Dare to ask: Catholics and use of birth control
By Phillip Milano
If Catholics don't believe in contraceptives, how do they keep from having a
lot of kids?
Linzi, 17, Selinsgrove, Penn.
It's all about timing.
Betty, 30, Catholic, Jacksonville
The method taught at my church uses the woman's temperature to find out when
she ovulates. I know when I'm fertile. That means that my husband and I abstain
from sex every other week - one week because I am fertile, the other because I
Cindy, 31, Catholic, Pittsburgh
Not every Catholic toes the line on what the Church says we should do.
Different parishes will be more conservative or liberal. And it isn't like we
have to send in surveys every year saying we do or don't use birth control.
There are Catholics who use birth control, just like there are non-Catholics who
Melissa, 23, Catholic, Jacksonville
There are other methods that do not destroy a fertilized egg, but prevent one
from forming. Just because the church teaches against contraceptives doesn't
mean Catholics aren't using them.
Arnold, Christian, Edmonton, Canada
It wasn't long ago - like maybe nine months before May 29, 1962 - that some
Catholic family counselors (at least one) were actually advising some of their
parishioners (at least one couple) that they should enlarge their family. Some
people who author the Dare to Ask column but prefer to remain anonymous owe
their existence to these counselors, but that doesn't mean they have a biased,
favorable, fist-pumping view of Catholics who enlarge their families.
The Catholic Church says artificial birth control is a no-no; it says to use
Natural Family Planning, said Theresa Notare of the Natural Family Planning
Program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This involves testing basal
body temperature, cervical mucus changes and other neat or messy things to see
when the woman is fertile.
The FDA says this is typically about 80 percent effective, though Notare said
studies show effectiveness can reach 99 percent if couples train well and follow
the rules religiously (OK, she said "closely").
"We have a theology of responsible parenthood . . . the Church has never
said, 'Have as many kids as you can absolutely have,' " she said. "We say that
sex is for bonding and for new life, but children have to be cared for and
By the way, the average U.S. Catholic family is about the same size as the
national average, around 2.6 people. In fact, 11 percent of Catholic families
have three or more children, only slightly above the national average of 9
percent, according to the Pew Forum's 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. The
fact that polls show about eight in 10 Catholics are OK with artificial birth
control might have something to do with that.
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to email@example.com. You can also hear his
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