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Babies are worse than disease

This post is going to be rather slapdash from the perspective of statistics. I imagine that some of my readers will have fun looking up the statistics, perhaps some just in order to tell me I'm out to lunch, perhaps some to support my thesis.

I was inspired to think of this thesis by this article by Fr. Robert McTeigue. He is a good raconteur. His anecdotes about how he made students turn pale by telling them that birth control could fail and that condoms do not always protect against disease are amusing, in a dark way, which is probably exactly what he intended.

Let's start with the acknowledged fact that the sexual left's vaunted "safe sex" procedures are not terribly close to perfectly safe. Fr. McTeigue has some of the details. Others can be found. This is even more true for prevention of STDs than for prevention of pregnancy. If one uses a LARC, which is the leftist "gold standard" in pregnancy prevention, one can in essence temporarily sterilize oneself pretty darned effectively. (LARCs are IUDs, long-acting sterilization injections, or birth control implants under the skin.) STD prevention, on the other hand, is more a matter of reducing the rate of infection spread within a population if condoms are used according to protocols. (Keep comments family friendly, please, if commenting on this part of the post.) It is actually irresponsible, as Fr. McTeigue points out, to tell an individual that condoms make sexual intercourse "safe" from the spread of disease. At most, they make it safer, and even a few liberals have acknowledged this, though as far as I can tell, the phrase "safer sex" as opposed to "safe sex" never really took off.

But that reduction is worth it to the sexual left, and they will ardently promote "safe sex" as "responsible behavior" while not acknowledging that promiscuity itself is irresponsible, both emotionally and physically. This point has been emphasized by Dr. Miriam Grossman, who saw the wreckage of the hookup culture up close, along with the utter failure of the medical establishment to talk about it honestly.

Now let's turn to the attitude of the sexual left to Natural Family Planning. I want to emphasize here that my intention is not to take a particular position on the intrinsic rightness or wrongness of artificial contraception but rather to make a point about the strange disconnect between leftist attitudes towards disease and babies.

When couples use NFP according to protocols, this reduces the number of unexpected pregnancies within the population using the protocols. That is just true. It's even true if one sticks just to the use of NFP protocols for fertile, non-breastfeeding women and if one acknowledges that it becomes much harder to use NFP during breastfeeding (when ovulation tends to be suppressed and hence more random) or during perimenopause. People in those latter situations must either follow much more difficult protocols, resulting in what could be an unhealthy lack of intercourse for the relationship, or else "take their chances" to a larger extent. Nonetheless, since those are the less fertile periods of the woman's life by definition, it remains true that, if all non-celibate couples followed even the general protocols of NFP, with charting and periodic abstinence, there would be a lot fewer unexpected pregnancies in the world. (The simple invention of the battery operated oral thermometer, which can give basal body temperature, taken first thing in the morning, to the nearest tenth of a degree, has all by itself made NFP a good deal more scientific than it was before that invention.)

Nonetheless, it remains true that there are limitations in the method, particularly if a couple does not wish to remain abstinent during the entire earlier portion of the woman's monthly cycle. Charting is, to some degree, a matter of gathering data for an informed induction over time. In any given month discovering when ovulation has taken place has (as a guide to action) something of the paradoxical nature of saying, "When you come to the last bus stop on the line, get off at the bus stop just before that one." So unexpected pregnancies still do happen even to couples following protocols carefully, especially for women with irregular cycles.

So, as with the use of a condom to prevent STDs, it is not possible to say truthfully to a particular couple, "This method will infallibly avoid what you are trying to avoid for you as individuals." Rather, the effect is on a larger scale--fewer unexpected pregnancies over the course of that couple's fertile years, within the whole population following the method, etc.

But notice the difference in the left's attitudes. Rather than lauding NFP as "responsible," they scorn it as irrelevant and stupid. It just isn't enough that it reduces unexpected pregnancies in a sexually active relationship. No, we must be able to offer the individual and the couple a virtual guarantee that, whatever else happens, no baby will result from this sexual act.

The variation in the ardor of promotion of condoms vs. NFP and the negative vs. positive attitudes leads me to the following conclusion: The sexual left considers it more important to avoid the conception of a baby than to avoid contracting a humiliating and possibly life-threatening disease.

Makes you think.

Comments (14)

I was living in Baltimore circa 1993 when the city decided to shove Norplant on as many high-school girls of darker-hued skin as they could. The five little marks on the arm might as well have been ear tags for cattle.

I would call it a government-issued tramp stamp instead of cattle branding.

One thing I have noticed in various studies of the wunnnderful effects of LARCs on pregnancy rates is that they do not report on whether STD incidence went up in the target population. It's possible that that data is gathered and just not included in the final report, but as far as I can tell from the final report, they don't even look into it. Now, the mechanism whereby that might happen is quite obvious, so obvious in fact that one Powerpoint presentation I went through on one of these studies (possibly the Colorado one) even specifically told healthcare workers to be sure to warn women to keep on using condoms, since LARCs provide no protection against STDs. But will they? So it is possible that the big push for LARCs may even be _increasing_ STD infection, but we will never know. The left is even more concerned among its _own_ methods that some of them are better than others at preventing pregnancy, and wants to push the ones that are the best at preventing pregnancy. But they show less concern about the failures of condoms in preventing STDs or even about the possibility that promoting "better" contraceptive methods might increase STD transmission. The big drive is to prevent more and more pregnancies. Which is yet more evidence of the point in the main post.

I went through on one of these studies (possibly the Colorado one) even specifically told healthcare workers to be sure to warn women to keep on using condoms, since LARCs provide no protection against STDs. But will they?

Doubtful. We are talking about magic in a lab coat after all. A talisman against the evil of conception in a manner of speaking.

When couples use NFP according to protocols, this reduces the number of unexpected pregnancies within the population using the protocols. That is just true...

So, as with the use of a condom to prevent STDs, it is not possible to say truthfully to a particular couple, "This method will infallibly avoid what you are trying to avoid for you as individuals." Rather, the effect is on a larger scale--fewer unexpected pregnancies over the course of that couple's fertile years, within the whole population following the method, etc.

I know you didn't mean to do this, Lydia, but your phrasing here could be mistaken for denigrating the RATE of success in birth regulation by NFP. Whereas, all you were doing was making a minimal claim, one that even liberal cannot dispute.

The data shows that NFP rivals some artificial methods of preventing conception, and is actually better than some other artificial methods. At preventing pregnancies, that is. NFP doesn't do anything to prevent STDs, of course, but then neither do most of the artificial methods.

I was trying to make my claims sufficiently soft-focus that I couldn't be challenged too much concerning the level of rigor or length of abstinence a couple needs in order to follow the strictest protocols during times of irregular ovulation. I also didn't want my claims to apply only to couples who abstain in every cycle until after ovulation. My understanding is that most unexpected pregnancies for NFP occur if the couple is attempting to minimize the number of days of abstinence and hence does not necessarily abstain during the entire first portion of the cycle. When high-success statistics are given for NFP, I have not checked on how rigorous the protocols are that yield those statistics. Of course it makes a difference, so that was why I didn't make strong claims for the rate of success in birth regulation for a particular couple.

In the end, the Left will not allow anything to impede upon personal narcissism and instant gratification. Artificial contraception allows one to live indefinitely as a sexual bulimic, and if that doesn't work, then abortion will not be hesitated upon.

The whole diversion on NFP was not really necessary here, and it's somewhat muddled. First, NFP protocols are far more successful in avoiding pregnancy than Lydia suggests, because the rule of thumb is that if in doubt, don't. Second, Lydia appears to be referring primarily to Creighton-method NFP, which tends to rely a bit more on regularity in ovulation. Billings NFP, while a bit less "scientific," is actually quite reliable irrespective of regularity or irregularity.

I'm highly skeptical of claims that people get pregnant while using NFP properly. I've never known anyone who could be described like that. I know lots of people who wound up with babies after saying, in effect, "oh, screw it," or "eh, we'll see what happens," or even, "women don't ovulate while breast feeding, right?" But that's not people following the rule, that's people ignoring the rules. If you were using just a Marquette monitor, you would have the get-off-before-the-last-stop problem Lydia describes. But, as the Marquette people will tell you, I believe, the monitor by itself is not a useful tool for avoiding conception (it's a much more useful tool for achieving conception by properly timing intercourse).

I'm going to be kind of blunt, here, Titus, so please don't take offense:

One of my reasons for making the concessions I did concerning NFP was that, in a case where protocols in question involve a _lot_ of abstinence, I think the comparison I wanted to make becomes a much harder sell. At the extreme, everybody knows that if you don't have intercourse at all for six months, you aren't going to get pregnant. No kidding. To call this "NFP" and to say that the _reason_ the couple didn't have intercourse for six months was that they were following a "when in doubt, don't" rule, that the wife was irregularly ovulating because she was breastfeeding, and that (let's say, for example) she kept failing the protocols for the Billings method (I'm trying to avoid getting graphic here, because I am familiar with the Billings method, both its protocols and its claims), doesn't make this sound anything like a do-able option for most married couples. It just sounds like, in practice, abstaining from sex for a long time. At that point to say that secularists are opposed to it because they think babies are worse than disease sounds extremely dubious. Even non-secularists might think following those protocols a bad idea, and not because they hate babies.

Hence, I was envisaging a use of NFP that is more workable and that does not involve super-strict protocols and that *never* involves long-term abstinence (qua method) in any event. That, of course, means taking more risks of pregnancy and having less of a "success rate" if "success" is gauged in terms of avoiding unintended pregnancy.

I don't consider the discussion of NFP in the main post to have been a diversion, in any event, because NFP is central to the point I'm making in the main post! No NFP, no main post. It's that simple. To recap, my point is fairly simple: Liberals should grant that NFP, even used without the strictest possible protocols, reduces unintended pregnancy within a population group, though still involving a non-negligible risk of unintended pregnancy. They seem satisfied by that type of result vis a vis STDs and condom use. Why then are they so wildly enthusiastic about condom use for avoiding STDs and so grimly unenthusiastic about NFP use for avoiding unintended pregnancy? One is tempted to conclude that it is because their utilities (to use a term from decision theory) are such that they think it _less acceptable_ to take on a risk of pregnancy than to take on a similar risk of getting an STD.

I am not making up the "no sex for months" possibility. It is widely acknowledged as a possibility for couples "using" NFP and wanting to be sure to avoid pregnancy. See this post, for example, which explains why the Billings method doesn't help this couple (though not using the word "Billings").


It is quite simple to google and find a great deal of information indicating that such situations are not uncommon, especially with breastfeeding/postpartum scenarios.

But that's not people following the rule, that's people ignoring the rules.

This is simplistic. There are a variety of methods. Billings differs from sympto-thermal differs from Marquette-cum-symptoms. Even Marquette-cum-symptoms has different protocols based on whether you have been taking readings for six months or not, which is connected to my point about how self-observation is often more valuable for data-gathering over time than for telling you whether or not sex is "safe" *right now*.

Using different methods, people may indeed be following the rules, and there are *of course* method-based pregnancies using NFP, even if not using the *absolutely strictest possible* protocols, however long that requires abstinence. Using one method a couple may be regularly (and carefully) abstaining for seven days per month while another couple with the same fertility profile is abstaining for fourteen. Some methods require (qua method) abstinence during menstruation; others don't. And so on.

The very fact that NFP involves being "open to life" means that the strictness of the protocols the couple chooses to follow varies depending on the importance of avoiding pregnancy for that couple. This doesn't just mean that they are throwing the method out the window, being uninformed (e.g., thinking that breast-feeding always prevents ovulation), and/or taking reckless risks (saying "oh, screw it," as Titus says). Any responsible NFP counselor will tell you that you choose to follow a more conservative or less conservative protocol depending on how hard you are trying to avoid pregnancy and on how much abstinence is do-able for your marriage.

Lydia, without going into too much detail, let's just say I don't have to use the internet to know about the ramifications of following Billings rules, or even that one of those ramifications can be summed up as "no sex for months." Periodic continence, even of an extended variety, is not wrong, nor (as with any sacrifice, with God's grace) by any means impossible.

The problem is that you're envisioning a version of NFP that, as you say, "does not involve super-strict protocols and that *never* involves long-term abstinence (qua method)." The problem is that the less rigorous the protocol, the closer your "method" comes to amounting to roulette. And there's no extant NFP method of which I am aware (and I understand all the ones you mention) that can, as a matter of mathematical certainty, be said never to call for extended abstinence, simply because the human body does not function according to algorithms and is, to an extent, endlessly variable. I suppose you could gauge the conception possibility on any given day in any woman by examining follicular activity with an ultrasound or MRI, but now we're getting silly.

That ties into your last point: there's a difference between the capabilities of an NFP method itself and one's commitment to using them. Certainly one (or, I guess, two) can choose to disregard the rules (something that is certainly not in and of itself "reckless," at least if conceiving a child in the circumstances would not be), but then one is not using NFP to avoid pregnancy. They are not-using-NFP-to-avoid-pregnancy-even-though-they-may-have-in-the-past. People are obviously free to follow the rules, not follow the rules, go back and forth, etc., as they please: but if you get pregnant taking a loosey-goosey approach to the rules, well, congratulations (really, babies are fantastic and joyous), but it's not the method's fault you did.

Put differently, "ignore the rules when you want to have a baby or at least want to roll in the hay more than you want not to have a baby" is not itself a rule of any NFP method: it's fine, necessary advice, but it's advice that's extrinsic to the method (which is not a comprehensive guide to marital relations or life, but merely a set of indicia concerning ovulation and related rubrics concerning conception) itself.

Titus, if your claim is that there are no method-based pregnancies with NFP, you are just overstating and are incorrect. Here is a scenario of a kind that *does happen*: A particular woman, let's say, does not display what I'll just call the "Billings symptom" more than a day or two prior to ovulation, at most. The couple therefore uses the sympto-thermal method based on a combination of factors including data on when she has ovulated in the past (from past careful temperature charting). On this basis, they conscientiously abstain for, let's say, eight days in a particular month. But as it happens, she ovulates a day earlier than usual in that month, the sperm live for five days, and conception occurs.

That kind of thing *unquestionably* happens (and endless variants on it), and anyone who says that "isn't a method-based pregnancy" is just trying to define himself into correctness on a proposition like, "There are no NFP method pregnancies, there are only people who don't follow the rules." The couple was following a method. They took a lot of trouble to follow a method and to follow the rules. They followed a known, respectable method. The woman's body did something a little different that month than they could have anticipated, and pregnancy occurred. That pretty much defines a method-based pregnancy.

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