Mary Ebertstadt: Contraception and its consequences not “just a Catholic thing.”

As a follow-up of sorts to my post yesterday about Conrad Black’s plea for the pope to jettison and denounce the Church’s sane, logical, and moral stance regarding contraception, this news from Franciscan Univerity of Steubenville:

STEUBENVILLE, OH— The best way to defend Catholic teaching on contraception is to remain on the offense and utilize secular statistics, Adam and Eve After the Pill author Mary Eberstadt told an audience gathered earlier this semester at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Eberstadt emphasized that contraception and its consequences are not “just a Catholic thing.”

“There’s a lot of misconception and ill will out there in the secular universe, particularly toward the Catholic Church. The sexual revolution and its repercussions are an everybody thing,” she said.

Eberstadt became intrigued by the sexual revolution while doing research for an article she was writing on Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, Humane Vitae. From her research Eberstadt developed extensive arguments rooted in studies conducted by secular scholars that supports Humane Vitae’s teachings. This, she said, is the key for engaging society in this topic.

“The sexual revolution has had a … sometimes catastrophically negative fallout for men, women, and children across the globe, and the secular world remains indignantly ignorant … (and) in denial about that fallout, even as the secular evidence continues to mount,” she said during her talk.

Eberstadt presented myths created by the sexual revolution and reasons why the information presented in those myths is false. For example, she said, the argument that women are happier while on birth control is flawed, because there is increasing evidence that women complain more about their lifestyle ¾ about men, marriage, their job ¾ when on the pill.

“This is not the language of people who have been liberated,” she said. “It is the language of people who have given up on human relationships. It is the language of defeat and unhappiness.”

There is hope, though, in the notion that the sexual revolution is not a permanent fixture of society.

“History is littered with movements that claimed inevitability for themselves and that are now as outdated as typewriters and telephone extension cords,” said Eberstadt. “No social movement gets a special dispensation from history, no matter how badly some people might want it to.”

Eberstadt’s talk was part of Franciscan University’s 2013 Distinguished Speakers Series, which hosts leaders whose integration of their faith and public life inspire the next generation to be a transforming presence in the Catholic Church and society.

For a full-length video of Mary Eberstadt’s talk, plus presentations by many other Franciscan University speakers, go to, select ‘Channels,’ then ‘Toward a Culture of Life.’ 

A year ago, CWR interviewed Eberstadt about her book:

CWR: The final chapter of your book is on Humanae Vitae. What is most striking to you when you consider Pope Paul VI’s arguments and explanations?

Mary Eberstadt: I didn’t read Humanae Vitae itself until a few years ago, and when I did, I was amazed for the reasons described below. I wish every party to the debate over HHS would read that document too. There would be a lot more clarity in this discussion if people were even just a little more informed about what they think they know.

The single most striking thing about that document is this: its predictions about what the future would bring have been thoroughly vindicated—and I’m not talking about theology here, but about secular social science.

Humanae Vitae said that men would lose respect for women in a world where contraception was ubiquitous. At a time when illegitimacy rates approach the 50 percent mark around the Western world, and have passed it in some places (most recently, Great Britain), it’s hard to argue that Humanae Vitae got it wrong. After all, what’s a better measure of respect than sticking with the mother of your child—even if not for the child’s sake, but simply for hers?

But you don’t always need social science to get the point. If you read, say, contemporary women’s literature, fiction and non-fiction, you get a long litany of complaints about men—how hard it is to find a good one, how women need to strike out on their own, how they even need to have children on their own because men can’t be counted on, etc., etc., etc. I go through a lot of that kind of literature in the book, because it represents evidence of a different sort that something has really run amok between the sexes.

So if the Pill (metaphorically) has liberated everybody once and for all from the chains of human nature, as liberationists have always said it did, then why aren’t people happier? Why, to the contrary, does it seem as if modern Western women are less content than they used to be—as is also strongly suggested by a fascinating recent sociological study on “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” also discussed in the book?

Whether you look at popular culture or social science, the predictions of Humanae Vitae hold up better than almost anyone gives it credit for. And the fact that Humanae Vitae is nevertheless and simultaneously the most globally reviled document of our time means that we are looking at an enormous paradox here. That’s the central paradox of the book, and from it many others radiate outward.

Read that entire interview. Also from a year ago, my “suggested trilogy” for those wondering, “What’s the deal with the Pill?”, which has a great quote from Dr. Joyce Little; here is part of it, from Little’s excellent book, The Church and the Culture War (Ignatius Press), published nearly 20 years ago:

For Catholics, however, the roots of a culture of death strike deeper than abortion. The watershed issue for Catholics is not abortion but contraception. For contraception places before us the central issue of our age—who has dominion over man? Man himself or God? In Genesis, God gave man dominion over nature (Gen 1:28), but he reserved dominion over man to himself, as exemplified in his one command to Adam and Eve. Is the human body a part of that realm over which God gave man dominion, or is the human body indissociable from the human being over whom God reserved dominion for himself? That is the unavoidable question raised by contraception. To divorce sex from procreation is to divorce man from his role as co-creator with God in order to set man up as the sole lord of even his own existence. It is to reduce sex to the level of a simple biological function which, as such, belongs to the nature over which man has dominion. In doing this, man gives himself the warrant to define for himself what is good and what is evil in all matters pertaining to sex-and thus to life and death. To the man, and even more the woman, who claims contraceptive control over his or her own body, abortion is but the logical and even necessary corollary to such a notion of control.

Read more.

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About Carl E. Olson 1207 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.

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