Pros And Cons Of Birth Control
( Originally Published 1918 )
IT is natural to consider the subject of birth control in connection with that of abortion, because it is one of the chief arguments of the advocates of the former plan that it would reduce the amount of what has been termed the American crime, because it is so common among American women. It is, of course, true that if some method could be found for preventing conception, no one would feel the necessity for producing an abortion.
There are many conditions in which it would seem to be undesirable for children to be brought into the world. If, for example, both parents are tubercular, the probability is that any child born to them will be so lacking in vitality that it will be almost impossible for it to develop into a healthy, normal human being. To be sure, the parents may, by proper living, overcome their tubercular condition to such a degree that the children would have a fair start ; but until they have reached the desired degree of healthful vigor, it would seem best that they should not be allowed to propagate.
If, again, the husband is addicted to alcohol, the wife may feel that, for the sake of protecting her children from being conceived under the most detrimental conditions, she should take whatever steps are in her power to prevent the starting of their lives. Again, it may be that neither parent has any love for children or desire for them, and it would seem under such conditions that it would be most unfair to the children to call them into existence. Or, again, while the parents may be ready and willing to increase the size of the family at proper intervals, the mother's health may demand for a certain period freedom from the burdens of pregnancy and childbearing. Lastly, we may consider the case of parents whose means are too limited to. permit them properly to care for a large family, and who are therefore compelled by economic reasons to limit the size of the family.
We must admit that in every instance it is possible for parents to exercise birth control through self-control. There are many, however, who feel that their health demands this relationship at reasonable intervals; and yet they do not feel able to accept the burdens of parenthood that it naturally entails.
All of these appear to be legitimate reasons for the use of birth-control methods. Yet it must be realized that we have not had sufficient time to observe the true consequence of the methods proposed. The majority of the mechanical devices used for this purpose are known to be harmful—some of them extremely so—and they should be scrupulously avoided. It is difficult to see how this could fail to be the case when one considers the sensitiveness of the delicate membranes of the sex organs. Some of the medicinal methods suggested are equally harmful. It is, indeed, difficult to find a contraceptive which is absolutely harmless, and it is well proven to be impossible to find one which is absolutely certain.
The majority of methods used have in them the possibility of injury to the delicate lining membrane of the female organs, and, as a result, are more or less painful and distasteful to the woman. In fact, to many, the whole idea will he most repugnant, because it takes away from the marital act its most essential characteristic of spontaneity. Ideally this physical union should come simply as the highest point in a passion which has arisen spontaneously and has led, by natural steps, to this final culmination. To deliberately plan it is, as many feel, to deprive it of its element of spirituality and to place it upon the grosser plane of mere physical pleasure.
Most of the arguments which are set forth in favor of birth-control methods are based upon conditions which are in themselves of a temporary nature. If husbands and wives will but make the effort they can change or remove these conditions. We have gradually learned to control even our appetite for food through an understanding of the function of food in the building of bodily tissue, so it would seem that eventually we will also come to the point where we can control sex powers through an understanding of their purpose in life. Until that time it may be necessary for some to take advantage of other methods for relieving themselves of burdens which seem to them unbearable, but the ideal to-ward which the human race should ever strive must always be that of self-control.
While there may be instances in which it may seem to be allowable to make use of some of these birth-control methods, it can never be considered legitimate, by any right-minded person, to make use of them simply for the sake of excessive indulgence. It must be remembered that the most serious effects upon the human organism come, not from bearing children, but from excessive sexual indulgence. The process of childbearing, under normal conditions, is, after all, a natural one, and therefore does not ordinarily produce any deleterious effects. The marriage relation, however, may make a great drain upon the nervous system of both parties, and, if indulged in too frequently, must inevitably result in a serious condition of depletion which will lead to still graver consequences. If we could look over the records of the cases of women in our sanitariums, we would discover that, while a very small proportion had been brought there by childbearing, a great many had had their health wrecked by marital excesses. This being the case, it would be well for married people still to bear in mind the ideal of self-control, even though they may think it necessary to make use of birth-control methods.
There is one other matter which must be considered in this connection which I have already dealt with fully in my corresponding volume, "Manhood and Marriage," and may therefore quote here verbatim.
"In this connection we may say emphatically that any departure from the strictly natural character of the sex relation is almost certain to re-act injuriously upon both parties. Once the marital act has been commenced, it should be carried through to a natural completion, or it will prove harmful. It might even be said that when once the passions of both have been aroused to the point at which the marital relation is physiologically demanded, then it should be carried through if the question of the health of both parties is to be considered. Not to do this, means not only more or less nervous derangement, but serious congestion of the parts involved, producing weakness and inflammation. But the physiological results are naturally far more serious if the relation has only been commenced and then is interrupted before it has been completed. This practice, often spoken of as withdrawal, consists in termination of the sexual relation just previous to the climax or moment of highest intensity. This naturally involves a severe shock to the nervous centers concerned, and cannot fail to be injurious both locally and to the general system. It is debilitating to the man, but it is usually an outrage upon the woman. The relation, if entered into at all, should be carried through slowly in an absolutely natural manner, resulting in the orgasm or climax being experienced by both husband and wife. If this does not occur to both, then it is devitalizing in its effect. Men who practice other methods of intercourse, or who for a term of years selfishly satisfy themselves without sufficiently prolonging the relations to also satisfy the wife, gradually experience a lessening of the power of ejaculation, which either is retarded or becomes more and more premature. They also develop a train of symptoms characteristic of nervous disorders, as well as digestive and other functional disturbances."