Salon.com has posted an essay Mahatma Gandhi wrote about birth control in 1939, and sadly this essay shows that Gandhi was no more enlightened than the average person of that time period (at least when it came to women’s reproductive choices).*
Gandhi’s biggest problem with birth control was that it let a man’s semen go to waste:
“God has blessed man with seed that has the highest potency and women with a field richer than the richest earth to be found anywhere on this globe. Surely it is criminal folly for man to allow his most precious possession to run to waste. And so is a woman guilty of criminal folly who will receive the seed in her life-producing field with the deliberate intention of letting it run to waste. Both he and she will be judged guilty of misuse of the talents given to them and they will be dispossessed of what they have been given.”
And if using birth control is a sin, it only follows that non-procreative sex in general is verboten:
“[Sex] is meant only for the act of creation. Any other use of it is a sin against God and humanity.”
And just for measure Gandhi throws in a little homophobia too:
“If satisfaction of the sex urge is a duty, unnatural vice would be commendable. Even persons of note have been known to approve of what is commonly known as sexual perversion. The reader may be shocked at that statement. But if it somehow or other gains the stamp of respectability, it will be the rage among boys and girls to satisfy their urge among members of their own sex.”
What Gandhi failed to realize is how important birth control is to industrialized as well as developing countries (like India):
Birth control allows couples to practice family planning by limiting the number of children they have. It allows couples to delay having children. It allows women to delay starting a family and therefore earn more money. It enhances economic growth because more women are participating in the work force. And probably the biggest advantage of all: It allows couples to have sex without having to worry about an unplanned pregnancy.
In short: cheap, safe and effective birth control is one of the greatest medical advances of the modern era. Except for capitalism, nothing has helped to raise the status of women in society more than birth control.
The ability of women and couples to plan their pregnancies and to prevent unwanted ones is a necessary condition for a free and thriving society. In developing countries where access to birth control is lacking, women are often treated like reproductive chattel, giving birth to far more children than they want because they can’t obtain birth control.
Only a boneheaded fool like Gandhi could look at couples using contraception and see nothing more than wasted “seed.” Clearly, Gandhi could not see a man and a woman as anything more than their potential offspring.
However, as Ayn Rand said, men and women have the right to live for their own happiness–the “right not to be regarded as the means to [an end].” To deny the right to use birth control is to deny that individuals have a right to experience sexual pleasure solely for the purposes of their own enjoyment.
Gandhi is not so much a hero to hippies and leftists as he is to anti-sex misanthropes who believe that sexual intercourse is only for conceiving children (and who believe that any pleasure received through the act is a mere bonus).
Those like Gandhi who would condemn humanity to living without birth control would condemn us to living in an age when women were mere baby machines, and when every pre-marital sex act came with it a fear of unwanted conception.
(P.S. – Salon.com has also posted an essay by birth control advocate Margaret Sanger that she wrote as a response to Gandhi’s.)