I wouldn’t consider myself an avid Monty Python fan by any stretch. Heck, I’ve only see The Holy Grail once, and I’m not sure I saw all of it. But I’ve heard that little ditty about sperm from The Meaning of Life, and I can’t help but recalling it now as I ponder the topic of birth control, or, more accurately, contraception. (Who really thinks they can control birth? As a labor and delivery nurse, I can tell you that once you get to the “birth” part of sexuality, there is very little control. At best, it’s controlled chaos. So the term “birth control” is a bit of a misnomer. But I digress.)I listen to “Every sperm is sacred,” and I facepalm. This is what the world thinks of me. Sigh.
The lie at the foundation of this humorous ditty is that people who believe contraception is immoral think that sex is ONLY for making babies, and that everyone ought to HAVE AS MANY BABIES AS POSSIBLE. It implies that every sperm not directed at a ripe egg is being disgraced. As if a gamete deserves the same dignity as a zygote! Certainly, it is a biological fact that sex CAN create a new human person. But sex isn’t ONLY for making babies. That would be a closed-minded proposition indeed, as sex clearly does much more than create human life. It brings people together, it expresses intimacy, it bonds and unites two human beings in an incredibly profound way. It releases all sorts of feel-good chemicals in the brain. Clearly people have sex for the orgasm at least as much as they have it for the babies. And you know what? That’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying sex. I’m not writing this post to suggest that sex shouldn’t be enjoyable, or that the expressed intention of every sexual act MUST be to make a baby. If this were true, then human reproduction would be like a rabbit's. Even our bodies can’t keep up with the assertion that sex MUST be ONLY for babies.
But sex still makes babies.
We humans are creative. For thousands of years we’ve been coming up with ways to get around the fact stated above. Each generation has come up with their own ways to circumvent this simple biological reality. It started with simply pulling out before ejaculation (the earliest recorded attempt to prevent conception that I know of), and has developed into a variety of medical interventions including sterilization, pills, and implanted devices. And we still use all of the old tricks, too. What do all of these things have in common? The obvious answer is that the couple using these methods doesn’t want to make a baby. While this is true, it neglects to pinpoint the actual thing wrong with their actions. It isn’t that they’re having sex, and it isn’t that they don’t want to make a baby. The thing that they’re doing wrong is that they’re messing with biology. They’re messing with sex. They’re making sex something that it’s not supposed to be: a selfish act.
But I have good news! There IS a way for a couple to have sex, and not want to make a baby, and still generously accept the gift of each other’s fertility. It works with biology instead of against it. See, a woman is only fertile for at a certain time during her cycle. By simple observation of the signs her body gives, she and her husband can know when her body is ready to make a baby. With this knowledge, they decide together whether or not to have intercourse. If they don’t want their love-making to also be baby-making, they wait a few days from when she ovulates to have sex. This does require self-control, disciplined charting of the woman’s fertility signs, and good communication between the couple. I’m not going to say that it’s easier than popping a pill once a day or having a plastic or metal thing shoved up her cervix. It might take a little more forethought than rolling a latex shield over his penis. But think about the difference between the couple who knows the woman’s body versus the couple using barriers or chemicals. One couple is saying to one another, “I know you, and I love you, and I want to share myself with you.” The other is saying, “I’ll take all of you except your fertility. You’d better have some sort of barrier between us while we’re intimate, because I need to be protected from you.”
I don’t even need to talk about sperm. I’m not concerned about sperm in and of themselves, and I laugh just as hard as you do at the assertion that “every sperm is sacred”. This is not about sperm; it’s about love. The love that inspires spouses to say “not only do I want goodness for you, I want to BE good for you, and I want YOU to be good for me.” This is the love that persuades two individuals to become one in marriage. They vow to love each other no matter what, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, in wealth and poverty, for the rest of their lives. This vow goes beyond words as they lie together on their wedding night and act out in their bodies the words that they promised to one another. No barriers. No conditions. Just pure, unadulterated love.