Natural Family Planning

Posted: August 31, 2010 by CatholicJules in Great Catholic Articles

  • What is Natural Family Planning?

Natural Family Planning (NFP) refers to the practice of achieving or avoiding pregnancies according to an informed awareness of a woman’s fertility.

  • Why is NFP the best in family planning?

NFP provides a medically safe, healthy, highly effective and very low cost method of planning your family.  It is convenient (no birth control devices to use), and it’s immediately reversible for achieving or avoiding pregnancy. It is increasingly available throughout the world, it tells you when you have achieved pregnancy, and it’s morally acceptable.

  • How long does it take to learn NFP?

In general, it takes about 3-6 cycles to confidently learn how to chart and interpret the individual’s chart although it varies from couple to couple. We recommend that couples who are preparing to get married to come to the NFP centre at least 6 months before their wedding day to receive instruction.

  • Is NFP compulsory?

Every individual has their own right and choice, NFP using the Billing’s Ovulation Method is the recommended method to manage fertility in a morally acceptable way for Catholic couples.

  • What’s the difference between NFP and Contraception?

This rhetorical question takes many forms:

  • “NFP and contraception have the same intention of planning for the good of one’s children.  Both are contraceptive and moral.”
  • “How is the conscience of someone who uses contraception different from one who uses NFP?  They both want the same things – the good of the family.”
  • “NFP is the same as Contraception because both may aim to limit family size.”
  • “Contraception is defined as ‘the practice of or method used in deliberately preventing a woman becoming pregnant as a result of having sex’.  Would this not mean that the rhythm method or other NFP methods would fall under this definition and be at risk of the ‘contraceptive mentality: loss of respect for women and human life, the weakening of family, and population control by governments?’ ”
  • “For the same grave reasons that make Natural Family Planning (NFP) morally acceptable, wouldn’t the use of a condom instead be just as moral?  How then is the condom any different from NFP?”
  • “Surely you can’t be saying that NFP and Contraception are different because one is natural and the other artificial?   What’s wrong with being artificial?”
  • “If every sexual act must remain open to the transmission of life, then NFP is wrong too.” [1]  and even
  • “In both NFP and Contraception the sperm cells die, so they are the same.”

The recurring theme is that similar goals or effects prove that they are the same, both contraceptive and immoral or both family planning and moral.  

The Answer:

Both NFP and contraception have to do with birth regulation but how does that make them the same?

All crows are birds and all eagles are birds but are crows eagles?   Likewise, both Men and Women are human beings but is a Man a Woman?   Or we could point to the hare (genus Lepus) and the rabbit (seven genera) which look similar but are completely different animals.   Or to apples and oranges and even dukus and durians which are all fruits yet different, one from the other. 

Good intentions alone without licit methods are insufficient.  If you eat the poisonous mushroom you will die even if you want it to be the delicious, and expensive, truffle. 

What exactly is this difference? 

Although both are used to regulate birth, they do so in different ways.  NFP modifies sexual behaviour to suit fertility while contraception suppresses fertility to suit behaviour.  

They take opposite paths, and adopting one, either one, means to develop the habits and culture that go with that practice and to turn one’s back on the other – usually with far reaching consequences.

The words themselves imply the paths taken.  

“Contra-ception” means anti-conception and is commonly extended to anti-pregnancy and anti-birth, so providing different ways of getting rid of unwanted children in a sex-sparing, anti-life package.    

Contraceptives are never used to achieve pregnancy, as the term ‘family planning’ should suggest.  They may plan for the good of some children but often at the expense of other children, some of whom may be selected for abortion.  Experience does show in fact that the trends of contraception and abortion are often in direct relation, abortion having being legalised for the purpose of recovery from failed contraception. 

Contraceptives are not wrong merely because they are ‘artificial’.   They are intrinsically evil because they rupture God’s design of Procreative Love, no matter what good intentions or results we may have for using them.   

“Natural Family Planning” on the other hand means planning a family, not avoiding one, as married couples decipher their cycles of fertility and infertility in a truly unitive relationship that does not hinder the transmission of life. ‘Natural’ refers to Natural Law, in line with the order of Creation, not to the absence of pills or devices. 

While sexual intercourse, unlike nutrition, is unnecessary for individuals, it is a part of married love and commits married couples to the gift of fertility and to accept as many children as they can take care of.   But the Designer has also given them a second gift, the gift of infertility in each cycle, and for grave reasons they can use these infertile days to space or even indefinitely postpone the next child.    

Like following instructions in the designer’s manual, NFP accommodates God’s design.   If the more serious the matter is, like surgery or flying a plane, the greater the disaster if we fail to follow the manual’s instructions, why should it be any different with the creation of human life and the way God has designed this?    

Contraception is like locking the door and sending out the rejection, “Don’t come.  You’re not wanted,” but spacing pregnancy with NFP uses the built-in mechanisms of our biology and is like taking the opportunity provided by the Creator of Life to delay the invitation to the next child.   

Using NFP and using contraceptives are thus different acts, separate from the intentions we may have for using them.  And the act must first be judged independently of these intentions.  This is because you can never do moral evil even for worthy goals or consequences.[2]  

[1]NFP does not block the transmission of life.   Sexual intercourse is given to procreation but fecundity normally means cyclical fertility until menopause – like a radio is designed to produce music even though it’s sometimes off. NFP is dedicated to this design and the sexual act is not blocked to conception if and when this is possible.  But ‘contraception’ blocks a baby that could have resulted from sex on fertile days.  It changes the design of fecund sex – like using the radio to hammer a nail into the wall.   Abstaining from sex is not ‘contraception’.   After all, celibates are not practising contraception.   Nor is it ‘contraception’ to have sex on infertile days, since conception is not possible then anyway.

[2] If we do an intrinsically evil act because there are good reasons for doing it, we would have to say that the evil act is a good thing to do.  To thus misrepresent evil as good makes good and evil indistinguishable and would open the door to all evil acts since no one does anything without a good reason.   Inevitably, this leads to the corruption of conscience and to the increasing inability to make moral choices.

  • But if NFP is not substantively a contraceptive, why then do many people feel that it is?

Perhaps we can point at the anti-baby milieu in which we live.  In a culture that extols acquisitions the Child is not one of the 5 Cs.   On the contrary, decades of institutional denial and rejection of babies has created the mindset that children are accidents and unwanted burdens at worst, or optional extras or even cures for infertility at best. 

Not only does contraception violate the procreative meaning of intercourse but also its unitive meaning, as it disfigures the sexuality of husband and wife and obstructs the total self-giving that is characteristic of love[3].

People below 50 years of age are born into this culture, with a condom in the mouth, to borrow the idiom of the silver spoon.   And women may now need to work outside the home without alternative opportunities for child care, particularly during financial reversals, which erodes their biological roles as mother and home-maker. 

Adulterated by contraception, sex itself has been de-linked from procreation and is now little to do with babies. There is more and more sex without babies and more and more babies without sex.  

And even when we have sexual relations using NFP, we may use it as a contraceptive. The words we use betray us. We ‘prevent’ pregnancy rather than ‘postpone’ one;  we ‘make babies’ or ‘reproduce’ rather than ‘procreate’. And we may even greet a surprise pregnancy with, “Oh no” instead of “Thank God for the gift”.  

Choosing life is choosing love for people over things, where children are more precious than the things they replace.   So we need to cultivate or re-cultivate within ourselves a willingness to co-operate with God to accept fertility and children as gifts we value and protect instead of diseases we are afraid of and need to control. 

NFP is good in itself because it accommodates God’s design for procreation, but it is no different from a contraceptive if the goals for using it are illicit e.g. having sex using NFP to have no children at all could be illicit.  Used as a contraceptive, NFP would be a contraceptive and would then – and only then – merit the accusation, “NFP is the same as Contraception.” 

Clearly then the formation of conscience is essential, as Pope John Paul II advised on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae, 1988, “Another way of weakening the spouses’ sense of responsibility with regard to their conjugal love is that of spreading information about natural methods without accompanying it with adequate formation of conscience.”

If these principles are followed, marital sex will unite physical loving with fecundity, and spouses will be able to develop a fine balance between the two aims of marital sexuality, i.e. marital intimacy and children.

In summary, NFP modifies sexual behaviour to suit fertility while contraception suppresses fertility to suit behaviour.They take opposite paths, and adopting one, either one, means to develop the habits and culture that go with that practice and to turn one’s back on the other – usually with far reaching consequences.

 

[3] Inner beauty does not depend on recognition by the beholder but on fidelity to God’s design.  The husband who recognizes the inner beauty of his wife is the fortunate one.  In a sense, he is seeing God.

  • What’s the basis for NFP?

It is scientifically established that during each menstrual cycle a woman normally becomes fertile and then naturally infertile. The fertile time is the part of her cycle when sexual intercourse can result in pregnancy. A woman’s body provides certain physically signs to indicate her fertile and infertile times. 

  • What are the signs of fertility and infertility?

The most used signs are a normal discharge of cervical mucus and other signs include changes in her cervix and a feeling called “ovulation pain”. 

Cervical mucus is nature’s way of helping a man’s sperms reach a woman’s egg. Her flow of cervical mucus generally starts in a small way several days before she ovulates (releases an egg), it is a very positive sign that her fertile time has started. About the time she ovulates, her mucus may be abundant and have a consistency something like raw egg white. After ovulation, her mucus normally disappears.

  • What is the Billings Ovulation Method?

The Billings Ovulation Method uses only the mucus and the dryness as the signs of fertility and infertility. The other signs are also used by many women. 

  • Is this what used to be called “the Rhythm Method”?

No, The Rhythm Method was the Calendar Rhythm Method developed in 1930. It was based on some biological averages, but it did not work well for women who had irregular cycles. It was the 1930’s model of NFP, and great progress has been made since then.

  • Can NFP work with irregular cycles?

Yes, Modern NFP assumes that every woman is irregular at least some of the time. In general, if her fertile time comes earlier or later than usual, she knows about it because the start of her cervical mucus comes earlier or later.

  • Does NFP take much time?

No,  With NFP’s Billing’s Ovulation Method, during the day she takes a moment now and then to become aware of her cervical mucus and at night she records a symbol to describe her mucus. This simple process gives them an accurate day to day picture of her fertility.

  • Is NFP SAFE?

Yes, Natural Family Planning uses no birth control devices or drugs.  Every drug has potential side effects and should be taken only when necessary to cure or relieve an illness etc. But fertility is a normal process, not a disease.  Birth control pills and implants are unnecessary drugs, and most intrauterine devices (IUDs) were taken off the market because of health related lawsuits;  some physicians have linked spermicides with birth defects.

  • NFP is HEALTHY ; What does it mean?

NFP is health enhancing.   Through NFP charting, a woman becomes aware of her normal fertility – menstrual cycle.  Some kinds of cycle irregularities can alert her to possible underlying problems and she can seek early health-care assistance.

  • How EFFECTIVE is NFP?

Numerous studies including one by the World Health Organisation have shown that NFP can be used at the 98% level of effectiveness for AVOIDING pregnancy. That’s equal to the birth control pill and better than all the barrier methods.

  • Can NFP help ACHIEVE pregnancy?

Yes, with NFP you will become aware of the most fertile days in your overall fertile time, and you will learn how to maximize your mutual fertility.

In addition, your charted cycles may reveal certain patterns that can contribute to infertility and which sometimes can be corrected simply by better nutrition.  Many couples of marginal fertility are helped by NFP training to achieve much wanted pregnancies and the charts of those who may need medical help can assist the knowledgeable physician.

  • Can breastfeeding space babies?

Yes, but only when a mother practices a very natural form of baby care characterized by mother-baby closeness.   This is called “ecological breast-feeding” to distinguish it from “cultural breast-feeding” which does not space babies. 

In addition, ecological breast-feeding helps you to keep your baby healthy and contributes greatly to the emotional enrichment of both mother and baby.

  • Is NFP morally acceptable?

Yes, all the major religions including the Catholic Church accept the use of natural family planning when couples have a sufficiently serious reason for spacing babies or family limitation.

On the other hand, the teachings of the Catholic Church, some Orthodox churches, some part of the Judaism and an increasing number of Protestants are opposed to sterilization and the use of contraceptive or abortifacient drugs and devices.   It should be noted that intrauterine devices and birth control drugs (both the pill and implants) can cause very early abortions.

  • Is Natural Family Planning “Natural”?

In other words, is it natural for a married couple to practice sexual self-control?. Yes. No one denies that at times this is difficult, but such difficulties do not make periodic continence “unnatural”.  “Natural” means living up to the demands of our human mature “created in the image and likeness of God”. All of the Ten Commandments are sometimes difficult to follow, but all of them spell out the challenge of being true to our own nature.

  • How does NFP affect a marriage?

Sexual self-control can help build the marital relationship and therefore most couples report that NFP has a positive effect on their marriages.  They find that periodic abstinence helps keep their sexual relationship fresh, improves their communication, and gives them a deeper respect for each other.

In addition, the practice of NFP helps to develop the same strength of character that is necessary for marital fidelity and lifelong marriage.  NFP couples have an extremely low divorce rate. This makes sense because couples who respect the natural moral law, God’s order of creation, can expect to enjoy its benefits.

  • So NFP builds better marriages?

Yes, but not automatically.   Couples rarely begin to practice Natural Family Planning out of a desire to improve their marital relationship.   However, if they are going to practice NFP harmoniously, they soon find that they have to communicate more fully and creatively with each other.  Couples do not ignore each other at times when they choose to avoid sexual relations, rather they develop non-genital ways of expressing their love and affection, which is the art of marital courtship.

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