Humanae Vitae was a response to concerns of rapidly increasing population and the rise in the use of birth control. The council, which included married couples, addressed the issues. The result was the encyclical given on July 25, 1968 by Paul VI.
The crux of the Church’s stance against artificial contraception is her views on marriage as a sacrament. A sacrament bestows grace. Just as it’s important for baptism to use the Trinitarian formula, it’s important for marriage to be carried out in a certain way.
Marital sex. Marriage is a sacrament, different from natural pairing. As a holy institution, marriage is meant for a husband and wife to represent the union of Christ and His Church. Love sets no boundaries and is therefore, open to life. “This love is above all fully human, compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive.”
Part of marriage is creating a family and raising children responsibly. “With regard to physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.”
“The Church…teaches that every martial act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” Intent plays a role in the issue of contraception. Artificial birth control is condemned as a means of preventing pregnancy. However, some women need to take birth control for other medical reasons. If she is taking it for a medical reason, and that results in her being unable to conceive, it is not wrong. The intent was health, not contraception. In the same way, Pope Benedict XVI said that it could be moral for some to use condemns to prevent the spread of AIDS. If unmarried people are going to have sex, it would be better to try to prevent disease than not.
Consequences of birth control. It’s pretty clear that the Sexual Revolution would not have happened without the Pill. Less risk enticed more people to have sex outside marriage. “Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.”
When people separate the idea of sex=children, they see sex as a means of pleasure only, and sexual partners are reduced in value. “A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires.” Now, there have always been people who have sex without regard for their partners, and there are people who use birth control who care a lot about their partner’s needs and emotions. I think this quote paints a black and white where there is a lot of gray. But at the same time, there is truth in it. Consequence-free sex doesn’t exist. There are power-struggles, emotions, diseases, pregnancy (even with birth control). But birth control and the prevailing culture sell the false idea of consequence-free sex. People think they can do whatever feels good and not get hurt. It’s simply a lie.
Self-discipline. Discipline is part of being human; we have control over our animal instincts. We are expected to control our diet, our interactions with others, our selfishness. Discipline over sexual matters is just another part of human discipline. The Church demands chastity from everyone. For some, that means lifelong celibacy; for others, it means abstinence until marriage. But chastity doesn’t end once a couple is married. Sex within marriage is pure. But chastity also includes fidelity, keeping the mind pure, avoiding pornography, and treating your spouse as an equal.
It is made clear a number of times that no one is pretending this teaching is easy, or that it will be popular, even within the Church. “We have no wish at all to pass over in silence the difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples.” There is special concern for developing countries, where poverty and poor medical care make limiting children important. The Church wants to find ways for couples to remain chaste in their vocation of marriage while still being responsible and healthy.
Science. The encyclical encourages scientists to continue research of fertility, but urges research particularly “in determining a sufficiently secure basis for the chaste limitation of offspring.” The Church isn't scared of science. Science is morally neutral; it is what humans do with the results that has moral implications. It is emphasized again that “there can be no contradiction between two divine laws –that which governs the transmitting of life and that which governs the fostering of married love.”
Thoughts Really, this encyclical reinforced what I already suspected. This isn’t an outright condemnation on birth control, but for married Catholics to reject birth control. If you’re Catholic and unmarried, don’t have sex. If you’re Catholic and married, don’t use artificial birth control. If you’re not Catholic, well the Church still thinks it’d be better for you to be chaste, but she is silent. The issue of birth control within the Church stems from how the Church views life and the sacrament of marriage. Other cultures view marriage, sex, and life differently. And that’s why I’ll explain and defend the Church’s beliefs and stance on the issue, but I don’t really have a problem with non-Catholics using contraception.
However, I do believe that the consequence-free sex culture is damaging. I also think current culture is damaged in ignoring celibacy. I wish it were addressed as a viable option. So while I try not to hold others to Catholic standards, I do think the Church’s standards are beneficial for everyone.