Should Christians Use Contraception?

Why might a Christian couple consider using contraception within their marriage? After all, the human race got by for thousands of years before effective means of birth control were introduced, so why the sudden apparent indispensibility of controlling your fertility?

Of course there is no doubt that a lot of the recent interest in contraception in the Western world is linked with sex outside marriage; people are constantly hunting for ways of making this ‘safe’ from unplanned pregnancy. However the history of contraception is grounded in wanting each married woman to be free to enjoy her marriage, love her husband and plan their children without the constant fear of pregnancy and the drain on finances and health caused by frequent childbearing. You have only to read through the correspondence received by many of the early pioneers of contraception, for instance Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes, to see the human misery produced by these conditions. Similar conditions are met in many developing countries which have not yet become contraceptively aware. Widespread contraceptive awareness is one of the factors which has helped us in the West to plan our children, improve our living conditions, and provide adequate food, money and education for our children. But there are other reasons for choosing contraception, too.

Sex is good

I feel very privileged that I have been part of a generation of Christians who have been taught that sex within marriage is a good and beautiful gift from God. As a result my husband and I have been able to enjoy the sexual side of our marriage with great pleasure and freedom. I can only guess at the frustration and guilt that must haunt many people from other generations in the church who inherited the ‘sex is bad’ teaching. This erroneous teaching persisted for many generations, first of all in the idea that sex itself was sinful, and then in the milder (but still damaging) idea that sex was dirty. This is still a difficult concept for Christians to shake off entirely; we see so much perversion of sex in the world around us that it is hard to enjoy it unrestrictedly ourselves at times.

Try this little test. If you are married: are you able to praise God together for his gift of sex after you have made love? If you are planning to marry: can you pray together and thank God for the sexual union he is going to give you? Even in these more open days many Christians will still flush and clear their throats over such ideas, and say, ‘Well … I, er, can’t quite do that yet …’ . And yet sex within marriage is one of God’s most wonderful gifts to us. An illustration in Gavin Reid’s Starting Out Together puts this perfectly; it is a letter to God which begins: ‘Dear God, thank you for our lovely wedding present …’

There are several books available which give detailed teachings on how the Bible sees sex within marriage as good — I will not cover all the same ground, but here is a lightning tour of what the Bible says. First of all, sex existed before the Fall, and was part of God’s very good creation (Gen. 2.23-5). Any teaching which attempts to show sex as only linked with sin, or something which only happened after the Fall, is unbiblical. Sex within marriage was one of the first blessings that God gave to the human life he had created. Sex is not bad or dirty in itself (although it can be made both bad and dirty), and so there is no need to feel any guilt over sexual desire and expression within marriage. It is contrary to the Bible’s teaching to feel that abstaining from sex, or only taking part in it as an unpleasant duty, is more holy than enjoying it fully.

Secondly — and this is very important to the issue of contraception — sex is good in itself, not just as a means of producing children. The whole of the Song of Solomon is full of frank but beautiful references to the pleasures of the sexual relationship. The American Lutheran Family Life Committee put it this way: ‘The sheer delight of sex is the obviously dominant theme of the Song of Solomon.’ Proverbs 5.15-19 is another celebration of a lifelong sexual pleasure in your marriage partner, and 1 Corinthians 7.2-5 shows that the sex relationship is one of constant mutual giving and gratification.

Certainly, children may well arrive as a result of sexual union, but the gift of sex is a gift in itself. It is just as valid for childless couples, couples past childbearing age, handicapped couples and couples waiting before having a child as it is for couples who are trying to conceive. As Herbert Miles says in Sexual Happiness in Marriage: ‘It is unthinkable for husband and wife to refrain from sexual intercourse except for procreation.’ A good sexual relationship is one of the basic keys to a truly happy and stable marriage, as it expresses so much more than just the temporary physical unity. ‘It is not just togetherness, but it fosters togetherness’ (Herbert Miles). The sexual union is something to Ix enjoyed and explored with delight, including when the couple is not planning to conceive a child just then, and contraception helps make this unrestrained enjoyment a possibility.

Freedom

The use of contraception also helps to release couples from the pressures of too many children, or ones that arrive too soon. Many young couples are hard-pressed financially, especially in the early years of marriage; the arrival of an unplanned baby, even though it will probably be much-loved, can cause great hardship. This is also true of ‘extra’ children who arrive after the parents already have as many children as they can cope with.

From the opposite viewpoint, other Christians point out that God has commanded us to ‘be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it’ (Gen. 1.28). They feel that God has not annulled this command, and that Christians should continue to have several children. Tim and Beverly La Haye advocate having four or five children, as an interpretation of Psalm 127.35 — the ‘quiver’ mentioned was traditionally considered to hold five arrows. Others are not so literal, and simply advocate abundance in childbearing — either that we shouldn’t limit it at all, or that we shouldn’t limit it much. Naturally it is important for any Christian couple to weigh up these pros and cons and seek to find out what God is saying to them particularly.