One of the hidden gems promoted by the Catholic Church is Natural Family Planning (NFP). NFP is a way of life and love that enables married couples to be aware of how their bodies and fertility work and to respond accordingly to their family planning needs. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about this great gift from God. I would like to address five commonly asked questions:
“Is NFP effective?”
Let’s define the term “effective.” Often when others refer to family planning options, they want to see how successful it is in preventing an unintended pregnancy. In regard to NFP, there are two meanings to “effectiveness.”
On the one hand, if taught correctly and couples follow the instruction of their teachers, NFP certainly is effective in postponing a pregnancy. From one NFP method entitled The Family of the Americas, their studies show that even in places like India, China, and Indonesia, they have a 97-99% effectiveness rate of postponing a pregnancy (see Mercedes Arzu Wilson, “Love & Fertility,” 2006, p. 72). This rate is as good as or even better than any contraceptive method.
“Is NFP Safe?”
Safe in this context can be understood in two ways, for the woman and for marriage. First, NFP is safe in regard to a woman’s health. Unlike contraceptives which often requires women to put fertility-altering chemicals or devices in their bodies, which can increase the risk of contracting breast, uterine, and cervical cancer, reduce libido, bring about increased weight gain, and cause irritability, NFP helps women appreciate their fertility and how their body works and avoid serious side effects.
Second, NFP is very safe for marriages, and in fact, those who use NFP report greater sexual satisfaction. In addition to having considerably more marital relations, when husbands are able to understand how their wives’ bodies work, they are able to respond better to their needs. When a wife recognizes this, she feels affirmed and respected as a person, which in turn strengthens the bond between them.
“Doesn’t NFP require periodic abstinence?”
Yes, NFP does require abstinence, but the times of abstinence actually help to foster intimacy within marriage. It is a mistake to think that a person cannot be intimate with someone unless they are genitally intimate. For married couples, genital intimacy is only one type of intimacy. If a couple has a serious reason to avoid a pregnancy, couples are able to use the times of abstinence to focus on ways to express love other than the marital act. Countless husbands can attest to the fact that they are able to use the times of abstinence to create a “honeymoon effect,” which through self-control, helps to bring husbands and wives closer together by focusing on other areas of their marriage, like their prayer life and other family members’ needs.
“Why do those who practice NFP have a lower divorce rate than those who contracept?”
NFP has been called “marriage insurance,” for whereas the divorce rate is between 42-50% for those who use contraceptives; those who faithfully practice NFP have between a 2-5% divorce rate (those who teach NFP have less than a 1% divorce rate) (one such study has the rate at .2% (http://www.physiciansforlife.org/content/view/193/36/).
The reason for this is rooted in the nature of the marital act. The marital act speaks the “language” of giving everything that a person has to their spouse, including their fertility. If a couple uses contraception, the “language” of their bodies is that they are not giving everything of themselves. If we can say that it is in the marital act that couples are to speak the full truth of themselves, by inserting contraceptives whether they intend to or not, they are essentially lying to one another. If a lie occurs at the most intimate moment of their marriage, this lie will not remain simply in the bedroom. It affects all areas of their marriage, for it creates an atmosphere of distrust that stems from selfishness. This selfishness is, at root, a poison to the marital relationship, and the couple, at some point, will feel the effect.
In contrast, couples who use NFP with the right intention always give themselves totally to each other. They are not hold anything back and are able to speak the full truth of who they are by making a sincere gift of themselves to their beloved. Instead of focusing on themselves, couples who use NFP are more focused on their spouse, which helps to bring about a deep affirmation of the other person. Because of this, a deep trust is able to be established and their relationship is able to be deepened and strengthened.
“Why don’t more couples use NFP?”
Usually, most couples don’t know how good NFP is for their marriage. The main reason for this is ignorance. Most people just don’t know. If they did, they would want to learn about it so their marriage could reap the blessings.
If you don’t know what NFP is, how to practice NFP, or what are the available methods in your area, then contact your local diocese for more info. If you do know about this marriage-saving gift, then tell every engaged and married couple you know. They’ll thank you for it.