Sometimes it can be weird being the only married college student in the room and realizing that I, perhaps, may be the only one who isn’t having sex that night. Those are the moments when I truly realize that my belief is entirely unpopular.
Of course, now you’re asking: then why the heck did you choose Natural Family Planning?
Let’s start at the beginning. Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a method in which man and woman use a woman’s fertility signals throughout the month to prudently discern whether or not they should abstain. There are two virtually infertile times – at the beginning and the end of a woman’s monthly cycle – and one fertile time. Fertility is based on three bodily signs from the woman – waking body temperature being the main one. For couples looking to get pregnant, they would have sex anytime during a given month, especially during the few days when she is particularly fertile. For couples looking to wait to get pregnant, they would abstain from intercourse during those few days.
I’m used to ridicule when it comes to this method. On Easter last year (three months before my wedding), my own family said, “Oooh, we’ll probably have a new Easter baby in the family next year!”
Just for the record, they will not.
Here’s what I always hear regarding NFP:
1. You’re married. You should be able to have sex whenever you want. You’re going to have to abstain all the time.
I agree. I should be able to have sex with my husband. But my vows on the altar actually do not mean that I should have sex with him whenever I merely desire unity.
At the altar, you vow to the 3 F’s: Faithful (only to your spouse), Fruitful (open to having children) and Forever (married for the rest of your lives). With every sexual act, you are saying with your entire being, “Yes, I will be faithful to you, fruitful with you, forever.” Every act is a renewal of your marriage vows.
NFP guides the passion and desire for each other toward the natural order of things by requiring the unifying and the potentially procreative aspects of the vows. Passion must be tied to both. People may long for the unifying only, but that’s not as God intended it. Whenever we are not willing to have the procreative take place with the unifying, we should be abstaining.
So if there is a time when I am not willing to uphold those marriage vows – when I am not willing to be faithful to him, when I don’t believe our marriage will last forever or when I am not open to the possibility of children – I should not be having intercourse. Why? Sex, within marriage, is more than a unifying love; it should be a procreating love. Always. That’s how God designed it. To act against this design is to act against God.
With NFP, couples are merely utilizing a woman’s natural body rhythms to achieve or avoid pregnancy. They are completely aligned with God’s natural will and design of woman and man. He willed that they be more fertile at some times than other times. Couples practicing NFP are in accordance with that design. Every act, by natural design, is meant to be unifying and procreative. Whether or not it actually creates is up to God and his design of the female body. That’s why intercourse during infertile times is still beautiful and good. A woman’s body is natural and perfect, by God’s hand. He sees it as good at every point during her cycle.
As for “abstaining all the time” – taking into account the way the fertility system works, John and I, being extra cautious, abstain for ten days out of 27. When there’s a little more wiggle room, we will abstain for only a week. When we are ready for our family, we won’t abstain at all.
2. It’s not going to work. Don’t NFP couples have huge families?
Before I get into how effective NFP truly is, it is important to note that being open to children and avoiding pregnancy are not mutually exclusive. The Church admits that it is sometimes prudent to avoid pregnancy if you are financially unstable, too young, etc. However, while attempting to avoid pregnancy, we are still open to the prospect of a child. If I get pregnant, we are open and willing to care for that child and be its parents. We are open to the possibility of pregnancy, and we are saying that with our bodies. Contraceptives and Natural Family Planning can, in that sense, appear to have the same end of avoiding pregnancy, but the means are entirely different (see number three).
Natural family planning is 99.6 percent effective when used correctly. Comparatively, the pill is 99.7 percent effective and female sterilization is 99.5 percent effective. (For the sake of space in this post, if you need proof of that data, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I can provide at least a dozen sources.)
Yes, NFP families typically do have huge families because they recognize the beauty of life. There is a connection between couples who practice NFP and couples that have large families, but this relationship is not causal. That is, the large families are not caused by the “inadequacy” of the method. Couples who practice NFP (including us) often value large families and God’s ability to use the couple as co-creators for His glorious kingdom. (This would be a good time to mention that the divorce rate for married couples that practice NFP is 1 percent versus America’s average 50 percent.)
3. If you say that NFP and contraceptives do the same thing, then how is NFP different from contraception?
If John and I use contraception, with every act of intercourse, we would be leaving out the “fruitful” vow we made at the altar. With our bodies we are saying, “Yes, take all of me. I am 100 percent, completely yours … except my fertility.” We would not be giving 100 percent.
With NFP you are never withholding anything. Even when you are avoiding pregnancy during the more infertile times of the month, you are still giving 100 percent of yourself in that given moment. You are still living up to your marriage vows. If you are choosing to abstain, it’s because you aren’t ready to give yourself completely in that moment.
As NFP expert Christopher West lays out in an analogy: Three people walk by a church – a religious person, a nonreligious person and an anti-religious person. The religious person goes inside and prays. The nonreligious person walks by. The anti-religious person defecates inside the church doors. (Obviously these won’t necessarily happen, but bear with me.) Who did something inherently wrong? The anti-religious of course.
If a couple is choosing to abstain from sex, they aren’t doing anything wrong. They are merely walking by the Church, choosing not to participate in the creative act at that time. However, someone who uses contraceptives is inherently telling God, “No, I am denying your gift of creating human life. I do not invite you into this creative act of which you necessarily should be a part. You are left out.” To act against the natural design of the bodies is to be like the anti-religious man and act against God.
At this point, it’s important to make a final note: Just because I may be the only college student in a room who will be abstaining some nights does not by any means bring me bitterness. Sure, it can be hard at times, but in general, abstaining brings me closer to John. Every month, after we’ve abstained for a while, the next time we have intercourse is like we are experiencing it for the first time all over again. Wouldn’t you love to be 25 years married and still fall in love with your husband or wife over and over again?
I once was afraid of being an old, bitter married couple one day, and yes, we are only a couple of months into our marriage, but that fear is no longer there. With NFP, we are brought so much closer together with every act of love – whether it be intercourse or abstinence. Our belief may be unpopular, but it is the best thing that could be happening in our marriage.