Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team. Updated April 19, 2021
Since the dawn of civilization, human beings have been trying to control their fertility through various means. In ancient Greece and Rome, women drank juices made from the Silphium plant to prevent pregnancy. Scholars speculate that the use of the plant may have contributed to Rome’s low birth rate, and the plant was so popular that it went extinct.
Fortunately, women in the modern era have access to safe, highly effective, andaffordable contraceptives that are in no danger of going extinct. Birth control has been around since the 1960s, and although it’s used by more than62% of women of reproductive age worldwide, it is met with much controversy.
Religion is at the heart of the debates centered around contraceptive use. To muddy the waters even more, beliefs among adherents of different religions can vary in each branch within the same faith. The following content will explore how the world’s major faiths view birth control and contraceptive use.
What are the world’s major religions?
According to some estimates, there are more than 4000 different religions and faiths in the entire world. But, the four largest religions are Christianity, Islam, Catholicism, and Judaism.
Within the four major religions, there are numerous sects and denominations, each practicing their own set of beliefs. These religions are all monotheistic, meaning they believe in one singular god or deity. While each religion may have an official stance on birth control or contraceptive use, individual followers may have different views and practices that are outside of the official doctrine.
Religious view of children
To help understand religious views of birth control, we need to be aware of their overall concept related to children. Each religion places focus on the family. And while views on various forms of contraception change based on the religion, one idea most religions share is: children and their lives are a gift from God. Therefore, there is a common perception that the act of sexual intercourse is mostly for procreation. Some religions even require it as a moral obligation.
Christianity and contraceptives
Christianity, as one of the largest monotheistic religions in the world, comprises five major denominations, and even those have smaller denominations within them. Catholicism is also a branch of Christianity, but in the 1500s, the Catholic Church was divided, and Protestantism and Anglicanism formed within the umbrella religion of Christianity.
Anglican Church and Protestant Church
Anglicanism and Protestantism are the two most prominent Christian denominations in the U.S. The Anglicans were the first to officially issue a statement in favor of contraception at the Lambeth Conference in 1930.
The official stance of both faiths is that birth control is permissible because it is not expressly forbidden within scripture. However, these denominations preach that it is critical for followers to use birth control within a mindset that is biblically aligned.
Scripture states that children are a gift from the Lord, and that using birth control as a follower of Christ while having an attitude that is opposed to what scripture states is wrong. However, more lenient positions on contraceptive use within the Christian church are relatively new developments. Before the 1930s, all Christian denominations adhered to the Catholic Church’s official stance on birth control.
Catholic Church on contraception
Today, the Catholic Church is the only Christian denomination that adheres to a historical standard on birth control/contraception, which is that any form of contraceptive use is against their religion. This includes any form of artificial contraception such as:
- The pill and all hormonal methods of birth control
- Withdrawal method
- Sterilization (a.k.a permanent pregnancy prevention from removal of sex organs)
- Condoms and other barrier methods
Pope Paul VI and Humanae Vitae
On July, 25, 1968, the Vatican released an encyclical by Pope Paul VI entitled Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”), which included an outline of the Catholic view on birth control. The Catholic Church officially believes that birth control is a violation of natural law, and that sexual intercourse is for the purpose of procreation. Any pleasure derived from sexual intercourse is a by-product of procreation and is intended to strengthen the loving bond between husband and wife – it is further believed that these bonds create the ideal environment for raising children.
Although Pope Paul VI in the Humanae Vitae encyclical condemns birth control, there is no objection to natural family planning. For married couples, natural family planning (a.k.a the rhythm method) calls for engaging in intercourse with the woman’s reproductive cycle in mind. Put more simply – don’t have sex on days when the woman is ovulating.
However, it is interesting to note that surveys on birth control use in the U.S. have found that 77% of married women use a form of contraceptive, versus 42% of non-married women. In addition, 89% of Catholic women use a contraceptive, while 90% of Protestant women use one. Even though the Protestant denominations are more lenient on birth control use, rates of contraceptive use are relatively the same between Catholic women and Protestant women.
Islam’s stance on contraception
The Quran does not prohibit birth control. Furthermore, it is important to note that Islam’s view of birth control is focused within the context of marriage and family, as both of these components play a large role in the religion. While procreation is part of marriage, Islam contends that this is not the only reason for sexual intercourse. But when a couple does decide to procreate, it should be when they are ready for children. This being said, contraception allows for a Muslim family to have children when they want and are prepared.
In addition, all forms of contraception are permissible if both parties consent to its use. While this official stance may seem very liberal, it’s critical to understand that in Islam, if the husband does not consent to the wife’s use of birth control, she is not permitted to use it.
One interesting method of birth control implicitly recommended in the Quran is breast-feeding. More specifically, the Quran only says to breast-feed children for two years. It has been proven that, during the time of breast-feeding, the woman is provided with a measure of contraceptive protection. This is because your body stops ovulating when you are exclusively breast-feeding (every ~4 hours/day and every ~6 hours/night), and you cannot get pregnant if you are not ovulating.
Studies on American women who practice Islam found that women who identified as Sunni Muslim were less likely to use all forms of contraception than Shia Muslims. Shia Muslim women were more likely to use the birth control pill than other types of contraceptives.
Judaism’s stance on contraception
There are two major Jewish principles that come into play when talking about birth control:
- Mitzvah: to marry, procreate, and have children.
- It is forbidden to “waste seed”.
Thus, the majority of rabbinic authorities believe and teach their followers that women may use contraception, but only certain forms of it. In Judaism, contraceptive methods must enable sexual intercourse to occur and happen without a barrier naturally. This way, there is no “seed wasted”. Furthermore, birth control pills and other forms of hormonal birth control are generally permitted. On the other hand, contraception via items such as condoms is not accepted. More liberal branches of Judaism allow all types of birth control – 90% of all surveyed practicing Jewish women use a contraceptive method.
Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam provide a loophole for the use of birth control: to support the mother’s health. But this is the only exception. Family planning and the use of contraceptives for any other reason (i.e. to save money) is looked down upon.
Why is birth control important?
Although birth control has been in existence for thousands of years, it is still the center of much debate. As the U.S. attempts to change their healthcare system, these debates will continue. As long as healthcare coverage remains tied to a person’s employer, women of reproductive age who work for a religious entity may find themselves unwittingly drawn into the controversies surrounding the pill and other forms of contraceptive.
Consult a Doctor for Birth Control Advice
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How can Pandia Health help?
Fortunately, there are many types of effective and affordable birth control that women can obtain without the input of a religiously-affiliated employer. Are you curious about which type of birth control can work for you? The expert doctors at Pandia Health are standing by to answer any questions you may have about contraceptive use. Sign up today and have birth control delivered straight to your door.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article intend to inform and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Pandia Health, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.