Sunday, September 25, 2005

Frigid Daughters of the Sexual Revolution

The Telegraph of London reports that women are trying to get pregnant via in vitro fertilization because they don't want to do it the old-fashioned way:

Michael Dooley, a gynaecologist, obstetrician and fertility expert, said that in the past five years he has seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of patients seeking "inappropriate or premature" IVF treatment.

"Many of these couples are simply not having sex or not having enough sex," he said. "Conception has become medicalised. It's too clinical. There has been a trend away from having sex and loving relationships towards medicalised conception."...

Emma Cannon, who runs the fertility programme at Westover House, said:...Some people are horrified by the idea that they have to have sex two to three times a week."
Cannon explains that her patients are commuter couples who don't have time for sex, but it's hard to believe that there aren't problems in the marriages as well. After all, if a spouse really want to have sex, he or she will forgo the extra trip to the gym.

The idea that there is a reason for the couples' lack of sex other than mere lack of time is borne out by another comment of Cannon's:
"I told one of my patients who is going through IVF that another IVF patient had just conceived naturally. She said: 'What? She's having sex? Bloody Luddite.'"
Another expert likewise suggests the couples' problems are more than just not being able to pencil sex into their schedule—testing, after all, takes time:
Dr Tim Evans, the founder of Westover House and the Queen's GP, said: "People are increasingly trying to control it [conception]. They are testing, testing, testing when they should just have sex."
So, this is what the sexual revolution has come to. Women get married at 35 or 40, having contracepted for their entire sexual lives, and they discover that they do not know how to have a marital relationship—one that by definition, so long as the two partners are capable, involves having sex.

And people think Catholics are backwards for using natural family planning (NFP), which they do either to combat infertility or to space out births?

I look at the observant-Catholic married couples I know, and say what you will, no doctor warns them that they're missing out on sex. And I don't just mean that from the number of little ones they bring to Mass. You can tell from their affection for one another.

Nor does one have to be Catholic for one's relationship to benefit from natural family planning, as Mormon fertility specialist Joseph B. Stanford, M.D., writes in his First Things article "Sex, Naturally":
Sexual union in marriage ought to be a complete giving of each spouse to the other, and when fertility (or potential fertility) is deliberately excluded from that giving I am convinced that something valuable is lost. A husband will sometimes begin to see his wife as an object of sexual pleasure who should always be available for gratification. This tendency is reinforced by the dominant perspective on sexuality in our society, which idealizes unlimited sexual titillation and gratification freed (at least theoretically) from any consideration of pregnancy. Sterilization and hormonal contraceptives especially feed into this prevalent and highly distorted male perspective (which is also adopted by many women). Couples can also easily lose sight of why they have made a decision to avoid pregnancy and then not discuss the issue for months or even years, developing an approach to their sexual relationship largely divorced from even the thought of procreation....

[T]here is a strong "courtship/honeymoon" effect among NFP users, even after years of marriage. Abstinence from genital contact during the fertile phase evokes a sense of periodic "courtship," after which the couple enjoys a periodic "honeymoon" that increases the appreciation and enjoyment of the sexual union. Available research suggests that the overall frequency of intercourse among married couples using NFP is about the same as among most married couples using contraception, but that it is distributed differently. I have known couples in my practice using contraception who routinely have daily intercourse, but these couples do not have anywhere near as satisfying a "sex life" as those couples I see who use NFP. Simply put, NFP enhances marriages in a way that the use of contraception does not.

I find that the following benefits come to those couples who use NFP: 1) they come to a deeper appreciation of fertility as a gift from God rather than a biological phenomenon to be manipulated or a curse to be avoided; 2) they are usually able to consciously and rapidly achieve pregnancy when they so choose ("surprise" pregnancies are rare for NFP users); 3) they reevaluate their choices about fertility on an ongoing basis; 4) in their intimate relationship, each spouse sends to the other the implicit and powerful message: "I accept all of you, including your fertility"; 5) they learn to assume and to exercise joint responsibility for decisions about their fertility; 6) they learn that times of abstinence from genital contact can strengthen their relationship.

Most people who start to use NFP do not do so because they expect to experience the benefits to their relationship and spirituality that I have just described. Research suggests that a majority are initially interested primarily for the health benefits-the absence of medical side effects and the insight into the normal functioning of the body. Others begin use of NFP because of a prior religious commitment. Regardless of the reason for beginning use of NFP, most research has shown that, compared to other family planning methods, a relatively high proportion of users continue to use it. And after some months of use, most users will tell you that they have noticed some of the benefits to their relationships that I have described.