(This post continues the discussion begun in a prior post, What’s the Big Deal About Contraception?)
Sometimes we hear something that catapults us out of our old world and into a new one.
That happened to me during a mini-course taught by Professor Janet Smith on Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “The Splendor of Truth.” By the end of the 4-week class, I was thoroughly and forever convinced that contraception is unhealthy physically, spiritually and emotionally. Even so, it took years to truly internalize the ramifications for relationships, culture and intimacy with God.
All that study and agonizing (followed by Confession) could have been avoided had I simply taken the Church’s word for it from the start. But that is not the society we live in any more. Having been disillusioned too many times, we demand to learn things for ourselves, the hard way.
What precipitated my conversion were the statistics Professor Smith presented, the solid proof that contraception did not do what it claimed, and in fact, did the opposite.
Contraception was supposed to make us happy. It was going to schedule births for the most convenient time, assuring happy lives for children and stress-free marriages. It should have eliminated abortion entirely.
Instead, after 50 years of widely-available, even free, contraception, marriages are less healthy, children are less cherished and the number of abortions is up. Sexual slavery is growing, pornography has exploded in use and women have willingly bought into the most degraded lifestyles that debauched men could have ever imagined for them. Our 50-year experiment with contraception shows increases in adultery, divorce, children living in poverty due to divorce and abandonment, and sexually-transmitted diseases.
Contraception hasn’t worked because it goes against human nature. Pure and simple.
When a person is confined to a hospital bed, all sort of problems ensue: bedsores, bowel issues, contracted muscles, depression, sleep problems, pneumonia. Why? Because the human person is designed to be up and moving. When our bodies do what is not natural to them, there are consequences to our health.
Same with contraception. Human beings were made to reproduce by an act of love, and when that act is artificially subverted, there are going to be consequences, such as health risks for the woman, emotional damage to women and girls, damage to the relationship of the couple and environmental damage.
(This is not to say that we must have unlimited children! Avoiding pregnancy by natural fertility awareness methods has no adverse side effects.)
Health of the woman
The most commonly-used method of contraception in the US is the pill. The contraceptive pill is rated as a Class 1 carcinogen (cancer-causer) by the World Health Organization, in the same category as tobacco. No one committed to basic health would smoke cigarettes; the same avoidance should logically extend to the hormonal pill.
The side effects of the hormonal pill are typically not disclosed fully by prescribing physicians, but they are available for anyone who really wants to know:
- Increased risk of blood clots, heart attack and stroke.
- Increased risk of liver, cervical and breast cancer
- Migraine headaches
- Mood swings, irritability, nervousness
- Serious mood disturbances and exacerbation of affective disorders (British Medical Journal)
- Weight gain (yikes!)
- Lowered sexual desire (isn’t that ironic?)
- Infertility (again, tragically ironic)
- Sexual dysfunction. “It is crucial to recognize the link between sexual dysfunction and the oral contraceptive and not to attribute these complaints solely to psychological causes.” wrote Claudia Panzer, an endocrinologist in 2006 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
- Increased blood pressure
- Decreased bone density
- Increased risk of autoimmune disease, especially lupus
- Yeast overgrowth and infection, which is dangerous to your overall health.
- Impaired muscle gains in young women
- Higher incidence of inflammatory bowel disease
- Higher risk of ulcerative ulcers
- Reduces the body’s ability to use B vitamins efficiently. Vitamin B-6 deficiency may further contribute to depression.
- Metabolism of birth control pills by the liver requires extra amounts of the B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc. So long-term users of hormonal contraceptives may have nutrient deficiencies. Weight gain, fluid retention, mood changes, depression and even heart disease can all arise from nutrient imbalance.
Here’s the sort of thing that can happen: a woman takes the birth control pill and suffers the side effect of depression. Not knowing that artificial hormones could be the cause, she begins taking an antidepressant to handle the mood swings and hypersensitivity that are wreaking havoc in her relationship. The antidepressant then further lowers her libido, causing greater tension in the marriage. And the spiral descends, because no one ever pinpoints the real culprit.
Hormonal birth control (the pill, the patch, the ring, injections, implants) works by releasing enough estrogen to keep the body in a state of simulated pregnancy. Since the pituitary gland perceives pregnancy, it doesn’t signal the body to ovulate and thus prevents pregnancy. But the continuous use of birth control pills has not been sufficiently studied, so today’s women are guinea pigs in an ongoing experiment.
Oral contraception also causes silent abortions when there is “breakthrough ovulation.” A child is conceived but then dies because one of the pill’s mechanisms is to prevent implantation in the womb. It is hard to measure how often this occurs. Different formulations of the pill allow ovulation in 2%, up to 65%, of a woman’s cycles, even with correct use. Though the abortions are likely not even consciously known to the woman, the loss of a child is a blow. The woman’s body “knows” it, even if her mind doesn’t, and there is a cost to her overall well-being.
The second most common method of contraception is surgical sterilization. For women, it’s permanent. Again, no one has studied the long-term consequences of the surgery, but I return to my original premise: monkeying with natural processes has repercussions.
Enough women have suffered effects that a “syndrome” has been named, “Post-Tubal Ligation Syndrome” which induces menopause and hormone imbalance. In order to restore hormonal balance, the very same synthetic hormone replacements as birth control pills, identified as Class I carcinogens by the World Health Organization, are prescribed and deemed necessary for the rest of the woman’s life.
Women are told that they will have fully functional ovaries after surgery, but hormone production tends to diminish within 1-3 years of cutting off the blood supply between the ovaries and uterus (tubal ligation or partial hysterectomy).
A side effect not often considered is that the incidence of sexually transmitted disease goes way up with the use of chemical birth control and sterilization. When a woman is on another method of contraception, she gratefully gives up the use of condoms (which are not impressively effective anyway) and therefore is unprotected against the myriad of diseases that have blossomed in the sexually liberated age. It is estimated that 70% of American adults are now carrying a sexually transmitted disease.
The less commonly used contraceptive methods are the less effective and less… shall we say… aesthetic ones. Barrier methods have an “ick” factor that many women want to avoid.
Emotional Damage to Girls and Women
Recently, a north Texas OB/GYN decided to no longer prescribe contraception because it was harming her patients. Aside from all the health risks, she also cited emotional damage, attributable to sexual activity outside of marriage which is only practical in a contraceptive society:
“Estimates are that women and girls who have sexual relations outside marriage experience a 40% increase in major depression. Yet as a society, we have come to accept that sex is a norm and everyone must “try out” a future life partner sexually to see if it is a good fit. Also, it has become expected of women. I propose that it is actually quite harmful to us emotionally and spiritually.”
The entire letter is worth a read.
Damage to the Couple
When a couple uses artificial birth control, the marital act is distorted. While expressing the highest of loves, one must “protect” oneself from the beloved, which creates a me-against-you sort of ethic. A total gift of self is simply not possible when contracepting.
In most cases, the woman bears the physical, emotional and spiritual burden of contraception. It is her body being manipulated, her hormones out of balance, her long-term health compromised. Furthermore, she is blamed for mood swings, irritability and lowered libido when it may actually be the contraceptive at fault. Even when the woman willingly submits to this, there is a cost exacted from the relationship.
The side effects themselves can sour the relationship. Research indicates that women on the pill are virtually set up for relationship failure because of the wide-ranging side effects of hormonal finagling.
The very use of contraception encourages the man to see his wife as an object rather than a full person, with her sexual nature intact. As Pope Paul said in Humanae Vitae, “It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer his respected and beloved companion.”
This is a subtle dynamic, and I daresay not often noticed until a time comes when the couple puts away the contraceptives for some reason; then I suspect the difference becomes apparent.
Damage to the Environment
Approximately 150 million women worldwide are taking hormonal contraceptives at any time. The synthetic hormones are flushed every day, and after 50 years of heavy use, there are inevitable consequences to our water supply. Researchers from Washington to Florida have found that high levels of synthetic estrogen in the water damage the fish and other wildlife, sometimes causing them to be sterile and severely decreasing their populations. In 2006, the U.S. Geological Survey performed a study in the Potomac River and found that 80 percent of the male smallmouth bass had intersex characteristics which interfered with the ability to reproduce. Synthetic hormones in the water are harming fish, frogs, alligators and water-dwelling mammals, even polar bears, according to the USGS study.
In New Jersey, traces of birth control hormones and other prescription drugs were found in municipal tap water in 2003. Studies have concluded that concentrations are high enough in some areas to potentially affect human health, according to a 2008 review article in the journal Fertility and Sterility. Experts at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine say excess estrogen may contribute to obesity, diabetes, early puberty, breast cancer, endometriosis, fibroids, miscarriage, low sperm counts and testicular cancer. In Britain, hormonal birth control has officially been declared a pollutant.
Presently, wastewater treatment cannot remove the hormones, and the cost of upgrading facilities to do so would be exhorbitant.
Is that enough to catapult you into the new fishbowl? Did you recognize something in this article that made you say, “Ah ha! That’s why I felt that way!” The vast majority of American women, Catholic and otherwise, have used artificial birth control. Contraception is so universal that we think these side effects are just part of life. We fail to attribute them to a cause, so we close the door on the solution.
Read. Reflect. Pray. Grace the confessional, if needed. God’s plan for our sexuality is so good. As we return to it, we will find a joy we didn’t even know was possible.
Sheryl Collmer, M.T.S., is the Director of Evangelization for TOBET in Irving, Texas