2368 A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality:
- When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, the morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere intention and evaluation of motives alone; but it must be determined by objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts, criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love; this is possible only if the virtue of married chastity is practiced with sincerity of heart.156
2369 "By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its orientation toward man's exalted vocation to parenthood."157
2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.158 These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil:159
- Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.160
Suppose a young married man and woman are discussing their intimate life, and the man admits to his wife, "I do love our life of intimacy, but there is one thing I really, really hate about you. I've never told you, because I thought I could get over it, but--I hate your hands. They are big and awkward for a woman, and you have knobby knuckles. Unless you agree to cut off your hands, I don't want to engage in marital activity with you any more. But our intimacy is important, so I'm sure you'll see how necessary this is."
The wife nods (remember, this is an extreme analogy) and says, "As long as we're being honest, I have to admit that there's something I hate about you, too. Your nose is too big. It gets in the way when I'm trying to kiss you; oh, and your ears are really ugly, too. But our intimacy is, as you said, important--and we need that unitive aspect of marriage, right? So I'll continue marital activity as long as you cut off your nose and ears."
Sounds terrible, right?
But that is what the couple is doing when they say to each other, in the "language" of contraceptive sex: "I love you totally, completely, absolutely and I want to give myself as a total gift to you and accept yourself as a total gift to me. Oh, except for our fertility. I hate yours and want it controlled or neutralized, and I won't participate in this act of love unless you agree; I also hate mine and want it controlled or destroyed, and I won't let you love me unless you agree."
And by controlling or destroying their fertility, the couple is turning what should be the unitive aspect of marriage into a complete and utter lie. They are no longer fully united; they are holding back something so integral, so essential, so important to the marriage act that they are rendering it something ugly and untrue instead of something positive and life-giving.
So why does NFP, or other natural means of fertility regulation, not do the same? The Catechism has the answer, above: "Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.158 These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom." In other words, these methods don't speak the language of hate and rejection that contraception does (or that, in my extreme example, the cutting off of various body parts does). They foster respect for the mystery of life-giving love; they help the couple to continue to see God as the one ultimately in charge of their fertility; they help the couple strengthen their unity both when they abstain together and when they engage in sex together.
Those who say that their embrace of contraception is not speaking the language of hate and rejection might consider whether they see no difference between two people trying to lose weight: the one exercises, abstains from fattening foods, and seeks to eat what is necessary without overindulging; the other practices bulimia, eating without regard to health or temperance and then forcing himself or herself to throw up in order to avoid the natural effects of food. On the surface, the bulimic might seem to love food more than the dieter does, because he or she is not restricting his/her appetite in any way, but passionately embracing the offerings of the table. But it is not a true love of food to abuse it and vomit it purposefully to avoid calories; and it is not a true love of one's spouse or the marriage act to abuse them via contraception, either.