The Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones has come in for a hefty amount of criticism for her shocking revelation that in two different relationships she resorted to desperate measures to conceive, i.e. nipping to the bathroom immediately after proceedings, to retrieve the used condom and impregnate herself.
Whilst no-one should condone the deceit implicit in her actions, it seems hard-hearted not to have some sympathy with her predicament. Catholic teaching on sex is highly controversial and misunderstood, but what lies at the heart of it is that the covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man. “Authentic married love is caught up into divine love”. CC 1639
The sexual act is ordered towards procreation. Not every sexual act will result in procreation, but this is its primary purpose, ordained by God. To exclude fertility from the act of sexual intercourse is in effect to kick out God.
John Paul II observed that contraception not only violates the procreative aspect of sex, but also the unitive aspect. (Sex should be unitive and procreative, for bonding and for babies). Sex should be a giving of the whole self to the other, which includes fertility. Janet Smith compares it to someone asking their partner to have sex with them but to put a bag over their head during sex because their partner’s hair is causing them annoyance. “I love you, but I don’t want a very important part of you here, something which would naturally belong”. To contracept, is to withhold something back from your partner.
The tragicomic and rather pathetic image of Liz Smith surreptitiously attempting to impregnate herself using sperm from freshly used condom is a physical embodiment of the perils of attempting to separate sex from procreation. Not only do we see her trying to regain something that she believes is rightfully hers, a natural gift or product of sex as opposed to an organic payment for an M&S ready meal, but we can also see how condoms can also be used as a tool of misogyny and to oppress women. Liz Jones is far from the only woman I know who is desperate to conceive a child, but whose partner refuses to countenance the idea, in many cases because he believes that the couple already has a sufficient number of children.
There something inherently cruel and not to mention selfish and misogynistic about denying a woman her innate and instinctive desire for a child. It treats a biological and entirely natural urge as if it is something unpleasant and nasty, a whim that is not going to be indulged. Of course this goes both ways, there are scenarios whereby a woman takes the pill in secret or against her partner’s wishes, but in either case it highlights the selfishness inherent in the act of contraception. I don’t want to have a baby, I’m going to keep that part of me to myself. I read with mounting horror a series of tweets suggesting that she ought to be prosecuted for stealing his property. It served to highlight the dangers of thinking that contraception is a failsafe method and how we seem to have cast aside the natural consequence of sex, the thought that someone could get pregnant without another’s explicit consent – how very shocking! What was her “crime”? Being prepared to do almost anything to fulfil her dreams of becoming a mother? Or using the sperm of her partner without his consent? Catholics are used to oh-so-witty renditions of Every Sperm is Sacred, criminalising a woman for using semen without consent takes that sentiment to a whole new level. If sperm remains the property of a man’s body at all times, it raises troubling questions for women about pregnancy and abortion.
That was also another worrying aspect. That fathers who may be deceived in this way, ought not be obliged to take any sort of responsibility for his children. Why should a man have to pay for a child that he didn’t want to have, tweeted one Lib Dem in outrage. Because it’s called “taking responsibility”. Time was it was universally agreed that sex is likely to result in children. Contraception seems to have lulled society into a false sense of security and thus when a child is conceived without express consent, it is viewed as an outrage, a burden, one that ought not to exist.
Many women were outraged by Liz Jones’ deliberately provocative statements, in which she implied that all women were deceitful liars prepared to go any lengths to have a baby and that men had better beware. All childless women in their late 30s and early 40s are possessed with a fervour to conceive according to Jones. It was an exaggerated caricature, but according to the 2001 study quoted, a significant proportion of women (42%) stated that they would lie to get pregnant against their partner’s wishes.
Contraception has enabled society to dictate expectations and conventions of ideal family size to women. To have more than 2 children is seen as either terribly vulgar and a feature of the lower-classes or as an upper class badge of wealth. Children are apparently expensive, so to be able to have lots of them, one must either rely on state benefits or an extensive private income.
Though I share women’s exasperation at the sweeping generalisations contained within Liz Jones’ confession, the resulting outrage proved that she had touched a nerve. What saddened me was the misogyny on display by women who would otherwise be passionate advocates of a woman’s right to her own fertility. Presumably the acceptable course of action would have been for Liz to have left her husband and embarked upon a costly course of sperm donation which stood an equally slim chance of success and would by it’s very nature excluded an involved biological father. The woman wanted to have a baby with her partner. That seems wholly natural and understandable, I don’t see the need to berate her for that. Of course he should not have been deceived, but it seemed that he was equally unwilling to compromise and perhaps rather heartless and selfish, not prepared to make the sacrifice required for either his wife, supposedly the most important person in his life, nor indeed for the new little baby.
It was saddening to see her described as a “mad bitch” by those who would normally condemn misogyny. Previous columns in which she detailed her struggles with over-spending and eating disorders were dredged up without anyone drawing the obvious link between the overspending and childlessness.
If any other female columnist mentioned a previous history of a struggle with anorexia or even self harm, which was subsequently used against them to prove current fragile mental health there would be uproar. There is nothing mad about being overwhelmed by a biological urge. Many many women testify to a sense of urgency to conceive in their late 30s, they are responding to a biological and hormonal stimulus. Liz Jones was responding to her body’s calling. It happens. Women who are desperate to conceive go to desperate lengths.
Had her attempts not involved deceit then no doubt this longing for a baby would have been lauded as evidence of how deserving she was of a child.
Perhaps Liz thought that once she presented her husband with a fait accompli he would come around? A baby should never be proposed as a solution to a marriage in difficulty as the demands of a newborn can place considerable strain on a marriage, but a baby can also prove to be an adhesive in marriage and a cause of deeper bonding, shared joy and intimacy.
It takes a heart of stone not to be moved by one’s own newborn child and to leave a woman because she has become pregnant by deception, is an act of cowardice. To forgive and courageously give, to accept life as it is and to do the best by one’s child, whether conceived on purpose, by accident or even deception is the mark of a real man.
Ideally a child should be conceived with the consent of both parents, but the amount of hate to which Liz Jones has been subjected for attempting to conceive minus the consent of her partner is disproportionate and concerning. Contraception was supposed to free and empower women but the inevitable flip side is that condoms put men firmly back in the driving seat. In a situation like that of Liz Jones, a husband may legitimately deprive his wife the chance of a child and she is vilified and penalised for disobedience. If a woman wishes to contracept against the wishes of her husband that is perfectly acceptable due to bodily autonomy, but she is denied the opportunity to conceive without express male consent.
Some might argue that this is a good thing, the child must be put first and it is better for a child not to exist at all if it is not wanted by its father. If that isn’t misogyny, if that isn’t an example of selfish control of a woman’s fertility, then I don’t know what is.
Contraception and abortion are a libertine’s dream. By stripping the sex its procreative ability, he strips it of any long-term commitment and convinces himself that his desire not to have children exonerates him from any responsibility should one accidentally result without his express consent.
A woman’s sole right to choose and determine her fertility should logically encompass her right to determine when to have a baby. A woman is considered mentally competent to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy but a determination to create a baby at any odds is universally condemned by men and women alike as proof of mental illness and selfishness.
That a woman can be the target of so much vitriol for nothing more than wanting to have a baby with her husband is stunning in a so-called age of liberation. That many women have reacted quite so angrily and protested so vehemently that Liz Jones is not representative, is very telling. Methinks they do protest too much. Children are never far from the thoughts of most childless women in their late 30s and 40s. Most would not lie or deceive their partners, but the potential is there nonetheless. Perhaps Liz Jones betrayed the sisterhood by pointing this out?
All in all a very sorry tale and one that has me counting my blessings for an authentic marriage, one that accepts and works with the natural order.