If the pope had his own grocery store, the aisle labelled “family planning” wouldn’t contain pills or condoms or other contraceptives like most do. It would contain thermometers and charts. Likewise, if the pope was a doctor, he wouldn’t prescribe contraceptives to prevent pregnancies or perform surgeries to sterilize patients. Instead, he would probably study Napro Technology and encourage pro-life research.
Call it “hippie” or “organic,” but the Catholic Church teaches adamantly against the use of contraceptives. Instead, married Catholics are encouraged to practice natural family planning methods. Ideally, beyond simply following the rules, we can come to understand the deep, loving, beautiful reason behind this teaching, rising above the naysayers who resent Church “meddling” in sexual matters.
In living out an openness to new life in marriage, couples might decide to leave conception up to Divine Providence. Their alternative to “wait and see,” however, is Natural Family Planning (NFP), which is anything BUT “Catholic birth control,” (an unfortunate and misleading characterization).
NFP isn’t the outdated rhythm method, as is often scoffed. In fact, it’s on the cutting edge of fertility science —more technical than I can pretend to understand. But in practice it’s rather simple. And it supports healthy, uninterrupted biological and spiritual unity between spouses.
There are three basic points you can use to explain why NFP is not “Catholic birth control”:
Modern society likes to listen to science before being open to morality, so let’s first check out facts from John and Sheila Kippley’s Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach. Unlike birth control, which is an expensive and a recurring cost, NFP is a one-time investment for an accurate thermometer, book, and class.
NFP subjects women to none of the “minor” side effects of birth control which are listed on the packaging (i.e. migraines). But – what’s more – how many women taking the Pill know about its major side effects (blood clots caused by artificial estrogen leading to stroke, increased risk of breast cancer)? What’s more, the science shows that contraceptives are abortifacients, meaning that a woman could conceive a child while on the pill, but the embryo, unable to implant and develop, is expelled in a spontaneous chemical abortion.
To avoid sounding like a science textbook, let’s stop there. (Check out some of the NFP websites and scientific studies linked below to learn more about the science.)
Basically, unless you need medicine to heal and help your body be healthy, it’s not worth the risk of putting chemicals and artificial hormones in your body to avoid pregnancy. The world is full of enough troubles without us using drugs to disrupt our natural, healthy fertility.
Meanwhile, NFP helps you to become aware of your own body, which will assist you in detecting any potential health problems—infertility, for example—instead of causing them. Additionally, ecological breastfeeding, which is part of NFP, benefits both the baby and the mother relationship-wise and nutritionally. It’s best to stick with God’s plan in nature the best you can rather than interrupt it.
NFP is also 99% effective, like birth control. The only thing more effective (100%) would be complete abstinence. Honestly, it’s worth giving up control to God and learning His plan in nature instead of trying to “control” fertility yourself with all the biological side effects of contraceptives (and that’s not even to mention the psychological effects, which is a post for another day).
NFP fosters both of these ends, more fully capturing the essence of “making love;” whereas contraceptive sex supports neither of those and therefore is essentially not “making love.”
Catholics have long been disparaged by the stereotype of multiplying like rabbits. My own grandmother had eleven children, all of whom she loved dearly. Huge families are not a requirement, though. There’s no quota of births for a Catholic couple to achieve, and no shame to bear if you and your spouse discover that you are unable to have children. If everyone practiced NFP, though, there’d simply be more children in the world.
This isn’t because NFP doesn’t work. It’s because NFP users begin to want children more than they may have originally thought they would. As Catholics, we don’t just reproduce; we procreate. It’s not just an issue of semantics. It is a beautiful commitment to multiplying love in your relationship and family.
As you appreciate the deep procreative and unitive meaning of intercourse, rather than merely pleasure, you grow to desire a child (or another one, as the case may be). Children are an extension of the growing love and respect between spouses, rather than a burden previously avoided with closed hearts.
If a couple practicing NFP has decided to avoid pregnancy for serious reasons, then during the fertile period of the woman’s cycle they will abstain from sex. This sacrifice adds a courting period and reminds the couple of all the non-anatomical ways to love each other. The exclusive bond between spouses is strengthened with a deep respect for life and for each other, which will not fade when couples grow together into older age.
Birth control can’t do that.
If you couldn’t feasibly support another child, you are not being immoral to look at nature’s pattern and wait for a better time. It’s like God had this all planned out for us at the beginning!
If a husband and wife decided to focus on providing for their current family before adding another member, it is responsible, not immoral. Especially if the mother just had a child, her body needs time to heal.
Further, you can be a responsible parent without actually having conceived a child yet. Before marriage, you would do this by abstaining so as to take care of your body, waiting to have a child until you are committed in marriage. Once married but before your first child, you can be a good parent if you still intend to love and protect any child given to you while you’re preparing in hope—not avoiding children—by solving any serious issues restricting you and your spouse from starting a family.
There is someone who knows your situation better than you do—God. Speaking to God will help you better understand what your child needs. He will direct your thoughts away from worldly worries and more towards what’s important in life—family, love, and faith instead of money, possessions, and fame. Praying for your child reminds you to be open to children, actively looking for the right time, instead of seeking reasons for it to be the wrong time.
Remember, children are a gift from God. When practicing NFP, you are open to this wonderful gift of love as opposed to birth control’s closed door.
So, is NFP “Catholic birth control”? No, because NFP gives ultimate control of conception to God and His creation without any of the harmful side effects, moral issues, or lack of romance when one turns to contraceptives.
Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla
Theology of the Body by JP II
Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach by John and Sheila Kippley
Natural Family Planning International, Inc. website with resources: http://nfpandmore.org/
For those interested in more science that cooperates with nature to solve problems in the reproductive system, see NaProTechnology website: http://www.naprotechnology.com/
Did you know there is more than one way to practice Natural Family Planning? Take our quiz to find out which method best suits the characteristics of your marriage! Click on the title to get started.
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