15 Reasons to Use Natural Family Planning (NFP)

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natural family planning

Awhile ago there was a study done on couples who use NFP (Natural Family Planning).  NFP is a way of achieving and/or avoiding pregnancy that is extremely effective while also being consistent with the way the human body and the sexual act were designed (unlike contraception).

The study lists a number of things that correlate with users of NFP. I will leave you to decide which ones are more direct effects from using NFP and which ones are more contributory causes of using it. In the end, they are all wrapped up together.

Couples who use NFP:

  1. Have a dramatically low (0.2%) divorce rate.
  2. Experience happier marriages.
  3. Are happier and more satisfied in their everyday lives.
  4. Have considerably more marital relations.
  5. Share a deeper intimacy with spouse than those who contracept.
  6. Realize a deeper level of communication with spouse.
  7. Are appreciably more religious and attend church more often.
  8. Incorporate prayer more in their daily lives.
  9. Rely strongly on the teachings of the Church, the Bible and Almighty God.
  10. Have strong traditional, social, and moral views.
  11. Preserve the family unit more responsibly than the other groups.
  12. Are unlikely to have ever had an abortion.
  13. Are unlikely to have ever cohabitated.
  14. Are unlikely to both work full time.
  15. Are unlikely to be supportive of and to engage in sex outside of marriage.

So users of NFP have better, stronger, more stable marriages. They have more sex. They lead happier more satisfying lives. They provide their kids with the mother and father they deserve. They don’t kill babies. And there are absolutely no harmful side-effects.

Use NFP. Save your family. Save the world?

[photo credit]

96 comments Add comment

Brandon Vogt August 3, 2010 at 11:53 am

Through experience, I agree with everything except your final choice of punctuation.

Pat Padley August 16, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Yeah, not exactly sure why you put “Save the world?” I think it ends a nice post in an unsure way. Good post though Matt! Always like reading your stuff.

Dianna August 3, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Bravo! Wonderful list, and will be retweeting it as well. Thanks for continuing to spread the word.

Paul Rimmer August 3, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Number 5 makes me laugh.

A woman who does not contracept, I hope, would have a more intimate relationship with her husband than with her friends or strangers who contracept.

Meant in good humor.

Peter August 3, 2010 at 3:08 pm

The same characteristics can be found in married couples who leave the family planning to Providence. Orthodoxy of belief is the ultimate cause of happiness, prayer in the home, low divorce, etc. not NFP use. Besides, I thought the only ‘reason’ to use NFP was if a couple had a serious reason. Is NFP a tool to use when needed or a lifestyle?

enness July 11, 2011 at 10:43 pm

I asked myself if many people have serious reasons…and then I took a look at the state of the economy…I don’t think it’s that big a stretch.

John M August 3, 2010 at 4:28 pm

#4 I find hard to believe for couples actually “using” NFP to limit their family and not merely having a larger number of children.

Wade St. Onge August 3, 2010 at 4:48 pm

I agree completely with Peter. It is ideal if a married couple can go their entire marriage without having to use NFP to delay pregnancy (to use it to achieve pregnancy is a different story). When circumstances force one to use NFP to avoid children for a time, that is always an unfortunate thing. And yet, God can turn those unfortunate circumstances to good because it forces the couple to exercise self-control, communicate better and more intimately, etc. But these are benefits that come with mutually-agreed and devotional periodic abstinence – a practice the Church has always recommended, esp. during penitential times like Lent. Besides, some who have practiced NFP do not end up growing in virtue but grow further apart and experience great difficulties, sometimes even a loss of faith (and certainly a loss of faith in Humanae Vitae). After all, sex was created in part to serve a unitive purpose – and not many can successfully abstain from that for lengthy periods of time.

The problem is that NFP is almost being “marketed” as a more moral and beneficial alternative to delaying children in order to get couples off contraception. Certainly, this is a “better” alternative, but not the ideal. We should always be trying to get couples to be fully open to life and desire to have as many children as the Lord would grant them – except in exceptional circumstances (truly exceptional – as opposed to the many reasons couples often cite as justifying the practice) when prudence dictates periodic abstinence (which is what NFP essentially is).

Wade St. Onge August 3, 2010 at 4:54 pm

That is why this title is dangerous: It basically says that we should use NFP because it is a benefit to marriages, and not because circumstances sometimes dictate that we must delay pregnancy. But the Church has never taught that we should use NFP for that reason.

Either that, or the title is implying (and I would say the whole post is implying this, perhaps not intentionally) that contracepting couples should use NFP instead because their marriages would be stronger and healthier. Once again, the Church does not teach that NFP is a better alternative than contraception for couples who want to plan their families.

Matthew Warner August 3, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Peter and Wade – I appreciate your thoughts. These “reasons” are simply correlative…not necessarily causal.

But to answer your primary concerns, I believe that practicing NFP in the proper way takes into account all of the concerns you are bringing up. In other words, proper practice of NFP means only avoiding pregnancy when truly necessary. Using NFP with a contraceptive mindset is an abuse of it.

Peter August 3, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Thank you Matthew, that is always reassuring to hear as the need for a ‘serious reason’ is often not given its proper place. I would still ask, is NFP to be practiced in the absence of a serious reason? CCL promotes NFP use as an ongoing discernment tool so that the couple can decide each month whether to avoid the woman’s fertile days. Your thoughts.

Blake Helgoth August 3, 2010 at 5:18 pm

I would have to 2nd Peter’s comments. NFP is allowed by the Church, never mandated. Are we so bad off that we laud those that do what is permissible but not the best? Even in more traditional circles, large families are looked down upon. It that one of the fruits of NFP?

Wade St. Onge August 3, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Thanks for the clarification, Matthew. I think that it would be less misleading to title this piece, “15 Ways Natural Family Planning (NFP) Can Be A Blessing” (or a “Benefit” or “Good Thing”, if speaking to a secular audience). Doesn’t sound as good, but it is less prone to misunderstanding. Then again, your comment cleared things up, so no worries …

micaela swift August 3, 2010 at 5:28 pm

excellent! : ) Matthew You must listen to Barbara Mcguigan’s openline from last Tuesday. A caller made a comment regarding NFP vs Contraception and I cannot tell you how amazing the whole discussion formulated. In the end, I think I (as pro NFP as I currently can be) became even more so just realizing the whole discussion afterwards. NFP is amazing! Its SO awesome. Ill send you the link if you havent heard it yet.

Wade St. Onge August 3, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Micaela, NFP (actually, periodic abstinence in general, under which NFP falls as a particular form of it) is awesome – in theory. In practice, however, it is not always awesome. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

Wade St. Onge August 3, 2010 at 7:38 pm

But I would caution against calling NFP “amazing” and saying it is “SO awesome”. This can lead us to believe we are “missing out” on something if we are not practicing NFP – and make us think that all couples should be using NFP if for no other reason than to strengthen their marriages.

micaela swift August 3, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Thanks for pointing that out, Wade. I honestly cannot tell you how truly amazed I was at the way this conversation formulated on this openline show, and how the proceeding callers made such excellent points regarding the NFP method. The caller who did not see any difference in the NFP method or the contraceptive method in fact pointed out the true fact that NFP is “more” effective than the “most effective contraceptive”, though he was arguing this for another foggy purpose.
That is why I called it awesome…..it is in the “comparison” between NFP and Contraception that one recognizes the former (NFP) ‘is’ truly amazing because it is practiced in ‘true’ unity with Our Lord, the latter (Contraception) kicks Him out regardless of the goal. So, yes, those couples who are able to but do not choose NFP miss out on something truly amazing….TRULY amazing, that is, participation in fullness with the plan Our Lord has for a marriage, their lives, and those within their family. A marriage that is centered on Our Lord especially within the core of marital love, is nothing but ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’, although there are certain struggles along the way, but all the better, if to serve His most merciful plan!

Wade St. Onge August 3, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Ah, once again – much needed clarification. Thanks, Micaela! We’re on the same page :)

Fr. bob August 4, 2010 at 8:35 am

Paul VI said to use NFP for serious reasons. I never see any discussion of what constitutes a serious reason. With out a serious reason NFP is just another form of contraception.

Brett Salkeld August 30, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Even if NFP without a serious reason is not morally praiseworthy, I’m not sure it is accurate to call it “just another form of contraception.” Pushed to the limit, this looks a little bit like saying that a good reason suffices to excuse bad behavior. If the ONLY thing that justifies NFP being used is grave reasons, then why not use artificial contraception for grave reasons? I think the difference must be deeper. Here’s one way I think they are different that (I hope) is relevant to this question:

NFP is, in its essence, NOT doing something. It is not having sex. Now not doing something like having sex can never be intrinsically evil because there is nothing obligating you to have sex at a given time and place. (Sure married couples are obligated in general, but there is never a specific time when couples MUST have sex so that refusing to do so would be sinful.) As such, NFP used without grave reasons can be more or less problematic depending on the circumstance. There may be sinful motivations for using it, but using it itself is never sinful in the same way as artificial contraception because there is never a specifically sinful act you can point to as disordered.

What on earth would a priest say if someone went to confession and said, “Forgive me Father, I didn’t have sex last Tuesday”?

Just to be clear, I’m not saying it is OK to use NFP without sufficient reason, just that using it sinfully is not the same thing as using AC. I’m not even saying that it is less (or more) sinful than using AC – just that it is a different sort of thing.

Peter August 31, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Brett,
It seems to me that the use of NFP to avoid conception requires grave reasons, that is, the presence of a grave/serious reason justifies the use of NFP. The use of artificial means of contraception, even when grave reasons are present, is sinful because it violates natural law by breaking healthy systems or interrupting the natural conclusion of the marital act thus frustrating the creative power of God.

Sins of omision in this most intimate area are certainly possible. St. Paul warns against prolonged continence in 1 Corinthians 7:5 and the traditional understanding of marriage as a remedy for concupiscence confirms this (though this is a secondary end). In short, a spouse’s refusal of a legitimate request (emphasis on ‘legitimate’) can be an occasion of sin for the other.

Chris Altieri (The Lazy Disciple) August 31, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Dear Peter,

Do you really think Brett would disagree with what you have written?

Your comments honestly strike me as being of, “The Sun rises in the East,” variety.

Best,
C.

Peter August 31, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Chris,
I thought I was attempting to answer the question he raised (and answered) with my own understanding (which differed from his). Perhaps he will agree entirely, perhaps I have wasted his time. Or perhaps Brett’s observation that “not doing something” cannot be a sin and my comments stating the opposite will provoke further discussion.

Brett Salkeld August 31, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Also, I hope it is clear that I do not believe that “not doing something” cannot be a sin. I believe in sins of omission. Heck, I’ve even committed (omitted?) them.

What I said was that “not doing something like having sex can never be intrinsically evil because there is nothing obligating you to have sex at a given time and place.”

This is much more specific.

First off, I didn’t say it could not be a sin, but simply that it could not be intrinsically evil. In other words, it can’t be “just another form of [intrinsically evil] contraception.”

Secondly, I tried to indicate that you can’t point out a sin of omission if you can’t point out an obligation. Since there is no specific time when couples must have sex, there is no time when couples sin by choosing not to have sex. As I noted in my first response, this is different than one partner rejecting another. This is a team decision.

The choice to avoid children may be sinful if made for sinful reasons, but I don’t see how the “act” of not having sex can ever have the same moral value as the act of contracepted sex.

I hope this is helpful. Thanks for your comments.

Peter September 1, 2010 at 8:48 am

Brett,
Thanks for your comments, I need to read more carefully. I am left with one concern. Please understand I am asking the following to aid in my own understanding; I am very open to correction/clarification…

You said that nfp “can’t be “just another form of [intrinsically evil] contraception.” The pill can be licitly prescribed for medical reason. So the pill, sitting in one’s medicine cabinate, is not intrinsically evil. Contraception, the intent and act, is intrinsically evil. So continence which intentionally avoids the woman’s fertile time, with no grave reason present, is just another form of intrinsically evil contraception.

In my experience, this is where many folks dismiss pedriodic continence as “Catholic contraception.” To my mind, the idea of artificial contraceptives violating natural law is the only argument to make at this point. What other do you suggust? What am I missing?

Brett Salkeld September 1, 2010 at 9:07 am

Thanks Peter,
I think you are right to note that the pill itself (and this would apply to condoms as well) is not intrinsically evil. It is the contracepted sex act that is.

The thing about continence is that there is no contracepted sex act. That is precisely why the Church allows it while disallowing the pill or condoms. Continence does not destroy the teleology of intercourse. It avoids intercourse to avoid its end.

Strictly speaking it is no more a form of contraception than abstinence before marriage or abstinence in religious life is a form of contraception. If no act of intercourse is deprived of its nature, you have no contraception. What the Church has warned against is using something which is, properly speaking, not contraception (i.e., continence) with a contraceptive mentality.

A mentality is not an act, though it may lead to acts or determine the moral quality of acts. Our evil intent can make a neutral or good act (continence is at least neutral, if it is an “act” at all) morally blameworthy. People may, for instance, tell the truth with ill-intent (say, to hurt someone emotionally) and thereby sin.

I don’t think it makes sense to say that continence is “intrinsically evil” when there is no grave reason present. “Intrinsically evil” means precisely that something is evil regardless of the justification given. No justification can be given that would make an intrinsically evil act permissible. This is a major point of Catholic moral theology.

One can be continent for the wrong reasons, but that is different from saying that continence can be “intrinsically evil.” Things are either intrinsically evil or they are not. If our judgment of the good or evil is determined by circumstance they are, by definition, NOT intrinsically evil.

I hope this is clearing things up. Thanks again.

Peter September 1, 2010 at 9:49 am

One might ‘suggust’ I use spell check.

Another question: Could it be argued that periodic continence as the use of science to avoid conception violates natural law by frustrating the creative will of God if a serious reason is not present to suspend the primary end of marriage?

I have had many discussion with folks who fall to the right and left on this issue. Most of the standard arguments for right use of nfp bounce of them while those disposed to nfp use seem to accept the same arguments without acknowledging that the other party, right or left, has raised a legitimate concern. I am still looking for arguments that really stick, that do not smack of ‘Catholic contraception’.

Brett Salkeld September 1, 2010 at 1:06 pm

[This is a response to Peter’s comments of Sept. 1, 9:49 am. I write this because there is no “reply” optiuon at the bottom of those comments and I don’t know where this will show up.]

“Could it be argued that periodic continence as the use of science to avoid conception violates natural law by frustrating the creative will of God if a serious reason is not present to suspend the primary end of marriage?”

I would say no. Periodic continence itself is not the use of science. Decisions about when to be continent may be made with input from the sciences, but that is a different thing. One of the problems with the label NATURAL Family Planning is that it leads to the idea that it is somehow permissible because it is unscientific. Science really has nothing to do with it. The Church is fine with using blood tests and urine monitors to discern fertility and rejects withdrawal which requires virtually no input from science (other than the biological knowledge of how babies are made). “Natural” here has nothing to do with being against the sciences. It is used in the sense of natural law in which acts have ends that follow naturally from them. NFP is natural because it does not deprive the sex act of its ends.

No matter what you know about fertility or how you learned it, you still must make the decision: do we make love or don’t we? If that decision is made for the wrong reasons, we sin – even though neither lovemaking nor continence are sinful of themselves (i.e., intrinsically). Periodic continence used for the wrong reasons does contradict God’s will. God does not want us to do anything, no matter how good in itself, for the wrong reasons.

As for “frustrating” God’s will, I think that is a bizarre can of worms. Do I frustrate God’s will if tonight my wife and I watch a movie instead of make love, not because we’re avoiding children, but because that’s what we feel like doing? Are there really specific children God is willing that are being lost forever because the phone rings during foreplay? Or because someone genuinely has a headache? Or any other imaginable reason people don’t have sex including that they are specifically avoiding pregnancy (whether their reasons are grave or flippant)?

(If suspending the “primary end” of marriage actually contravenes natural law, it makes no difference whether our reasons are grave or flippant. The only way something is ever allowed, even with the gravest situation imaginable, is if it is, of itself, not evil. Therefore, if grave reasons permit the use of NFP, then NFP is never a contradiction of the natural law (which does not mean that it cannot be used with sinful motives, by the way). If it was, all the gravity in the world wouldn’t save it. (This is why the Church rejects abortion even in “grave” cases like incest or rape.))

As far as I can tell, God’s will has nothing to do with aiming at particular outcomes of particular sex acts (or any other acts for that matter). God’s will transcends such accidents of history and cannot be “frustrated” by them. God will use whatever accidents of history result from human freedom to put us ever and again in a situation where we can choose to respond to grace and do what is right in the moment. No failure to do so on our part is going to throw God’s plans off. We will always be given one more opportunity to respond to grace. That is God’s will for us.

Brett Salkeld September 1, 2010 at 1:20 pm

“I am still looking for arguments that really stick, that do not smack of ‘Catholic contraception’.”

The reason I started with the idea that NFP is, in fact, the practice of NOT doing something, is because, for me, that is where the essential difference lies. NFP would be just ‘Catholic contraception’ if it was doing something to alter the sex act. What NFP really amounts to, however, is NOT doing something for which we have no obligation. The basic principle behind NFP is the same principle behind abstaining from pre-marital sex or not binge drinking, or not pigging out at the buffet. You don’t do something the consequences of which you don’t want. Our language makes NFP sound like it is DOING something, but it really means the opposite. NFP is not doing something. In my case, NFP is practically equivalent with the abstinence of an unmarried person or someone in religious life.

Here is a question to ponder that might make it clearer: “Is complete abstinence a frustration of God’s creative will because God gave you (half) a reproductive system?”

Peter September 1, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Brett,
I am also not sure where this will land…hope you find it. Maybe we could start posting at the bottom of the page and go from there?

Your posts have given me much to think about. I will chew on it for a while and post later, tomorrow maybe. My initial reaction is one of agreement but I am nodding yes to those arguments which those who don’t accept this teaching knock away. Perhaps this is the best we can do and we leave the rest to prayer.

Please note: I did not say continence was intrinsically evil but that contraception is.

Thanks again

Brett Salkeld September 1, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Thanks Peter,
Sorry if something I wrote made it look like you had said continence was intrinsically evil. That would be an odd thing to attribute to you. Sloppy editing I suppose.

As for whether contraception is intrinsically evil, that hinges on definition. If people consider avoiding sex to avoid its consequences to be contraception, then contraception is not intrinsically evil, only artificial contraception is. I am with you, however. I think it is intrinsically evil, but I would define it simply as deliberately frustrating the ends of the marital act. This would not include simply not engaging in the marital act.

Brett Salkeld September 2, 2010 at 8:00 am

“My initial reaction is one of agreement but I am nodding yes to those arguments which those who don’t accept this teaching knock away. Perhaps this is the best we can do and we leave the rest to prayer.”

This argument is one that is nearly impossible to win in contemporary culture. It is not necessarily that we don’t have good arguments, it is that we are up against a mindset that does not share our presuppositions. If you want to win the birth-control argument, first you need to convince people that natural law is a useful concept. If you want to do that, you have to convince people that morality (and truth in general) is not relative. No easy task in the current atmosphere.

Now, you hear the occasional story about people for whom the question of artificial contraception is the one that lifts the veil. I’m thinking, for instance, or environmentally minded folk who wouldn’t touch milk that had synthetic hormones in it and then realize they’re pumping themselves full of synthetic hormones directly with the pill (or the ring or the shot etc.). Grace works in funny ways. In any case, these are a distinct minority. Our best bet vis-a-vis the broader culture is to live well. That and, as you point out, prayer.

Now, if you’re looking to the right, that is, if you’re looking at traditionalist Catholics who think NFP is just Catholic birth control, then you need to work on precision of argument. It needs to be clear that grave matter isn’t the only thing separating NFP from AC. (That’s why I high-jacked this thread in the first place.) Once this is implied, the Catholic conscience is trapped because it knows that grave matter does not excuse that which is intrinsically evil. They end up (some of them, at least) granting that NFP is OK because Rome says so, but then are extremely suspicious of anyone using it and constantly point out its similarities with AC. Something other than “grave reasons” for using it must justify NFP if these people are to be won over to thinking with the church. To me the biggest thing is that NFP is a non-act and I don’t see how a non-act can ever have the same moral quality as a direct attempt to sterilize the marital act. Bad reasons for a neutral, or even good, act make a person culpable of sin, but they do not make the act itself the moral equivalent of an evil act. That, I think, is what the right wing needs to hear articulated.

Chris Altieri (The Lazy Disciple) August 31, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Sorry, Peter.

I did a bad job of self-editing.

Never should have posted that, at all.

Not my classiest moment.

Sorry, again.

Having said that, I did not perceive the danger to which you addressed your remarks.

More later.

C.

Peter September 1, 2010 at 8:50 am

Chris,
It’s nothing, but thanks for the note.

Brett Salkeld August 31, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Peter,
I agree with your first paragraph. Essentially you can’t do something that is intrinsically evil (artificial contraception), even for good reasons. NFP, however, is not intrinsically evil and so it is used well when used for good ends and not well when used for evil ends (i.e., avoiding children when they should be welcomed).

Your second paragraph gets us into some more complicated territory. The sins of omission you imply/suggest are not the sins of a couple that has made a decision to seek or avoid pregnancy, but the sin of one partner vis-a-vis the other. I think this is a different issue than NFP, which requires the consent of both parties.

It may be the case that one can sin (even if only by putting their partner in an occasion of sin) in a particular instance by refusing one’s partner without good reason. But this is not what happens in NFP. In NFP the couple discerns together whether or not they are avoiding pregnancy and, if so, refrains from intercourse. It would be odd for a husband who had agreed with his wife to avoid pregnancy to pursue relations during her fertile time. I think she would be perfectly justified in refusing his “illegitimate” advances until they can get back on the same page about whether or not they are avoiding pregnancy.

If the couple are agreed about their family planning agenda, it is hard (for me at least) to imagine a particular concrete “sin of omission.” When, exactly, are couples required to have sex? Rather, if NFP is being used inappropriately, we are dealing with a more general problem such as misplaced priorities or lack of trust in God. These may be quite serious issues in themselves, but they are not the “same thing” as contraception.

Brett Salkeld August 31, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Achh, this one was supposed to go under Peter’s first response to me. Could you fix that Matthew? Sorry for the confusion, I’m not sure what I did wrong.

Peter August 4, 2010 at 8:38 am

Micaela,
I am still having difficultly seeing how NFP represents ‘true unity with our Lord’ or a ‘participation in the fulness’ of His plan for Holy Matrimony. When a couple has cause to use NFP they seeking to avoid the primary purpose of their union (procreation). NFP allows for the lawful avoidance of this good; artifical contraception would be the unlawful (sinful) avoidance. Intentionally avoiding this good end in marriage cannot ‘true unity’ with God’s design for marriage. Traditionally, true unity and full participation in God’s plan for marriage means accepting children as God wishes to give them (never mind proper spacing or shopping at the mall instead of Goodwill). When needed, NFP (periodic continence) is of course infinitely superior to artifical contraception.

Micaela August 4, 2010 at 9:32 am

Peter, I certainly can see where NFP can become used as a “form” of contraception. Even if the couple use NP in its proper purpose (working with the way our Lord design our bodies, as well as practicing mortification through periodical denial of self (abstaining), I still think there is a route one may fall into where it can turn into a selfish lifestyle. Placing materialism and treating one another as objects, and relishing in the pleasures of the flesh deny’s the eternal blessing and sacredness of marriage, that which is children. If the couple do not maintain the prayerful relationship with Our Lord and consider those “true” reasons for spacing or avoiding children, NFP becomes the contraceptive mentality, that which is unavoidable for those using straight up contraception. We exercise ‘true freedom’ when we choose the ability to work with Hid design for fertility, yet, we are also called to recognize His gifts, His blessings, and never refuse those gifts unless there is serious and legitimate reasons. Avoidance could be for medical or sick reasons (mother father or child….It could be reasons for spacing children accordingly so a mother is not mentally overwhelmed with age sequence being too close, therefore she may lose stability in director of the children’s spiritual, physical and educative health….it could be financial gravity or desperation (joblessness, no house, house way too small etc). Id say that NFP can become a form of ‘contraception’ if a couple choose to use it in order to become more financially wealthy (more $$ in the bank), or for an excessive materialistic, pleasureful only purpose. This is my observation.

Peter August 4, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Micaela,
Thank you for your thoughtful observations. I would like to add one thought: the reason one must be so careful to use NFP properly is because it is a form of contraception, that is, NFP is against conception. I am not condemning it, only pointing out one of the reasons I believe use of NFP should be safe, legal, and rare.

only3 August 4, 2010 at 10:17 pm

After only having three children I had massive post-partum cardiac myopathy (or pregnancy/labor related Congestive Heart Failure). I was told with a 19% heart functioning (and 44 pounds of fluid on my 127 pound body), those three “leaches” would be it (that’s what the first Cardiologist called my newborn after my diagnosis moments before my NFP only OB fired him – right there, in the hospital). Convinced that God couldn’t possibly want me to ONLY have three kids I sought out any cardiologist that would tell me otherwise. So I found the most Catholic Cardiologist I could (took four to get there), avid NFP only doctor, father of ten (or 11), homeschooling family, and went – quite proudly to ask his second (actually 4th) opinion. He took one look at my echocardiogram and told me as gently as he could that he wished everyone was so devoted as I, but indeed that 3rd child would be our last and to focus on our faith, my relationship with my husband and children, and my health. I don’t think I have ever stopped mourning the loss of the large family I thought I was “meant” to have, but I have a new perspective. I got to explain to four cardiologists that the birth control pill they were trying to shove down my throat would give me a stroke, and they should do their research, that the “shot” that could prevent a lethal pregnancy would give me a heart attack, and that a vasectomy might leave my husband sterile in the event his young bride and mother of three died. My favorite moment was when my husband explained to our third cardiologist what NFP was and how now we would be using the strictest form with the longer periods of abstinence. She looked at him and said “can you do that”, his reply, “lady, I was a virgin until I was almost 27 when we got married, and nothing turned blue or fell off, I think I can manage two weeks”. I don’t think those doctors, or their nurses will forget what we taught them, told them, and we no longer practice NFP out of obedience or to “space”, we do out of necessity. We did tire of the “oh you have to, your Catholic”, and our reply, consistently “we didn’t have to figure this out on our own – 2000 years of wisdom figured it out for us”. We understand the “dire conditions” necessary to use NFP and we use it, faithfully – sometimes with tears, sometimes longing for each other, sometimes in anger – but we do, faithful that our God will not fail, and we will grow in faith.

7here1above March 13, 2011 at 7:07 am

Chrissy is this you? You are awesome and I love your husband’s response. Also, how bizarre to find you on some random blog at seven in the morning! Crazy!

The Reverend Doctor Victoria A. Howard August 4, 2010 at 10:25 pm

I was surprised to hear so many objections to NFP on the part of believers. I have abstained from sex all my life, not just because I am single, but because bringing a life into the world was not wise because I do not have the funds or anything else that would make that life viable. However, I do not feel that I am doing anything wrong by abstaining. So, why should a couple feel that way? People are created wise enough to know when a new life would not be a good idea, and by practicing NFP, they are showing good judgment. A new baby is a great responsibility and a great expense. I am against contraception and adamant against abortion, but in a marriage, abstinence must be practiced at some times anyway. When one member is sick, they should both have the sense to abstain. Yes, people have the right to create the destiny of their families in my eyes. Large families are beautiful but not always a good idea. Money does not grow on trees even though food does; but even then someone must pay the plucker.

George August 5, 2010 at 7:30 am

John M,

#4 is entirely believable. I was surprised to learn just how little sex my married friends were having who used contraception. The pill kills sexual desire, as does the mentality that sometimes accompanies it.

Couples using NFP must abstain only 2 weeks per month at most; they’re probably engaging in sexual intimacy at least 4 times per month during the other two weeks (and could engage in intimacy as much as they wanted during those two weeks; contantly, if they so desired) unless there are difficulties in the relationship that would be impeding sexual intimacy regardless of one’s method of choice for spacing children.

Brett Salkeld August 30, 2010 at 11:58 am

This is the one (#4) that gave me pause. It me be true that couples using NFP have more marital relations ON AVERAGE, but there are some couples using NFP that have drastically fewer marital relations. We need to be careful about how we frame this one. I should know.

Despite regular consultation with a long-time NFP instructor (she teaches other NFP instructors!), my wife and I can go months without being able to discern our fertility with any accuracy. In our current situation that means months of abstinence at a time. After our second child we could not discern (or participate in what follows such discernment) for well over a year! Some in this conversation have suggested “worst-case” scenario NFP involves 2 weeks of abstinence per month. This is simply untrue. “Worst-case” is 4 weeks of abstinence per month. We’re happy to get a day or two. If that day coincides with one where the children sleep well, we’re delighted.

This is not to say that we can derive no spiritual benefit from this trial, but it does mean that we were pretty shocked to find that all the NFP promotion we had heard fell flat and there was a lot of disillusionment that followed. This reality demands a little circumspection during NFP promotion.

I should like to point out, in regard to another meme flowing through this discussion, that NFP is far less likely to be used inappropriately for couples for whom it is a serious struggle. We have two kids now and must use NFP in our current situation, but all indications are that this situation is temporary and when its over we will be glad to be providentialists (or at least semi-providentialists) for a while. In my personal and pastoral experience, using NFP with a “contraceptive mentality” is virtually impossible when NFP is a trial. Every month of abstinence forces us to ask ourselves quite seriously if we can accept another child at this time.

Blake Helgoth August 5, 2010 at 9:00 am

Only3 brings up a good point. We do not know the future! In our modern arrogance, we think we are in control and can plan out or families, lets see every 2 1/2 years we will have a child, etc. We’ll, things happen. My wife and I had 6 miscarriages until we found a doctor trained by the Paul VI institute. Some friends have wound up not able to have children after only one or two children. Others have had children die young. Maybe providence is the best plan. Life gives you plenty or reason to abstain as it is, no reason to come up with more of our own.

Peter August 5, 2010 at 9:21 am

Only3,
Please be assured of the prayers of my family for you and yours; prayers for strength and healing and in thanks for sharing your remarkable story. My wife and I have had ‘only 4’ followed by three miscarriages in the last three years. While we seek medical answers we appreciate more fully the miracle that is each birth and each child (as I trust you do).

Also, tell your husband that his answer to the doctor who couldn’t imagine abstaining for two weeks was priceless and much appreciated.

enness July 11, 2011 at 11:09 pm

I agree, that was fantastic. It reminded me of a story I heard in a sermon in which the punch line is a 70-year-old nun telling a young fellow, “I think you’ll be all right, dear!”

Pat August 5, 2010 at 11:33 am

The discussion thus far has overlooked one important facet of NFP: it can be used both to avoid and to achieve pregnancy. Obscuring or ignoring this second purpose of NFP leads rapidly to mistaking NFP for a mere contraceptive method, which it is not. To be clear: NFP is not simply periodic abstinence. Rather, NFP is a family planning method in the true sense of that phrase; properly practiced, it is a response to God’s call to be fruitful, a call which usually–but not always–involves welcoming a new life into the world. This response involves three essential components: 1) monitoring signs of female fertility 2) prayer and conversation with one’s spouse to determine whether God’s will is for the couple to have another child at this time 3) engaging in or refraining from intercourse in accordance with the results of #1 and #2. The second component is as crucial as the first and third, but one seldom hears it in public debates about NFP (though it is discussed in many, if not most, NFP courses). It is at this second stage that the teachings of the Church and spousal prayer life inform the practice of NFP. Thus, a proper use of NFP will always avoid a contraceptive mentality. In fact, practicing NFP correctly–in the context of prayer–will usually lead to a choice to welcome new life into the world.

One other important point: using NFP to achieve a pregnancy actually increases the chances of conception. That’s one further benefit that could be added to the list of 15.

RM August 5, 2010 at 11:49 am

In our progression from contraception to the Church’s teaching, my husband and I truly went from a contraceptive mindset in accepting children to a more providential one. We have had had 16 pregnancies, 11 living children and more love, happiness and, yes, sex than many of our secular friends (as far as we can tell)! :-)

That being said, I think that getting folks off of contraception and into an NFP class is a vital first step. We are living in a world where young people getting married do not know life w/out contraception being readily available, touting on TV and advertised in bride’s magazines, so an NFP class can be their first step back into God’s grace and plan. Sure, some will only begin to use NFP as contraception but that is a huge step from the evils of the pill and the division of barrier methods.

And, I believe, that once they turn their back on contraception many of these same couples will find God sweeps in and takes care of their attitudes as well. If it happened in my marriage – as they say – it can happen anywhere!

Now, all of that being said, we have been very grateful for having the knowledge of NFP to rely on during our marriage.

Yvonne August 7, 2010 at 7:34 pm

One commenter mentioned a common misconception (no pun intended) about those who practice NFP. Usually, when you hear about NFP, it’s from a couple with several children. Early in my search for answers to such anomolies, I directly asked one of these couples why this was so. The wife smiled and gently told me about the marvelous secret of actually knowing that this time is likely to be “the time” a baby will be conceived. This knowledge makes the “rational” reasons for limiting family size (money, money, money) seem so small and puts eternal rewards in their proper place.

NFP sorts out our motives. If there is a “truly” important reason to delay or prevent a pregnancy, prudence steps in to remind us of the situation. However, if we are simply concerned about future provisions, we are reminded of Who gives us the child and Who truly pays the bills.

As for those not practicing it, give it a try, even if you have no desire to limit or expand family size. NFP opens a whole new area of faith. We can all use this.

Chris Altieri August 8, 2010 at 6:49 am

Dear Peter, Wade, Fr. Bob, et al.,

I remember being struck once by the praise given by a Catholic priest, whose devotion to the Church and dedication to thinking with the Church were both certain and unshakeable, for a young Catholic couple who were still virgins on the third or fourth night of their marriage, because they were practicing NFP.

Now, there were two possibilities: they were waiting for a “home run” consummation of thier union; they were trying to avoid pregnancy.

In the first case, they were sadly misguided about something, perhaps many things. In the second, they were missing the point of marriage, entirely.

If you are not ready to start a family, then you are not ready to marry.

His scriptis, I cannot come with you so far as to say that using NFP in order to delay pregnancy is “sad”.

Sometimes, it is a sign of God’s providence.

E.g., women, who have borne 4 children in 5 years, and whose bodies are tired and physically sapped, can by NFP be guaranteed the necessary time to recover – and this is good for the whole family.

There is nothing sad about it, unless by “sad” you mean, “not in perfect conformity with an abstractly possible ideal” – but nothing this side of Jerusalem is.

On the other habd, while I think NFP is a good and useful tool, I agree with Wade when he says, “[S]ometimes [NFP] is not [awesome].”

NFP enthusiasts, like Theology of the Body enthusiasts, generally tend not to take into account that our desires are disordered, and that our struggle for virtue will always involve a struggle in some measure against inclination, and that denial of desire always hurts.

We can become inured, more or less, to the pain of even great (and ever greater) abnegation, and sometimes we are called to this, and sometimes couples are forced permantly to forego the very act for which marriage has traditionally been understood as remedium concupiscentiae.

The point is that it is dangerously naive to pretend that so great a school of virtue as marriage may be successfully completed without some of the suffering that always accompanies true discipline.

Best,
Chris (the Lazy Disciple)

Beate August 9, 2010 at 9:27 pm

I haven’t read all the responses, but wanted to say that once a person recognizes the amazing way God designed the human body, fertility is not something one can systematically ignore. My husband and I don’t “use NFP.” We live with fertility and make decisions accordingly. Every time we know that the timing was perfect yet God said “no” we were asked to continue to trust. While God did say say “yes” also, it was still a difficult thing, and I often told our Lord it would be easier to be ignorant!

I am disheartened by the judgments that are often rendered by the people who believe it is always best to do nothing and leave it up to God. We are asked to cooperate valiantly, I take that to mean that we ought to actually make a decision and either actively try for another sweet babe or not.

Beate August 10, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Pat and Yvonne, I loved your comments :-) Only3, thanks for sharing your story and allowing me to pray for you and your family. Maybe you could consider “blessed3” instead :-)

I’d like to Fr. Bob and Peter to consider an analogy offered by a friend. My doctor has told me to lose weight yet I’m offered the most delicious looking piece of cheesecake. I could forego the cheesecake entirely or eat the cake and just get rid of the calories by purging afterwards. Yes, the end effect is the same, yet they are hardly equal in sacrifice.

Peter August 11, 2010 at 8:07 am

Beate,
Could you please clarify. What is your example analogous to…a form of artificial contraception vs nfp?

If that is the case then I agree that not eating the cheesecake (abstaining) is the right course of action while purging (artificial contraception) is wrong and sinful. But the question of how to handle the cheesecake is only relevant because you are being asked by your doctor to loose weight; there is a serious reason to avoid cheesecake. But if you are not under doctor’s orders to loose weight then enjoy the cheesecake and thank God for inspiring man to create such a desert (especially the man who thought to drizzle caramel and chocolate on top).

Peter August 11, 2010 at 8:23 am

Beate,
Regarding your first post; I don’t think anyone suggested that ‘it is always best to do nothing and leave it up to God.’ What has been suggested is that the use of nfp as an ongoing tool of discernment seems to be a misuse of the science which places undo control in the hands of the couple or at least the tempation to control. At a minimum, everyone here thinks periodic continence can be used as a tool within marriage to get a couple through a difficult time (or longer depending on circumstances). But I contend that most couples will never need to use nfp at any point in their marriage and that using it in the absence of a serious reason is a misuse.

Margaret August 11, 2010 at 4:55 pm

NFP can certainly be used selfishly. However who are you to judge whether other couples have just reason or not? It is up to the couple to use their conscience and judgement, pray together about it, bring it to God, and ask for guidance if necessary.

And I find it hard to believe that most people won’t ever need to use NFP in their marriage. Between spacing births for the wife”s health, spacing for financial duress or spacing for other health reasons….it is not uncommon to be in situations where avoiding another pregnancy is the just thing to do.

For instance: my first child was a c-section birth. Despite breastfeeding all day (and night) long, my fertility immediately returned. Both to help my body recover and to increase my chances of a VBAC next time (which will allow us to have more children) we were advised to wait 18mos- 24 mos to get pregnant again. Instead of being “sad” about using NFP, we embraced it as a time to grow in virtue. It wasn’t “fun” and it was challenging, but a lot of good came from it too.

Anyway, I’m not try to justify my decision to you, because you aren’t the arbiter of morality, I’m just trying to show a typical, frequent occurence in life that result in a use of NFP.

Peter August 11, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Margaret,
I am certainly not the arbiter of morality nor have I judged any actual couple’s use of nfp. Here, we have been speaking about the circumstances underwhich nfp can be properly used. In this conversation, I have stressed the prerequisite need of a serious reason and that nfp (as I understand Pope Pius XII and others) should be used only in the presence of such a reason and should not be a lifestyle choice/discernment tool (as CCL and other promoters usually teach it). I am of the opinion that most couples will not need nfp during their marriage…c-sections and not experiencing breastfeeding-infertility are exceptions to the norm.

Clarification from Rome would be most welcome and I will gladly submit to any norms put forth…but in the meantime we discuss, in charity, these difficult questions.

Chris Altieri (the Lazy Disciple) August 12, 2010 at 1:21 am

Dear Peter,

Rome has spoken as clearly as she is likely to speak.

Indeed, one cannot get more clear than, “only for grave reasons,” unless by “clear” one means, “detailed,” or itemized, as in a list of things that are (or might be) grave reasons.

If Rome does that, I’ll eat my hat.

It would be appalling lack of prudence, at least, and most likely an unjust incursion on or surrogation of individuals’ and couples’ moral agency (people have a right to make decisions for themselves – this does not mean that their decisions are right, but it does mean they have the right to make them); at the very least, it would be a major corner cut on the Church’s duty to form consciences – it would be as if the Church had said, “We do not trust you rational animals actually to use your reason, so we’ll do it for you: here’s a list.”

Bottom line: the Church does not micro-manage our moral lives.

Best,
C.

Matthew Warner August 12, 2010 at 1:46 am

Good point, Chris. And it’s not only just as a matter of allowing individuals their right to sort this stuff out, it’s that these are situations where the individual (who has closest and most accurate account of the real circumstances) is in the best place to sort it out for themselves. What is grave for one couple may not be grave for another. If the Church were to list specific reasons based on a limited set of circumstances of what could potentially amount to a “grave reason,” it would likely amount to more confusion, not less.

On another note, I want to thank everyone who has contributed to this discussion. I’ve learned a lot from reading all of your comments! And I think it’s a model of how we can share, learn and help each other work through the nitty gritty application of our faith (in good faith) regarding a church teaching that we all (seem to) ultimately agree on. I love it! That’s how it should be! I wish every issue was like this! And it adds such value to the experience of those reading the post and comments.

Peace be with you,
Matt

Brett Salkeld August 30, 2010 at 11:41 am

Thanks to Chris and Matt for this. Couples, in consultation with spiritual advisors or others they can trust, are really the only ones who can decide what constitutes a “grave reason” in their particular circumstances. Things like health, money, emotional stability etc. are far too individualized to be quantified in a way that could be determined on a Vatican-issued flow chart. If people are using NFP for the right reason we don’t need to worry too much about them trying to cheat the system. Our job is simply to encourage the right attitude towards sex and family among NFP-using couples. The rest is not our business.

Chris Altieri (The Lazy Disciple) August 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Dear Brett,

Thanks for your thanks, but the credit is Matt’s: he does a great job here (and elsewhere).

Briefly: you are right about the responsibility for determining what constitutes a grave reason. The Church teaches us to think with Her mind, and encourages us to do so. What is really remarkable is the extent to which Holy Mother Church trusts Her children. We would all do well to remember this, and to strive to be worthy of Her trust.

I’ll have more to say in response to your remarks, but alas, it will have to wait until tomorrow – it is nearly 10 PM here in Rome, and I am at the end of a long day, with a short night ahead.

Best,
C.

Brett Salkeld August 30, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I look forward to your elucidations,
B
PS. Perhaps you could include reference to my comments above about NFP being, in essence, NOT doing something. It seems to me impossible to ever charge a couple with sinfully NOT having sex in a given circumstance even if we might (theoretically) question their motivations for a persistent pattern of NOT having sex.

Chris Altieri (The Lazy Disciple) August 31, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I shall answer, Brett,

Only give me another day.

Today has been rough, and your questions deserve more than I can give at the moment.

C.

Chris Altieri (the Lazy Disciple) August 12, 2010 at 2:52 am

Dear Matt,

Thanks to you for providing the forum.

Perhaps we could do it at my place, some time? :-)

Seriously, though, it is a pleasure. Thanks to all.

Now,

Your last also helps to bring into focus another major issue in the broader discussion of how to do moral thinking.

I’m on my way to the office now, though.

Will pick it up later.

Best,
C.

Peter August 12, 2010 at 9:48 am

Chris,
I agree that Rome will not and should not put forth a list of ‘serious reasons’. Clarification of ‘serious reasons’ would be helpful to a ‘black and white’ guy like me but I understand that the principle of subsidiarity is respected by more general guidelines. A well formed conscience is the key.

Matt, I echo Chris in thanking you for this discussion.

Margaret August 12, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Well actually one in three births are c-section…and one in five primary births will be by cesarean. (The reasons why are a topic for a whole separate discussion), so now its not really an exception. And many women don’t breastfeed long enough anyway to provide much spacing between babies.

But anyway, I agree I wish there was more guidance, but I also agree that it just isn’t going to happen, and really shouldn’t anyway. We are called to be generous with life, not follow a conditional flow chart to discern whether our reasons for avoiding or trying for a baby are ok or not (Although the idea of that would be pretty funny….) So my point is makes no sense to make blanket statements implying that most people who use NFP use it selfishly.

Instead we can all support couples to grow in generosity…for instance older couples mentoring younger couples, etc. That could be another great conversation as well.

I agree with everyone though, great discussion. And I’m sorry Peter if my last post sounded snotty. I reread it and it doesn’t sound very pleasant, but it wasn’t my intention.

Matthew Warner August 12, 2010 at 10:04 pm

And for me, as perhaps the main purpose of this post, my intention is one of practical evangelism. If we can share the beauty and other good things that come from proper use of NFP, then others will begin to come around to the truth behind it.

And I think the discernment process and active abstaining involved with using NFP, naturally presents these important moral questions to couples who otherwise would have never thought about them while using contraception. It forces them to really ask why they are abstaining? Why are we not having children? Why are we, perhaps, not being open to life?

I think even improper use of NFP lends itself to proper use of NFP and therefore a deeper understanding of sex and marriage. Contraception does the opposite, in my opinion. So I think, especially considering our cultural climate, that NFP is going to play an important role in bringing the culture back, even though imperfectly at times. And will be en effective tool of bringing people back around to having an orthodox view of things for the right reasons in the first place.

Brett Salkeld August 30, 2010 at 3:15 pm

I agree that even improper use of NFP tends towards proper use. I can only imagine using NFP inappropriately for an extended period of time if it goes perfectly smoothly. My experience is that most people experience a few hiccups, even if not as drastic as my own.

One common place for hiccups is after the birth of a child. NFP can be really tough in this circumstance because all the signs are thrown off by pregnancy and breastfeeding. Most NFP users at least go through this one. How many NFP couples do you know who plan on going without children indefinitely? My guess is that, if you know any, they fall into the grave reason category in a pretty obvious way, e.g., “Doc says a (nother) pregnancy will kill me.”

Micaela August 12, 2010 at 11:08 pm

…great thread.

There is one serious reality that NFP ‘never’ dismisses, though contraception ‘always’ does….that is, Gods plan is one of ‘creation’, not ‘sterility’, and if we want God in our lives, it is to cooperate with His creation whether physical or spiritual, but never denying either or. I see in some of my friends’ lives who practice NFP that God is not calling them to have another child, and they somehow find themselves seeking joy beauty, truth in other ways that they never thought to do! It is amazing how God works when we work ‘with’ Him. That couple would never have truly known/realized this dimension/path God was leading them if contraception was being practiced.
All in all, my problem is that I seem to never be able to ignore the incredible blessing of children. Its really really really hard for me : ) When I see a child, I wonder what their parents look like, what their siblings look like, and when I encounter a family It just simply inspires me how beautifully different yet such a ‘unit’ they are!!
BTW, I am from a huge family myself and its dizzying to see the beauty in all of my brothers and sisters (6 bros 4 sis) characters, and outwards appearance in relation to ‘how’ they are different and similar etc. For me,I grew up w/ this ‘family tradition’ every other year to welcome the ‘new one’ at the hospital and the proceeding days, weeks, months and yrs were just eternal happiness to me….
I find it always hard to believe how a couple can wait 4 or 5 yrs for the next one…but of course Im not to judge their situation, but can only be ‘so’ wondering of the beauty and creativity God has to share. each new life is a miracle. : ) But all in all, NFP is truly the method (when practiced accurately) its all about a greater reverence to one another and most esp to God and His plan…

Chris Altieri August 13, 2010 at 12:07 am

Dear Matthew,

I think I agree with the substance of your remark to the effect that any use of NFP tends to draw a couple closer to each other and to the Church, although I would encourage you to reconsider your terminology in light of your stated purpose: practical evangelization.

Instead of talking about “proper” and “improper” use of NFP, you might say:

The very practice of NFP tends to [foster or encourage] a deeper understanding of sex and marriage.

There are two reasons for this: first, too much emphasis on couples’ subjective moral conditions and/or dispositions tends to distract from the element of paramount importance in the moral calculus regarding conjugal discipline, namely that any marital act performed under NFP will meet the minimum requirements of the natural law (and any quasi-marital act performed with the concommitant use of any artifical contraceptive will violate those same minimum requirements); secondly, anyone deciding to use NFP is likely to do so out of a desire to obey the Church – and obedience to the Church’s precepts leads people to think with the Church, and this in turn leads people to understand Her mind ever more fully (even if they cannot articulate it for themselves, let alone others) – so it were prudent to encourage this, but the semantics of propriety frankly could give the (no doubt false) impression of their employer as moral malcontent or busybody.

Best,
Chris (the Lazy Disciple)

Peter August 13, 2010 at 8:06 am

Margaret,
Thank you for your sentiments…my reference to ‘charity’ was meant as a description of my intent. I thoroughly enjoy passionate, thoughtful discussion and this has certainly been an example of that. And thank you also for mentioning ‘generosity’ in your last post. An emphasis on generous parenthood is most welcome and provides the context in which nfp use can be best understood. The opposite of artificial contraception is babies, not nfp.

marc August 19, 2010 at 11:02 am

Everyone should watch this:

It’s exactly why people should use NFP, and its doing good work to promote it.

marc August 19, 2010 at 11:02 am
Matthew August 28, 2010 at 6:39 pm

NFP not only helps you plan to space pregnancies, under necessity, but what’s really cool is that the principles that you learn in NFP can help you ACHIEVE pregnancy. We have conceived two children with its help. It truly is a gift.

Apart from that, the NFP course I took with my fiancé caused me to revel in the wonder of creation that is the female body, the body that I was soon to receive and join to my own in matrimony.

And NFP also prompted us to consider Catholicism.

Thank God for NFP!

micaela swift September 1, 2010 at 8:20 am

I havent been upkeeping every comment, but the last 5 or so I did, and was thinking… do any of you think that “unmarried couples” living in sin, would use NFP? I can see how in this situation, NFP is a form of contraception. Eventhough the means is ordered towards abstaining at certain times, however it is also ordered towards “avoiding” the true purpose of sex (that being, opened and ordered towards procreation all the time) whether it is the “fertile time” or not.

…(BTW these are juuuust some thoughts I had : )) …

I also think that it lies on the field of “selfish love” (which usually is a contraceptive type of mentality if the married couple consistently avoid children (when they live consistently comfortable/semi luxurious), but still wish not to have children…while using NFP, not necessarily ‘contraception’…..

Children are a blessing….and often in this modern time, Marriage is seen as just “marriage”….but a well ordered marriage is for the purpose of children, of family, and to avoid conceiving a child for a prolonged amount of time when the family and couple can certainly have another, I just cant see that as unselfish and semi contraceptive mentality.

again…these are juuust some thoughts ; )

Peter September 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Micaela,
No, I don’t think they would use nfp and yes, I think if they did use nfp with the same intent as whatever artifical contraception they were using they would be committing the same sin.

I appreciate your thought and think you stated similar ideas earlier on in this discussion. It is also my hope (a utopian fantasy most likely) that we could shift the emphasis from responsible parenthood to generous parenthood, from family planning to humble submission to God’s will. Are our pre-cana couples so far gone that the best we can do is offer them nfp instead of the pill? Probably yes…Lord have mercy on us. As I’ve said before, the opposite of artifical contraception is babies, not nfp.

Fr. bob September 2, 2010 at 7:50 am

it is clear that you can not enter the married state if you have the intent to not have children even if you plan to use nfp. Can you enter the married state with the intent to just have one child? or to space your children by six years? Is there some point where using nfp is not acceptable?

Brett Salkeld September 2, 2010 at 8:52 am

Good questions Father Bob. What I have learned as a married person is that I have very little way of predicting what life is going to be like in a couple years from now. This has shown me the wisdom of my wife’s answer (when she was still just my girlfriend) to the question, “How many kids do you want?”

She would respond: “All of them.”

You might get married late in life hoping you can have (at least) one child. You might be diagnosed with a serious illness during your engagement but before your wedding. People’s individual situations are too diverse to say you can or cannot get married with the intention to have one child. I think our best bet is to teach people to get married with the intention of having all the children God calls them to, whether that is 1 or 20.

Now that we have two kids we know this much: we plan to have the next one. God willing there will be many more than that, but from our limited vantage point we’re not able to say what that is going to look like. We’re just going to try be open and discerning.

I don’t think someone should get married with the idea that they are not open to the idea of more than 1. But I also don’t think someone should get married with the idea that they are not open to less than 2.

Brett Salkeld September 2, 2010 at 8:57 am

Quick question of canon law: Can a woman be married if she has had a hysterectomy?

We do allow weddings between elderly people who are no longer fertile, so it is possible to enter a marriage knowing children are an impossibility even if it isn’t exactly the “intention” of the couple to not have kids.

Peter September 2, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Brett,
I am replying to your posts from yesterday.

“The thing about continence is that there is no contracepted sex act…Continence does not destroy the teleology of intercourse. It avoids intercourse to avoid its end.”
I remember reading something, somewhere (source?) about treating marital relations as either a whole or a series of individual acts. If taken as a whole, the couple using nfp with the intent of avoiding conception, in the absence of any serious reason, has ordered their intimate life in a way that is contraceptive; they are practicing contraception. You have stated that periodic continence can be used sinfully (if I understand previous statement accurately) so perhaps you and I are splitting hairs.

“Strictly speaking it is no more a form of contraception than abstinence before marriage or abstinence in religious life is a form of contraception.”
This is an odd comparison to make. Before marriage or within religious life the individual has no right to make use of the marital act. Mary and Joseph or St. Isadore and his wife St. Maria agreed to forego their rights in this area. But most married couples make use of their rights. Those couples who are regularly exercising this right and are doing so in a way that systematically avoids conception, in the absence of a serious reason, seem to be contracepting. Their “abstinence” is of a different kind than the nun or virgin bride. Their “mentality” has served as the guiding principle in ordering of their marital relations, which they have ordered (in this example) in a way that is contraceptive. Again, am I splitting hairs? Is the sin of a “contraceptive mentality” the same as “contracepting?”

Brett Salkeld September 2, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Peter,
It is interesting to see the “whole marital life” argument used from a conservative point of view. Typically it has been used by those who say “Even if I contracept for particular acts, my sex life as a whole is open to life. Look, I have 5 kids. What difference does it make whether I spaced them out with NFP or the pill?”

In any case, used from a liberal or a conservative vantage point, this strategy comes up against a limit. It cannot account for the morality of the specific act (or non-act), and the Church is interested in the morality of the specific act. Against the liberals, the Church says no specific act can be contracepted. Against the conservatives, it refuses to recognize a non-act as contraception. It simply recognizes that it can be used with a contraceptive mentality.

I think you are splitting hairs, but I am not to be outdone in hair-splitting ;) I think the Church is wise to speak of continence as possibly being done with a contraceptive mentality. That indicates that it is precisely the intention, or the motive, which makes the sin, not the act, which is neutral or good. In so doing, the Church highlights a key difference between NFP and AC. AC is intrinsically evil, so that no proper intention, motive or grave reason will justify it. NFP (i.e., continence) is neutral or good and can only become evil when used with evil intent. Seeing continence as contraception proper will only make it more difficult to explain why the Church rejects AC but allows for NFP.

As for my odd comparison . . . well, yes. It is odd. Its oddity was supposed to help make the point, that is that, strictly speaking, abstinence is not contraception. It is only the mentality behind it which can be “contraceptive.” Married couples, who “exercise the right” more or less frequently might be tempted towards such a mentality, whereas celibates will not be. But the act, or non-act, is exactly the same. The odd comparison is used to highlight, again, that only the intent is the problem.

“Is the sin of a “contraceptive mentality” the same as “contracepting”?”

I’m gonna go with no. For a couple reasons. The first I have written about at length, i.e., that intent changes the morality for the actor, but the act itself remains something quite different. Second, I want to suggest that someone could be using the pill or a condom in total ignorance of Church teaching for what the Church would consider “grave reasons” and still have the mind of the Church regarding openness to life (i.e., they are willing to accept any children God gives them and they will do nothing to prevent conception if and when their ‘grave reason’ passes). Given such a couple, we now have contraception without a contraceptive mentality. I know this is unlikely, but it is at least theoretically possible, and that is enough to show that contraception does not always and in every case equal a contraceptive mentality. And vice versa.

Peter September 2, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Brett,
My concern and primary reason for wanting to hash all this out is that there are real dangers in the use of nfp, dangers which are all too often ignored in the face of “15 Reasons to use NFP.” If a toolbox came with marriage, full of the items needed for a happy union, nfp would be a speed grinder and not the frequently used screw driver. It has a specific purpose but is not needed to often, or ever, and must be used with great care by one trained in its use and in its dangers. I am not implying that you disagree with the above statement, nor that you agree, but thought that this would add some context to my comments above and what follows. Thanks.

Brett Salkeld September 2, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Peter,
I think that though we both agree with the Church on its teaching about NFP, this paragraph highlights our difference of approach. I have been, and continue to be, shocked at the difficulties I find in people’s marriages. I would say that the majority of people I know who are in child-bearing years have some kind of serious health issue. Mental health issues are shockingly widespread. So are reproductive health issues. To say nothing of the fact that in many places (I live in downtown Toronto) it is difficult to live on one income.

I get nervous when we get to happy-clappy about NFP, but I’m more worried that it might be setting people up for a fall by giving them false expectations, than that they will use it with a contraceptive mentality. I was told to expect more sex. NFP has meant total abstinence for stretches of over a year in my marriage. In my own work to promote NFP I play up discipleship more than cure-alls.
In any case, I am inclined to trust those using NFP. In my experience, I can not think of a single couple I know that uses NFP that is not actively trying to think with the mind of the Church on issues of family life, and on virtually all other issues. If the NFP crowd can’t be trusted to try to think with the Church, who can?

Peter September 2, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Brett,
Your comments regarding periodic continence/nfp and its relationship to science left me confused. If a couple orders their conjugal life “based on progressive, day-to-day observations of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of the menstrual cycle” (usccb.org) it seems science has everything to do with nfp and therefore the couples “acts of continence.” But if you are saying that the possibility of sin in the use of periodic continence is not tied to whether it is “natural” or “scientific” then I agree and apologize for not getting your point the first time around.

I do however, believe that God’s will can be frustrated through the use of artificial contraception or the contraceptive use of periodic continence. Perhaps, I mean the same thing as you meant by using “contradict” instead of “frustrate.” Man can abuse his freedom and act in a way that does not allow that which God desired for him to come to be. It is easy to imagine that many souls have not come into existence through the selfish decisions of man. Is God frustrated by this in the sense that man has defeated Him? Of course not. But there is the likelihood that God’s creative power, His desire to bring new life forth, was frustrated/contradicted/usurped. I do emphatically agree with you that His chances for redemption are many and His mercy is abundant.
Thanks again for enduring my longwindedness.

Brett Salkeld September 2, 2010 at 8:11 pm

I think we are in substantial agreement here. I simply meant that the presence of science has nothing to do with whether an act is sinful or not.

Also, you are right that I prefer “contradict.” The point here, for me, is that we can contradict God’s will, but that only damages us. The idea of frustrating God’s will, on the other hand, sounds like we can damage God or somehow wreck his plan. I suspect we are agreed.

Peter September 2, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Brett,
After I posted all the above I scrolled up and discovered your post from this morning so those comments where not considered in making my responses above. This post was very helpful. I’ll chew on it tonight.

Thanks

Brett Salkeld September 2, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Thanks for the notice. And thanks for moving to the bottom. It should be easier to converse down here.

Brett Salkeld September 3, 2010 at 7:08 am

Sorry everyone if my comments have been a touch repetitive. I realize Peter and I have gone around the bush more than once. In the same token, I’d like to thank Peter for pushing me on this. It has helped me to better understand and articulate (at least for myself) that there is a genuine difference between AC and NFP. God willing it has been of some use to others as well.
All the best,
Brett

Peter September 3, 2010 at 7:53 am

Brett,
After all the hair splitting, bush circling, and ‘sun-rises-in-east’ statements (just kidding Chris) all I can say is Thank You. This has been very instructive for me and I am grateful.
God’s Blessings to you and yours,
Peter

cesar July 12, 2012 at 8:02 pm

These are all very self-evident points; am I missing something? Of course couples using NFP are going to be obedient Catholicism following members and consequently fall into all these buckets… who else would?

Stacy A July 27, 2012 at 5:11 am

Who else would?

Faithful, God-honoring couples who may or may not use NFP. Christians (whether they be Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Catholic, non-denom. etc). If the doctrine of Jesus Christ is in place, we are all on the same team. :)

sarah July 13, 2012 at 9:42 am

Whew. Exhausting reading all these comments, but I took notice that very few were from women. As a long time NFP user I wonder if men sometimes use the “leave it to providence” line because they are unwilling to abstain and grow in much needed self-mastery. I have had men say to me that the abstinence is unreasonable and not healthy for their marriage while their wives have confided in me that they are exhausted and really don’t feel they could handle another baby right now. Love is to do what is best for the beloved, sometimes that means to abstain and postpone or even indefinitely avoid another child if circumstances are serious. Humanae Vitae does not say the reasons for abstaining must be grave, only serious.

Stacy A July 27, 2012 at 4:57 am

I am Christian, non-denominational, so I know my views/beliefs are different from most here. I have discussed the topic of NFP and contraception with family and friends (both Christian and Catholic). Some of my thoughts/beliefs: (WOULD LOVE SOME RESPONSES) :)

I see contraception as both artificial (hormones, barriers etc.) and NFP. Purposefully abstaining is a form of natural contraception, “birth-control.”

I believe in family planning where a couple/family is spiritually/financially/emotionally prepared to raise a child in a God-honoring home. This is of course IDEAL. I recognize there is never a “perfect” time to procreate because we are all sinners and need to continually grow as believers (and also as spouses and parents).

There is no “perfect” time, but there is God’s time. I fully believe in the power of our great Father to begin a new life if that is His will. I personally believe that whether a couple uses NFP or artificial means of contraception, a couple will conceive if that is the Lord’s will. NFP is most successful with precise use and regular periods. Artificial contraception also requires correct use, but can still fail (very low rates). This means that unless a couple is truly abstinent, the Lord may choose to bless them with a child.

I can’t really reconcile with lack of contraception (natural or art.) use at all, for an entire marriage. As a labor and delivery nurse, it saddens me to see exhausted bodies and frazzled families when (as an example) 6 children have arrived in 8 years. Yes, parenthood is a sacrifice and blessing, but I do not believe that our Father would not allow for some periods of planned abstinence/contraception (I also do not find it sinful).

The notion that NFP is the “end-all” to a healthy marriage is incorrect (I know that is not what was intended, but it is generously suggested). I fully believe that it can correlate to the listed benefits. I also recognize how positive NFP could be for couples to deepen intimacy and strengthen communication (# 5&6). On the other hand, there are many other tools in our kit as believing couples that enrich and support marriages and families, with the same outcomes. In fact, the list of “correlated things” state some of the factors (tools) that lead to some of the outcomes (benefits).

I should stop now. :) Thanks for reading, if you are still with me.

In His love and grace,
Stacy

Micaela Swift January 6, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Stacy,
i respect your comments and point of view. NFP is truly the opposite from contraception simply because of the very act of what it requires from a husband, and what it requires from a wife. The pill is simply scandalous. It acts as a suppressor of fertility in the woman- (it is very unhealthy for her body)…is basically a steroid derived from a pig hormone. To embark on a hormonal contraceptive lifestyle is truly harsh for a womans body, and a husband should NEVER wish for such a toxic drug to be regulating what is most healthful and natural to her nature.
A condom acts as a “barrier” to the actual moment of that “unity”, that most beautiful connection intended in the marital embrace which leads to conception. A barrier basically hoists up a wall that is truly a lie. The act in itself is a lie when a condom is used.

NFP however is a harmonious form of “treasuring” and “protecting/respecting” the woman by preserving her precious ‘fertility’, and therefore her health, and keeping it in its proper place without suppressing it for the sake of “not having children” and enjoying sexual intercourse regardless of circumstance. NFP orients the couple to a lifestyle and behavior that respects this most sacred part of their bodies and marriage, and what that unity ultimately calls them to. The fertile cycle has a very small window (a week) where a woman may become pregnant, and it simply means that the couple reschedule their “date night”, rather respect the “small” window of time if it is not the moment to welcome another child. It is also a calling to engage in spiritual harmony and friendship, rather than the physical embrace. Abstinence requires a deeper reverence for the other person, because it calls us to think in terms of taming our passions for the sake of our deeper will/plans for family, love, and life. It is SO AWESOME.

Therefore, there is simply no way one can compare NFP to hormonal contraception or any barrier form of contraception. Both types of contraception by no means calls the couple to a true form of abstinence that respects the woman’s cycle, her health, and their unity. NFP does not hold back what is meant to be fully expressed in the marital embrace because the couple must orient themselves to engage in that deep loving act according to the time that respects her cycle.

I know of several couples where the husband actually charts for his wife, and its so amazing how respectful, loving, and truly unified they are in all that they do. NFP calls the couple to a deeper love…a TRUE and REAL love….one that sadly I have witnessed has been violently and tragically removed from the lifestyle of those whom have embraced the contraceptive fashion of avoiding children.

NFP is a way of life, and the challenge is to practice it, and once it is done so, there is no greater way towards marital love, and spacing out children.

Also, in regards to seeing other families with several children. I think it is VERY VERY easy, esp if you are a nurse/doctor, to make sensitive/critical observations about couples who welcome 6 children in 8 years. I am one of 11 children, and my parents were always very busy, overwhelmed by surprise moments/difficulties etc etc etc. It is a way of life, and to stand outside of the situation and see this without truly understanding the spiritual and physical awesomeness of such a situation, is really not seeing it truthfully. Of course, NFP allows one to space children 2, 3, or even 4 years apart for whatever reason, however,

Micaela Swift January 6, 2013 at 9:35 pm

it is truly unique to each particular family situation/martial situation when they are to “welcome” another child or not, and clearly this may be 1 every 18 months or 1 every 3 yrs, etc. It is simply not our place to make such critical judgements, but instead to share the proper information to them (such as NFP, etc) that will help them make the right decision accordingly in their family and marriage.

I do not doubt there are those families who have “too many children”. But it is in these circumstances that require the right community, family and friends to support them, help them and lift them up to catch-up with the real needs/problems of their situation. This may certainly require the support of teaching NFP to them and helping them with community, friendship, assistance in oversight to their circumstance. The wrong and irresponsible approach would be to hand them devices such as condoms etc, or to feed her a pill, like one would an animal. That method teaches nothing but pure animalism and degrades such peoples humanity/dignity.

Well... March 29, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Your reasons aren’t backed by any evidence and are more opinionated. Both parents usually don’t work full time? Uh, there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what they want. I think it’s absurd (and not biblically correct) to assign your wife to stay at home and pump out kids for you.

I think it should be up to the women since she’s the one carrying the fetus to term and delivering it. The newer options are non-hormonal and some of them are even designed for men (like RISUG) this is what we need. They’re 100% effective unlike NFP.

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