There is currently a commercial on Italian television for a new car model. Before presenting the car, the commercial starts with floating and colorful male condoms followed by as colorful birth control pills and saying, “dad says condom, mom says the pill and I say surprise, surprise.” At which point, the commercial shows a baby laughing and giggling.
Does this mean that the baby is an “accident” caused by not following mom and dad’s recommendations to use the pill or condom, or that neither worked to prevent pregnancy, or that the baby is the result of freedom to express sexual desire?
The commercial continues, “punk music says anarchy and pop music says dance, and I say freedom.” It concludes with the freedom to choose the new car model. The only association seems to be between the freedom to choose condom or pill and freedom to choose a particular model of car.
Although this is a commercial of very poor quality, it’s not a bad reflection of our contemporary moral chaos. It’s shocking to see the colorful floating condoms and colorful small pills, and more shocking to realize that what this Italian car commercial is showing is that these days parents are the first promoters of free and contraceptive love among their unmarried children.
Where have the family and its usual values gone in a post-Vatican II and post-Humanae Vitae culture? Which raises yet another question: are Millennials, especially women, following their parents’ recommendations in choosing contraception?
According to a 2016-2017 study of 9,000 women in nine countries, “Women and contraception: From baby boomers to millennials – has anything really changed,” Millennials choose the same contraceptives their Baby-Boomer mothers chose, although “Millennials know little about long-term effects of contraceptives. And about 70 percent of those women who use or do not use long-term contraception say they do not understand how these really work, while 50 percent of baby boomers (between 50-65 years old) said they knew how the contraceptive coil worked.”
Conventional wisdom says that Millennials are raised and trained to be independent critical thinkers, active news and information seekers. Still they are unaware of the risks of post-modern culture, including health risks related to artificial contraception. According to the study mentioned above, Millennials are not much active in choice of contraceptives. They make the same choices their mothers made in the 1970s and show little interest in other options. They are, as a health provider puts it, not open to “contraceptive dialogue.”
Why are the Millennials stuck in the seventies? Moms are not always right – as Millennials are only too happy to believe on other matters. What is wrong with this picture?
First, the unlimited use of contraception by two generations of women – Baby Boomers and Millennials – tells us a lot about the state of the family, marriage, free sex, cohabitation, and more generally our current moral chaos. Obviously, the family is failing to teach Millennials about the mystery of the body and conjugal love, what St. John Paul II calls an “adequate anthropology” that sees man as an image of God. It is in the family and from parents, as Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila wrote recently in his pastoral letter, The Splendor of Love, that “we learn the meaning of our body and the calling to give of ourselves, that is, the spousal meaning of the body.” There is no substitute for the family as the first educator and evangelizer in society.
Second, it is surprising how Millennials choose to remain uninformed (despite hours on the Internet) about the long-term effects of artificial contraceptives and how they really work. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine followed 1.8 million women for over 10 years. It found that the risk of breast cancer was “higher among women who currently or recently used contemporary hormonal contraceptives than among women who had never used hormonal contraceptives.”
Fifty years ago, Paul VI’s prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae predicted the coming of “marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards,” the destruction of the family, and lowering “the reverence due to a woman.” Since then it has become the “Gospel of Sexuality” where Church teaching on the subject is explained clearly and succinctly. Not many Catholics, however, live by its principles. I often wonder how many Catholics – Baby Boomers and Millennials – have read or even know about it and the moral use of Natural Family Planning (NFP).
In 1993, on the 25th anniversary of Humanae Vitae Mother Teresa addressed the crowd of thousands gathered in Omaha, Nebraska:
I hope we have grown stronger in our conviction that to listen to the Church is to listen to Jesus Himself. Humanae Vitae clearly expresses the mind and will of God about marriage. It reminds us of the beauty of married love in God’s plan as an expression of total self-giving and helps us to accept the child as the fruit of that love. The child is a birth gift of God to the family. Contraception cannot be an expression of total self-giving because in contraception, something is done to one’s self to destroy the power to conceive a child. Contraception is “yes” to selfishness and “no” to true love because contraception is something done to one’s self, turns the attention to one’s self.
Mother Teresa was speaking from her experience of teaching NFP among the poor of the poorest in India. She was convinced that there is no need for the Pill because there was an authentic-natural alternative, built on a profound knowledge of the body coupled with the virtue of self-control, which had proven to strengthen conjugal love and fidelity.
Mother Teresa and Paul VI were resisting, not conforming to popular culture. They were seeking God’s will as to what is good, pleasing, and perfect. (Romans 12:2) And they were perfectly right. Their advice is worth exploring – and following.
Mom is not always right. Mother Church is.
*Image: The Holy Father greets a holy Mother [Pope Bl. Paul VI and Mother Teresa, May 6, 1978]