Curiouser and curiouser

I am usually sorry not to have the chance to write my weekly column but, on this occasion, I am capitalising on the opportunity to write about a topic which is perhaps too delicate to lie around the house on a printed page. My next full column should appear in the coming issue.

On the 29 July this year I wrote a piece headed Abortion by unintention. Prescinding from the moral issue of contraception as such, I considered the potential abortifacient effects of the Pill and the intrauterine device. Thus, leaving aside natural family planning, the remaining method is the barrier contraceptive – ordinarily, the condom. I am not here discussing the effectiveness of the condom on an individual or epidemic basis but examining an interesting characteristic, hitherto unknown to me.

The story start with the McClintock effect — of which you will have heard – in which women living in community have a tendency to synchronise their monthly periods. The concept has its defenders and its opponents, but more recently some interesting evidence has appeared.

One element of this is that the phenomenon is apparent when the female group are heterosexual, and does not appear when they are homosexual. Since the latter group would presumably have more physical contact, this was counter intuitive. It did not seem that proximity, sexual affection or contact was the factor.

It was then discovered that the heterosexual women could be divided into two classes. One class routinely practised condomistic intercourse and the other, although sexually active, did not. It was the non condom group which tended to synchronise.

The potentially significant difference was that a condom prevented the seminal fluid from coming into contact with the vaginal wall – a mucous membrane very well suited for the passage of substances into the bloodstream.

Now the seminal fluid (not the sperm itself which is only between 1% and 5% by volume) is a very interesting substance. It contains over 50 different compounds. Amongst them are many mood changers such as cortisol, oxytocin and serotonin which can raise the mood and increase affection. There is also melatonin which helps sleep. The downside is that seminal fluid also contains an HIV enhancer, which increases by a large multiple the likelihood of transfer.

So you would expect that condomless women would be getting mood benefit from the effects. And so they measurably do. They are not only significantly less subject to depression than condom users, but less subject than those who are not leading active sexual lives. The rate of attempted suicide is up to six times less. Conversely women who are leading very active and promiscuous lives, but using condoms, gain no benefit.

One may reasonably infer that the McClintock effect is brought about by unconscious communication between the women conveyed by pheromones.

We are left of course with barrier contraceptives use by women such as diaphragms, cervical caps and spermicidal sponges. Doesn’t sound a barrel of laughs to me, and the failure rates are shockingly high.

This inevitably pushes us in the direction of natural intercourse and, where required, natural family planning. It does not in itself create an imperative but it indicates more clearly how nature intended the sexual embrace to be.

I have been deliberately very brief, and some you who want to go further might try this link.
I warn you that it contains information which some of you might prefer not to encounter.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Moral judgment. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Curiouser and curiouser

  1. st.joseph says:

    A very interesting link and your comment.especially your second and last paragraph.

    I thought I had learned a lot about semen and mucus, evidently there is more.

    St Paul seems to have got it right in Romans 1;20-32.

    Maybe God will enlighten us more as time goes on.

    Thank you.

  2. Daisy says:

    Am I alone in beginning to feel boxed in?
    I see a great need for family planning and, while I accept that the “natural” method is a potential solution for many, I do not think that it works for all couples – or any couple all of the time.
    But now I learn that the alternative methods are probably abortifacient, And in Quentin’s last piece I discover that nature (or God?) has arranged unblocked intercourse to produce many benefits.

    I can also see that readily available contraception leads people to treat sexuality as merely a form of entertainment. I doubt whether modern society has benefited from all this. Are they any happier?

  3. st.joseph says:

    Daisy, I understand your dilema.
    When I studied N.F.P 30yrs ago, I knew absolutely nothing about N.F.P.
    Bishop Mervyn Alexander R.I.P Bishop of Clifton, asked parishes in his Diocese to see if any one would sign up for a 18 month course to teach,paid by the Diocese, at Bristol Iniversity Hospital.
    I really did not want to do it,as I felt it was more for doctors and nurses and not knowing anything about biology, also running a busy Guest House and Public House at the time. But prompted by Our Lady, I could not refuse Her, so I did. With the help of my late husband not a catholic in those days, driving me backwards and forwards.

    But this goes a long way back to Pope Paul vi, who I believe it was the power of the Holy Spirit.
    He had asked Scientists,Doctors, Bishops and Priests, also laity to be involved in this research,and with The Pope Paul.vi Institute and the Director Thomas Hilgers MD and his wife now working with the NaProTecnology, has helped so many ,and the advance in this knowledge is a real revolution-as his book is called NaPro Revolution. More info can be seen on the http://www.fertilitycare.org.
    I would call this as many say the worlds best secret, and why wouldn’t it be. But the ‘gates of hell shall not prevail against it’

    You say ‘you think it does not work for everyone’ It works for those who are committed ,and who want it to with a loving relationship of course.

    It has benefits for obviousley health reasons and finding out problems, which I can testify for (especially my own). It works well for those coming off the pill, those who are breast feeding,returning fertility, and pre-menopausel years. The http://www.nfpta is worth look.

  4. James H. says:

    It’s so good to see the news finally spreading!

    Interesting times…

  5. Hugh Henry says:

    Hi Q, just saw this – thanks – interesting piece. Slightly related, though more on associated theology, but FWIW I had this note published in the Winter 2009 ed of National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly.

    Cheers. H.H.

    [http://ncbcenter.metapress.com/app/home/journal.asp?referrer=parent&backto=homemainpublications,1,2;]

    ********

    A Two-Limb Test in Humanae vitae

    Can an act of condomitic intercourse ever be considered a marital act? I suggest that a direct implication of the reasoning in Humanae vitae (HV) is that condomitic intercourse fails to satisfy two relevant tests.

    HV n. 12 states,

    Etenim propter intimam suam rationem, coniugii actus, dum maritum et uxorem artissimo sociat vinculo, eos idoneos etiam facit ad novam vitam gignendam.

    [The fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life.]

    According to the first test in HV n. 12, a marital act, of its fundamental nature, unites a couple in the “closest intimacy” ( artissimo . . . vinculo).

    It is immediately apparent that among acts excluded as a legitimate variation of the marital act is that union which occurs during condomitic intercourse.

    Whether the purpose of condom usage in intercourse be contraceptive, protective against infection, or some other end, the fact is that a condom, successfully deployed, prevents a couple from reaching the highest (artissimo) level of intimacy which the marital act achieves according to its fundamental nature (intimam . . . rationem), a level whereby the genitally related fluid of the male is transmitted directly to the female in the natural way.

    Some might argue that condomitic intercourse achieves a greater level of union between couples than some other types of sexual activity. Nevertheless, however close a couple might feel themselves to be to each other during successful condomitic intercourse, no one can reasonably deny that there is an even closer level of intimacy they are unable to reach — that bond achieved as a result of natural intercourse. Their act is thus not an act of the closest intimacy.

    Because it does not unite the couple in a bond of the closest intimacy, condomitic intercourse cannot be said to partake of what HV n. 12 has declared to be of the fundamental nature of the marital act. Condomitic intercourse, then, is not a marital act but an act of some other nature.

    HV n. 12 then stipulates a second characteristic of the marital act. Of its fundamental nature, the marital act renders a couple capable of generating new life (eos idoneos etiam facit ad novam vitam gignendam).

    To say that the marital act “renders a couple capable of generating new life” is not to say that the marital act cures any defects in either partner that might otherwise prevent the generation of new life. Rather, it is to say that this act, as opposed to acts that do not share its nature—such as washing the dishes or playing bridge, for example—is an act which, if performed under a certain set of conditions, will enable a couple to realize their natural capability to generate new life.

    The use of a condom during intercourse deprives the couple’s sexual act of its generative power. This is so irrespective of the couple’s intention. Couples wishing to prevent conception use the condom precisely because it impedes the complete activation of their generative capacities. Other couples might use the condom to prevent the transmission of infection during sexual activity, or for some other end such as heightened sexual pleasure, or even simple curiosity, and may not have the goal of contraception at the forefront of their mind. Regardless of the purpose of their condom usage, however, so long as the condom is functioning normally, the condomitic act that the couple is performing is not the type of act that renders them capable of generating new life.

    I conclude that condomitic intercourse on this additional ground differs in its fundamental nature from the marital act.

    A central premise in the argument of HV is the indissolubility of the link between the unitive and procreative goods in the marriage act. The articulation of this relationship in HV n. 12 implies that an act must satisfy both limbs of a test before it can be characterized as a marital act. The act must unite the couple in the closest intimacy, and it must render them capable of generating new life.

    Condomitic intercourse, in a very straightforward way, fails in both respects. It cannot be considered as some variation — albeit a less-than-ideal variation — of the marital act. The two acts differ in their fundamental natures. Like all other completed sexual acts which are not the marital act, condomitic intercourse can never be justified for reasons of family planning, the prevention of infection transmission, or indeed for any reason whatsoever.

    *******

  6. This is interesting. There is a theological discussion on related issues to be found at http://www.zenit.org/article-30025?l=english

  7. st.joseph says:

    Thank you Hugh Henry.What you said.
    I tried to log on to your http site but was unable to.
    I am not very good at it! I also tried to register, but no luck!

  8. Hugh Henry says:

    Not your problem, S.J. – link doesn’t work for me either.

    Try this and scroll to page 9.

    If that doesn’t work, just google

    NCBQ “two limb test”

    click on the link and on the next screen click on open entire document in the window at the right.

    Cheers.

  9. st.joseph says:

    No luck HH, I have tried all sorts. I have e.mailed their helpline,so they might respond.
    Thank You.

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