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  • Mary Shivanandan

Definitions of Success



Nearly 30 years ago, in 1989, a seminal book was published called Family Planning and Population Control: The Challenges of a Successful Movement. The author, Kurt Back, professor of sociology at Duke University had written extensively, as the back cover states, on the social effects of population control. Since the hormonal contraceptive pill was widely introduced in the 1960s, followed by injectables and the IUD, the population movement has, indeed, succeeded, especially in Western countries beyond its wildest dreams. For example, in Europe except for Muslims, families are having so few children the population cannot even replace itself. A revolution in reproductive technology is changing family life in unpredictable ways. What caught my eye in rereading the book’s conclusions, however, was not these dramatic changes but the recognition that some of the hoped for personal changes the author lists have not been fulfilled. Among these are “personal self-expression, improved personal relations between the sexes, and joyous family life.”

As I outline in my book, The Holy Family Model Not Exception John Paul II would say that contraception by its very nature cannot bring about improved personal relations between the sexes or joyous family life. Motherhood is an integral part of who a woman is and physical fertility is a sign of a deeper ordination to fruitfulness. Moreover marriage differs from friendship by acts in the body by which a man accepts a woman in her entirely as a gift. If either uses contraception, they are virtually saying: “I accept you but only if your fertility, through which we create a new human being together, is blocked.” In other words there is no total mutual self-donation. This does not happen with natural family planning (NFP), [although couples can use the method selfishly] since they always remain open to the possibility of a child and neither deliberately blocks the total gift of self as it is expressed in the body.


As I point out in the book, even the language used in medical textbooks and NFP manuals differs. As John Paul II says, “Woman’s constitution differs from that of the man; in fact we know that it differs even in the deepest bio-physiological determinants.” It is most noticeable in words such as “failure” if the couple conceive unexpectedly in contrast to “surprise” pregnancy in NFP, which categorizes the child as a gift. Moreover, studies I have personally conducted with sociologist Dr. Thomasina Borkman, now professor emeritus, George Mason University, show that NFP couples have a built-in mechanism for communication in discussing the signs of fertility, their desire to achieve or avoid pregnancy on a regular basis and efforts to find alternative ways to say “I love you” instead of conjugal intercourse. All this is oriented to improved interpersonal relations when the couple take advantage of the gifts of the method, not to mention the joy of the children born as a result of joint responsibility for their fertility. (It must be acknowledged, however, that some couples do not have the patience required to reap these benefits and may even reject the methods outright because of the discipline demanded) But the fruits in improved communication and love are clear.


We end this blog with a quote from John Paul II, who sees a likeness of the communion between man and woman in marriage to the communion in the Trinity:

"The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.”

It is almost inconceivable that such an insignificant thing as the Pill can have such profound effects on man and woman’s relationship in imitation of Trinitarian communion.

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