Humanae Vitae is online at the Vatican site, and the text highlighted below is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Pope Paul outlines some worries in this section. We’ll split up concerns about possible consequences of artificial contraception into two posts.
17. Responsible (people) can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.
Borrowing a principle from how the Church has addressed contrition after the sin, a “perfect” moral choice would involve acting with a desire for virtue or to aspire and achieve union with God. Fear of consequences strikes me as an “imperfect” motivation.
Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
And of course, we know that women also use men as sexual objects. Even a half-century ago, it could have been acknowledged that imperfect people of both sexes can and did use partners in ways less than absolutely virtuous.
To elaborate on the point a bit, it seems the problem is the exaltation of sexual intercourse as an end to itself, rather than as a means to show love to a partner. Perhaps the Church could look a bit more intently at a distinction between practices that exalt sexual expression at the expense of people–promiscuity; practices that damage or destroy a committed union–unfaithfulness; practices that actually express a committed and well-intentioned love–sex between engaged partners. The Church sees all of these as sinful, but discerning human beings recognize significantly different qualities in each of these.
Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.
And we know this has happened, and continues to happen in some nations where personal freedoms are not recognized or respected.
The way I see this section, real damage occurs when the marital sexual relationship is overcome or overwhelmed when there is some transfer to the realm of power and domination. That would be, in part, the modern feminist critique. But it is also the lament of the Lord, that people are used by those more powerful and controlling.