Human Life, Love and Marriage

A total vision of man and married love

The most famous statement of the twentieth century on marriage and love was without doubt “Humanae Vitae”[1], meaning “on human life”. Humanae Vitae (HV) was written by Pope Paul VI in 1966. Most people think that HV is all about contraception. This is in fact, not true.

Complete Married Love

The central message of HV is an absolutely beautiful vision of complete married love. At its core HV talks of a “total vision of man” and “married love.” Without this vision, marriage is unstable, illegitimacy common and young people are denied the opportunity of a fulfilling married life. HV states that “Marriage is the wise institution of the Creator to realize in mankind His design of love.” The key characteristics of marriage as described in HV are
  1. Marriage is fully human
  2. Marriage is total
  3. Marriage is faithful
  4. Marriage is exclusive
This vision describes a strong indissoluble 100% commitment in love of man to woman. This is, indeed the central vision of marriage which has supported so many couples and families through thousands of years. Contraception does not feature in this description. It is however completely clear that in marriage “love is total,…, it is a very special form of personal friendship, in which husband and wife generously share everything, without undue reservations or selfish calculations. Whoever truly loves his marriage partner loves not only for what he receives, but for the partner's self, rejoicing that he can enrich his partner with the gift of himself.”

Love is about new life

HV points out that love is destined to continue, raising up new li ves. "Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare parents[2]. This vision is, in fact very attractive to young people. Sadly, at the start of the 21st century, this vision is obscured and few are able to see beyond a culture that sees marriage as temporary, negotiable and only a partial sharing of man with woman and woman with man.

It is in the vision of complete love and complete giving of one to another that HV says clearly that artificial contraception is wrong. When artificial contraception is used, the central and most exclusive act of marriage, is dishonoured. By the interference of contraception the reality of completely sharing married love is disrupted. Natural Family planning does not do this and is different;- it uses and accepts the fertility and love that God has given for marriage.


When it was published many disputed and rejected HV. Over time, and in response to Pope Paul VI’s call for scientific study much scientific evidence has accrued to support HV. Artificial contraception has been associated with increasing rates of promiscuity and consequent illegitimacy and divorce wherever it has been made available[4]. Contraception has enabled cohabitation before marriage which has been shown to reduce the permanence of marriage. By contrast, couples who do not live together before marriage have better marriages, with less domestic violence, less conflict over money, are better at conflict resolution and stay married much more often[5]. Natural Family Planning which is reliable and safe[6] supports marriage and is associated with low rates of divorce[8] often below 1% over 5 years.

Anti-life alternative

The promotion of contraception to school children has been associated with rapid increases in rates of sexual activity and increases in sexually transmitted disease up by 62% between 1997 and 2004[9] along with consequent adult infertility[10] and despite increasing use of post coital (morning after) abortion, a small increase in the rate of abortions carried out under the UK 1967 Abortion Act[11] and a huge increase in pregnancies terminated by the morning after pill. In the fight against AIDS it is now clear that Chastity and Be Faithful campaigns are helpful while the promotion of condoms has either failed to stop epidemics, or actually worsened them[12]. Indeed in the Philippines in 1987 there were more cases of aids (135) than Thailand (112), which has a considerably larger population with 82 million, compared with only 66 million. The World Health Organisation predicted in 1991 that by 1999 the Philippines would have between 80,000 and 90,000 cases, and Thailand 60,000-80,000. Thailand immediately started massive information campaigns promoting condoms. The Philippine Bishops on the other hand objected to this approach. (The Philippines are 85% catholic). The Bishops forcefully pleaded from the start for 'A' (Abstention) and 'B' (Be faithful). In 1999 Thailand did not have 80,000 victims, but 755,000. The Philippines however did not have 90,000 sufferers, but only 1,005![13]

The best for our children

Chastity awareness programmes[14] have been associated with positive outcomes. There is now compelling evidence that the promotion of sexuality awareness in primary schools as is common practice in the UK, followed by confidential access to contraception in secondary schools will not reduce the pregnancy rate of teenagers, but will and does worsen the sexual health of those teenagers upon whom it is imposed. In addition it will also damage long term relationships and the health therefore of future generations.

The prophetic message of Humanae Vitae

We must therefore remember that Humanae Vitae has now been supported by a wealth of scientific evidence. Its beautiful vision of fully shared, committed married love is a vision which inspires us all, young and old alike. This vision married couples must build each day of their married life. The surprise, for many, is that this simple vision expounded in HV, truly supports married love and promotes long term stable relationships. The anchor of that vision is completeness in marriage and the prohibition on artificial contraception is central to that completeness. Without it, scientific evidence shows that huge damage occurs. With it, and with the proper use of effective natural family planning, families, and married couples, have a future of which few currently dream.

See related articles from this website

Moral Values Education for Teenagers
Checklist for Values Education
Condoms: A Step in the Wrong Direction


  1. Humanae Vitae at the Vatican website
  2. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution GAUDIUM ET SPES, no. 50.
  5. Natural family planning": effective birth control supported by the Catholic Church - BMJ 1993; 307: 723-26.
  6. If used properly, Natural Family Planning is almost 100 percent effective with a .004 pregnancy rate (U.S. Department of Health, Education and 7Welfare (1978)) versus "the pill," which is 97 percent effective, or the condom, which is 79-88 percent effective (Contraceptive Technology).
  7. "Does NFP put a strain on Marriage?" from the Couple to Couple League
  8. "Teen Sex Disease Epidemic" at
  9. "Underage sex could lead to infertility" at
  11. BMJ 2004James D. Shelton et. al. published in the British Medical Journal, volume 328, dated 10 April 2004.
  12. April issue of Katholiek Nieuwsblad
  13. "Abstinence Education", from the Family Education Trust (Family & Youth Concern)
  14. "Young urged to say no to sex" at and "Evaluation of Abstinence Education Programs" from the US Dept of Health and Human Services