I have a friend who is dreading going home for the holidays because her very Catholic family always gives her a hard time about being on birth control. She and her husband are nondenominational Protestant Christians, and they use non-abortive birth control as a preventative method as a part of their family planning – a practice condemned especially by her very outspoken Catholic sister.
Setting aside for a moment the very intrusive, unloving nature of the sister’s attacks on my friend’s private sex life with her husband, what is the place of birth control in a Christian’s life? Is it okay to use birth control? What does the bible have to say?
First of all, the bible is clear that sex was created to be enjoyed within the context of marriage between a man and a woman. I’m not going to discuss premarital sex or homosexuality here, because that is not the purpose of this post. So bear in mind that the context of my discourse is whether or not it is okay for a married husband and wife to use birth control.
The Catholic church holds to the belief that sex was created primarily for procreation and not for pleasure. On catholic.com, the Catholic church argues, “The natural law purpose of sex is procreation… but sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation.”
Okay, Catholics. If the basic purpose of sex is procreation and not pleasure, what do you do with these steamy bible verses?
“How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights! Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit.” -Song of S. 7:6-8
“Rejoice in the wife of your youth… Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” -Prov. 5:18-19
“While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance.” -Song of S. 1:12
“The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband… Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time.” -1 Cor. 7:3-5
“I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me. Come, my beloved…let us go out early to the vineyards and see whether the…blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love.” -Song of S. 7:10-12
I cannot find any scripture to support the Catholic church’s claim that “sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes [procreation].” In fact, I would say quite the opposite is true. God created sex. Sex was GOD’S IDEA. He made it pleasurable as a gift to us and a way for us to build intimacy within our marriages.
The closest the bible comes to condemning birth control is in Genesis 38 in the story of Onan and Tamar. A young woman named Tamar was married to Er, the son of Judah, but Er died before Tamar bore any children. Tamar was then given in marriage to Er’s brother, Onan, but Onan did not want to split his inheritance with any child he might produce on his brother’s behalf (in accordance with the law of levirate marriage in Deut. 25:5-6), so he used the oldest form of birth control: withdrawal. God put Onan to death for his wickedness, but the wickedness described was not the use of contraception; it was Onan’s selfish motivation in using Tamar for pleasure without performing his legal duty of producing an heir for his deceased brother.
Ultimately, what we learn from Genesis 38 is not whether contraception is right or wrong but that it is the motivation behind the use of birth control that determines if it is right or wrong. Gotquestions.org states (and I agree), “Married couples use contraception for a variety of reasons. Some feel called to put off childbearing until they are in a better position to care for children. Some, such as missionary couples, may feel their service to God overrides the desire for children at a particular point in time. Some may be convinced that God has a different plan for them. Ultimately, a couple’s motives for delaying childbearing, using contraception, or even having numerous children, are between them and God.”