If You Haven’t Read Humanae Vitae, What Are You Waiting For?

You may imagine it’s a stern and solemn doctrinal harangue, fusty with misogyny, larded with theological jargon, cluttered with impractical, abstract ideals. In short, something you’d write if you’ve never had sex and have no idea what marriage is really like.

But Humanae Vitae is not like that.

Humanae Vitae, which is Latin for “On Human Life,” doesn’t bring the authoritarian fist of the Church crashing down on individual, authentic human lives. Instead, it invites us to recall two things . . .

Read the rest of my latest for Parable Magazine.


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25 thoughts on “If You Haven’t Read Humanae Vitae, What Are You Waiting For?”

  1. Seriously, how do you derive ANY pro-woman opinions from HV? Christian doctrine in general is pretty much entirely woman-hate, the church FATHERS in particular, but in what possible way is this encyclical anything but ‘women are brood-mares and sex is really gross?’

    1. Can you quote something specific from Humanae Vitae that promotes the point of view that women are brood mares and sex is really gross? I’ve read it recently and I sincerely don’t know what you’re referring to.

      There are some Catholics who believe those things. No argument from me there. But since we’re talking about Humanae Vitae, I’d like to know which specific passages are troubling you so much.

      1. Mainly the part about how contraception is going to reduce the ‘reverence’ men give women, when there was no reverence or respect at the time to be reduced. I know how utterly wretched most traditional marriages were. Read jokes from the period and older, all about henpecked husbands and evil mothers-in-law. Read Hemingway. Mostly, read history. How can something which finally gave women the ability to enjoy sex without the terror of pregnancy harm us? Paul VI rejected the nearly-unanimous recommendations of the the actual married people because one old dude, who probably became a priest because he hated women, said so.

        Also, the fact that some Catholics think those things merits some consideration. Why do they think that? If the people in the pews get that impression from the men in the pulpit, shouldn’t you consider that the supervisors of the men in the pulpits agree with that perspective?

    2. It says you shouldn’t rape your spouse. That’s kind of pro-woman.
      (“Men rightly observe that a conjugal act imposed on one’s partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife.”)
      Of course, it says you shouldn’t impose on your partner without regard to her “reasonable wishes,” so maybe if she’s being unreasonable, you can still rape her.

    3. Also, this is pro-woman: “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.”

      1. Well, if you think women are idiots and sex is gross, then that passage is kind of ‘pro-woman.’ If you think women have a sex drive and should be allowed to express it, then no, that passage is still deeply misogynist.

        1. No it isn’t. Men who have been shaped by the sexual revolution and the feminism it co-opted may not be less respectful of women than their fathers and grandfathers, but women who are shaped by them are less respectful of themselves. I was utterly astounded a couple of years ago to read in a magazine about the supposed “empowerment” young women achieve by performing oral s*x on men even when men never do the same for them or even offer them the opportunity to achieve sexual satisfaction by other means. The article (and no, I cannot remember where it was; if you’re curious, please look for it) was a response to a survey that – I think – stated that fewer young women were achieving sexual satisfaction with casual partners now than a generation ago. It – the article – was trying to maintain that casual sex was nevertheless somehow of benefit to women in spite of this disconcerting fact. I suppose it depends what you mean by “benefit”.

          You are so angry (for whatever reason, and it may be a good one) that you grossly exaggerate and – ultimately – do not make much sense.

        2. I… think we have a problem of false cognates. The rest of the commenters on this thread are using terms like “love,” “respect,” and “reverence” as positives. You read them as equivalent to what we mean by “hatred,” “disgust,” and the like. Straight out of Kant, actually, but that makes it hard not to just talk past each other.
          The passage R quotes is meant to simply say that men shouldn’t treat women as objects for nothing more than their own sexual satisfaction rather than as whole persons, not to say that women shouldn’t enjoy sex. I’m surprised you don’t agree with that passage actually; I should have thought you would agree that they should be equal partners in satisfaction.

          1. ‘Love’ and ‘respect’ have been used to describe lots of abusive actions over the years. Catholic doctrine taught that sex for pleasure was evil for most of its existence. HV is based on Casta Conubii, which openly states that wives should never have jobs and should be subservient to men. Other documents of your church support the conclusion that sex is gross and women are evil as well. Consider the statement canonizing Maria Goretti, in which Pius XII called her another St. Agnes who was a martyr to preserving her ‘purity.’ Catholicism has always said it was better to be a virgin than anything else, and in the case of Goretti, it’s better to be a dead virgin than a living rape survivor, even at age 11.

            You ignore the entire sordid history of all patriarchal religions toward women if you say HV is not woman-hating.

          2. Your second sentence is just slightly off: it needs an “only” before “pleasure.” Otherwise there wouldn’t be anything wrong with an abuser forcing his wife into sex as long as he got pleasure from it.
            It’s unfortunate that Maria Goretti has been so steadily misunderstood; I think Simcha may have written about that before, but maybe it was Jen Fitz. Anyway, the basic point was that yes, she resisted, but on the grounds that *he* would go to hell for committing such a sin, making her charity far beyond the ordinary: her concern wasn’t primarily for her own safety, but for the immortal soul of her attacker, though certainly she defended herself as well. Surely no one would insist that Maria/women in general *ought to* submit to attackers (though they also cannot be faulted if they decide that they have a better chance in not fighting)?
            Re: your statements about virginity, it was indeed the Church standing pretty much alone in teaching that women’s value did not lie in marriage but in their creation as children of God and so no one had the right to force women into marriage. An unpopular stance among the ancient Romans (among others) and hence the category of “virgin martyrs” who were killed solely for refusing to marry whatever Roman man had taken a fancy to them.

            As for the false cognates problem, it does seem to be the main issue here. One comment thread is hardly going to change your hearing after so many years of maltreatment by the men in your life, but I would submit for eventual consideration that your father-in-law misusing terms doesn’t make Pope Paul VI into a liar and some of us, Church documents included, use words like “love” and “reverence” according to the dictionary meaning, not according to our desire to manipulate.

          3. Oh, I wish I could edit my comment to add: I keep insisting on the “false cognates” thing because missing that is a big factor in the heat in this thread. You say something about the woman-hating Church, someone posts a quote with “reverence” or the like in it, you read it as “denigration,” and then both of you are mad at that idiot who doesn’t know what words mean. Clarifying terms is useful for calm discussion, especially when everyone thinks they already know what the terms mean.
            “Did you say ‘orphan-a-child-who-has-lost-his-parents’ or ‘orphan-frequently’?” 🙂

  2. I have read it, several times. I do not accept anything in it, because of one giant, glaring flaw. Paul VI says that contraception will lead to a devaluing of women, but utterly fails to provide any evidence at all that the Catholic Church valued or respected women in the first place. Women have gained far more in the 50 years since 1968, mostly due to the availability of reliable contraception, than in the entirety of human history before 1968. We can be entirely independent of men now, which is vital to our ability to achieve pretty much anything. Males will always destroy any efforts we make to leave the shackles they want on us. Unless we can tell men to take a hike off the nearest cliff, we will always be pathetic doormats. The Catholic Church prefers doormats.

      1. You can only control your life by using contraception that no male has any say or control or influence over. You have to be able to tell your husband to go jump off a cliff.

    1. I am genuinely curious–if you have no use for the Catholic Church, why are you reading the blog of a prominent Catholic writer?

      And I’m not sure women have gained anything, really, with the introduction of contraception and more readily available abortion. Women who do get pregnant (after the failure of contraception) are at higher risk of being left by their boyfriend/partner, and to raise the child without a partner, because of the preconceived idea that “we can have sex without any ‘consequences’/responsibilities for the outcome of having sex”–newsflash, sex makes babies. And as the other commenter pointed out, I have been able to tell plenty of men to take a hike, even without being on contraception.

      I think you’ll be taken more seriously if you strike the overgeneralizations you’re making about men. You could add the qualifier, “Some males” and yeah, I’d agree with you. There are always jerks out there. But I haven’t seen that having contraception has increased our general ability to weed out jerks from the get go. The jerks are always with us.

      1. I read Fisher’s blog because she discusses interesting topics; I do think that the Catholic church is mostly a force for the repression and abuse of women, like almost every other religious entity.

        And do you think women deserve the right to an education and a job?

    2. I’m not sure how to best phrase this, but it seems to me that that would be a very damaging attitude for your sons to grow up with: that they, by nature, are destructive to women, are always a hindrance rather than a help, and must be told to hike off the nearest cliff.

      1. My sons have to understand that all males ARE a threat to women; that traditional masculinity is ONLY about enforcing a rigid hierarchy with men on top and all women underneath. That there is nothing of value at all in any traditional conception of masculine or feminine. Masculinity is always brutal and femininty is always simpering, weak and stupid. I want my sons to transcend those vicious, worthless categories.

        1. Exactly. There seems to me to be not much of anywhere for them to go if they are inherently a threat to women. That teaches them that they are, at core, flawed and evil. What kind of integrated person can anyone become with that as the fundamental message from one of the two most important people in their lives (possibly from both, if your husband also believes that he is, at core, an evil to be avoided)? And what possible trust can there be for a daughter in her own marriage if her own husband must, by definition, be there only to damage her?

          1. My sons have abandoned traditional masculinity. They have no interest in being smelly brutes. They are human, neither masculine or feminine. (And traditional feminity is even more destructive than its opposite, because a traditionally feminine woman has to either BE a cowardly, weak, dimwit or, far worse, pretend to be one.)

        2. Are you teaching your sons to vociferously defend their right to tell women, especially their wife, to take a hike off a cliff? Because if not, no, you are not teaching them that everyone is just human, neither male nor female. You are teaching them that they are a special class of terrible.

          1. I teach them that should they get married, they have no right to expect anything from their wives and their wives have no right to expect anything from them. They should treat any partner like a reasonable adult and use good manners: no yelling, no hitting, no silent treatment; everything is discussed in a rational and unemotional manner. My father screamed, my husband screams, my father-in-law, the daily mass Catholic, screamed and hit and spent most of days in a drunken stupor. Those men are traditional marriage; I want my sons to avoid traditional marriage.

          2. I’m sorry for your experiences. Spouses *do* have a right to expect things of each other, e.g. to expect everything on your list (no hitting, etc.)

            And I would venture to say that unhealthy patterns, generational sins, and damaging family systems, while “tradition” in a certain sense for some people, do not “traditional” anything make.

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