I spoke with the potential future Pope about sex and menstruation

Hearing the Cardinal say ‘ovulation’ was awkward enough


When I walked into the Vatican to interview Cardinal Peter Turkson, a contender to be the next Pope, the last thing I thought we’d talk about was sex.

In fact, I was under the impression we would only talk about the effects of the Pope’s last encyclical, Laudato Si, a fairly liberal-leaning document for the Catholic Church about climate change and care for our common home.

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All of my expectations for the interview were shattered, however, when a question arose about whether the Catholic Church would ever endorse birth control for environmental reasons. I won’t lie, Cardinal Turkson gave a lot of insightful responses in regards to climate change, but once sex was in the mix, things went in a totally different direction.

Hearing the cardinal, all dressed in his cardinal garb and big cross necklace, say “sex” and “ovulation” was awkward enough, but his answers made the mood a lot worse. It became increasingly evident he didn’t understand women at all.

Cardinal Turkson said: “The church is not against birth regulations. The church may be against birth control in the form of abortions and contraceptions, but the church is not against the regulation of birth. The two are to be kept separate. It [the Catholic Church] advises and encourages [birth regulation] especially when incomes are limited. The problem then has been, what are the methods for regulating birth and that’s when some would say that contraception becomes a way.”

So how does one “regulate” birth without contraception? Cardinal Turkson believes the answer is tracking your menstrual cycle.

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“No pregnancy is possible without ovulation. If there is no ovulation, there is no pregnancy. Every woman can tell when she is ovulating. Therefore, every woman can who is not ready or doesn’t want pregnancy can avoid sex when she is ovulating. I asked a few and they say it [feeling ovulation] is true, but you can ask that for yourself.”

The problem in this theory, according to Cardinal Turkson, is if the woman can communicate to her partner where she is on her menstrual cycle.

“In rural communities, they try to communicate this by using leaves. If they are menstruating, they throw a red flower or leaf on the bed to tell the husband that this is their state. When they are ovulating, they put a green leaf. When they can have intercourse, they put a yellow leaf.”

The Cardinal laughed and said: “That’s what they say, but there is no way for me to try that even if I wanted to. In any case, if this method is true and it works, then this will provide an alternative to contraception.”

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Personally, I have never felt my ovulation and many women I have talked to agree they haven’t felt it either. In fact, when the Cardinal saw the female-dominated room wasn’t in total agreement with being able to know when you’re ovulating, he called for female backup from the Vatican’s human rights representative who agreed with the Cardinal and said: “Children are a gift from G-d. Controlling it is not so much up to you. It is a gift you have to receive.”

Overall, Cardinal Turkson said: “To date, the position [on birth control] is still pretty negative from the church’s point of view. The question is how many Christians take it seriously.”

If this is this best response the Catholic Church can come up with, it looks like they still have a long way to go before their views on birth control are as progressive as their stance on climate change.