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Green Sex vs. Pink Viagra (15732)

07/26/2010 Comments (16)
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This year there was a predictable amount of hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of “the pill.” Many pundits told us that the pill had delivered as promised: Women had become liberated. Sex in the City! Sex in dorm rooms! Sex behind bleachers! Women have it all.

But wait. Now comes word that women aren’t all that interested in sex any more. Their libidos are waning to the point that pharmaceutical companies are racing to find a Pink Viagra: a new pill; a pill that will restore the desire to have the sex that the pill made possible.

Why don’t women want to have sex? Is it because they are so absorbed in their careers? Is it because these careers force women to sacrifice their femininity and males to sacrifice their masculinity and thus the vivifying difference between males and females no longer exists? Why do women need males? Women have everything males have; they can do everything males do; what do males have to offer?

Certainly the above explanations are not unlikely and almost certainly have a degree of truth but — still — can the desire of female for male be so easily obliterated? Isn’t the attraction even more elemental than caps and chaps and buttons and bows?

I find it strange that commentators have not identified a very likely cause of the lack of female libido. The Pill, indeed all chemical contraceptives, have as a common side effect, a reduced sex drive. It is well documented both scientifically and anecdotally that the hormones in chemical contraceptives prevent a woman from producing the level of testosterone needed for her to have a healthy sex drive. The sex drive is largely physiological: When women change their sexual physiology it should be expected that their sex drive will change. Many of the chemical contraceptives put a woman’s body into a state of pseudo pregnancy. Researchers discovered that pregnant women don’t ovulate (and women who don’t ovulate cannot get pregnant), so they learned how to deceive the female body into “thinking” it is pregnant so it wouldn’t ovulate. Nature also establishes that women who are pregnant generally do not have strong sex drives; it serves no evolutionary benefit.

Studies on the effects of hormones on male/female relationships have been proliferating. The work of Dr. Helen Fisher, among others, shows that women who use chemical contraceptives prefer more feminine looking men or “safer” men; when they stop using chemical contraceptives, they discover they have a higher sex drive but are not much interested in the male they chose when they were using the chemical contraceptives. Males are also much more attracted sexually to women who have fertile cycles; they produce more testosterone when around women who are fertile. Certainly the ardor of the male partner affects the female response.

A friend of mine once told me how her seven brothers and sisters one day had a frank and open discussion of their sex lives. Six couples, double income, no kids, lamented the lack of sex in their marriages; the females, attractive, well dressed and well employed, confessed they felt sex was just one more chore demanded of them at the end of a long day. The males, equally attractive, well dressed and well employed, stated they felt they had to beg for sex from their wives, who would rather be watching TV. The one couple who had four children and were expecting a fifth, were a little pudgy, a little bargain-shoppish in appearance and a little financially stressed. They listened to their siblings and their spouses with incomprehension; their sex life, interrupted not uncommonly by sick or needy kids, was frequent and satisfying. The fatigue of home schooling and stretching a limited income had not encroached upon their lovemaking.

And maybe that is the clue. They thought of having sex not as “having sex” but as “making love.” Not that the others didn’t love each other, but sex for them had become routine and not the occasion of making an emphatic statement of love to each other. The pill had enabled them to have sex before marriage, and sex had become simply one more pleasurable act without much meaning. The couple who were also parents had retained the ability to recognize the act of having sex as a profound expression of love; one of the reasons that their sexual acts could express that meaning was their respect for the baby-making power of the sexual act. When couples who are willing to have a baby make love to one another, they are expressing a willingness to have their whole lives bound up together: “I love you so much; I am willing to be a parent with you.” The act itself is laden with the meanings of affirmation and commitment. Contraceptive sex significantly undermines that meaning. By its very nature it expresses the intent not to become a parent with the other. While couples who use contraception may in fact love one another deeply, contracepted sex expresses a willingness only to engage in a momentary physical pleasure and thus expresses neither love nor commitment. The body language of contraception therefore works against the very love which sex is meant to express and cultivate.

And lest critics wail that women are not baby-making machines, mention must be made of truly green forms of child-spacing, methods of natural family planning (NFP). Modern methods of NFP enable a woman to determine with great reliability the generally 7-10 days a month she is fertile and is not to be confused with the old “rhythm method,” which relied on counting days on a calendar. Requiring no chemicals, totally without harmful physical or environmental effects (consider the carbon footprint of chemical contraceptives), and costing nothing to use, methods of NFP have proven as effective as any form of contraception. They also respect the baby-making power of sex by not treating fertility as some bodily defect that must be corrected. Most couples who use NFP have contracepted at one time and readily testify that their lovemaking when using NFP is markedly different in quality from their having contracepted sex.

So instead of supplementing one pill with another, women should go green in their sex lives. Not only will they protect the delicate ecology of their female fertility from libido-reducing chemicals, they may find themselves tickled pink with their sex lives.

Janet E. Smith holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.

 

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