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Why You Don’t Have to Use NFP

{disclaimer: I realize that NFP is not always used to avoid pregnancy, but can also be used for medical awareness and to help achieve pregnancy. For purposes of this article I am referring to NFP used as “periodic continence”, that is, to avoid pregnancy.}

There is a faction of Catholics who, in their desire to promote Natural Family Planning as the antidote to contraception, have overstated its importance in Christian marriage. They are rightfully reacting against contraception, which is always intrinsically evil. (CCC 2370) But in their desire to steer people away from contraception, they sometimes become overzealous in their promotion of NFP: they insist that Catholics have a duty to learn it and use it.

The insistence that “good Catholics use NFP” has caused confusion for many, and has made many faithful Catholics feel as though they are somehow failing on their path towards sanctity by NOT practicing NFP, and by simply having children as they come without regard to temperatures and charts. There is often a disdain towards parents of many young children spaced closely together, and others suspect that they must not know about NFP, or even worse, that they “cannot control their impulses.” A friend of mine confided in me that once she became convicted to no longer use NFP and to throw away her charts, she went to confession for it because she thought she was being irresponsible. Thankfully, her priest reassured her that NFP is not required, and commended her trust in handing her fertility completely to God.

The simple truth is, as Catholic married couples, we do NOT have an obligation to use Natural Family Planning, whether it be to space births or to limit the number of children we have. If we were to have an obligation, then 19 centuries of Catholics did not fulfill this obligation, since the science of fertility was not well-understood until the advances of medicine in the 20th century. As Catholics living in the 21st century, we certainly are fortunate to have access to this information, since many families do have a legitimate need to avoid pregnancy at one time or another during their marriage. But the Church has not suddenly changed Her teachings to require something of us that has never been required before.

Oftentimes, the phrase “responsible parenthood” is touted as a mandate for NFP use. After all, don’t “responsible parents” plan their families by deciding exactly how many children they should have, and when they should have them? Here is what Humanae Vitae says about responsible parenthood:

“With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.”

So “responsible parenthood” does not mean limiting our family size; quite the contrary! It means that barring serious reasons, we are actually practicing responsible parenthood by being generously open to having more children!

Make no mistake – with the overwhelming statistic that 80+% of Catholics use some form of contraception, we DO need to encourage NFP. Contraception is intrinsically evil, not to mention the abortifacient nature of the Pill and IUDs, and NFP is a way for couples to legitimately prevent pregnancy without frustrating the marital act and is in line with the teachings of the Church. We need to inform people about the ills of contraception, and if they have a reason to avoid pregnancy, encourage NFP instead.

But NFP is not a “Church-approved method of birth control.” So many times it is presented as such. Instead of offering NFP as the main alternative to contraception, let’s offer CHILDREN as the alternative. The opposite of being “against conception” is being FOR conception. The Church teaches that having children is the ideal, and NFP is merely a tool we can use in our marriage if necessary, rather than the other way around. NFP should be promoted as a tool for times of serious need, and not as a requirement or a divine directive.

As Catholics, we are not all called to be “providentialists” and to have as many children as we are physically capable of bearing. If we determine with our spouse through prayer and spiritual direction that we have a serious reason to avoid having children for a period of time, then we are certainly permitted to use NFP. However, many Catholic couples may come to the conclusion that for the majority of or all of their childbearing years, they do not have serious reasons to avoid having children. For those of us who fall into this category, we should REJOICE that God is calling us to bring many little souls into this world for his glory! Often, those of us who are in this position are nervous and unsure – can we truly handle the demands of a large family? How will many children impact us financially? And far too frequently, what will others think of us? We struggle with human respect, which is “the putting of the opinion of others in the place of our conscience.” (Frank Duff, Servant of God)

Let us not let others’ opinions disturb our peace of soul; let us care only about what God requests of us, and let us rely on His grace. Let us BE COUNTERCULTURAL. What is more countercultural than being Catholic, anyway? We believe that contraception is wrong. We believe that sex should be reserved only for marriage. We believe that a priest can speak words while holding a piece of bread, and that bread becomes a Man, Jesus Christ, and that Man is God. That’s about as countercultural as it gets! Let us not be afraid to bear children simply because we fear what the world may think of us. Let us not deprive God of the souls He wishes to place under our care. While battling with temporal issues, let us always keep the eternal in mind. As Blessed Zelie said, “I wish to have many children so I could raise them for Heaven.”

Let us beseech our priests to preach this; to talk about how having children is one of the ends of marriage, how children are blessings to a marriage, and how GOOD it is to have them! Let us truly promote the culture of life, not simply by standing against abortion, but by standing FOR LIFE. Let us realize that as women, our fertility is a GIFT, a gift that we only have for a relatively short time in our life, a gift that some do not have and dearly desire! Let us share with all whom we meet the positives of having children, and how much we cherish our vocation of motherhood. Let us openly encourage others in their journeys of parenthood (religious sisters and single women – I cannot express how much your support and love of babies and new life means to us! Thank you!). Let us work to shift the mindset of the entire culture – that children are not commodities, nor are they burdens. They are blessings. ALL of them.

God has given us the amazing privilege to participate with Him in the creation of new life. We women are the vessels He has chosen to bring this new life into the world. God knows what He’s doing, and He will send us the right number of children. No child will be created without His Divine Help; no child is “unwanted” or “unplanned” by God. The number does not matter, whether God sees fit to send us two children or twelve. What matters is that we are open to His plan for us.

From Pope Pius XII’s “Dear Newlyweds”:

“It will depend on you whether those innocent souls, whom the embrace of Infinite Love desires to call from nothing, shall come to the threshold of life, in order to make of them one day His chosen companions in the eternal happiness of Heaven. But alas! If they remain merely magnificent images in the mind of God when they could have been rays of sun that illuminate every man who comes into this world (John 1:9), they will remain forever nothing but lights extinguished by the cowardice and selfishness of man!”


Colleen is a wife and the mother of three boys. She writes for the Catholic Sistas blog where this article has been reprinted from with permission.
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  • Hey, single men love babies too! God bless all who choose life and raise many children up for God.

  • Kay Anne Kelly

    Lots of good points…my husband and I are shameless NFP slackers….have not charted in at least a decade..if a reason arises to be “vigilant” we will…right now, we don’t much care – and we have four kids praying everyday for another baby….that openness to life creates an openness with your kids, too! And THAT is the foundation for building a Culture of Life…my kids do no fear babies, they LOVE them, want them and pray for them – my 17 year old son cannot wait to bring dinner to a mom who just had her 6th…because he wants to hold the baby! That is awesome:)

  • I agree wholeheartedly with this, however I do believe that all engaged couples should learn NFP because it is much easier to learn before one is married, because it can be used to help achieve a pregnancy as well as avoid one, and because women should know what is going on with their bodies.

  • Allison Grace

    Simply wonderful and thanks for writing! I read somewhere that if NFP is used (emphasis on IF), it should be the parentheses in decades-long marital fruitfulness, not the opposite, which would be pregnancy as the parentheses in decades-long charts and planned intimacy. “Children without temperatures and charts” ~ love that. Marriage is ordained; sex is good; children are blessings…

  • Stacy Peterson

    While I agree with all your points. In addition I would add that John and Sheila Kippley, founders of CCL, have always included ecological breastfeeding as a component of NFP. Under that model of natural child spacing, I have given birth to 12 children ranging in age from 3-25. Raising a large family is a calling and, is a high calling. If a couple discerns that God is calling them to a large family size, say over ten kids, God will provide many graces to raise a holy family, however, it requires TREMENDOUS human cooperation and a prayer filled life. I can tell you that there is a HUGE difference between 7 kids and 9 kids. Or 9 kids and 12 kids.

    As a mom in the trenches, with another 2 decades of active mothering ahead of me, I think it is important NOT to sugar-coat the heroic nature of this lifestyle. Yes, all my children are blessings, but to whom much is given, much is required.

    We never wanted any regrets about “spacing” into oblivion a soul God wanted in the world. Therefore, we were always open to one more soul. I joyfully carry this cross, for I know it was given to me as God’s means to sanctify me and bring me, and those who help me carry it, to eternal life. In doing so, we bring, not only souls into the world, but we incarnate Christ!