Contraception does not destroy the Unitive or Marital meanings

A set of heresies is being propagated on the topic of contraception and sexual ethics by unfaithful Catholic teachers. Previously, I wrote about the heresy claiming that contraception only applies to a valid marriage. Today, I address the claim that the use of contraception, which deprives sexual intercourse of its procreative meaning, also deprives the sexual act of its unitive and marital meanings. Examples of this error include the claim that contracepted marital sex is a non-marital act, and the claim that the unitive meaning is deprived by contraception.

Humanae Vitae teaches that contraception, by married persons, separates the unitive and procreative meanings. If Catholic spouses act according to a theory condemned in Humanae Vitae, that it is sufficient for only some of the marital sexual acts to be procreative, then the unitive and procreative meanings are separated into different sexual acts. The contracepted act would be unitive, but not procreative. The procreative meaning would be present in some acts (along with the unitive meaning), but not in other acts. This teaching implies that contraception does not destroy the unitive meaning. Otherwise, contraception would not separate the unitive and procreative meanings; it would destroy both.

“This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.” [Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 12]

“Thus the original import of human sexuality is distorted and falsified, and the two meanings, unitive and procreative, inherent in the very nature of the conjugal act, are artificially separated” [Pope Saint John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 23]

“When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as “arbiters” of the divine plan and they “manipulate” and degrade human sexuality-and with it themselves and their married partner-by altering its value of “total” self-giving.” [Pope Saint John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 32]

“It is never permissible to separate these diverse aspects to the point of positively excluding either the procreative intention or the conjugal relationship.” [Pope Pius XII, Address to the Second World Congress on Fertility and Sterility 9]

We also have the teaching of Sacred Scripture on this point:

[1 Cor]
{6:15} Do you not know that your bodies are a part of Christ? So then, should I take a part of Christ and make it a part of a harlot? Let it not be so!
{6:16} And do you not know that whoever is joined to a harlot becomes one body? “For the two,” he said, “shall be as one flesh.”

When the sin is extra-marital sex with a prostitute, the sexual acts are deprived of the marital meaning, but the unitive meaning is still present. Therefore, Paul can say that whoever has sexual relations with a prostitute still has the unitive meaning, expressed in Scripture as “one flesh”. If the deprivation of any one of these three meanings — marital, unitive, and procreative — destroyed the other two, then Scripture would be mistaken.

Harm not Destruction

However, it does stand to reason that the deprivation of any one or two of these three meanings, which are intended by God to always be together, does harm to the remaining meaning(s). Contracepted marital sex is not the same as contracepted pre-marital sex. But the marital meaning is less full, because these three meanings are interrelated; they support and enlighten one another. So, too, is the unitive meaning harmed by the use of contraception; it is not deprived, but it is harmed.

The greater the moral disorder, the greater the sin. The deprivation of two of these meanings is more sinful than the deprivation of only one meaning — as concerns the second font of morality (the moral object). Whether the overall act is more sinful, when intention or circumstances is taken into account, is beyond the scope of this article. Premarital contracepted sex is more sinful than marital contracepted sex, though both are objectively mortal sins. And unnatural sexual acts in marriage are more sinful than contracepted marital sex, as unnatural acts deprive sex of both the unitive and procreative meanings.

But if the marital and unitive meanings were taken away by the deprivation of the procreative meaning, then contracepted natural marital sex would be no different than unnatural sexual acts by an unmarried couple. Such a claim is contrary to reason. Who would dare say to a Catholic married couple that by using contraception their sexual acts are no different from an unmarried couple committing sodomy? And yet that is the clear implication of the false and foolish teaching of certain Catholic authors.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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