it too.’ I stand by what I said in #142: periodic abstinence is not “avoiding the act altogether,” only sometimes, and with the intention of avoiding the consequences.

    God has naturally ordered human sexuality so as to provide periods of infertility for the exercise sexual intimacy that does not result in pregnancy.

    This argument fails, as you hint, in fact by getting things exactly backwards. (To understand this it must be recalled that Catholics accept God creating humanity through evolution.) The most straightforward reading of the relevant ‘natural law’ is that God created humans by evolving away from primate ancestors with manifest estrus to a form with concealed estrus, the purpose being to keep males guessing, and therefore more continually together with their mates as required by the greater support of females and offspring entailed by the longer gestation and maturation times required by the rational faculty that consitutes God’s image in man. Hence knowledge of the fertility cycle—only being discovered, what, maybe in the last century or so?—is far from being “a faculty provided them by nature.” On the contrary, its discovery and exploitation amount to a reverse engineering of a concealed fertility cycle intended by natural law (i.e. God) to promote a more permanent family structure—a reverse engineering enabling couples to enjoy sexual pleasure while thwarting the command to multiply and replenish.

    What I’d guess offhand this inconsistent argument represents is an attempt to remain true to previous absolute Catholic statements against contraception while offering a sop to overwhelming demands for fertility management (stoked of course by the observation of the rest of society using the other so-called artificial methods).

  151. Christian Y. Cardall on January 3, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    Matt, fair enough—for you. But in this you seem to be different from the pope: the rationale for prohibiting so-called artificial contraception given in the encyclical quote above is “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life”—which seems to be a clear reference to H1 (the command to multiply and replenish).

    The quote tries to paint NFP as being consistent with this requirement on “each and every marital act” by pointing to the sacrifice associated with even periodic abstinence, but I find that a transparent non sequitur.

  152. LisaB on January 3, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    Isn’t some part of the claim of superiority of NFP based on health risks of most other forms of BC?

  153. Russell Arben Fox on January 3, 2006 at 1:26 pm

    “Because God has not approved of our killing excess humans, as he has our killing excess forms of other life…”

    I don’t necessarily disagree with the position you’re sketching out, Matt, but let’s be careful with how we speak of “excess forms of other life”: see D&C 49:19-21, 59:16-20, and others.

    I really should haul out that old paper of mine.

  154. Adam Greenwood on January 3, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    “Furthermore, as far as I know, the Catholic view does not claim superiority for NFP based on the possibility that pregnancy will accidentally result, as you continue to assert.”

    The lay Catholic defense of NFP does sometimes include a reference to the enhanced possibilities for God to arrange a pregnancy, if he so desires. But I don’t think that really holds up and it certainly isn’t the mature, sophisticated defense of NFP among Catholics.

  155. Christian Y. Cardall on January 3, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    LisaB, I am sympathetic with health and noninvasiveness reasons for using NFP, but I don’t think that’s the basis of the encyclical quoted above (at least the quoted part). I contend that the semiotic argument is incoherent, and that the imposition of periodic abstinence fails as a support for it—hence I object to claims that the abstinence requirement involves moral superiority.

  156. Tatiana on January 3, 2006 at 2:09 pm

    Matt #133: “The lesser right to keep animals as pets in the first place — alienated from their kind and from opportunities for reproduction — stems from our rights to dominion, too.”

    Interesting perspective. Total threadjack, but do you think animals benefit from being kept as pets? I would have said the right to keep animals as pets stems from their agency, and the fact that they choose to become our pets. They look upon us as parents, we fill that role for them all of their lives, and they, of course, become our children. There’s a very real sense in which my relationship to my cats parallels God’s relationship to me, though the parallel is far from exact.

    It’s the topic for another thread, but there’s a real argument to be made that early humans would have gone extinct except for their amazing capacity to form symbiotic connections with other species (cattle, poultry, dogs, cats, horses, but also wheat, rice, corn), called by some the agricultural revolution but really better termed the biological revolution, since it involves domestic animals at least as much as plants. But a way of life must be taken up before it can be selected for by natural selection, just as birds must begin to eat a certain type of seed before their beaks can become adapted to it. So agency guides everything, throughout the animal kingdom, via evolution, albeit in a slower way than in human society now, and the sins (and virtues) of the parents are visited upon the children for umpteen generations. At some point in the course of human evolution, some human child and young animal (most likely) formed a bond to each other, an act of agency on both their parts that opened the way for our species survival and for the future adaptation of our two species in parallel.

    The relationships persist because they are symbiotic. We are given stewardship, but when we exploit that to the detriment of other species, we abuse our power, and will ultimately pay the final price. If we don’t begin to use our stewardship over the other species on Earth in a more righteous way, we will ultimately destroy ourselves as just the latest in a long line of species extinctions in this mass extinction humanity has set in motion. I think changing our idea of dominion over animals is key to exercising our stewardship virtuously. The master should become the servant, as we are taught by Christ. This shift of ideas is vital to our continued survival on Earth.

    I can see this all quite clearly. I wonder if I have managed to communicate any of it. :-)

  157. LisaB on January 3, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    Christian–I agree that that isn’t the stated Catholic position. Since I’m a bit of a granola girl myself, that’s the angle that would appeal to me about NFP. Personally, I do not view abstinence as natural or healthy. (YOWIE TMI!)

  158. LisaB on January 3, 2006 at 3:23 pm

    Oh–I was going to also ask Brother Stanford about his view of the health of the mother qualifier but believe he has hinted in one of his responses here at planning to discuss that further–and has implied that he takes a rather strict view of this (life or death only perhaps?). I would point out on the abortion question that the church stance contains qualifiers as well, so while I would generally agree that the church disapproves of abortion as birth control, the church-sanctioned exceptions muddy the water quite a bit. Who knows but the man and woman involved if a given conception is the result of consensual sex or rape? I know the abortion question could be a threadjack, but one that Brother Stanford has brought up himself.

  159. Andermom on January 3, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    LisaB Re #152
    The NFP textbook that I have (which I understand is the official one used by the Catholic church in it’s classes on NFP) really plays up the healthful nature of NFP. They claim that the charting invloved helps women be more aware of their bodies, and more able to spot problems and irregularities. They promote good nutrition, rest and exercise for both men and women (since you could get pregnant rather easily you should be ready for it at any time, and your husband should have healthy defect-free sperm all the time). In the section of the book where they discuss non-religious reasons not to use other methods they list health risks as a reason not to use just about all the non NFP methods (other than onanism).

    They also seem to really espouse the idea that natural is better because that is how God made it. They use this logic (among other reasons) to support not only NFP but breastfeeding and natural childbirth too.

  160. Matt Evans on January 3, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    Russell,

    When I refer to killing excess forms of life, I’m thinking of removing pests, not wantonly and wastefully destroying life. To my knowledge the primary reason God gave us weeds and other pests was precisely to create work for us as we sweat trying to kill them. That’s why it’s moral to kill noxious weeds, Mormon crickets, and house cats. ; )

  161. Adam Greenwood on January 3, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    Oh, dear, Matt Evans. You just gave me an excuse to link to a poem-thing.

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=453

  162. Rosalynde Welch on January 4, 2006 at 10:22 am

    Oops, Otto, then it looks as though I’ve committed my own cardinal sin of misreading. My apologies!

  163. Tom Van Gilder on January 4, 2006 at 10:38 am

    Hello! Thanks for the vigorous discussion. I’m an infrequent lurker, first-time commentor, and a Catholic who happened to be passing by. (Blame Mr. Greenwood.)

    For those interested in probably the most coherent and compelling treatment of NFP, contraception, and natural law (by a Catholic moral philosopher), I recommend various writings by Germain Grisez. He wrote a book called “Contraception and the Natural Law” in 1963; he has further developed the ideas in that book and are most completely found in his 3 (soon to be 4) volume, “The Way of the Lord Jesus.”

    Volume 3, “Difficult Moral Questions,” is the most straightforward way into Grisez’s writings, I think.

    Thanks again.

  164. Otto on January 4, 2006 at 11:11 am

    Rosalynde – no harm done!

    Adam: this thread’s unexpected swerve from the theology of birth control to the theology of weed control puts one of my favorite, if in this context quite tangential, anecdotes just within reach. I was working as a telephone pollster, and at the time I was calling people in southern utah and asking them questions about water conservation.

    Me (from script): Do you practice xerascaping?
    La Verkin Resident: What the heck is that?
    Me: It’s the practice of landscaping with plants native to the area and climate.
    Him: Hmmm, well, I reckon I do then, cuz everything in my yard grew there by itself!

    Obviously, a brother with a reverence for Creation and a devotion to letting nature run its course.

  165. Russell Arben Fox on January 4, 2006 at 11:55 am

    Thanks for stopping by, Mr. Gilder, and thanks for the recommendations; getting this kind of information directly from Catholic sources is important.

  166. Adam Greenwood on January 4, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    Tom Van Gilder,

    Good to hear from you. We don’t have an official position on birth control and so forth–we rely on each matrimony to personally engage the issue with study and prayer–suggestions like yours for helpful readings are greatly appreciated. Thanks for tip.

  167. Adam Greenwood on January 4, 2006 at 1:48 pm

    A true hero for our times, Otto. Perhaps he is even letting a few cars return to nature on his xeriscaped lawn.

  168. Melissa on January 5, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Bookslinger writes,
    “Though spiritual self worth shouldn’t be tied to biological fertility, it often is in some (many?) people’s, mostly women’s, minds. I don’t think Rosalynde was saying that infertile women should doubt their spiritual value, she was just acknowledging that it’s common, almost natural to feel that way.”

    I didn’t think that RW was trying to be normative. Rather, since my own spiritual identity rests on quite a different foundation I wanted her to say more about her own sense of things so I could try to understand her perspective a little better.

    RW, thanks of the clarification. You echoed the same sort of idea, however, when you wrote that you feel “intense anxiety about aging past childbearing years.” You describe this state of mind as a sort of pathology, but I wonder if you could say more about this anxiety as you experience it personally. It is so far outside my own experience that I can’t even relate to it. Is this simply a fear of getting older? Certainly older women are more prone to disease, disability and death than younger women, but it seems like there’s something specific to losing the ability to bear children that causes this aging anxiety for you. Since my own identity has very little to do with childbearing (obviously I ovulate and menstruate monthly but other than these biological processes I don’t think of myself as a childbearer) I’m fascinated by such “intense anxiety” at the prospect of losing this capacity.

  169. annegb on January 6, 2006 at 3:21 am

    Tom, guess what I have? A copy of Brother Lawrence’s letters. Yes. I do. I paid $30 for it, too.

    Then I wrote in it in red ink. Before I realized what I was doing. Well, I was studying. What a guy, huh?

    Just relating to Catholicism. No sex talk here.

  170. Joseph Stanford on January 8, 2006 at 1:24 am

    #142- I disagree with the position that respecting the link between sex and procreation requires that sex be restricted only to times of fertility. I disagree with the statement that having sex on an infertile day is breaking the link between sex and procreation.

    #144- I agree that it is possible to engage in sexual intercourse, with various forms of birth control, and still maintain in one’s mind and heart the willingness to accept a pregnancy and baby if one occurs. This is essentially what I was trying to say in #139. However, it is easier to put aside the awareness or to pretend that sex does not cause babies if one is using birth control, particularly a highly effective method such as sterilization. Other methods, such as condoms, make it more obvious. It’s most obvious with NFP. Although one can also put aside the awareness during use of NFP.

    I think I am in agreement with Matt Evans’ reasoning that a moral basis for human birth control cannot be based on animal birth control.

    Rosalynde, I appreciate your careful apprehension of the Catholic position, and your diligence in general to “hear” accurately. I respect that immensely. I have not based my position on the Catholic [papal] position, but I have found myself very close to it in this and other points. Not identical, but very similar.

    #149- just to be clear on the record, no, I don’t think that a higher “accidental” pregnancy rate is evidence for a moral superiority of NFP. I do think that a higher rate of pregnancy that occurs from couples who decide to have noncontracepted intercourse on a day of fertility knowingly (not an accident, not a method failure, but some contraceptive advocates still insist that this is a “user failure”) is pretty clear evidence that NFP helps couples to tip the scales of their family planning choices more in favor of having children than couples using other methods family planning, some of which tip the scales very far in the other direction. Which way one thinks the scales ought to be tipped is a value judgment; it’s pretty clear where most of the world is on this value judgment. It’s also pretty clear that the LDS Church is quite pronatalist. None of this is to say that couples cannot or should not avoid pregnancy if they feel they have sufficient reason to do so.

    Perhaps it could be said this way. In one viewpoint, the default is to allow procreation to occur normally, with reasonable and appropriate exceptions that could go to the point of absolutely avoiding for serious reasons. This seems to me to be consistent with the LDS Church doctrine.* It also seems to me to be most naturally realized with NFP as compared to other methods of family planning.

    In the other viewpoint, the default is to not procreate. Procreation is the exception, and should occur only once a couple decides they have overwhelming reasons to do so- and they shouldn’t do it to any excess. This is the world’s position (oversimplifying slightly). And for this position, NFP is the hardest method of family planning. Excluding sterilization, the natural method for this viewpoint would be probably be the IUD, followed by the 3-month shot (depo-provera), followed by the daily birth control pill.

    * “How many children should a couple have? All they can care for! Of course, to care for children means more than simply giving them life. Children must be loved, nurtured, taught, fed, clothed, housed, and well started in their capacities to be good parents themselves. Exercising faith in God’s promises to bless them when they are keeping his commandments, many LDS parents have large families. Others seek but are not blessed with children or with the number of children they desire. In a matter as intimate as this, we should not judge one another.”
    Dallin H. Oaks (1993, November). The great plan of happiness. Ensign 23 (11), 72–75.

    On that note, let me reiterate that it is the couple’s responsibility and privilege to make choices about what kind of family planning to use, according to their own council, prayer, and circumstances.

  171. LisaB on January 8, 2006 at 11:44 am

    Is attitude towards children THE reason you priviledge NFP? I think it is interesting that you do not consider NFP birth control, and that you do not call other forms of BC “family planning” methods. Based on what you have said so far and in the absence of other arguments in favor of NFP, I don’t see how you can support the differentiation you are making.

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