A New Film on Why Humanae Vitae Still Matters

At a time when there are persistent rumors emanating from the Vatican of a “revision” of Humanae Vitae, there comes a film showing why fifty years on the 1968 encyclical and what it teaches needs greater proclamation not revision.

Unprotected: A Pope, the Pill, and the Perils of Sexual Chaos is a new film produced and directed by Don Johnson.

Presented through the lens of Humanae Vitae, the film’s contention is that our society has been shaped by the invention and then widespread use of the contraceptive pill. By 1957, the drug that would become ‘the pill’ was being used for menstrual disorders. A contraceptive side-effect began to be noticed, however. By 1961, the pill was being prescribed by doctors as a contraceptive. Two years later, over three million American women were taking the pill regularly. The pill’s advent came just in time for, or perhaps more correctly facilitated, the then changing attitudes toward marriage, the family, and promiscuity.

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Instrumental in these changes, and featured in Unprotected, were figures such as Helen Gurley Brown, the feminist author and later long-time editor of Cosmopolitan. Her philosophy was a seemingly straightforward one. The home and family of old were to be eschewed by the modern woman for a promiscuous lifestyle to which she could now aspire with apparently little consequence thanks to the contraceptive pill. This fantasy was endlessly peddled in the pages of Cosmopolitan and elsewhere. In Unprotected we hear a former Cosmopolitan journalist relate how the stories purporting to be truthful accounts of sexually liberated and happy young women were all fictitious. Through the 1960s and in subsequent decades, Cosmopolitan may have been a huge seller, but it was selling a lifestyle based primarily on the availability of a pill, and built upon a lie.

Back in the real world, watching Unprotected in 2018, it is obvious that the consequences for all, but especially for women, were immense. The filmmakers paint a dire picture of the consequences. What is shown is a world haunted by shattered marriages and disturbed children, with a sterile narcissism at the root of a society producing nothing but human misery. Alongside this, the filmmakers record an increasing violence bred by a destructive selfishness at the heart of the spousal relationship between a man and a woman, the building block of any society.

Unprotected maintains that once this fundamental human relationship is no longer centered around the raising of a family within marriage then, in regard to what any future society might look like, all bets are off. Expounding facts and figures, the film shows the depths of today’s problem as witnesses testify to the toxic fallout of the Sexual Revolution. When all the evidence is assembled, the audience sees clearly the results of the contraceptive mentality during the past 60 years. The pill has created nothing less than a new world order, but where that leaves us no one is quite sure. Watching Unprotected, one thing is certain: it will be a more ugly future than we could have ever imagined possible.

The film’s conclusion is a simple one: whatever society’s current ills, the contraceptive pill and the rotten fruit of the Sexual Revolution it fueled are no part of the solution. This is an especially pressing insight for those like Johnson who are seeking to raise children in today’s world. In fact, the reason Johnson made Unprotected was his particular concerns about the future of his two young daughters. Johnson is a recent convert to the Catholic faith. His discovery of Humanae Vitae was part of that journey, and a revelation. The encyclical helped Johnson to understand the problems he saw all around. The later teaching of the Theology of the Body expounded by Pope John Paul II, and inextricably linked to Humanae Vitae, provided Johnson with the means to begin to find a way out of the mess of contemporary society’s disordered thinking.

Looked at today, Pope Paul VI’s predictions of what would occur with the widespread acceptance of artificial contraception are uncanny. All of Johnson’s research for Unprotected confirmed this. Today, surveying the massed debris of human unhappiness all around, the film is adamant that Pope Paul VI was right to affirm what the Church has always taught on the subject of artificial “birth control.” The pill was never just about controlling births. Rather, it created a new anthropology in which sexuality was divorced from children. Sexual pleasure became thereafter an end in itself; children, the natural consequence, are now something from which to be “protected.” What this film reveals is that this understanding of human sexuality was—and still is—a dead end. The Sexual Revolution could not have happened without the pill, but where that revolt against nature has brought us is not to some self-liberated Nirvana. Instead, it has consigned many to be destroyed by a rapacious Culture of Death.

Such clear-sighted conclusions, however, may provide little comfort to viewers of Unprotected at a time when forces within the Vatican and outside it agitate for a lessening, weakening, or dilution of the truth of Humane Vitae. They give this artfulness names such as “paradigm shift,” or, even worse, “compassion.” But when something is not true it is a lie, and we know who is the father of all lies.

Looking around our current culture, those who cannot see the prophetic truths inherent in Humane Vitae simply do not wish to recognize them. Those in any doubt of this, in the Vatican or elsewhere, would do well to take 80 minutes and watch Unprotected. 


  • K. V. Turley

    K.V. Turley is the National Catholic Register’s U.K. correspondent. He writes from London.

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