I recently read the book Natural Family Planning: Trojan Horse in the Catholic Bedroom? and it truly resonated with me. This book clearly stated so much of what I have come to believe about NFP. And, yes, I believe everyone who supports and promotes NFP as the cure all for everything that ails the Catholic marriage should read this book. (Yes, it has been pointed out that there are theological flaws in the above book. I don't disagree. I simply believe it presents a different side of things than is often discussed or even acknowledged in NFP circles. I hope that makes sense. No, never take all your information from a single source. Always do further research and reading and questioning because when you stop doing that, you stop growing in your own faith and life.)
Yet another magazine arrived on our doorstep this week proclaiming the wonders of NFP. And I found myself being led to read a few more blog post proclaiming the NFP is wonderful, amazing, awesome and I found myself once again wanting to scream. Alan and I recently attended a talk on NaPro technology and I heard the NaPro practitioners once again spouting off the party lines of all the wonderful things NFP will add to your marriage and I was annoyed. Yes, I've spouted those same lines before but now, after 13 years of fielding phone calls from couples in the trenches, I no longer agree with the way we've been taught to promote Natural Family Planning.
First of all, let me state that I do believe that if at any time a couple feels they have a need to space the births of their children, the only licit way to do so is with NFP. No, I do not believe it is ever ok for a couple to rely on artificial birth control or sterilization to space their children. To do so is a sin plain and simple and I will not change my stance on this ever. The teachings of the Catholic Church do not change on this one and neither do my beliefs. I don't even believe that every couple should be required to take an NFP class as part of their marriage preparation. To do so assumes that every couple will have a reason to use NFP in their marriage. Such an assumption truly shows a lack of understanding about what the Church teaches regarding the use of NFP and child spacing. No couple is ever required to use NFP. They are just required to never use artificial birth control. There is a difference.
However, I do find many issues with the package we are selling newly married couples. We are encouraged to say that NFP provides insurance against divorce. That 2% of couples using NFP get divorced compared with 50% of the folks who do not. I've seen the basic studies such numbers are based on and to call them flawed and biased would be the nicest thing possible to say. First you start with a small sample of folks who have chosen to use NFP for religious reasons. Folks who are likely to have said to be religiously committed to things such as lifelong marriage as well. Then you take an even smaller sample of these folks and track them for a short amount of time. Surprise, surprise. You find a small sample of folks deeply committed to marriage as a forever institution are still married a few years later. Marriage insurance my arse. If I may use a popular phrase from my old logic class correlation does not imply causation.
Another common thing told about NFP is that it leads couple to greater communication because "if you can talk about this, you can talk about anything." May I admit that I have even gone so far as to tell Alan to please stop saying that because in most couples I have spoken to, there is not much real communication going on about the ins and outs of NFP anyway. The conversations instead revolve around "what does the chart look like" and "when are we going to be out of phase 2" and typically only one person in the couple is responsible for all the work involved. Let's be honest, NFP involves a woman's body. She must make all the observations and interpretations. If you use a sympto-thermal method, it is often encouraged to have the husband write down all the temperatures every day but in our experience, even that step rarely happens. At one point in our marriage when we felt we needed to space our kids, Alan was leaving for work around 5:30 every morning. I promise you that if he woke me up at that point so I could take my temperature so he could write it down, there would have been trouble. Big trouble. After 13 years of using and teaching NFP, Alan will still often look at a chart and interpret it completely wrong. I've learned this is rather common amoung guys so I'm thinking in most cases that the it leads to greater communication thing is completely false in most couples as well.
I've often heard that a man who chooses to use NFP is sexy. May I laugh? You want your wife to see you as sexy then change a diaper, mop the floor, wash the dishes, make dinner, and put the kids to bed. That is sexy. That is giving. That says you care about more than sex. A man who uses NFP is an adult who places his wife's health above society's beliefs that sex should be always available. A real mature man realizes that encouraging or asking his wife to pump artificial hormones into her body puts her at risk. There is a reason the World Health Organization calls artificial birth control a class one carcinogen. And sterilization leads to many long term health risks as well. Tubal ligation syndrom is a very real thing. A real man would take a bullet for his wife so a real man would also not ask her to do something so dangerous with her health. Just saying.
This is a rambling post that likely makes little sense at times. Bottom line is I believe we are selling a lie. We need to be realistic and honest with people. We need to say that yes, it will be hard at times to go against everything you have been taught for years. Everything society tells you about sex. Yes, abstaining when necessary might be a challenge. But it's not impossible. I won't insult you by saying it's always an easy choice and others have it harder. But I will say I understand that at times it will be a challenge. It will be hard to stand against doctors who have been trained to say that NFP is a farce and doesn't work. It will be hard to stand against your family when they lecture you about your choices. When they show a lack of respect for you and your spouse and try to undermine your commitment as a couple and tell you how irresponsible your choices and beliefs are.
I guess I'm wishing the NFP powers that be would be a bit more realistic and honest with folks. And I apologize to anyone I helped sell that lie to in the past. NFP is a gift and a blessing and the only legitimate way of spacing your children. But it is also a challenge and at times a cross to bear. I won't lie to you and say it's easy and a cure for all that ails the modern marriage. But I will say that I will be here to answer the phone the next time you call with a question or complaint or just need someone to remind you that it is the right choice to make.