It’s NFP Awareness week! A whole week devoted to talking about sex; that sounds fun right! So I decided to write a little bloggy blog about NFP, what it has meant in my marriage, and address some of my “favorite” questions and comments I hear when I mention NFP.
“What’s an NFP?”
Natural Family Planning.
“Oh the rhythm method?”
No. There are many forms of NFP, but the rhythm method is not one of them. This is not to say there is anything inherently wrong with the rhythm method if a couple chooses that they are comfortable with the unreliability because they are very open to having a baby. But typically, when you hear someone mention NFP they are talking about using observable signs, which have been researched and compiled into very specific guidelines, to track a woman’s monthly fertility.
“So, Catholic Contraception”
Again, no. I like to think of it more like chastity in marriage. A lot of times people connect the word chastity to meaning virginity. But the definition of chastity is “the state of refraining from all sexual intercourse”. Contraception removes something from the marital embrace, while NFP involves discerning with your partner whether there is a valid reason to avoid having a child and therefore abstaining from the marital embrace as an act of love during peak fertility times, thus maintaining the complete gift of sex when you are not abstaining (see next answer for more on what I mean by “the complete gift of sex”, turns out it is more than just pleasure, though that is a nice perk). It also still leaves you open to life, for God works in mysterious ways, and even the best NFP charter may have a surprise baby. And this just means you can be confident that God has a great plan for this child and His timing is more perfect than yours.
“That’s why Catholics have so many babies right? You have to agree to have big families to get married in the Church?”
Well…not exactly. There is a part in the Catholic Nuptial Mass during which the couple agrees that we are and will remain open to life. And yes, NFP supports this statement. But why would the Church ask this of a couple other than to just pad their parishioner numbers? Let me share what my brother-in-law, an NFP educator, said because this teaching is rooted in Theology: “When sacrificed, Jesus made a choice, based on knowledge, it was a self-gift, it was permanent, and was life giving. In marriage, we do the exact same. It is a choice, based on knowledge, it is a self-gift, it is permanent, and is life giving.” Marriage isn’t just two people who love each other wanting to spend the rest of their lives together. Yes, that is a nice bonus. But the purpose of marriage is to be a reflection, an image, of God’s love for us here on earth. Marriage is made to be glimpse into this free, total, faithful, and fruitful love of God. It is one way of bringing, sharing, and showing Christ to others. And if this is something, as Christians, that we are called to do, then shouldn’t we share and show the most complete image of God that we can? Not to mention, there is something to be said about fully trusting in God’s timing in all things, and that includes introducing a child into your family.
It can be hard, and for those of us with difficult to read signs and inconsistent cycles it can be quite complicated. But, suck the fun out of sex, um, nope. Though, yes, it may reduce the amount of time during a cycle you have sex or at times make you feel like you are on a sex schedule. In fact, one of the first books I recommend to a couple interested in NFP is “A Sinner’s Guide to NFP” because it is real and honest that not everything about NFP is roses and rainbows. But isn’t marriage hard, and complicated, and sometimes not fun? Absolutely. NFP teaches self restraint and involves learning to show love, attraction, and compassion to your partner in new ways. NFP opens up communication between you and your partner. Learning about NFP really breaks down walls for difficult conversations. Day 1 of NFP class for marriage prep: “Let’s talk about your fiancé’s vaginal mucus pattern” Poof, all walls of avoiding awkward conversations have been torn down. But seriously, communication and working together is so much more important for a long-lasting marriage than being able to have sex whenever I want because I have this urge. Because there will be times when your wife just does not want to have sex (hello post-partum hormones) but you will not despair or hold it against her because you know other ways to show and receive love. At some point you may find someone, who isn't your spouse, attractive, but you will not feel tempted to act on this because you have practiced over and over this self-restraint so that you can preserve that ultimate free, total faithful, fruitful gift for your spouse.
Wrong. This is the best part. NFP is relevant to you if you are a woman or a man who loves his wife and appreciates her body, all of it, even its fertility. There is something great about understanding, in detail, my fertility. Not just “this is my vagina, I have Fallopian tubes, once a month everything gets cleared out in a big bloody mess, but don’t talk about that part because it’s kind of gross.” Instead, I can work with my body and have knowledge of my full cycle. I can see how a change in diet and different nutrients or a change in stress levels can change my cycle and understand why. Going to an NFP only OBGYN means seeing a doctor who does not look for the quickest or easiest fix when I present with a concern, but means working with me to identify the root cause and find a solution. It means being totally upfront and comfortable discussing everything with my doctor. Again, once you start talking about vaginal mucus, it really means everything is up for discussion.
In fact, I attribute this very thing to us conceiving Zilla. When I first started out charting, I noticed my luteal phase was very short. This is something often connected to difficulty with conceiving and miscarriage. I was able to go through my materials and learn ways to change my diet and began taking a multivitamin to help me increase the length of this phase. What do you know, a couple of months after starting this and BOOM Zilla came along.
Also, it just really really frustrates me when a doctor just throws a pill at everything. Charting your cycle can actually help you address the real issue rather than masking it with a hormone pill. And they will throw the pill at you without really discussing what effects it may have. Most recently, a friend of mine, new breastfeeding mother, was speaking to me about a loss in milk production. After talking with her she mentioned she had recently started taking birth control again. Her doctor should know that BCPs reduce milk production and should have told her this before prescribing them. This doctor was aware she was breastfeeding, so why not provide full information to your patient? That is informed choice, not just writing the script because that’s the easiest way for someone to avoid getting pregnant. It made me so angry. I immediately text my sister and hubskie to vent to them about the situation. BCPs are not a coverall fix for everything with no consequences. Like any medication, there are very real side effects and these should be discussed with the patient.
Finally, I’m generally a naturalist when it comes to my body. For me personally, I am uncomfortable pumping in artificial hormones that are technically stopping my body from working the way it was created to work. I was designed to be fertile, and I don’t appreciate being told that this part of me causes hardship or inequality and therefore I should take a pill to resolve the issue. No, our world’s general tendency towards misogynistic policies causes hardship and inequality.
The more I have shared NFP with others, who have no interest in the theology behind the method, the more they have come to embrace it as well. I have friends who stopped using BCPs and noticed an increase in their sexual drive, a reduction in anxiety, a reduction in their migraines, increased trust between them and their partner. There are many possible things to be gained by simply giving it a try; children, for example. I kid, but really, the openness to life and growing in my trust in God is what keeps me hooked, the rest of the perks are just the cherries on top.
And there you have it! A little peak into our little NFP world! Do you have more questions for me? Please feel free to leave a comment and ask away. If I don’t know the answer I may be able to direct you to someone who does.