I know, I know, you’re currently picturing a family with 11 pre-teen children running around them and you’re scratching your head thinking “Is she insane?”.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) has got a bad reputation over the years. People assume that because it is proposed by the Catholic Church, it must not work. There are so many things wrong with that sentence, but let’s just stay on topic: NFP has come a very very very very very long way since the ‘rhythm method’. There are now many different methods, and if you are using it to avoid having children at a particular time, it is now as effective (in some cases more so) than contraception when used correctly (don’t believe me? Check out just one of the many different sources that state this – one from a secular scientific news site based on the largest scientific study ever done on the symto-thermal method can be found here.)
And if you are trying to conceive? It’s the best method out there!
But that is not why it is so important to us as a couple that we included it in the category of “essential to” or “a foundation of” our marriage.
As of the last stats I heard regarding it (this was a couple of years ago), 97% of couples who use NFP stay together (this is a much older link that has it at 0.2% divorce rate, but later figures show 3%). In a world that boasts a 50% divorce rate, I like those odds!
As far as I can make out from my experience of using it over the last couple of years, there are several reasons:
1. It is shared.
NFP is not one person’s responsibility. It involves both people, requires constant communication, and it does not allow you to be on different pages regarding whether you are trying to avoid (tta), trying to conceive (ttc) or somewhere in between. There is absolutely no room for selfishness or lack of communication in NFP.
2. It is open to life.
NFP is the only method that allows you to be somewhere in between tta and ttc. There are no physical barriers, so it always allows God a way in. And because using it ‘correctly’ involves constant communication and discernment from cycle to cycle, you are constantly re-evaluating where you stand on the size of your family, knowing that from month to month, things may change.
In our own experience, we successfully avoided for the first year of our marriage as I lost my job a week after our honeymoon and my husband was still studying, so we were financially struggling just supporting ourselves, let alone a baby. However, once we had settled into our new life after moving, we felt it might be a relatively good time to start being ‘more open’ – and got pregnant within one cycle!
Because NFP involves (relatively short) periods of abstinence each cycle, it encourages you to be intimate in other ways. The acronym SPICE is used to encourage you during the few days/week of abstinence to find ways to connect on a Spiritual, Physical (other than sexual), Intellectual, Creative/Communicative, and Emotional/Psychological level.
These days are often the days when you grow the closest, and actually make physical intimacy better, as a result of spending time together, learning each other’s love languages, bettering communication, and getting to know each other better.
4. It accepts the whole person, including their fertility.
In marriage, you are giving yourself in your entirety to someone else, and accepting their entirety in return. This means accepting their weaknesses as well as their strengths, accepting the person they are and will become as well as the person they used to be, and accepting them mind, spirit, and body. In giving and receiving physically, there is always going to be an element of communion missing if the other’s fertility is something that is regarded as negative and to be rejected through the use of contraception. NFP allows you to say to your spouse: “I love you body, mind and spirit, and accept all of you. I love you so much that that love may become manifest in the physical being of a child.”
I have often heard it said (by secular therapists and sexual health workers as well as religious) that if you are not ready to have a baby, you are not ready for sex. Fertility is intimately tied to sexuality, and trying to separate the two is almost impossible, and often causes a lot of hurt in the long run.
5. It increases trust in each other, and in God.
You must be on the same page and communicate effectively. But, if using NFP as a Christian, you must also be constantly covering your use of NFP in prayer, remaining open to God’s will for your life and your family, even if that ends up being different to what you had planned. It may be God asks us to have more children than we had initially planned on. Then again, He may also ask us to have less. For all we know, His plan may be for us to focus solely on lavishing our beautiful daughter alone with our love, even though we would love for her to have siblings one day.
NFP as a Christian means trusting God with your family size. But it also means discovering as a couple what your own personal and joint desires are regarding how many children you would like and when. It means a constant flow of communication about this, and for you to work together.
As mentioned above, the effectiveness of NFP whether you are tta or ttc is staggering. Thanks to advances in science, we know so much more now about human fertility, and are able to measure and predict so easily.
As a Catholic, it was always my intention to use NFP when I got married, but somehow I always assumed it would be very complex and rather ineffective (the power of the lies we are told in our culture and media). I have actually found the opposite to be true. When used correctly and with help from a committed and properly trained teacher, it is extremely effective. And, although it requires a little more effort and commitment upfront, once you have been charting for a few months and got to grips with the process, it is surprisingly easy and not at all time-consuming.
7. It’s natural.
The clue is in the title. It is the only method that is 100% natural and therefore has zero side effects or possible impacts on future fertility, etc. It does not harm the body or the environment. I know some people who are not Christians who use NFP solely for this reason because they are concerned about the short and long-term effects of artificial contraception. No side effects means no headaches, nausea, bleeding, depression, increased risk of breast cancer, etc.
It also means that, as a woman, you know your body so so well (and, actually, so does your husband!) that you can tell when something is wrong. Both my husband and I can take one look at the charts and know whether I am overly stressed and need a break, or whether I am ill (or about to be ill), and so much more. You can even find out whether you have poly-cystic ovarian syndrome or endometriosis!.
Even couples who were told by fertility experts that they were infertile and would have to resort to measures such as IVF in order to get pregnant have found that they were able to conceive within a few cycles when using NFP and NaPro-Technology (Natural Fertility Technology).
I love NFP. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone, whether you are Christian or not, whether you are tta or ttc or aren’t quite sure.**
I credit God as the main glue that holds my husband and I together as a couple. But NFP is a pretty great adhesive too! I don’t think we would be anywhere near as close or as strong as a couple if did not use it. And I know I am privileged to be surrounded by many young couples who use it and love it, too.
**Note: If you would like to know more about NFP, there are a few good links at the bottom of this page. However, I would just like to state that of the couples I know who use it, those who have found it most successful and useful are without a doubt those who have sought out a properly trained teacher. We were blessed to find a fantastic teacher through friends, and she not only walked us through everything, but continues to respond to emails and phone calls with advice whenever we need it. If you plan on using NFP, please please find an instructor. It is 100% worth it.
Couple-to-Couple League (symptothermal method)
Creighton Model (the one we use)
Billings Ovulation Method (trialled by the World Health Organization)
Why NFP is Awesome (a great post by Jackie Angel on her experience of using NFP)