I promised you I was going to write about Natural Family Planning here and here. And I always follow through on my promises...eventually!!! So here ya go. What is Natural Family Planning? Here's my take on it, from someone who loves and hates it with a passion.
Natural Family Planning is a wonderful way to "plan" your family size. It is morally acceptable because it does not separate sex from procreation, like contraception does. NFP IS NOT THE RHYTHM METHOD. The rhythm method doesn't work, because very few women actually have a perfect 28 day cycle. NFP is a scientific, evidence based method that is more accurate than any other method (contraception included). There are many different types of NFP you can use, but here are the basics:
- A woman has naturally occurring fertile and infertile times during her cycle. She notes the signs and observations as to when her fertile time occurs. All this information goes on a chart.
- Woman can take her temperature daily. Ideally, at around the same time every morning before she gets up, although there are other ways to take temperature for women who have crazy sleep schedules due to work/other circumstances.
- During ovulation and the fertile period, her temperature will rise. It will stay high until her fertile period is over (unless she becomes pregnant, in which case her temperature will stay high).
- Woman can also check her cervical mucous every day. There are fertile and infertile types of mucous. I won't go into detail about that since some of you might not want to know, but if you want more info about that, visit here and here. (Warning...it has pictures)
- Woman can check her cervix daily. Soft and open typically means fertile, while closed and hard typically means infertile.
It costs virtually nothing. It is the healthiest possible choice for both the mother and the father. There are no invasive drugs, barriers, or operations. It is more effective at preventing pregnancy and achieving pregnancy than any other method. It's pretty much a win/win situation for everyone.
So...if that's all true, why the heck do more people not do it? Why do most people not even know about it?
Because of this: if you want to prevent pregnancy, you must abstain from sex during the woman's fertile time.
People see the words "abstain from sex" and they run away like frightened children who just witnessed me attempting to do something athletic. It especially bothers people if they see the words "during marriage" after the phrase "abstain from sex". "Ummmm...what??" some of you may be thinking. Or perhaps yelling at your computer. "Isn't getting married like a free license to engage in intercourse whenever, however, and wherever I feel like? I actually waited to have sex until I was married! I'm DONE abstaining!!"
But here's the thing. We're not expected to exercise self control anymore. In our "quick, self-gratifying, what's in it for me" culture, it's now commonplace for us to simply take the easy way out. Want that 5th slice of pie? No problem! Just take a pill afterward that will settle your stomach. Want to yell obscenities at deserving motorists? Go ahead. Everyone else does it.
Contraception is the epitome of this phenomenon. (That sentence makes me feel smart) It allows us to throw any type of self control out the window. We don't have to worry about consequences anymore, so just do whatever you want, when you want!
Is this a Christ-like way to live? No. Jesus showed us, through His own life and words, that the only way to become holy is to deny ourselves. Will we always do this perfectly? No. But if we allow Jesus to take control and give everything to Him, He makes it possible.
When I tell people about NFP, here's the main question I get:
NFP doesn't sound any different than contraception to me. Both methods can be used to avoid pregnancy. So if they both achieve the same result, what's the difference? Why is one morally okay and the other is not?
My answer to this is: the end does not justify the means. I like to use a metaphor here. Let's say someone wanted to lose weight. There are many different ways this person could do that. But some ways are acceptable, some are not. If this person decided to become bulimic to lose weight, we would all agree that it would not be the right thing. She would be mistreating her body and using it in a way that it is not meant to be used. She would certainly lose weight. But she would damage herself and her body in the process. If, however, she decided to start exercising and controlling the amount of food she ate, it would be great! She would lose weight by treating her body in a way that it was meant to be treated. Both ways achieve the same end. But the means by which the end was achieved were very, very different.
God created woman with fertile and infertile times in her cycle. So choosing to abstain from sex completely during fertile cycles is not morally wrong. We have the ability to use logic, reason, and self control. It does not separate sex from procreation.
And, of course, it's hard as hell.
I'm not going to lie or put it in a fancy little package for you. Practicing NFP to avoid pregnancy instead of using contraception can be SO. HARD. Abstaining from sex is VERY. DIFFICULT. Especially during marriage. Sometimes I resent it. I waited to have sex until I was married. I dated my now husband for 8 years. I, more than many people, understand how difficult abstinence is. And how it can be a cross. And how easy it is to cross the line.
But since when is following Jesus and doing the right thing easy? Can you think of any place in Scripture where Jesus says "Come, follow me, I'll give you the easy way out."? No. Throughout the New Testament, he is constantly telling his followers that they must choose the narrow path. The difficult path. The path that many do not trod. Many people walk away, not willing to change. They are comfortable, thank you very much. This Jesus guy is a little too radical for them.
I can tell you, from experience, that being open to life in my marriage has been the most wonderful experience I could imagine. Like I said earlier, sometimes it's hard. But it really has made my husband and me closer in our marriage. And, statistics actually show that couples who practice NFP have better, longer lasting marriages. Yay!