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Categorized | Religion

On Sex and Contraception

This is my second collaborative effort with Wesley (the first was What Makes Us Special). My words are the ones in normal type while Wesley’s are in italics.

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condom_contraception_carbon_climateSex feels good and it stimulates the entire body. Muscles tighten and heart rate rises along with blood pressure, respiration and body temperature. The brain becomes flooded with dopamine, the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter. Finally, a feeling of oneness with the universe (or at least with the partner) washes over, clearing the mind. Sex is not just a physical and physiological experience but also a psychological and even spiritual one – and maybe that’s why some people shout “Oh, my God” during orgasm.

And what exactly is an orgasm, in technical terms? Dr. Prakash Kothari defines it as: “an explosive, cerebrally-encoded neuromuscular response at the peak of sexual arousal elicited by psychobiological stimuli, the pleasurable sensations of which are experienced in association with dispensable pelvic physiological concomitants.”

It appears that our body’s pleasurable response towards sex is encoded in our brains. Sex is therefore Darwinian; evolution made sex feel good because otherwise we would not be engaging in it considering the hardships and dangers of pregnancy and childbirth – dooming the fate of the species. In short, evolution made sex feel good because it is crucial to survival of the species. 

As such, animals (and our prehistoric ancestors) start courtship and mating as soon as they become fertile because in the wild it’s a daily struggle between eating and trying not to get eaten, so it makes no sense waiting a few more years for adulthood before giving your contribution to the gene pool. In the wild, the animals mate at will but nature controls their population.

Now the problem starts when a certain species’ survival becomes too successful – when it has climbed to the top of the food chain because it has overpowered all of its known predators – to the point of overpopulation. I remember a part from The Matrix where Agent Smith asserts that humans are not mammals because mammals reproduce in accordance with the available food and water in the area. Humans, on the other hand, reproduce uncontrollably, exhausting resources and destroying ecosystems, and then move on to other places, repeating the process. And there is another organism that does just that: the virus.

Our species’ intellectual capacity and unique ability to shape our environment to such a high degree has earned us the enviable top perch in the natural order. We have virtually eliminated all threats to our survival of the predatory nature. We have driven some of nature’s best killing machines, the great beasts themselves, into near-extinction, surviving now only in zoos and nature preserves, existing now only at the mercy of man. The only other creatures left to prey on us are a few handful parasitic bugs and microbes, and even those we’ve developed effective drugs to rid our system of them. In short, we have become a species without a means of regulating ourselves. We have used our intellectual abilities to bypass nature’s checks and balances and now breed ourselves to oblivion.

Take for example the micro-ecosystem of an aquarium. A poorly designed and maintained aquarium seldom lasts long. The fishes may have been left to multiply beyond the capacity of the limited space or maybe the algae grew all over the place… either way, if the delicate balance of the ecosystem was upset due to uncontrolled, rampant growth, it soon finds its oxygen-nitrogen balance gone awry. It’s a concept every elementary student learns in science class. In an imbalanced environment, things will soon start dying out if there’s too much or too little of the required plants and animals to maintain the carbon cycle.

The earth is like a giant aquarium. Already we see the effects on the water supply, the climate, air quality, and over-all health of the species population suffering because of the scale in which man has tampered with the environment. But we have to use up the available resources to fuel our ever-rising population. It’s simple math, the more people there are in the world, the more forests we have to cut down to make our houses, and the more animals we have to kill for food. Our resource-renewal efforts haven’t quite matched the pace in which we use them up. Deniers may claim that climate change may not be due to man’s effects on the environment, or that we still have enough resources in the world to last for a few more hundred years, but one cannot deny that the world is now a dirtier place than it was a decade ago. 

The Bible passage “go forth and multiply” probably did more damage to the environment than the discovery of fossil fuel. And now the Church is telling us that in controlling the disaster this “word of God” has caused the world we must use only ‘natural’ or Church-approved methods. But which is really more unnatural, artificial contraception or abstinence from something already hard-wired into our instincts? The latter totally denies something innate in our nature; the former merely prevents the environmentally-harmful side effects of too much of that nature. The latter is unreasonable and oppressive; the former is responsible.

Somewhere along the way, anything enjoyable became deemed evil by self-appointed moral police. Sure anything in excess is bad for you, but taken in moderation and with proper precautions, this falls in the category of “responsible recreation”. If some people think it improper, then by all means let them abstain from it. But those minority shouldn’t impose their lifestyle choices on the rest of the population. In the bigger scheme of things, which act is more evil? Wearing a condom or having kids you can’t raise?

Sex may lead to pro-creation but the two are still two totally distinct acts, no matter how much some belief systems may insist that they’re one and the same. When you start a fire, you aren’t obligated to go cook something. Sometimes, it’s enough just to enjoy the warmth of a blazing fire on a cold night. The same goes for sex. It’s a social activity and a recreational sport as well. From a liberal point of view, it’s not even that different from a couple going dancing (that’s why it’s also called the horizontal tango).

But somewhere along the way, generations of culture and tradition turned it taboo which left us where we are now – a species that treats sex as something either dirty or sacred (quite the irony there) instead of the natural act that all the other animals in the world seem to take for granted. Which begs the question – have we become too smart for our own good? Have we outsmarted ourselves in the process of winning the genetic race? While we enjoy the enviable luxury of being able to breed without fear of being some other animal’s lunch later, we have ironically become our own worst enemy by inventing ways to limit ourselves.

Sex is sex and procreation is procreation. The former lasts a night, the latter carries with it a responsibility of 18 years minimum taking care of your kid. It should always be the couple’s choice how far they’re willing to go because they’re the ones who are going to take care of the child, not the church, and certainly not those anti-contraceptive campaigners. So how silly is it to make up all these imaginary rules on how couples should have sex? If you plan to have only two kids because as a responsible parent, that’s all you can afford to raise, then there’s the possibility that you might only have sex twice in your whole married life. Try selling that proposition to all the married couples out there and see how far that gets you. 

We don’t need religion to tell us that every baby born into the world is a wellspring of potential. But that’s generally the problem now, is it? So much untapped potential and no way to unlock it because how does a family earning minimum wage get all ten children fed, educated, and raised properly? Most families have no problem with the breeding… but the raising? Most people never even think about it. It’s a matter of quantity or quality, which, more often than not, makes for a poor strategy in trying to uplift one’s condition. The less there is to go around, the less chance of getting out of poverty. In that aquarium metaphor, introducing more fish doesn’t make things better, it’ll just force everyone to compete against each other for scarce resources, and not in a good way, as one can see with the escalating crime rate. In the end, we end up with a lot of people forced to do bad things in order to survive. And no amount of the church’s preachings will stop someone from breaking the law if the alternative is hunger. 

In a religion where natural urges are deemed evil or immoral but having more children than you can raise responsibly is acceptable because it’s “a gift of god”, we end up with an escalating population growth that far surpasses the rate our infrastructure is able to cope with. The number of urban poor is rising exponentially each year, clear proof that the economic and social infrastructure development cannot match our population rise.

Yet there are still sectors of society who blindly claim that we are “not overpopulated”, that we have more space to grow. Space is not the issue here, it’s the problem of turning everyone into productive members of society. A typical family belonging to the urban poor will churn out a dozen babies without an inkling how to provide not only food and shelter for their brood, but how to turn them into productive adults. So they grow up into uneducated, unskilled vagrants that further tax our already over-burdened urban infrastructure. It’s a vicious cycle of uncontrolled growth.

Yes, it’s not the headcount per-se that determines whether we’re over-populated or not, rather how well resources are channeled to each individual. There are first-world countries that have denser urban populations than us but the big difference is that a greater percentage of their population are productive, able to work within the economy to provide for themselves instead of resorting to crime or waiting for charitable dole-outs.

Population growth should always follow the economic trends, not the other way around. If there are too many people and too few jobs to go around, we hit an economic crunch. It’s simple supply-and-demand : if you’ve got an over-supply of unemployed workers, their market values plummet. Employers can pay sub-standard wages because everyone is desperate to get any sort of work. With that level of salary, you end up living from paycheck to paycheck, unable to get out of the poverty cycle.

Let me make this clear: this is not about limiting how many children you’re allowed to have, it’s about responsible parenthood. If you can’t provide for your future offspring, then you should think twice about bringing them into the world. It’s your decision and your actions but it’s the children who will suffer for it. Children are not lottery tickets that you get as many as you can get your hands on, hoping that by playing the numbers game, one of them might eventually be your ticket out of poverty. Instead, that rare child who grew up in the slums that beats the odds of finishing school and gets a good job still ends up with the problem of having to support his parents and a dozen other unemployed siblings that didn’t fare as well.

In the wild, the weak do not live long enough to slow down the rest of the species; they either get eaten by predators or die from starvation because they cannot effectively hunt for survival. But we do not live in the wild, and we generally do not leave our offspring and other family members to fend for themselves. And since we are well above this law of the jungle that keeps populations in equilibrium with the available resources, the least we could do is to regulate our propagation so as not to overburden our already ailing planet. Now which is the more reasonable way of doing that, abstinence or contraception? Come to think of it, abstinence is prescribed by the same people who insist that we “go forth and multiply”. And look where that has brought us now.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.