The wind whips up against the windows of the Notre Dame Bookstore café looking out on a cold, gray South Bend afternoon. Inside, Mrs. Lisa Everett, in a blue sweater with wavy brown hair and a warm smile, is seated as she tells her story.
“I grew up in a Catholic family in Pennsylvania. I came to Notre Dame in 1981 and graduated in 1985 engaged to my husband, Fred. I studied in the Great Books Program, and was heavily influenced by Professor Janet Smith. Under her tutelage, I learned to love the Church’s vision for marriage and family life, to the point where I wrote my senior thesis on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
“After graduation, I spent a year studying at the John Paul II Institute in Rome, while Fred was at Notre Dame Law School. After I had returned and Fred and I had gotten married, I got a job as a research assistant to Bishop D’Arcy to support us through his second and third years.
“When Fred was graduating, the Bishop asked us to lead the Office of Family Life together. We accepted, and I have been raising our family and working from home as co-director since. It has been a real blessing.
“In Janet Smith’s ethics class my sophomore year, everyone did a research project on an ethical issue. I picked contraception. I wanted to know where the Church was coming from, as well as the arguments on the other side. That was a pivotal experience for me.
“I became convinced that what the Church teaches is true, good and beautiful. It’s good news for everyone, and for women in particular. Even though the impression is often the opposite, that this is oppressive to women, in fact it’s deeply liberating and fulfilling.
“More and more, we are discovering that contraception is not good for women. In 2005, the World Health Organization classified the estrogen-progesterone contraceptive as a Group 1 carcinogen [“sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans”]. In April 2009, a study done by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found a 270 percent increase in the risk of triple negative breast cancer among those who used oral contraceptives while under age 18, and a 320 percent increase among recent users of oral contraceptives (within one to five years).
“Then there is the biochemistry. Part of sexual chemistry is based on pheromones, chemical scent signals that are also an external manifestation of the immune system. A study in Psychology Today found that women were attracted by smell to the T-shirts worn by men whose pheromones indicated a complementary immune system, with a significant exception among women on the pill. They were attracted to men whose immune systems were too similar to make a good biological match. What happens, then, when a woman marries a man based in part on this scent experience, and, when she gets off birth control to have children, finds that she is no longer attracted to him? A common complaint of women in marriage counseling is that they cannot stand the way their husband smells.
“Another striking aspect is the link between contraception and divorce. An economist at the University of Chicago sought to explain the dramatic increase in the divorce rate between 1965 and 1975, and looked at various potential contributing factors. He found that over 50 percent of the rise in divorce rate was attributable to the diffusion of contraception.
“Sex is meant to bond us as husband and wife, and one of the ways it does that is through children. Part of the beauty of Theology of the Body is that it understands God as a communion of persons, where the love between the Father and Son is literally personified in the Holy Spirit. We are made in that image, and sexuality gives us a way to express it in a very profound way. The child is literally the two parents in one flesh in a way that will last more than those few minutes; in a way that will last forever. It stands to reason that an attempt to separate those two dimensions clearly inscribed in the act will harm both. We find evidence that suppressing the creative potential of that act causes the relational to suffer as well.
“Conversely, we have Natural Family Planning, which builds marriages. When you respect the procreative meaning of the act, it actually enhances the relationship between the spouses. In part, the practice of NFP causes you to cultivate very important virtues, like mutual respect, partnership, mutual responsibility, and self-restraint. This benefits the marriage in that it seeks the good of the other, and puts the relationship first, which is necessary for all aspects of marriage.”
For those interested in learning more about Natural Family Planning, Mrs. Everett advises, “A wonderful place to start is a good Theology of the Body resource. Unless you see the big picture and the beauty of NFP, it’s hard to understand the moral norms on sexuality that the Church teaches, and to see how they flow from the desire to protect the beauty of the vision and the goodness of marriage and the persons involved.
“A wonderful way to delve into this is with other people. Form a study group together with some friends, or within a dorm.
“Notre Dame is a part of our diocese, and our office loves to assist any of its members. We are here to help students and departments at Notre Dame promote the Church’s vision. We’re happy and eager to do anything to help on campus.”
Tom is a Senior studying Math and Philosophy. He can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.