Catholics and contraception – where do they get those crazy ideas?

July 5, 2007 | 21 comments

I’ve been dabbling at putting together an “NFP conversion story, ” chronicling how radically (and unexpectedly) my life changed after I saw marriage, sex and parenthood through the light of 2, 000-year-old Church teaching. Like writing any conversion story, it’s a daunting task since it encompasses pretty much every aspect of life. It’s going to take me forever to finish it.

Until I get that done, I wanted to offer some resources since a few people have commented and emailed that they’d like more info on this subject. Whether you’re a Catholic who wants to know how to better articulate Church teaching or a non-Catholic who’s wondering where we get all these crazy ideas, here are some good places to start if you’d like to learn more about the Catholic view of sex, marriage, birth control and other related topics.

Please leave a comment if you know of any other good resources I missed!



  • The Good News About Sex and Marriage by Christopher West: A must-read for anyone who has questions about Church teaching in this area. The Q&A format makes it a quick, easy read.
  • Theology Of The Body For Beginners by Christopher West: Another good one from West. I have not read this myself but hear it’s great. He explains what Pope John Paul II meant when he said that if we live according to the true meaning of our sexuality, we “fulfill the very meaning of [our] being and existence.”
  • Love and Responsibility by Pope John Paul II: A beautiful, must-read book advocating for a more “personal” (as opposed to utilitarian), self-giving view of marriage and family life.
  • Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body by Pope John Paul II: This book is known for being hard to get through, but very powerful if you’re up to the task. I personally haven’t gotten to it yet but hope to read it one of these days.


  • Contraception: Why Not?: I hear this lecture by Dr. Janet Smith is excellent, and it’s only $5 for the CD. You can find a catalog of her other work (also available at a low price or for free) here.
  • Christopher West’s series of tapes and videos: I’ve heard a lot of great things about West’s CD’s and DVD’s about sex and marriage. I’ve talked to quite a few people who listened to his audio lectures with their spouse and say that it really improved their relationship.

And be sure to check the comments for anything I missed.


  1. melanieb

    I’ll second the recommendation for Christopher West. We went to a lecture a while ago and it was wonderful. My husband and I listened to some of his cds while we were preparing for marriage.

    Another book not on your list is Life-Giving Love: Embracing God’s Beautiful Design for Marriage by Kimberly Hahn. It chronicles her own NFP conversion story. (She was a Protestant and later became Catholic but the decision to give up contraceptives came long before the religious conversion.) It also has stories from many other people, good summaries of the Church teachings and a very down to earth approach and accessible language.

    • waywardson

      I strongly disagree. Mrs. Hahn makes some serious doctrinal errors in her book that encourages women to risk their health to bear more children.

      Couples are called both to responsible parenthood and openness to life. CCC 2368.

  2. Emily (Laundry and Lullabies)

    I read Christopher West’s Good News About Sex and Marriage. I found it supremely unconvincing, and I went into it REALLY wanting to be convinced. His arguments often seemed a little circular – like you had to already mostly agree with him in order for them to make sense.

    My husband and I are not Catholic (we’re conservative Anglicans) but he agrees with Catholic teaching on this point. I don’t, although I’ve tried.

    Can you offer something non-Christopher-West (and not Humanae Vitae) that might be more convincing? Or is he the best you have?

    (I just re-read and realized that this might sound a little combative. That’s not how I mean it!) 🙂

  3. La gallina

    South Padre convert says thanks for the info!

  4. Jennifer F.

    Emily – I wonder if JPII’s Love and Responsibility might be what you’re looking for, or perhaps Kimberly Hahn’s book that Melanie mentioned above?

    Unfortunately I haven’t read either one myself so I can’t say for sure.

    Anyone else have any thoughts?

    • waywardson

      Love and Responsibility is excellent. There are some more accessible summaries online.

      Kimberly Hahn’s book is terrible-avoid!

  5. Lauren P.

    You missed one of my favorites! Useful, because Dr. Smith focuses more on the reasonable, rather than the theological, reasons why not to contracept!

    “Contraception: Why Not?” is an audio recording done by Dr. Janet E. Smith. She has been giving this lecture across the country for more than a decade, and several different recordings of the talk can be found. One More Soul carries it:

  6. yofed

    And what about all the nasty side effects? Without even believing in God, we should worry when we are told things such as “It’s highly unlikely a young and healthy woman has a stroke… unless she is on the pill…” or the countless depressions caused by hormonal birth control, increased risk of cancer, etc.

    I don’t understand how they are still on the market with all these side effects…

  7. 4andcounting

    Dr. Smith’s tape is excellent. Kimberly Hahn’s book is excellent as well, although, if I remember correctly, she doesn’t give a lot of apologetic-style arguments. She writes from the heart and offers a lot of encouragement for those of us already convinced of the truth of this teaching. There is an entire chapter on the Eucharist and marriage, so non-Catholics might not get much out of that.
    There is a book, I think it is called Open Embrace? by a Protestant couple that agrees with the Church’s teachings regarding contraception and I have been told it is great.

  8. Radical Catholic Mom

    Two Points:

    First, has been discussing which birth control method is best and they have person after person testify how hormonal contraceptives screw up their systems. They still defend it but if anyone wants to be convinced that NFP is a good alternative, a quick read would convince anyone.

    Second, Protestants were instrumental in my conversion with NFP. They were the first to tell me that ALL hormonal contraceptives are abortafacients. The only reason I share this is to encourage any non-Catholic reading your blog to delve into NFP as well. For any pro-lifer, NFP is definitely better than killing your own kids.

  9. Layla

    A loud second for Dr. Smith’s “Contraception: Why Not?” It’s an amazing lecture.

    (This is a very timely post for me, Jen. My fiance and I had our first Billings class last night. 🙂 )

  10. Kate

    The non-religious ‘bible’ of Fertility Awareness is a book called “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” which includes lots of references from a health angle.

    Dr. Smith’s audiotape is probably the best apologetics treatment I’ve heard of for Catholics or non-Catholics.

    I’ve heard good things about “Open Embrace” but there’s a caveat: The Torolds made a full trip into the Catholic Church because of NFP, and then when they discovered that NFP isn’t necessarily easy, out of the Church and into Orthodoxy. I’m not sure what the problem was, but I would be aware that there are probably gaps in their reasoning right from the start.

    The Art of Natural Family Planning (by the Kippley’s) has a pretty good ‘why NFP’ chapter at the beginning. Don’t be intimidated by the size of the book, NFP really isn’t as complicated as the weight of the book (and the language used) makes it seem!

  11. Anonymous

    Regnum Christi has an apostolate called “FAMILIA” and it changed my attitude way before i’d heard of christopher west. i highly recommend this 4 year cycle of classes. no matter what your opinion of the Legionnaries… it’s excellent.

  12. Father Kyle

    There was a recent homily posted on the website of the Eastern Province of the Dominicans here:

    I’ve read (most) of Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla/JPII. One caveat is that it is written in a fairly dense philosophical style. He is developing the foundations for his Theology of the Body. If you have academic tendencies, give it a go. If you hated philosophy in college, it might be over your head.

  13. SteveG

    Well, here’s my 2 cents for what it’s worth.

    I think that for a non-Catholic, becoming convinced of the immorality of Birth Control is very difficult. As with the Toreds (actually I don’t ‘think’ they ever became Catholic, but instead went straight to Orthodoxy after they’d recanted their agreement on use of non-arbortifacient birth control), I think when the going gets tough, we can all tend to convince ourselves of whatever we ‘want’ to believe. What happened in their case is that they became more or less intellectually (maybe even emotionally) convinced on this teaching, and then after some difficulties living it out, where their practical experience didn’t quite line up with what they expected, they had nothing else to fall back on.

    If I am totally honest, I have to agree that the arguments for the immorality of contraception, in and of themselves, often leave something to be desired if you don’t already agree with them to some extent. I am saying that as objectively as I can, as someone who adores JPII’s theology of the body, who owns and frequently listens to Chris West’s lectures, and one who thinks Dr. Smith does a fantastic job. All that said, if I hadn’t already been Catholic, hadn’t already submitted to the authority of the Church, I can easily see how I could pick apart the arguments and find holes and flaws in them.

    I think what many of us take for granted is that in reality we hang much of our acceptance of the immorality of contraception on something other than those arguments. Most of us, I suspect, hang it on the fact that we accept the authority of the Church. I think that comes first in most cases, and we read, and listen to the apologetics on it to understand.

    There are times when I frankly have ‘wanted’ to abandon these teachings, but what has really seen me through is my relationship to the church. No matter how difficult it is, or if the arguments are ‘perfect’, the reality is that the church unequivocally teaches (and always has) that contraception is immoral. Like a child who doesn’t always comprehend the reasons of its parents, I more than once have had to say…you know, I don’t honestly, totally get it, but my mother (the church) says it is, and so I accept it. If I can trust the authority of the Church, then I can trust that despite any lack of understanding I might have, I can trust this teaching.

    Beyond that, I think the most compelling evidence for many of us, me anyway, is that we have lived the lie at some point. Before becoming Catholic, I lived the life of contraception and more or less had a typical modern pagan sexual ethic. Whatever the difficulties of living out this teaching, the reality is that the pain and problems caused by living the lie are far, far worse in my own experience. Beyond the issue of authority, for me, that was the most compelling evidence…the lived experience of both ethics.

    There is little question in my mind that abandoning birth control radically changes your view on sex, and as difficult as that may be in practice, in the long run, it is what is best for us, what is most keeping with our nature, and with the nature of sex.

    Part of my point here is that the lack of compelling apologetics on this is in large part due to the fact that while apologetics has its place, I don’t think this is one of those topics that lend itself well to that type of argumentation being all that convincing.

    I hope that what I’ve said here doesn’t in any way cause scandal. I absolutely 100% accept the teaching of the church on this issue, so please don’t take anything I’ve offered to suggest anything else.

    • waywardson

      The Torodes had multiple other theological misunderstandings of the teaching and there was allegedly sexual abuse in the marriage.

  14. SteveG

    Oh, forgot to add two more quick items.

    I wanted to mention (especially for Emily) that while not being Catholic might make this teaching more difficult to accept, the fact that contraception was nearly unanimously held to be immoral in Christendom up until the 1930 Lambeth conference should at least give one pause.

    I think especially for an Anglican, that would at least seem to be a break with orthodox Christian teaching and what had ‘always and everywhere’ been believed.

    Finally, the wonderful talk by Dr. Janet Smith has also been transcribed and is available at the Catholic Education Resource Center.

    Contraception: Why Not?

  15. 4andcounting

    I want to second the comment on FAMILIA. This is a great program, with a series for men, a series for women, and now a series for couples using JPII’s Theology of the Body as the main text I believe. I did the women’s study and it was life-changing for me. I was able to really learn about my role in the church and what God has called women to be and find great strength in that. It also was just a great blessing to meet regularly with women who were striving to be faithful to the Church.
    I agree with Steveg too; my acceptance of the authority of the Church certainly makes it “easier” to follow this teaching. Still, there are compelling cases out there for why contraception is disordered.

  16. lyrl

    For anyone interested in reading Theology of the Body, I just wanted to comment that the text of the speeches is available for free online. For example, from Eternal World Television Network or from Theological Clowning.

    And if anyone finds the topic interesting, the Wikipedia article would benefit from any contribution (or comments on its talk page) people could make.

  17. Anonymous

    I become convinced of the correctness of Catholic teaching on contraception by two writings I haven’t seen mentioned here.

    First, J. Noonan’s Contraception, which is a meticulously researched and dispassionately presented account of Christian teaching and reasoning on contraception for 2000 years, convinced me that, despite much doctrinal development in determining what contraception is and isn’t, and why it’s wrong, the plain fact is that for 2000 years Christianity has held very strongly that it’s wrong. That made me realize that non-use of contraception is part of the Christian moral “package.”

    It was a short step from there to realizing that, if the Church is wrong about NFP being different from contraception, than the error is in permitting NFP, not in condemning contraception, and it was irrational to reason “I don’t see the distinction; so the pill is okay.”

    Then I read philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe’s paper on contraception, which cleared up for me the distinction between contraception and NFP quite clearly by sorting through the muddle of bad reasoning from both sides of the NFP debate. See

  18. Tienne

    Jen, terrific links. I’ve just become acquainted with Ted Sri and so clicked his article first: wow. I know in my heart contraception is wrong and divisive, but it’s so hard to communicate it to people who don’t view love as a relationship that is fundamentally life-giving at its source. I’m going to bookmark these links and memorize them so I can more eloquently defend our faith. Thanks!

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