Not long ago, Simcha Fisher held an interesting discussion of NFP over at her wonderful blog. Unlike many such discussions, the comments tended toward the honest, thoughtful, and encouraging, but there are always at least a few Catholic commenters, when NFP is the subject, who are eager to decry NFP as "Catholic contraception," to interpret "just cause/grave reasons" as "you'd better be on your deathbed before you even talk about it," and to insist that it is the positive duty of every Catholic wife to give birth as many times as is theoretically possible or--quite literally--to die trying.
In responding to one commenter who seemed to be of this sort, I used the phrase "Theology of the Bawdy" to refer to the philosophy of the sort of Catholic gentleman who appears to believe that his wife is generally supposed (according to ancient Catholic traditions) to be a maid, cook, nanny to their many children and all-around household servant, but who is absolutely required to drop these things and pay the marriage debt whenever he requests this; it is, in fact, his just recompense for having to work at a dull office job and spend too much of his free time in home maintenance and other husbandly chores instead of living the ideal, untrammeled masculine existence which is his birthright, and which involves plenty of masculine recreations and entertainments (e.g., hunting, sporting events, video or computer games, the perusal of medieval literature or the collection of antique smoking jackets, etc.) and none of that messy "husband and father" stuff. I will freely grant that this person is a caricature, and that I originally intended to exaggerate the notion of the adherent of "Theology of the Bawdy" ideas for humorous effect.
Today, however, I read Deacon Greg Kandra's discussion of the Guttmacher Institute's statistics claiming that 98% of Catholic women use artificial contraception. Let's stipulate up front that the Guttmacher Institute is hardly an impartial body, and that by including Catholic women who only bother to go to Mass once a month or so they haven't necessarily captured the precise statistic of active, practicing, otherwise faithful Catholic women who fail to follow the Church's teaching against artificial contraception. That said, though, the most eye-opening thing I read was in Deacon Kandra's comment box, where a commenter (and I hope she won't mind me quoting her here) said this: "I think it takes a lot of courage and faith in God to use NFP during a marriage. I say this with deep trepidation, but the biggest draw back I’ve encountered is an unwillingless on behalf of my husband to abstain. I think a lot of men who grew up in the Post Pill era have never been told that they can’t have sex, ever. It’s really hard to get someone to change in a marriage..."
It struck me that the sort of man Deacon Kandra's commenter describes, and the man who insists that it's much, much easier for his wife to give birth to a dozen children than for him to have to suffer through periodic abstinence, are brothers in a way. Both are believers in the Theology of the Bawdy; that is, both think that sex within marriage is an absolute right, and that no considerations of his wife's health and ability to care for their children on the one hand, or his wife's immortal soul on the other, are good enough reasons for him to lay aside his own physical desires and subordinate his recurring need for sexual intimacy to a higher good. In a way, each is ready to objectify his wife instead of seeing her as a total person; the one wishes to exclude her fertility by means of a chemical or other artificial attack against it, while the other, deep down, thinks of her sufferings during pregnancy or her desperate need for space between baby number six and baby number seven as mere trivialities exaggerated by the female tendency to make a fuss about trifles.
I think that Catholic men of this kind do suffer, as Deacon Kandra's commenter says, from the effects of a dysfunctional culture's disordered sexual appetites. Already going against the cultural mainstream by rejecting promiscuity and striving to live according to chastity, they are then told that, should a need for the spacing or regulation of the births of their children occur, they are to use moral means all of which involve periodic abstinence. Again, the one man rejects this notion by demanding his wife use birth control; how dare the Church tell him he has to give up sex occasionally if there are serious reasons for his family to remain at its present size? The other rejects the notion by attacking NFP altogether; how dare the Church buy into this modernist, Vatican-II, weakness by letting married couples shirk their responsibility to have big families--and how dare they expect him to accept the sacrifice of periodic abstinence to bring this about?
The reality is that neither men will take "No," for an answer. The graver sin, of course, is the one that involves the demand for artificial contraception, which is intrinsically evil; but the man who insists his wife keep bearing children despite some extremely serious health problem or other pressing need is hardly blameless.
I have focused on men in this blog post because the two recent incidents I came across, along with a few others I've heard about both on blogs and in real life, involve Catholic men who refuse to accept the fullness of the Church's teaching in this area, and who involve their wives by demanding that they use artificial birth control on the one hand, or who disrespect their wives by absolutely refusing to consider moral means of birth regulation on the other. But I'm sure that there are Catholic women who also refuse to accept limitations on their desire for physical intimacy and collude willingly in the sin of contraception; that is, there are women who are influenced by the Theology of the Bawdy, too, and who view sexual intimacy in marriage as something that does not relate in any way to the gift of a child and the vocation of Christian parenthood. The trouble with a dysfunctional culture is that it infects everybody, and can make it difficult to know how to begin to deal with problems like these.
One thing is sure: if 98%--or anywhere even close to that amount--of Catholic women are using artificial birth control, then they and their husbands are equally participating in intrinsic evil, in grave sin. The failure of the Church in America to proclaim the truth about human sexuality and the true human freedom that comes from living in accordance with God's law is a great shame; it is also something the Church must address, if the Theology of the Bawdy is to be eradicated once and for all.