Here in my home diocese, the Diocese of Phoenix, taking a multiple month class on Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a mandatory part of marriage preparation. I honestly wish this was the case everywhere. NFP, when used properly, is just as effective or more effective than leading contraceptives in delaying pregnancy and it is an incredibly useful tool in getting pregnant. The benefits for the woman in terms of the knowledge it gives her about her own body is inestimable.
Going into the class, I think my wife-to-be and I were the only couple that were not having premarital sex. I was not prying into other people’s business, I promise. It just became very evident when the instructors said very clearly that NFP charting, specifically the Sympto-thermal method, is only effective when you establish a baseline. This means not having sexual intercourse for at least one or two months. There was a noticeable silence and discomfort in most of the couples with the guys looking incredulously at their fiancés.
The idea that human beings cannot go any real length of time without having sex is part of our culture.
From Friends to Sex in the City to How I Met Your Mother to Seinfeld, sitcoms are always centered around who is sleeping with who, and hardly anyone is married. Then, the jokes are made that they might literally explode if they do not have sex again soon. In the class I took, the majority of the folks did honestly abstain from sexual activity for two or three months during our NFP class, and none of them died, exploded, or suffered ill effects.
NFP, at least the sympto-thermal method, works because a woman charts certain symptoms like cervical mucus, changes to the shape and position of the cervix, and taking daily basal body temperature. These provide points of data that identify times during a woman’s cycle when she is most fertile and least fertile.
If the intention is to delay pregnancy, then the couple abstains from sex during the high fertility time. If the intention is to get pregnant, then they have sex during the high fertility time. NFP is simply following the natural cycle that God has given a woman. When used correctly, husband and wife can have greater assurance that they are being responsible in their family planning and will also not be ensnared in the moral complications of contraception.
As the husband of a beautiful and loving wife, I can attest that NFP is not easy for guys. I often feel useless. I try to support my wife as best I can, but she is the one checking the symptoms. For a while, I took the data and did the chart for her, but this has long since passed. There are also times during the month when I want to be intimate with her, but we have decided to delay the next pregnancy using NFP for a few more months at least. And so, we are abstaining from the one-flesh union that is a good, natural, and beautiful thing in marriage.
The difficulty for me, as a husband, is not the abstinence portion.
Like I said, we will not die from abstaining from sex for a few days. The difficulty is in showing my wife how much I love her and want to be close to her, in non-physical ways. We have been trying, for example, to have at least one night out together for a date night per week. I also cook her dinner when I can and buy her little gifts. Sometimes, just being with her and spending time with her is all I can give to her after a long day of work. I am not perfect by any means (just ask my wife), but she and I both try hard to show our love for one another in little ways throughout the week.
Marriage is not easy for anyone, because we are human beings with flaws, but I think that the times of abstinence with NFP are an opportunity for greater communication. There are many couples I know who are so focused on the physical that they do not spend enough time on the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of their relationships. Making sure, as a husband, that I am growing in relationship with my wife in these various ways is very important to me, and NFP assists in that process.
NFP affords my wife and me the opportunity to express our sexuality in ways that are always in keeping with what marriage is.
When I am with my wife, I want to love her, not use her. When contraception, like birth control, condoms, IUDs, vasectomies, etc. are introduced into a marriage, there is a barrier between husband and wife, whether physical or medicinal. We say to our spouse, I love you enough to give you all of myself in the sexual union… just not my fertility. When we withhold such an important part of the sexual act, we are dismantling what sex in marriage is meant to be.
NFP flows with the natural order that God has established. On the other hand, the use of contraception says that, in the bedroom, we have taken the place of God. The use of contraception turns our spouse into an object to be used for pleasure rather than individual to be loved. Sex is meant to be a total self-gift between spouses with an openness to life and an ordering towards union. NFP, used correctly, is a tool to help ensure that this is what is taking place between spouses when they enter into the marital act. Using NFP also is an act of faith that God is king over everything in our lives.
Men, if you are not practicing NFP with your spouse, I invite you to be bold and look into it.
You will grow closer to your wife and you will both learn how to love one another in more ways. NFP is scientifically a good thing for your wife’s health. She can take her charts to an NFP-certified doctor and they might be able to give her better medical care that focuses on her individual needs. Too often, the medical community would rather prescribe unnecessary medication rather than getting to the root of the problem. Talk to your spouse and pray about making NFP a part of your marriage. In a world that uses people, be courageous enough to step out in love.