Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Contraception Article...

I’ve mentioned before that I was writing an article on contraception for Salvo Magazine, provisionally titled: “Sex, Drugs and Reproduction: Is Birth Control a Blessing or a Curse?” It was published this week (you can read it here), but the version you will find in Salvo is very different than the version I submitted.

As originally written and accepted for publication, the article attempted to balance and hold in tension two opposite aspects of the social impact of the rise of contraception. On the one hand, it discussed some of the more disturbing social results of widespread contraceptive use (though it also, more briefly, recognized the positive goods that modern contraception has provided). On the other hand, the article discussed the long and tragic history of reproductive coercion whereby far too many women have had their rights and dignity curtailed “for the good of society.”

Unfortunately, just days before the magazine went to print, I was informed that the Editorial Board had thoroughly rewritten the article, with the title: “Sex, Drugs and Reproduction: Birth Control Is a Messy, Messy Business.” As the new title implies, this draft stripped the article of every positive argument made for contraception and, worse in my opinion, removed the entire argument concerning sexual coercion. The result is an article that seems much more like a polemic against contraception than the balanced discussion I intended. With only days to review it, I had little choice but to allow them to print the new version (though they did allow me to make a handful of minor revisions), and the result may be read here.

In response to this matter (and other longstanding concerns that I will not detail), I resigned my position as a Contributing Editor on the 3rd of this month. I wish them all the best, but I doubt I will be writing for them again. I do not think it would be appropriate for me to post the original version of my article (if for no other reason than that that my contract forbids reprinting an article for at least three months), but I did want to post the original conclusion, in hopes that it will provide some context for understanding my view of the published version:

Such observations cannot rule out all contraceptive usage – indeed, comparing our present array of birth control options with those available to pre-moderns, it’s hard not to feel thankful – but they all point to an underlying problem: the impossible attempt to solve a fundamentally moral set of issues – abuse, oppression, sexual immorality – through purely technological means. Promiscuity, absent or abusive fathers, abortion – these are perennial moral concerns that cannot be solved merely by reducing a few of their physical consequences through contraception, nor even by passing better legislation. Unless we are willing to change ourselves – our choices and lifestyles – contraception will never be more than a stop-gap measure, maintaining the illusion that we needn’t become better people; all we need are better technologies. Such is an inevitably self-defeating attitude, since our use or abuse of technology itself will always be a direct correlation of the kind of people we are.

Yet many who have considered these matters have feared that emphasizing such broad-brush dangers and social consequences risks stripping real men and women of the rights and dignity to make their own reproductive decisions. If history is any guide, this fear is warranted, as society has often justified the reproductive coercion of individuals on such grounds. But the dangers inherent in forcing people to live morally are too often allowed to excuse immoral living as a choice. Liberty requires the freedom to decide for oneself (within reasonable limits), but it does not free us, as individuals, from the obligation to choose well. Beneath all the risks and statistics, therefore, the real questions we each must face are these: Will we treat contraception as a means of living better, more ethical lives, or simply as a fruitless attempt to undo the consequences of our actions? Will we choose to treat our fertility as a disease or a gift, our children as a threat or a blessing? Will we view birth control – however we choose to pursue it – as an aid to virtue, or a substitute for it?

18 comments:

Damian said...

I'd love to see the original article, if and when you're allowed to publish it. I'd love to find out what lead to that conclusion. It seems like a wise one.

Hugh said...

I'm intrigued by the designation of promiscuity as 'immoral'. Where does this 'morality' come from?

Ken Brown said...

Damian,
I really don't know if it will ever be appropriate for me to publish the original, though I admit I'm not entirely clear on the matter. In any case, if you haven't read the published version, do read it. It's not bad, even if it's not what I intended, particularly if you keep this conclusion in mind.

Hugh,
Morality is based on proper respect. If human beings have inherent dignity, then treating another human being as a mere (sexual) object is inherently immoral.

Hugh said...

treating another human being as a mere (sexual) object is inherently immoral.Ken
----------------------------------
You're assuming a woman doesn't treat a man as a 'mere sexual object'. Why shouldn't a woman be as interested in recreational sex as a man?

Ken Brown said...

Hugh,
You're assuming a woman doesn't treat a man as a 'mere sexual object'. Why shouldn't a woman be as interested in recreational sex as a man?

Not at all. Rather you are assuming that a freely made choice cannot be immoral. Both the man and the woman may freely choose to treat one another as mere sexual objects, but it remains true that their actions serve to reduce their partner from a full human being worthy of the respect of genuine relationship, to a mere object. Such a reduction of another person's humanity is immoral (if humans have inherent dignity) whether it is freely chosen or not, indeed, regardless of who freely chooses it.

It also, by the way, creates a cultural context in which men are not expected (or required) to be responsible for their consequences of the sexual activities. With promiscuity and abortion accepted as normal, any child that might result from such trysts is--too often--deemed a "women's problem," as though the man were not as much a cause of it as the woman.

Hugh said...

With promiscuity and abortion accepted as normal, any child that might result from such trysts is--too often--deemed a "women's problem," as though the man were not as much a cause of it Ken
-----------------------------------

Why are you using the loaded word 'promiscuity'? Using effectiver contraception, abortion doesn't enter into it.

Why shouldn't people couple if no children result from it? A harmless recreational activity, surely?

Ken Brown said...

Hugh,
In answer to that question, I would refer you to the second section of the article, titled "Safe Sex." Note that the figures cited are all in reference to the United States particularly. Also be warned that this section, like the rest of the article, includes certain statements which are modified from my original intent, so don't be surprised if I actually agree with certain criticisms that might be raised against it (this is the section from which was removed a discussion of some benefits that modern contraception has provided, rather awkwardly replaced with the sentence which begins "In fact, even Christians disagree..."). Despite this, however, the section provides a good summary of why contraceptive use does not render causual sex consequence-free.

Hugh said...

contraceptive use does not render causual sex consequence-free Ken Brown
----------------------------------

The usual consequence is the intended one of separating copulation from reproduction. Planned parenthood seems an entirely worthwhile idea and recreational sex not something that can reasonbably be claimed as the exclusive privilege of the 'married' couple.

Ken Brown said...

Hugh,
The usual consequence is the intended one of separating copulation from reproduction. Planned parenthood seems an entirely worthwhile idea and recreational sex not something that can reasonbably be claimed as the exclusive privilege of the 'married' couple.

To separate sex from reproduction can be a worthwhile and morally neutral goal, but it all depends on the context. Within a committed relationship between two people who genuinely love one another and are willing to accept the responsibility of a child should the couple's efforts fail (as they occasionally do), contraception is entirely appropriate.

But when birth control is used to justify casual sex without love or committment, it leads directly to an attitude that pregnancy and children are a threat, and too often leaves the woman who does get pregnant either alone or stuck with a man who does not love her. Thus, while the availability of reasonably effective contraception might seem to promise a reduction in the number of unwanted pregnancies, the opposite has more often been the case, which explains why the abortion and illegitimacy rates have in fact skyrocketed since the rise of modern contraception.

Hugh said...

Within a committed relationship Ken Brown
----------------------------------

People change their minds about one another. Anyway, commitment doesn't have to be a lifetime affair. Anyway, a responsible attitude to a sexual partner doesn't preclude more than one partner.

Ken Brown said...

Hugh,
People change their minds about one another. Anyway, commitment doesn't have to be a lifetime affair. Anyway, a responsible attitude to a sexual partner doesn't preclude more than one partner.

I will grant that there is a spectrum of (sexual) relationships from most healthy to entirely unhealthy, which is why I attacked "promiscuity" particularly, for this term emphasizes lack of committment. Certainly "serial monogamy" is better than, for instance, meeting one's sexual needs exclusively through prostitution. But two points must not be missed: 1. Speaking of an ideal, committment should be permenant. In defense of this I will only note, on the one hand, the inevitably messy nature of breakups, with or without children, and on the other, the value of learning to work through differences and weathering troubles. 2. If committment may (morally) be abandoned at will, then what moral obligation does either a man or a woman have to their children or anyone else?

Hugh said...

Ken,
The agreement that a client has with a sex-worker is to pay the agreed fee for services rendered. The children of a sex-worker will be brought up within a 'committed relationship' if she is either in one while working or retires or takes a career break and forms one. Her situation, in principle, is like that of any other woman, apart from possible social disapproval of her profession.

Evolution has programmed women to nurture children. Therefore, we have to rely on women to make the best they can of the job and to secure the co-operation of partners and society. The moral values which support the nurture of children are part of the programming in men as well as women.

Ken Brown said...

Hugh,
Are you seriously defending prostitution as morally neutral? Since there is an "agreement," she's on her own and the man needs bear no responsibility except to pay his fee? I could hardly imagine a more degrading and misogynistic view of sex...

You do realize that a great many "sex-workers" are in fact little more than slaves. Whatever "choice" they have in this situation is a mockery of freedom, and to justify the man’s role in perpetuating that system on the basis of an “agreement” goes right to the heart of the problem with your claim that morality can be reduced to whatever a person’s own conscience happens to allow. Unless morality is tied to human dignity as an “inalienable right,” everything (including, it seems, even prostitution) is permissible, for the conscience is an inherently malleable thing.

Hugh said...

Ken,

Sex workers may indeed be enslaved. The enslavement would be the problem, not a freely entered into agreement to provide sexual services for payment.

Ken Brown said...

Hugh,
Leaving aside your assumption that anything "freely" chosen cannot be immoral--do you really think the average sex-worker "freely chooses" that occupation? When not flatly coerced (as it often is), it is usually "chosen" as an act of desperation. Certainly there would not be nearly enough "sex-workers" to meet demand if not for human-trafficing and general poverty.

To legitimate the practice as though it were morally neutral and "freely" chosen serves only to justify the men (mostly men) who use this exploitative system, thus further increasing the very demand that has created that system in the first place. By doing so, you indirectly validate the slavery of millions of women worldwide.

Hugh said...

Ken Brown said...
you indirectly validate the slavery of millions of women worldwide.
---------------------------------
Not so. I said 'enslavement is the problem'. This is a matter for law enforcement.

Where a position in the sex industry is seen as a legitimate employment opportunity and provides a satisfactory income in acceptable conditions, what is your objection?

Charlie said...

Ken, very sorry you were put in such a position by Salvo. I admire the way you have chosen to leave while not making the specifics of your disagreement with them public. They treated you poorly, in my view, but you are extending grace. Good for you.

Much more to say, but it's after midnight. I'll be back. Blessings.

Ken Brown said...

Hugh,
See my latest post for my answer, or part of it anyway (there is a great deal to be said on the subject).

Charlie,
Thanks for your comment! It is a shame about Salvo. I owe them a great deal for giving me my start as a writer and I really like the editors and writers there whom I have gotten to know personally, but we seem to have very different ideas about how to go about responding to the problems with our society.