We’ve been talking about birth control for about the last month. First we discussed non-procreative sex, then permanent birth control measures, and now we’re going to discuss birth control itself. Birth control is a messy topic for Christians. We have to combine our beliefs on when life begins, the sovereignty of God in our lives, and considerations that our body is a temple of God, that we are stewards of it, and are responsible for anything we put in or on it. I’ve been asked to share my views on birth control and Christian marriage. I’m going to do by best to explain my reasoning and back up the things I say with scripture, but to be clear, these are my views. Each person should be convicted of their own beliefs and be able to reason them, and not to rely on someone else to do it for them. God will hold us all accountable. I believe He is forgiving of errors, but I’m not so sure He’s forgiving of third-partying your relationship with Him. So, study, read the scriptures, pray, and belief what you will, but don’t just go “Oh, I believe what this guy believes”, that won’t help you. I’m going to be as reasoning and logical as I can during this, because that’s how I think about these things. No doubt some will think it makes me cold and calculating. I’m hoping my wife (in purple) can add some balance to the discussion.
When does life begin?
This is a difficult subject for Christians, for two reasons: One, the Bible doesn’t explicitly state “Life begins at” and then give us a nice clear definitive answer. We have to contrast the Creation story (where life began with breath) with God stating He knew us in our mother’s womb.
Now, the two ends of the spectrum are:
- Life begins at conception. Any fertilized egg is life. Thus, any birth control method that has the potential of terminating a fertilized egg is considered murder, and thus morally unacceptable.
- Life begins at birth. Thus, anything up to birth itself is fair game, any form of birth control, even late-term abortions have no moral consequences as it is no different than removing an appendix. It is just another part of the potentially mother’s body.
Most people fall somewhere on that spectrum, and a lot of people can’t really define where they fall, or why they believe it. At some nondescript time, this “thing”, this fertilized egg becomes a “person”, a soul. I’m curious how many abortions would stop if we forced ultrasound machines to be present and running at the time of the abortion. I suspect many people find themselves closer to the “life begins at conception” side of the spectrum. Something about seeing a baby move in utero makes it clear that it is alive. It moves independently, responds to stimuli, seems to have a mind of its own. It seems clear it is a soul. For me, I don’t understand how someone could call them not a living being, but only an extension of the “host” body. I have heard of some clinics showing the clients a recorded procedure before they actually do it, and many people changed their minds. I also can not understand how someone can go through with it either.
So, this begs the question of “When is the transition”. When does it become a soul. This is further complicated by the mythology that is prevalent in Christianity that people “have” souls, instead of are souls. Because it brings the question of when does God “create” or “deliver” said soul (depending on your doctrine). Now, my argument is that people are souls, they do not have souls.
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
– Genesis 2:7
I know some people are going to argue with that, and I could write a whole post on it, and will one day at www.jaydeeblogs.com, but I haven’t had much time to write on theology lately. This blog is my primary ministry.
But, using this theology of a body being a soul, the theology simplifies a bit. I don’t have to worry about some mystical soul being created or delivered at some indeterminate time.
Now, the only verse my wife and I have been able to find in the Bible to clarify when life begins is in Leviticus:
For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.” – Leviticus 17:14
We see blood as being of huge importance all through the Bible. It is the primary symbol of life. It seems that life, in the context of a living being, cannot exist without blood. Now, sperm does not have blood, neither does an egg, fertilized or not. At about weeks 4-5, the heart starts beating and blood begins to flow. So, that sort of gives me a timeline. To me, life begins at about weeks 4-5, as best as I can find out from the Bible.
I remember having a discussion with some friends about when life begins and what type of birth control they used and why etc, and I always felt uneasy about the whole “life begins at conception” thing, it didn’t really make sense to me, it has huge potential at that point to become life, but it’s missing it’s source to live. so after doing a lot of digging about life in the Bible I found the above verse that makes it really clear. But if you look at the theme of blood in the Bible and it’s always about life. So this makes it clear to me and Jay that life begins when blood is infused into the embryo.
Sovereignty of God
So, the other major issue is how you believe God’s will is acted out in your life. Some Christians (and by “some”, I mean “some”, as in a subset, not “some” as a method of distancing myself, though I don’t hold this view. Sorry, had to explain that, had an issue with words like this before), as I was saying some Christians believe that “God’s will be done” means that God will do whatever He wants and we shouldn’t do anything to get in His way. Others believe that God will do whatever He wants, regardless of whatever we want. And some (like myself) are in the middle and believe God gave us intellect and reason and choice and we should choose to act in the best interest of furthering His Kingdom. Again, I don’t want to get into big theology debate here about the sovereignty of God and His will in our lives. But the point is that that some of that first subset believes that all contraception is wrong based on the simple fact that we may be interfering with God’s plan for pregnancy. Catholics, I believe, are the most prevalent of this group, but certainly not the only ones. Others call themselves “quiverful”, and I’m sure there are others who don’t self-associate with either group. I myself have a hard time holding this view, but I’ll just say that this is not my belief, and I won’t address it any further, because I’m not going to say at every option “Oh, and the first subset, again, thinks this method is immoral”. Consider this my blanket statement covering your theology.
So, how about I list some birth control options, explain how they work, and how my theology affects my decision about whether or not to use them. I’ll try to explain how the other viewpoints would see this as well.
Hormonal Birth Control
Hormonal birth control methods work by “tricking” the body into thinking it’s already pregnant by releasing some of the same hormones your body would release if it was pregnant. These can include oral contraceptives (like “The Pill”), subcutaneous implants (under the skin), injections, patches, some IUDs (intrauterine devices) and vaginal rings.
There are two basic kinds of oral contraceptives (pills): There is a combined oral contraceptive and a progesterone only pill. Both pills basically work the same way, the progesterone only pill doesn’t contain estrogen, which some women have trouble with, so prefer a pill that opts out of that component. It is slightly less effective though (see the chart).
As far as I can tell from my research (and I’m no expert), hormonal birth controls all work basically the same way. They release estrogen and/or progesterone into the body. The “defense” against pregnancy is threefold:
- They try to stop sperm by thickening cervical mucus, making it more difficult for them to reach the uterus, and thus a potential egg.
- They try to stop eggs from being released by making the body think it is already pregnant.
- They make the uterine lining inhospitable to a fertilized egg.
Now, in discussions with women on this topic, most know about #2, some know about #1, few know about #3. And it’s important depending on your beliefs. Because if you believe a fertilized egg is life, then #3 is murder, and thus the pill has the potential of killing your unborn potential child.
Now, for me, each of these stages are well before 4-5 weeks after implantation, so I have no issues the specific methods of “controlling” birth. However, I have a serious issue with some other side effects.
- It can dampen, reduce, or completely remove the desire for sex, arousal or sexual responsiveness. For some women, it takes years for their brain to return back to “normal”. My wife’s drive is about back to normal recently. It’s been 8 years. (and 4 babies) Some women never recover. Sadly, the FDA doesn’t consider sexual arousal problems or low desire in women to be a serious side effect, so doctors aren’t required to warn patients. I am pretty sure it is listed as a side affect on the packaging. Just no one takes it seriously or if it does happen to them, they don’t think it’s the pill.
- It can drastically change moods or behavior. In our case, it was like I was married to a completely different person. I’m not kidding. I often felt like Jacob who was tricked and got Leah instead of Rachel. I had no idea how miserable I was. I think women should go through some kind phsyc evaluation while on the pill.
- It can remove the ability in women to detect less compatible genetics in potential mates. This isn’t an issue if you go on birth control after you are married, but if you start before you get married, you could increase the risk of health issues in your children by being paired with an undesirable match. This likelihood is fairly low. What seems more likely is that when you go off birth control in order to get pregnant, you may suddenly feel repulsed (in varying degrees) by your husband because your body is recoiling from a bad genetic match. I think also since it messes with then natural hormones once you get off, your body has to adjust to doing its own thing again, and that could make it hard for a woman to realize she does love this man. Interesting note: I’ve been watching a lot of lectures from marriage counselors lately, and many of them have said that a major complaint of wives who are clients is that their husbands “smell bad” all of a sudden, and it impedes their desire. It doesn’t seem to have been an issue before, only later on.
|Method||Typical use||Perfect use|
|No birth control||85%||85%|
|Diaphragm and spermicide||12%||6%|
|Lactational amenorrhea method|
(6 months failure rate)
So, those are my reasons for avoiding the pill like the plague. Many people don’t have any symptoms at all, but if you are on it, and your husband is complaining that you seem like a different person…might want to get that checked out. And going off of The Pill for a month may not be a long enough test…it may take years to reset or even see improvement.
Barrier methods are exactly as they sound. They create a barrier that stops sperm. Examples are condoms, diaphragms, spermicide/sponges, and cervical caps. There’s not much to say about them. Except for the previously mentioned subset (see Sovereignty of God above), I don’t believe any other Christians have issue with this method.
Typically the biggest complaint is that is that you have to do something about it during sex, or that it isn’t sexy, or they don’t feel natural. Oh, and if you are allergic to latex, you have to be careful to buy non-latex products.
There are two types that I know of. One is the hormonal type, which falls into the category above, the other is copper. The copper devices are very effective (see chart), seem to be the safest, and their effects are immediately reversible on removal of the device. They can also be inserted immediately after delivery without compromising breastfeeding, and they can be left in for 5-10 years (I’m not sure why the large span, perhaps case by case).
Some side-effects can include increased menstrual bleeding and more painful cramps, which doesn’t sound like fun.
Basically, the copper IUD releases minute amounts of copper into the uterus which prevents the sperm from reaching and fertilizing a potential egg. If the egg does manage to get fertilized, it severely hampers it’s ability to implant, this stopping pregnancy.
So, same moral issues as the hormonal birth control options.
We’re considering this option. Actually, my wife is considering this option. I’m already considered and am OK either way. I completely understand if she doesn’t want to, and I’m supportive if she does. But, I wouldn’t tell her to go do it, just as she wouldn’t tell me to go get a vasectomy. I already have fairly heavy cycles, and the side effect of heavier and more painful menstruation does not appeal to me at all. But it sure would be nice to not have to worry about it at all. I am not sure if the trade of is worth it.
Most people wouldn’t list abortion as “birth control”, but I don’t see why not. In short, you are still trying to “control birth”, whether it be prior to sex, during sex, after sex, or well after sex. Same effect, though I’d argue the timing does matter.
In short, abortion is “the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo before viability” (Wikipedia). In plain English: you had sex, you have something from a fertilized egg to a near grown human that you now will ensure doesn’t survive.
Now, I’ve already stated that I believe life starts at 4-5 weeks after fertilization. So, do I think it’s OK to have an abortion up until that time? No. Why not? For the simple reason that far too often people don’t know when they got pregnant, and I’ve personally seen my wife beat an ultrasound device and experienced technician’s measurements and calculations based solely on her memory of when she ovulated, so I don’t really trust the technology either. What if you are off by a week and abort a “living being”, a “soul”. Not worth the risk if you ask me.
I am not even sure what to say here. It makes me sad to think of women that put themselves and their unborn child through this.
Behavioral methods are anything that uses timing to avoid pregnancy: Fertility awareness is about finding your most fertile days and avoiding sex during those days, withdrawal is essentially “pulling out” prior to ejaculation, abstinence is avoiding sex all together, and breastfeeding can impede pregnancy (much less likely to ovulate or have cycles when lactating).
At the moment, this is our current method of birth control. More specifically, fertility awareness + withdrawal/avoiding vaginal intercourse during fertile days. For the first year and a bit breastfeeding kept my fertility at bay, my cycles came back 15 months after I had my youngest so I watched for my first fertile day while breastfeeding to know when my cycles would start. Once they started obviously breastfeeding was no longer effective in birth control as my cycles were pretty regular right off the bat.
Now, some medical professionals will say this isn’t birth control at all, and, in one sense, I agree. You should not use these methods if you are not “OK” with becoming pregnant “accidentally”. But, I’d argue you shouldn’t be having sex at all if you aren’t “OK” with becoming pregnant “accidentally”, because none of them are 100% fail-safe except abstinence, but then I’d argue you don’t have a marriage.
If you were to use this type of method, it is effective and you can let your body be natural, there is nothing messing with your hormones, and that is a good feeling; knowing I’m treating my body the way I believe God intended. I have very clear signs on when I am fertile, and I use an app on my phone to watch how long my cycles are as well. So we have a good idea of when to avoid certain activities. I will admit there have been a few months where we were a little close to my fertile time and I got a little nervous, but it was all OK in the end, we used prayer to ask God’s will but also letting Him know we didn’t feel ready. I guess He thought we weren’t ready either, or we weren’t as close as I thought. Either way, it’s working for us for now.
Of course, this again prevents fertilization, and thus doesn’t come close to my moral boundaries on birth control.
So, those are my thoughts on birth control. What are yours? What have you had success with?