Monday, July 20, 2009

"Contraception truly makes people smell funny (i.e., incorrectly)" (7/20/09 submission to the B.C. Courier Times)

I am writing on the second day of Natural Family Planning Awareness Week (July 19 – July 25), during a time when marriages in the United States continue to undergo the scourge of divorce. The overall probability of a first marriage ending in divorce remains at 40-50%. Among those with a religious affiliation, who attend services at least weekly, percentages drop dramatically to about 27 – 38%. Among couples who forego artificial contraception and only utilize Natural methods of Natural Family Planning, the divorce rate is 0.2%. Yes, that is correct: 0.2%[i]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church continues to teach that Catholic husbands and wives are forbidden to use contraception, but that they may recourse to methods of Natural Family Planning for serious reasons.[ii] Though this teaching remains serious and unchangeable, many Catholics seem to think that it’s just a bizarre peccadillo of the especially fervent. Despite profound sociological evidence for greater marital success with Natural Family Planning, I can practically hear people say: “NFP may be OK for you religious fanatics, but what about the rest of us?” Such people seem to mistakenly believe that God is a legalistic killjoy. They seem to doubt that God is truly loving and wants the absolute best for all of us! I would suggest that they turn their attention to some disturbing research - including confirmation that contraception truly makes people “smell funny” (i.e., smell incorrectly)....

As explained by Hugh McGrath Jr., MD, the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) "is the control center of our immune system and also appears to play a major role in the release of pheromones, subtle odors that differ in every person.”[iii] ( and would be well advised to sniff more closely around these “subtle odors”!) Indications are that spouses are most compatible with those who differ from themselves, in regard to MHC smells. “In a 1995 study conducted by Swiss biologist Claus Wedekind, a group of female college students smelled T-shirts that had been worn by male students for two nights without deodorant, cologne or scented soap. Overwhelmingly, the women preferred the odors of men with MHCs dissimilar to their own. But there was a significant exception: Women taking oral contraceptives chose MHCs that were like their own.”[iv]

As per an August 2008 report from researchers S. Craig Roberts, L. Morris Gosling, Vaughan Carter and Marion Petrie, “Previous studies in animals and humans show that genes in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) influence individual odours and that females often prefer odour of MHC-dissimilar males, perhaps to increase offspring heterozygosity or reduce inbreeding. Women using oral hormonal contraceptives have been reported to have the opposite preference, raising the possibility that oral contraceptives alter female preference towards MHC similarity, with possible fertility costs”[v] Jeanna Bryner was kind enough to put this into English: "Birth control pills could screw up a woman's ability to sniff out a compatible mate....beneath a woman's flowery fragrance or a guy's musk the body sends out aromatic molecules that indicate genetic compatibility. Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes are involved in immune response and other functions, and the best mates are those that have different MHC smells than you....when women are on the pill they prefer guys with matching MHC odors.... Past studies have suggested couples with dissimilar MHC genes are more satisfied and more likely to be faithful to a mate"[vi]

I would suggest that interested readers check Friends of FertilityCare Philadelphia <> for additional information.

[i] Data from Rutger’s National Marriage Project < >, the General Social Surveys of 2000, 2002, & 2004 < >, and “The Practice of Natural Family Planning Versus the Use of Artificial Birth Control” <>
[ii] See especially #s 2368 and 2370 <>
[iii] National Catholic Register, 8/31/08 <>
[iv] ibid
[v] Proceedings of the Royal Society of B: Biological Sciences <>
[vi] “The Pill makes women pick bad mates: Ability to sniff out a compatible partner affected by taking contraceptives” <>.

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