Sex & Faith
May 22, 2020

What Does The Bible Say About Birth Control?

The bible is often used to instill fear about birth control, but never actually mentions it.
Written by
Emily A. Klein
Published on
May 22, 2020
Updated on
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People have been trying to avoid unplanned pregnancies for as long as there have been people! But what does the bible have to say about birth control? Although birth control has been widely practiced throughout history and across cultures, it has also been a source of controversy. Religious folks who are more orthodox or conservative, may say birth control is forbidden since sex is only okay within the confines of marriage between a man and woman who aim to produce children. On the other hand, more progressive religious people may say birth control is totally fine, and various interpretations of the bible support that notion.  

Is using birth control a sin? 

Using birth control is not a sin. The ability to safely and effectively prevent pregnancy enhances individual autonomy, enriches sexual relationships, and promotes health and wellbeing. People of all faiths should be free to use birth control — or not — in accordance with their needs and desires.

What does the Bible say about birth control?

Although the Bible has often been used to instill fear about birth control, it does not explicitly prohibit it, and the Bible does not say using birth control is a sin. According to the United Church of Christ minister and therapist Rev. Mark Travis, the bible actually doesn’t say much about birth control at all. 

Travis tells that the Bible doesn’t make reference to birth control “other than the harsh story of Onan in Genesis 38:9, where he is struck dead by God for having ‘spilled his seed’ on the ground. The Catholic Church uses this scripture to condemn masturbation.” As the only Biblical reference to contraception, the story of Onan has also been used as an argument against birth control, since what Onan did (commonly referred to as the “pull-out method") was an attempt to avoid impregnating his partner.

Seen in the larger context of the story, though, Onan’s crime wasn’t necessarily that he “spilled his seed” on the ground, but that he failed in his duty to produce an heir who would inherit his brother’s wealth in accordance with the laws of the time. In an article for Forbes, historian Sarah Bond notes that birth control — including the pull-out method — was likely to have been widely practiced during biblical times. If birth control, in general, was considered sinful, rather than Onan’s specific act, there likely would’ve been an explicit prohibition against it. Nowhere in the Bible, however, is birth control explicitly forbidden or condemned.

Why is the Bible used to argue birth control is a sin?

The Bible is widely enlisted to support repressive attitudes towards sexuality and relationships. Some denominations (especially conservative ones) view the Bible as the literal word of God; in this context, claiming a Biblical basis for prohibiting birth control can have a deep impact on those who are trying to live a moral life according to their religious values. For some followers of Christian faith traditions, it may come as a surprise to learn that Jesus never said a word about birth control. In fact, he never spoke directly about sex at all. When read closely, the story of Onan, which has often been used to justify prohibitions on birth control, can be interpreted as not condemning birth control at all! Instead, Onan’s crime was failing to uphold laws of inheritance and duty to his brother. 

The bottom line

Although opposition to birth control has been fierce, particularly among certain faith leaders, using birth control is not a sin. The bible does not even directly mention birth control, after all. Rather, contraception can be an empowering tool, and whether or not you use one of the many birth control options available is your choice.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Emily A. Klein is a freelance writer with deep interests in science, culture, and health. As a student of cultural anthropology, she researched and wrote about kink, reproductive rights, cross-cultural medicine, and humans’ relationship with technology. She has designed and implemented a sexual health curriculum for adolescent girls, worked with foster youth and people experiencing housing insecurity, and volunteered as an emergency first responder. Her writing has appeared in The Establishment, Edible magazine, The Seattle Lesbian, Slog, and elsewhere.

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