Re-Building a Bridge: The connection between contraception and the “LGBT community”

We’ve arrived at the end of the road—and we stare into a massive, rippled fun-house mirror that shows us in its own twisted reflection the extent of the monumental destruction our journey really caused.

(us.fotolia.com/Sergey Nivens)

Let’s build a bridge. No—not that bridge. Not a warm, fuzzy, attention-getting bridge between the Church and the ‘LGBT Community,’ whose architects are misguided masters of error, ambiguity, confusion, and dissent.  Don’t waste your time. Across the globe, we already have built more than a hundred bridges that actually lead to a Catholic sanctuary for those with same-sex attraction. It’s called the Courage apostolate, along with its companion apostolate for families of those with SSA, called EnCourage.

No, the bridge we really need to build right now is a replacement for the bridge that was burned and destroyed over the last century or more.  We need to come to terms with how we’ve wandered so far away from the truth of who we really are as human persons. We need to look back on the road we’ve traveled and find a way back to the smoldering ash and timber of the bridge we first crossed and then set ablaze long ago.

We need to rebuild that bridge so that we can get back home where we belong.

Here’s the problem: it’s been about 150 years since we were really “home,” and most folks alive today have no idea what that home looks like. Before we can go back, we need to rediscover what “home” really is and how we moved so far away from it.

From the beginning (two centuries ago) it was not so…

Many Catholics today already possess the intuition that there is a crucial link, so to speak, between Humanae Vitae and homosexuality. They can see how the severing of the unitive and procreative meanings of marital relations—and the reduction of marital relations to mere “sex”—paved the way for the ideologies of “orientation” and “gender” that generate so-called “sexual minorities” and “sexual identities.”

Yet, the genie was let out of the bottle so long ago that most of us can no longer see just how glaringly obvious this connection really is. To get a glimpse, one needs to go back to the beginning of the ideological roots that gave us “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” and spawned the chaos we have now.

A show of hands, please: How many of you know that the term “heterosexual” was originally used to describe a condition that was considered, in clinical terms, like the term “homosexual,” to be “morbid” or “pathological”?

That’s right. These terms were first brought into use in the last decades of the 19th-century by psychologists seeking to classify sexual attractions, emotions, and acts—not persons, not “identities”—associated with sexual abnormality. Of course, this begs the question—if even “heterosexual” was pathological, what was considered “normal” sexual attraction, emotion, and act?

Normal sexual desires and behaviors all had procreative sex as their focus. Acts and desires that directed a person toward procreative sexual activity (acts that properly could lead to procreation) were considered “normal.” Acts and desires reflecting a “morbid passion” for non-procreative sex acts with someone of the other sex were classified as “heterosexual.” Similarly, acts and desires reflecting a “morbid passion” for obviously non-procreative sex acts with someone of the same sex were classified as “homosexual.” How many people are aware of this?

The original thinking of those who popularized the terms “homosexual” and “heterosexual” was aligned with the natural-law truths upheld by the Catholic Church regarding God’s plan that the only normal and natural expression of sexual behavior is marital relations that are always open to procreation. Frustrating the procreative potential of sexual activity was always wrong. It is what so many psychologists of that late 19th century saw as “pathological.”

The seismic shift away from this thinking occurred mainly in the early 20th century—because of the birth control movement. The more socially acceptable birth control became, the greater the need to eliminate the procreative framework associated with categorizing non-procreative heterosexual behavior as “abnormal.” The “Roaring” 1920s reflect that transition, with some medical dictionaries by 1923 still referring to “heterosexuality” as “morbid passion,” while by the end of the decade, the first mainline Christian denomination (the now infamous Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930) allowed the use of contraception by its members.

And so the new “normal” emerged—the term “heterosexual” was untethered from its “morbid” status and “procreative sex” fell by the wayside as a norm. A new norm began to emerge: the bright line between normal and abnormal was no longer whether your acts were procreative or non-procreative, but was instead about “who” your sex partner was.

The ironic twist here is that normalizing heterosexuality by accepting contraception effectively escalated the stigma associated with having homosexual tendencies. The “we-they” divide, so to speak, focused mostly, and more overtly, on whether your partner was same-sex or not.

Society had stepped firmly upon this bridge that led away from home, and promptly struck the first spark that would ultimately set the whole structure ablaze.

From acts to “identity”

Meanwhile, another evolution in thinking was underway. While the psychological distinction that saw homosexuality as a mental disorder held sway, more radical thinkers were thinking that, if this is the “kind” of person who commits these pathological sex acts, then maybe the prevalent view that “heterosexuality” was the mark of sexual maturity wasn’t quite right. Non-heterosexuality in all its forms was viewed basically as some form of sexual “immaturity” that could be overcome with treatments intended to direct a person to heterosexual maturity. But maybe people who committed homosexual acts were a different “kind” of person altogether, some theorized.

If homosexual attraction were somehow innate and fixed, then no amount of intervention would likely alter the homosexual inclination. Further, then homosexual activity could be said to constitute acts “proper” to this kind of person. It could be said that the homosexual inclination represented this person’s identity—they didn’t merely “have” these attractions or “do” homosexual acts. These people actually “were” homosexuals.

The decade of the 1950s ushered in pockets of such thinking, with the first few groups being organized to promote the “rights” of this new “kind” of person—the homosexual. Both individual and communal “identities” were being formed and enhanced well beyond what had existed in the past. But because of the continuing social stigma, and the accompanying illegality of homosexual acts, these efforts were fundamentally underground.

In fact, at this time the origin of the term “coming out” was actually a rather precise parallel to the social convention of a debutante’s “coming out” to polite society as a young, marriageable prospect for interested young men. When a homosexual “came out” in this era, it was his “debut” to this underground community—he was, still in secret, letting this still-hidden group know he was the “kind” of person ready to behave as a homosexual behaves. It was still not a fully formed declaration of “identity,” but it was close to it. 

Even so, this pushed society further out onto the bridge, unconcerned as the smoke and flame billowed from behind.

From “identity” to “pride”

What truly crystallized the ideologies of orientation and gender into a panoply of newly recognized identities was the civil unrest of the 1960s, energized by the civil rights movement and the patterns established by a variety of “minority” groups seeking to claim their public place in society.

Alongside this was the advent of the hormonal contraceptive “Pill” and the growing pro-abortion movement, both of which brought renewed attention to the divorce of procreation and sex. As so-called “straights” clamored for their “reproductive rights” and worshipped at the idolatrous altar of “the Pill,” as “free love” won the day and sexual promiscuity was celebrated as liberation, and as racial strife brought prejudice and oppression into the media spotlight, the still-largely-underground “homosexual community” took notice.

Their timing was optimal for the explosive revolution of “gay liberation.” It had been decades since society had set aside the procreative standard for sex. Anti-sodomy laws were viewed as antiquated—after all, didn’t “straights” sometimes do that, too? Right around the time of the perfect storm that gave us the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the slogans “gay is good” and “gay pride” had won the day.

By then, even “coming out” had morphed into “coming out of the closet.” To be “gay” was now to claim publicly one’s own personal identity, which brought with it not only entry into the “gay community” but also public status as an unfairly stigmatized “sexual minority” whose civil rights needed protection because, just like race, “sexual orientation” was now a permanent part of “who I am.”

And how could “heterosexuals” object? They had their own “straight liberation” decades before, when non-procreative heterosexual sex became the new normal.

Not only could the rest of the world not object to “gay pride,” it was now up to every person to make the socially correct choice. You either had to accept and affirm—not merely tolerate—this newly liberated “kind” of person who didn’t just act a certain way but was “gay” to the core, or you were a bigot, a hater, a “homophobe,” to be socially reviled just like any run-of-the-mill racist.

The end of the bridge was now in sight. But what was that smell of burning wood…and sulfur?

From “pride” to…procreation?

Both the irony and audacity of “pride” is clear in what has followed since then. Initially, the “LGBT community” reassured society that it didn’t want what “straights” had—marriage, and children. No, no it would be enough just not to be “hated.” But the goalposts constantly moved—no, we don’t want marriage, just civil unions! And if you object, you hate us. Now we want marriage—it’s our right. Let us have it or you hate us.

Now, in a twisted way, we’ve come full circle, back to the beginning, the point at which procreative potential is desired, but on human terms, not on God’s terms. What was readily jettisoned by “heterosexuals” a century ago is now the “marital” accessory, expectation, and demand of same-sex “marriages”: children at all costs.

It’s as though this bridge brought us to a remarkable destination. We’ve arrived at the end of the road—and we stare into a massive, rippled fun-house mirror that shows us in its own twisted reflection the extent of the monumental destruction our journey really caused. We see tortured versions of that which we sought to escape, through the smoke and dust of the hellish horizon of our past. 

What would have happened if, a century ago, procreation had remained the benchmark for sexual normalcy, as even the promoters of “heterosexual” and “homosexual” originally accepted?

We’ll never know.

An error in the beginning is an error indeed. There is no path forward, except through the looking-glass, the twisted fun-house mirror that confronts us.

There is only one real way home. We need to turn around, stop burning our bridges, and begin to build again.

About Jim Russell 6 Articles

Jim Russell writes on topics of marriage, family, and sexuality from a Catholic perspective.

10 Comments

  1. And yet… Pope Francis is threatening to re-examine Humanae Vitae, which cannot lead to anything good. Then there’s AL another gift that keeps on giving, and the best of all… his shout out to gay pride organizations all over the world “who am I to judge”

    Congratulations, you wrote an article expounding something that every Catholic should already know, though most probably don’t, now what? It will be accessible for a few days then disappear behind other articles about how nice it is that you can find a church that still has a confessional with a screen or immigration, while the church continues to run full speed in the opposite direction, celebrating people like Fr. Martin and rebuking people like Cardinal Burke and Muller.

  2. “Normal sexual desires and behaviors all had procreative sex as their focus.”

    Regardless of what psychologists thought in the last decades of the 19th century, heterosexual orientation and sexual appetite is normal and natural, not pathological. Christians are supposed to control their animal appetites and wait until marriage to engage in sexual relations, as only marriage provides the environment children deserve. That makes perfect sense: If a man and a woman are going to engage in the act that has the power to bring forth babies, they need to be committed to each other and to the children their union may bring forth; in other words, they need to be married.

    The sexual act is unitive, helping Mom and Dad to remain committed to each other, even when a new life isn’t brought forth as a result. So sexual relations in a marriage have a legitimate purpose even when they don’t result in a child. The couple must remain open to bringing forth a child, of course, and not do anything to prevent that. But the 19th century psychologists who thought that normal sexual desires and behaviors all must have procreative sex as their focus were simply wrong. If not, then married couples using NFP (not using it with a contraceptive mentality) are wrong when they engage in the marital act during known infertile periods. They obviously are NOT wrong. The unitive aspect of sexual relations in a marriage has a legitimate purpose of its own.

    • *** But the 19th century psychologists who thought that normal sexual desires and behaviors all must have procreative sex as their focus were simply wrong. ***

      Hi, Harry–I think you’ve misunderstood. Above I state: Normal sexual desires and behaviors all had procreative sex as their focus. Acts and desires that directed a person toward procreative sexual activity (acts that properly could lead to procreation) were considered “normal.”

      The distinction here, to which “procreative sex” refers, is normal sexual intercourse between a man and woman, which is open to procreation. There are “heterosexual” sex acts that are obviously *non-procreative*. These were considered “pathological”.

      This thinking aligns perfectly with the Church’s. Acts that do not frustrate procreative potential and are *open* to procreation were considered “normal” in that 19th-century context. It’s also what the Church teaches about marital relations today, and includes NFP. Hope this helps. Deacon Jim R

  3. So, where does this leave us as Catholic Christians TODAY Jim? Putting everyone back in the closet? Re-Orientation Camps? In prison? WHAT Do YOU think Jesus would really do? (I suspect, that he would Love them, and pray for them. And that he would have US, Love them, and pray for them too.) This is a well developed, cogent, and valuable historical article. But, I found where it ended, ‘building bridges’, I assume back to past understanding, incomplete, at best. This assumes, of course, that you actually have a plan of a real path forward that doesn’t take us back to the Inquisition. Do you?

    • Hi Charles. I think the same way you do, “WHAT Do YOU think Jesus would really do? (I suspect, that he would Love them, and pray for them. And that he would have US, Love them, and pray for them too.) “. However, we in Australia are going through all sorts of dramas with efforts trying to legalise Same Sex Marriage. So can I ask you a similar question, “Do you think the Jesus would really condone same sex marriage?” I am hoping for an opportunity to vote against it.

    • What would Jesus do? What He has always done and continues to do: call us all to repentance. Call the sin a sin and repent.

      But unfortunately, the LGBT would have us believe that that sin is no longer sin so there is no longer any need for repentance.

      Affirming someone’s sin and disorder is never true love.

  4. I wonder if we need a new term marital-sexual or something. I don’t think heterosexual orientation is natural like a commentator above says. Onelife long partner is what’s natural.

  5. A fine article. The big question is this: How can the Church bring about a realization, first within the body of Catholics and then within our cultures, that these immoral forms of sexual behavior are truly wrong? I think the Church could insist that some basic moral theology be integrated into every natural family planning course, and such courses should be required at least for all engaged couples. The covenant theology of the marriage act needs to taught. That is, “Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be, at least implicitly, a renewal of the marriage covenant.” In their marriage vows, spouses promise to marry for better and for worse. That includes the imagined worse of possible pregnancy. When a married couple engage in contraceptive behaviors, their body language says very clearly, “I take you for better but definitely not for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.” Thus marital contraception is essentially dishonest. There’s much more on this at the website of NFP International, http://www.nfpandmore.org.

  6. Deacon Russel,

    Could you please give the early sources of your definition of heterosexual–the medical dictionary you used?

    I completely agree with all you have said here, but need some sources for back up, as my 20-something son is skeptical…I could not find anything about the original definition of heterosexual in a pretty serious online search.

    Many thanks!

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  1. RE-Building a Bridge: The connection between contraception and the “LGBT community” - Catholic Daily
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  3. IMPORTANT – READ THIS: What is the appeal to “build a bridge” really about? | Fr. Z's Blog
  4. When Heterosexuality Was Morbid – Lisa Graas

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