Page Summary

  • The choice to engage in sexual activity while actively frustrating its procreative potential is inherently opposed to the unifying self-gift that love requires. 
  • Direct sterilization of healthy reproductive organs similarly contradicts love.
  • On the other hand, it is morally acceptable if serious medical treatments indirectly cause infertility as a side effect.
  • The group of methods under the umbrella of NFP are also morally acceptable, because they don’t actively frustrate the conjugal act when it does take place.

Is it compatible with love to actively prevent procreation?

No, sexual acts are good only if they are open to new life and express marital unity. Contraception closes the will to new life and negates the capacity of sexual acts to unite husband and wife.

Ok, but what does that actually mean?

Hal and Susan wanted children, but their finances were far from solid, especially after the cost of their wedding. Like most people, they didn’t see any issue with contraception and used it to postpone having kids. They didn’t know anyone who opposed contraception on moral grounds, so they assumed there weren’t any good arguments against it.

family silhouetted at dusk
couple sitting on a bench
family photo
After Susan stopped using hormonal contraceptives for medical reasons, they began using natural family planning. They were both surprised to find that their sex life felt much more personal, and that each seemed to be more appreciative and considerate of the other. They wondered if the openness to life, and the need to be aware of each other’s fertility, was helping them to integrate their love and commitment into their conjugal love. A surprising number of married couples have similar experiences.

How could giving up contraception make such a positive difference? At least part of the reason could be that marriage is by its nature open to new life, and in marital intercourse the spouses express their marriage by becoming one flesh. That unity is extended, enriched, and incarnated in any children that might result. Yet contraception closes the will to new life and prevents the conjugal act from achieving that bodily unity. Hal and Susan didn’t even realize contraception had been working against them until they stopped.

Can intercourse unite the spouses in one body if they use contraception? Contraception is the choice to engage in a sexual act while depriving it of its potential to procreate. This choice is an interior act of will, carried out by external behaviors before, during, or after the sexual act. It cannot be the unifying total self-gift that love requires, because the choice to contracept refuses to accept the fertility of one’s spouse, oneself, or both. It is a closing of one’s will to new life, as its very name indicates.1 Contracepted sex violates marital union.


That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.

Genesis 2:24

Sterilization similarly contradicts love. Medical procedures such as vasectomies and tubal ligations, which directly seek to prevent healthy organs from fulfilling their reproductive function, are even more serious than contraception because of their more permanent results. On the other hand, an action or medical procedure that causes temporary or permanent infertility as a side effect, could be morally justified for serious medical reasons (often called “therapeutic purposes”).

For example, the removal of a diseased uterus (hysterectomy) can be morally justified although it causes infertility as a side effect. The use of a hormonal pill for the purpose of treating endometriosis can also be morally justified even though such uses might impede conception. In both cases, if the desired medical outcome could be achieved without the secondary result of infertility, the intention wouldn’t be any different. But with contraception and direct sterilization, infertility is itself the intended result.

Finally, the objection is often made that contraception seems to be morally the same as Natural Family Planning (NFP).2 Isn’t it true that both a contracepting couple and a couple using NFP are avoiding having children? There is, however, an important difference between the two.

Sexual union during an infertile time does not actively frustrate the couple’s procreative capacity (whether or not they refrain from sexual activity at other times), so the intercourse they do engage in still expresses the marriage as a union of persons. Contraception is a choice to actively alter the sexual act in a way that rejects the union of the spouses, therefore it can’t possibly be compatible with love.

1) “Contra-” (Latin for “against”) + “-ception” (shortened from “conception”)

2) “NFP” is used here as an umbrella term for periodically abstaining from sexual activity during fertile intervals, but it can also be used by couples who are actively trying to have children and want to better understand their fertility.

baby making a surprised face

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