Is Sex with Contraception a Sin?

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Let’s set romance aside for a moment and talk about something important: is the use of contraception during sex with your wife a sin? A reader asked me my opinion on contraception and if my wife and I used it.  He was Catholic and had struggled with this for a while because the Catholic Church considers contraception in any form a mortal sin.

My first thought was: “there is no way the modern Church feels this way.”  So I looked it up.  I was astonished!  They clearly teach that contraception is a sin – as far back as one can trace up to present day.

Pope Paul VI claimed:

Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” (emphasis added)

The Pope says that the use on artificial birth control could lead to infidelity; however, on the other hand, the Apostil Paul says that husbands and wives should fulfill their marital duties to each and not deny each other in order to keep Satan from tempting them away.  (See quote from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, below)  He basically says that if you’re not taking care of things in the bedroom, then one or both of you will be tempted due to your lack of self control.  So he is saying to have sex to keep your spouse satisfied and to keep him/her from being tempted to stray.  But if you only have sex for procreation (or possible procreation), then surely one spouse or the other will be left wanting – and possibly looking elsewhere.

I should note that while the Catholic Church widely accepts this view, there are dissenting groups in the Church who do not adhere to it so strictly.

Presumably, using contraception will allow for married couples to have sex more often.  So basically, the Pope says that having more sex will cause the husband to objectify his wife as a sex tool.  Not only does this fly in the face of research that shows that frequent mutually satisfying sex in marriage creates a stronger bond between husbands and wives, it seems to contradict what the Apostil Paul says.  Let’s look at the Scripture more closely:

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”  ~ 1 Corinthians 7:1-5

Some would contend that there are marital duties other than sex that Paul could have been referring to.  But when you combine ”marital duties” with the exhortation not to deny your spouse so that Satan may not tempt them, it is clear that in this context, he is referring to sex.  Surely he is not referring to your wife’s need for you to help with the dishes or balance the checkbook so that she is not tempted to hire a housekeeper or an accountant. Paul is saying that you should satisfy your spouses desire for sex.  If you don’t, then he/she will be tempted to find satisfaction outside the marriage.  This also supports the command not to cause your brother in Christ to stumble into sin – by denying your spouse, you may cause him/her to stumble.

Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 says to take a break and deny each other in only one case: by mutual consent to devote yourselves to prayer.  And then it says to come together again (have sex again) to keep temptation away.  It does not say “Come together again only if you want to possibly get pregnant.”

Even using the Natural Family Planning (NFP) method is difficult for most.  The window in which one can have sex without conception is pretty small.  The rest of the time (three weeks out of the month – **see note directly below**) the couple must abstain if they do not want to risk conception.  The fact is that, in a man’s case, he physically needs sex more often because his semen reserves are filled 100% every 72 hours or so and his urges increase.  So going three weeks without relief is difficult and leads easily into temptation.

UPDATE NOTE: It was brought to my attention that the abstinence period when using NFP is not 3 weeks – I did some research and found this to be true.  There are 5 methods of NFP – for one of them I found that the “safe period” for sex is only “10 or 11 days at the end of the cycle and the dry days”… not sure what that means because I have not studied NFP in detail.    And of course, “the fertile period starts with the first signs of mucus and continues until 4 days after the peak day.”  Ok – I’m no rocket scientist, but: huh?  It still looks like 11 days of sex and 20 days of no sex (which is fine, IMO, as long as both spouses are on board).  I can see that the NFP method takes a lot of work in tracking, testing, etc – in other words it is still a very deliberate and intentional form of birth control.  I am sure that NFP works for some, and God bless them for their diligence.

Aren’t people who use NFP still using birth control?  People who use NFP are trying to enjoy sex without getting pregnant – and being very careful and scientific about it.  The results are the same as using a condom or the pill: 90%+ effective (once you get all your charts, calendars and timing down right).  This means that either way, God can still plant that seed if he has plans for the family to have a child.  Who thinks God cannot break a condom?  Anyone?  No hands were raised – not that I could see, anyway.   :)  Reference: The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

I don’t know of anywhere in the Bible where it says having sex within marriage without wanting to conceive is a sin.  So on what Scripture does the Catholic Church base it’s doctrine regarding the use of contraception?  I am not a Biblical scholar, so I could be mistaken, but as far I can tell, they base this teaching on what is known as the “sin of Onan.”  And here it is:

Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so he put him to death also.” – Genesis 38:8-10

The Catholic Church seems to see only two sentences in this passage: “…he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight…”  So, they say: this is contraception and the Lord says it is wicked.

But look at it in the context of the situation and actions as a whole: Onan does two things here: 1) he disobeys the Lord and does not allow conception – so that make his actions adulterous - and 2) he deceives his brother’s wife into thinking he is sleeping with her to conceive a child and then withdraws so as not to conceive.  He does this more than once.  Furthermore, he seems to do this specifically so he can sleep with his brother’s wife and NOT have offspring for his brother.  So he is disobeying a Command and getting pleasure through his deceit – which is akin to rape.  So God sees this is wicked and kills him.  (This is all Old Testament, by the way)

Does this mean that if a married man interrupts sex with his wife to climax outside her, he has sinned?  No – he is having sex with his own wife and not sleeping via deceit with another man’s wife (and he is not disobeying a direct command from God).  Does this mean that every time a married couple has sex, they should try to have or risk having a baby?  I think not.  It means that if you have sex under false pretences, it is a sin – and if you have sex outside marriage, you have committed the sin of adultery which is warned against numerous times in the Old and New Testament.

The Apostil Paul’s exhortations are not to deny your spouse – to fulfill your marital duties.  If you cannot have sex because, perhaps, you already have three children and don’t want any more because you are in your 40s, how can you fulfill your marital duties and not deny each other?  You have to deny each other.  This sounds like an invitation for temptation.

Consider this: what about when your wife is too old to have a child without serious dangers but has not reached menopause?  Are you supposed to wait two, three, five or six years before you have sex again?  How does that reconcile with Paul’s warning against depriving your spouse of sex because of Satan’s temptation?  It does not.

I sincerely believe that God intended married people to enjoy their lives together – and to share their bodies with each other via sexual relations.  You will be as one flesh.  You will be close and in love and you will not need to deprive each other – and as a result, Satan will not be able to tempt you away from each other.

Paul also warns time and again that no one is to add anything or take anything away from the Bible – but saying that contraception is a mortal sin seems to be doing just that – adding to the Bible.

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11 Responses to Is Sex with Contraception a Sin?

  1. Bakundukize Dieudonné, evangelist from Rwanda Central Africa. Tel: +250788680540 says:

    As Christians, we should know that God’s plans on us are far greater than ours. The Bible says: ”for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.”(Is. 55: 8).
    If we want to enter heaven, we should find out what pleases the Lord(Eph. 5:10).
    If you have really given your life to Jesus, you have also given him full authority over your family, your body and even your marital duties. You should remember that sons (and daughters) are a heritage from the Lord (Psalm 127:3). And according to the Bible, contraception is a sin, because, during your marital relations,when you are preventing a child to be born from you, maybe, you are preventing God’s special plan on that ”unborn” and ”unwanted” child who could be born of you (Is.49:1/Jer. 1:5). Sexual pleasures of marriage should be accomplishment of God’s hidden plans on generations, because God has always has a special plan on christians’ couples (Is.54:13/Acts11:13-14;16:30-31).
    So, in every marital relations, Jesus Christ alone must have full control over conception and birth of children of the Christians, because He is our Lord and Author of life (Acts3:15). God bless you.

    • Timothy says:

      You’re equating sex to becoming pregnant and having a child. If you have surrendered your life to God you will know whether or not he wants you to have more children than you presently have now. This is a gray area in the bible. The desicion to use contraception should be between your marriage and God, not doctrine. You also did not really provide clear evidence denying what was said in the post.

  2. Bill Balmbra says:

    Generally, and especially with proper counseling and fully understanding one’s cycle, there is no need to use contraceptives: most women know when they ovulate and that is the only time conception can occur. Counseling is imperative. Multiple ovulation and irregularity make charting one’s month vital for peace of mind and wholly embracing love making. We conceived our children prayerfully and deliberately and it was a wonderful embracement each time. So we have been free from that dreadful list of side effects published with The Pill and we are not bothered by interruptions for condoms or whatever. We come together lovingly, naturally, and happily. We both know the charting, I fill it in so there are no surprises nor demands at ovulation which is our time for dating and suchlike both of us understanding each others needs and especially that she needs to feel certain and respected about her own fertility. A little mutual and loving discipline by both of us deepens our relationship. We pray that all marrieds will have our depth of inter relationship.

  3. AN says:

    I’d like to point out some inaccuracies in this post.
    First of all, up until 1960 (relatively recently) all Christian churches were very much against contraception, the Anglican church was the first to approve of it and since then all but the Catholic church followed.
    The Catholic church’s position on sex is that it is both procreative and unitive (bringing the couple together) and you should not attempt to separate these 2 functions. This does not mean, however, that you should only have sex when you are likely to get pregnant but that you should be open to the idea of pregnancy and not try and prevent it by using contraception. If you were only to have sex in order to get pregnant it would be wrong because it is using your partner, not being loving. Similarly, if you were just having sex for pleasure you would be using your partner and not using sex to bring you both together.
    NFP is acceptable if you have a good reason for it.
    I’m not sure where you got your information on NFP on but it is very inaccurate. It does not require abstinence for 3 weeks of the month! Some may only need to abstain for 5 days, some for up to 10-12 days it depends upon the woman’s cycle (some are fertile for longer) and how careful the couple want to be to avoid pregnancy. Abstaining from sex does not mean withholding all affection during these times.
    I respect that your beliefs are different, but I wanted to correct your miss-perceptions.
    Here is a link to a blog written by a Catholic about marriage. This particular post list all the posts he has done about NFP:

    • admin says:

      AN – I agree with you on several points. Yes – up to 1960 all Christian churches considered contraception a sin. True. My post mentions “modern churches” (in my mind, post 1990 or so) – of which the main player who is still against contraception is the Catholic Church. I also agree with you that sex can be for both procreation and unification. And I agree that “you were only to have sex in order to get pregnant it would be wrong because it is using your partner” – unless both partners felt the same.

      However, I do not agree that if a couple have sex for mutual pleasure and not for procreation that you would be using your partner. (note: using NFP is in fact trying to have sex for pleasure and not procreate) If both people are having sex with each other for pleasure, then who is using whom? They are in fact uniting and sharing the closest physical intimacy a couple can share.

      My information on NFP was in fact inaccurate. Please see the “update note” to my post above.

      God bless!

      • AN says:

        I suppose what I mean by ‘just having sex for pleasure’ as I said above is when you do it in such a way as to just gain pleasure for yourself; getting your own and not caring about your partner. When you both care about the other’s pleasure you are strengthening the bond between the two of you.

        “safe period” for sex is only “10 or 11 days at the end of the cycle and the dry days”… not sure what that means because I have not studied NFP in detail.
        Difficult for the uninitiated to understand this quote. Basically, in order for sperm to travel up to the egg, there has to be cervical fluid(mucus) present in the vagina. Dry days are when this is not present, so you should not be able to get pregnant on these days. The number of dry day vary among women so some are fertile for longer and need to abstain for longer. There are other signs of fertility to observe also but it only take a few minutes a day so it doesn’t take a lot of work and it is easy to understand when you learn about it .

        The difference with NFP is that you’re not creating a barrier between yourselves, so you are still giving fully of yourself. This is an article written by Christopher West (a Catholic theologian of Theology of the Body) that explains the difference between using NFP and contraception:
        Also, the pill can cause early abortions as well as preventing the egg and sperm from meeting.

    • Timothy says:

      So, you’re saying it’s morally wrong to use the pill, or latex as a contraceptive. However using knowledge as a contraceptive is perfectly fine?
      NFP is about 90% effective. (American Pregnancy)
      condoms or the pill are only a little more effective than that. Comparing straight effectiveness, there isn’t much different.

  4. Mac says:

    The motive of NFPing is the same as any other contraceptors: to enjoy sexual relations without an “unacceptable” risk of conception. It uses the same mechanism as the barrier methods of contraception: causing the semen to be spilled on the ground without having an opportunity to carry out its designed function.
    The “backup” for failed NFP contraception is the same selection as for the failure of other methods: destroy the embryonic human being by one or another method.
    NFP is not “natural.” It is a perversion of the natural. If NFP is natural, then so is Onan’s method, which uses nothing artificial. The man and the woman, if they take no care whatsoever for procreation, but simply have sexual relations “at-will” (excepting the forbidden parts of the menstrual cycle, menstruation and purification), will carry out the intent for which humans were designed physically and the female was provided to the man: to fill the earth with our kind.
    The Christian should be mindful that his and her purpose sexually is to raise up new citizens of the kingdom of heaven. The sensual pleasure is given to encourage us to carry out our duty according to the first commandment (Genesis 1:28), not as an end in itself. Our purpose is not to seek our pleasure; it is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

    • admin says:

      I am curious what you think 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 is talking about. Please let us know…

      By the way: when the Bible refers to “Fear God” it is usually in the old context – something was lost in the original translations because of the differences between the original texts and English as well as other languages. To “Fear” God” does not mean to be afraid of God, but to respect and trust in God. Why would a Loving God who sacrificed Himself for us on the Cross want us to live in fear of him – He wants us to FREELY love, adore, respect and worship him for the great, Loving, and Merciful Creator He is. And why would he want us to live in marriages full of frustration and temptation? I submit to you that he does not want us to live that way. Thus he gave us 1 Corinthians 7:1-5.

  5. Sarah says:

    The last paragraph of your post is a little confusing to me. are you saying that why not use the contraception because God will allow you to get pregnant anyway? if that is the case why not use the same logic and apply it the other way and say i will trust God and if i am not supposed to get pregnant then he will not allow it. also the defense that the modern “church” accepts contraception and so it must be ok holds no water for me. We should not measure what is right or wrong according to what any “man” may say but by the word of God. To him alone are we accountable. just look at the downward spiral that the value of human life has taken over the last 50 years first contraception and the notion that we should decide the number of children we should be having or that it is irresponsible to have more than 2 or 3. and now we look at a country who accepts abortion! just think if christians really stood up for truth and spoke out against these ideas. I am so grateful that the Lord took the blinders and revealed his heart for family and for LIFE. i have 4 children now and i can’t imagine life without any of them. They are a living walking testament to love my husband and i share both in and out of the bedroom! If i sound harsh so be it, but it is out of a heart that is being broken by the thought of so many lives left unborn because of a selfish generation.

  6. Lancelot says:

    Doesn’t God ask our free “yes” when creating another person? Is our consent not important to Him? If we have free will to choose good or bad, isn’t procreation included? Is the anunciation to Virgin Mary just FYI only for her? If it’s already been set up for her to accept, why announce? I believe God puts so much value to our free choice that He did not remove the “tree” from paradise even if eating its fruit will make humanity suffer thereafter – He let Adam and Eve act freely.

    We have used contraception and still had 2 kids by “accident”. I take these 2 kids as God’s will for us, for in spite of the contraception, they were conceived. We love them and believe God definitely meant them to be.

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