Family, Sex

Why I Believe In Natural Family Planning

Young family

If you've heard the term Natural Family Planning (NFP), it's probably almost a certainty actually, that you were given some bad information about it. As someone who has practiced NFP with my wife for around six years, I know I've heard more than my fair share of misguidance from family, the media and even priests. Sometimes it's honest confusion or simply a passing along of misinformation, but other times it's a blatant attack on a somewhat mysterious practice that many in our culture chalk up to some form of crazy desire for 20 kids or an exercise in Pope-worshiping. 

I've heard it all as a marriage blogger who writes openly about all aspects of NFP and healthy sexuality over at my site, Engaged Marriage. I've even written here at YourTango about the challenges of Natural Family Planning. So, I was a bit shocked when I read a recent Traditional Love blog post by Lyz Lenz bashing NFP. I'm actually cool with bashing, and my goals in writing about NFP are never about converting people to practice it (I'm not that naive), but when someone publishes false statements about Natural Family Planning and further feeds the steady stream of misinformation that caused my wife and I so much emotional pain early in our marriage, I get upset. 

RELATED: The Top 5 Challenges Of Natural Family Planning

But getting upset does no good, so I thought I'd instead share a bit of a rebuttal to the post and hopefully clean up some of the mud that was slung at Natural Family Planning. I could literally write a book on this subject, but you don't want to read a book about NFP, so let's just hit three major misconceptions: 

1. Misunderstanding Natural Family Planning: Natural Family Planning is unfortunately a term that's been around for a long time, and it's been used by various groups over the years. The distinction here is that what my wife and I (and most everyone today) practice is Modern NFP. In Lenz's essay, she refers to her mother's struggles using NFP in the late '70s and early '80s, and the fact that she had a large (and apparently happy) family, as one reason why NFP is ridiculous. I have no way of knowing what her parents' family planning desires were, but I do know one thing—they were NOT using Modern NFP. 

Like cancer research and x-ray technology, a lot has changed in our understanding of fertility and the many incredible, natural signs indicating the phases of a women's cycle over the past 30 years. Modern NFP consists of several different methods that have been adopted and endorsed by the medical community. They all rely on decades of empirical research and have very high degrees of accuracy. The method we use is called the Marquette Model, and we use a Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor to track my wife's fertility cycle. This is hardly an old-school "guess and pray" method of family planning. Here are a few other things you should know about NFP:

  • When a trained couple wants to avoid pregnancy, it's 98% effective. This is the same (or better) than any form of artificial birth control on the market.

​​Related: Natural Family Planning Method As Effective As Contraceptive Pill

  • My wife and I have planned our three children to within a few months of their birth. It is not only extremely effective at preventing pregnancy, but it helps achieve pregnancy when you're ready. And my wife has crazy, irregular cycles.
  • NFP is NOT contraception. It's not pulling out. It's not the Rhythm Method or the Calendar Method of the past. It's a modern, scientifically-based means of understanding a women's fertility cycle.
  • NFP is totally healthy and carries none of the side-effects or long-term health consequences of hormonal birth control.
  • NFP is no longer a Catholic thing or even a religious thing. It is becoming increasingly popular among those who care about their health, our environment and even women's rights (how's that for coming full circle?).

2. Misunderstanding Contraception: The birth control pill gives women great freedom and is certainly a cure for society's ills, right? This was the thought in the U.S. when it became popular in the 1960s. It is no coincidence that our society has seen what many would consider a major moral decline since that time. Skyrocketing divorce rates, epidemic levels of STDs, all-time-high numbers of abortions and a regrettable degradation in the value we place on human life. There's no time or need to go deeply into the religious aspects of family planning. However, I have to point out to the Christian readers of this site that contraception in any form was considered immoral and sinful by every major Christian denomination until the 1930s and most until the 1960s. This isn't a "Catholic thing" when it comes to morality. I'll also share that any form of the pill has the potential to act as an abortifacient. While you may be morally OK with contraception, I'd encourage you to get the facts on this particular "side effect" if you oppose abortion and believe that life begins at conception. A few more key points to keep in mind:

  • When you use contraception during your fertile time, your chances of getting pregnant are considerably higher. And infinitely higher than when you practice NFP and find other ways to be intimate during these times (no, that does not mean only oral sex in case you're wondering).
  • The negative health impacts of hormonal birth control in any form are a very serious manner. You really should check out the facts about not only the immediate side-effects you may be experiencing and not even know it, but the long-term risks to your body.

RELATED: Is The Pill Harmful?

  • Despite our skewed modern perspectives, the idea that women should be ready and willing to have sex at all times is not a "natural" condition. Our modern contraceptives make this seem like an ordinary thing, but this is not how life was lived prior to 50 years ago.
  • There's a reason you see so many ads for contraceptives's a huge money-making industry, and your doctor is likely part of it. It might make sense to get some perspective from someone who is not profiting from your family planning decisions.
  • The pill makes your body essentially feel pregnant, so while anti-NFP advocates thinks that is being "robbed" of sex during your peak fertility days is unfair, you must keep in mind that you never actually feel that real, natural peak fertility because your hormonal contraceptives rob you of it. You're robbed of a true sexual cycle.

3. Misunderstanding the Idea of Healthy Sexuality Within Marriage. This is probably the biggest frustration I have with Lenz's anti-NFP article in particular. My wife and I have always been close and shared a special bond. After all, we got married and have been a happy couple for many years. However, when we started learning about Natural Family Planning and then started to put it into practice together, we grew closer on a level that I never knew was there.

When you can talk about the intricacies of your wife’s fertility signs (because you've bothered to learn them) and interpret those signs by her side (because you really care), you have a good bond. And when you do this day-after-day and month-after-month through challenging times and in the face of cynical friends (and even family), you have an incredibly close bond that only you can share. And when you come to the realization that sex truly is intended to be a religious experience (and you have experienced it that way), you have formed a bond that you actually didn't know was possible. You just don't get that from a condom.

RELATED: 10 Erotic Commandments Of How To Have Spiritual Sex

You can read more about how NFP can help your marriage here: How Does Natural Family Planning Benefit Marriage?

Lenz cited a New York Times article profiling a couple who used to be Natural Family Planning advocates but have since divorced and recanted their support of NFP. In order to understand why I'm skeptical of this article, here is a synopsis. The woman featured is named Bethany (unfortunately sharing my wife's name), and this article seems to be celebrating the fact that Bethany's understanding of family planning has "evolved" over the years. She was married young but happily to a man named Sam, and they had a child right away. Two years into their marriage, they gained attention as outspoken proponents of NFP, even though they were Protestants. They even wrote a book about all the great things that Natural Family Planning did for their relationship and their family. They had a few "unplanned" pregnancies which happened when she was nursing. Well, I can tell you that Modern NFP only relies upon breastfeeding as a form of natural child spacing when it is done in an "ecological" manner. You can look up the details, but it's safe to say that almost no one in our modern culture practices this form of nursing.

So, they are blaming NFP for something that it does not even endorse. Regardless, a few years later, in 2006, they stated they no longer believed in NFP, and they had adopted artificial birth control in their marriage. Three years AFTER they switched to contraception, their marriage fell apart and they divorced. Today, Bethany identifies herself as a "secular Christian" who can't decide day-to-day whether she believes in God. Would you read that story and conclude that NFP was a problem in this couple's marriage? To the contrary, it appears that life was pretty good while they were practicing NFP, and it only fell apart when they decided to adopt the culturally popular practice of contraception. Their marriage and her faith were both subsequently shattered. By the way, the divorce rate among couples that practice NFP is less than five percent. Go figure. NFP may not be for you, but it's not ridiculous.

As I said when I opened this long post, I am not looking to convert you to NFP as a reader of this article. Less than five percent of the married population in the United States practices NFP, and if you're not in that small minority, that's your choice. However, whenever you hear or read a statement like "Natural Family Planning is ridiculous," I'd encourage you to pause and perhaps even push back a bit now that you know better. Those of us who value NFP as a central part of our marriage and an awesome tool for intimacy with our spouse have a much different perspective to offer. And if you want to know more facts about Natural Family Planning, I'm happy to help. Just come over to Engaged Marriage or chime in on our Facebook page and let's talk about the truth on this vitally important topic.

So, what do you I a ridiculous kook or does NFP have some merit? Please chime in below in the comments!