Seat Belts and Contraception – What’s the Difference? by Mark Gonnella

There seems to be an irrational confidence in the use of contraception.  In the modern age, the use of contraception is accompanied by the blithely deluded comfort of ‘Well, at least they are not getting pregnant!’  This achievement, as well as the prevention of most STDs, has contraception being touted as a staple of modern medicine with unremitting alacrity.  It is the preferred alternative–nay, the    only perceived alternative–to unprotected sex.  Abstinence is outdated and oppressive.  We are sexual beings and should be allowed to act according to our own nature.  For the secularist, such statements induce no qualms of conscience; but for the Christian, they should.  There is a reason why prior to 1960, there were only two commonly known sexually transmitted diseases, and now over 25 venereal diseases are identified: people are having sex more frequently and recklessly because contraception promotes such behavior.

Contraception promotes promiscuity because it vilipends the sexual act; it makes the serious act of sex into a causal one. Many sensible and intelligent individuals, like Pope Paul VI, knew what contraception would cause because they knew what contraception promotes: a sexual license.  Paul VI in Humane Vitae remarks on this fact in a compelling paragraph that is worth quoting fully:

Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings — and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation — need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection (HV 17).

It grants the individual all the pleasures of sexual intercourse without the consequences and responsibilities.  It tells the voracious child that he can eat all the candy in the store without getting sick.  But, alas, far off in the distance comes the shrill repartee of the enlightened generation.  They contend that contraception does not promote promiscuity inasmuch as a seat belt does not promote car accidents.  Upon the sound of the final syllable being uttered, laughter fulminates from the enlightened peanut gallery.  The matter thus seems to be settled, for, prima facie, this argument seems solid.  After all, preventive measures do not necessitate that one engage in the action that causes the effects from which the measure prevents.  Bulletproof vests, they will say, do not promote people to shoot each other.  Seemingly, then, this argument settles the dispute.  However, the intuitively conscientious person wants to object to this argument; they know that something is amiss.

The argument that contraception does not promote promiscuity inasmuch as seat belts do not promote car accidents seems sound only because it is deceitful; the argument is not strengthened by logic but by casuistry.  The reason why this argument is false is that it rests on a false analogy.  The intent is to fool the reader to focus on the category of instruments, namely, that both instruments (i.e. seat belts and contraception) act as preventive instruments.  Thus, without further inspection, the argument seems logical because of the congruity of intent of the instruments—each one acts as a preventive measure.  After careful analysis, however, one will immediately see the incongruity of the two acts.  Sexual intercourse and car accidents are qualitatively different experiences. To compare the two in a positive argument (i.e. x does not do this because y does not) presupposes a factual error: that without the preventive measures, both experiences are equal.

Let us unpack this argument further.  The sexual act has two primary negative consequences: unwanted pregnancy and unwanted STDs.  Car accidents have many negative consequences, but two primary ones, assuming that you are driving alone, are serious injury and death.  Clearly, the severity of the consequences of each respective act differs greatly, but the real qualitative difference is what precedes the consequences.  As mentioned above, the sexual act is a pleasurable and desirable act, while car accidents are not.  Whether the preventive measures exist, the former will still be a pleasurable and desirable act and the latter will not. The absence of the preventive measure will not make the sexual act any less pleasurable or desirable.  In contrast, without seat belts car accidents are still undesirable and painful.  Nothing changes with the addition of the preventive measure.  The seat belt may prevent the person from being ejected from the vehicle, but the car accident itself, with or without the seat belt, is still painful and undesirable.  The difference, then, between the two acts (the sexual act and a car accident) is that the experience of the sexual act does change with the addition of contraception–for contraception drastically limits the possibility of the two negatives consequences from occurring.  The car accident is still painful, there is still a high probability of injury to the person(s) in the car, and the damaged car is still a burden to the person involved, even if he was not severely harmed in the accident.

To put it simply, seat belts mitigates the negative effects from an undesirable act (a car accident); contraception greatly decreases the negative effects from an otherwise desirable act (the sexual act).   Therefore, one may argue, that the sexual act becomes more pleasurable and much more desirable with contraception, while a car accident does not become more pleasurable or desirable with seat belts.  The vulnerability of the sexual act is removed, for the person using contraception feels like he is in control of the act.  By greatly decreasing the chances of potential negative consequences, i.e. venereal diseases or unwanted pregnancy, the person believes that he can reap all the pleasurable benefits of the sexual act.  However, it is clear that contraception does not always work.  The issue, though, is not whether it objectively removes the potential negative consequences of sex, but rather it makes people think it does.  This is why it promotes promiscuity because it promotes an inflated confidence in contraception, that one can have the thrills without the dangers, and this illusory feeling of invincibility makes one more inclined to have sex and to have it abundantly.  In contrast, seat belts do not precipitate reckless driving, for the seat belt does not remove all the negative consequences of a car accident, and thus it does not invoke a sense of invincibility; the driver is still vulnerable to injury.  At the very least, the car accident is a large inconvenience for the individual even if severe injuries are avoided.

Clearly, you can see how the comparison between the sexual act and car accidents is a foolish one to make.  The only way that this argument would work is if the two experiences were similar.  If car accidents were comparable sensationally to having sex, but still had the consequences of headaches and whiplash, then the invention of seat belts would make many car mechanics quite wealthy.  However, the fact remains that car accidents and sex are not sensationally comparable, and thus they cannot be compared.

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