Dumping Contraception for Natural Family Planning

DISCLAIMER: This series is meant to inform and spark conversation about the Church’s teaching on respect for human life. While these answers are in-line with Catholic Tradition, they are by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. We are not bioethicists nor moral theologians and do not claim to speak on behalf of the Church in answering them. For more information, dive into resources provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. **Special thanks to Fr. Albert Bruecken, Conception Seminary College, and Adam Storey, Director of Marriage and Family Life for Diocese of Des Moines, for sharing inspiration, ideas, and words for this series.


Common Misconception: Natural family planning is just the rhythm method [insert sarcasm], and we all know how well that works!

Look up “rhythm method” on WebMD. You will find the following:

  • “The rhythm method does not work for all couples.”
  • “Women who have irregular cycles … often end up becoming pregnant.”
  • “The rhythm method does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.”

Doesn’t sound too promising, does it? If NFP is simply the rhythm method, why would anyone bother? Let’s get some terms straight.

The rhythm (or calendar) method was developed in the 1930s. It was based on the theory that the time of ovulation could be determined by calculating previous menstrual cycles. This method often proved inaccurate because of the unique nature of each woman’s menstrual cycle: some women have very irregular cycles and almost all women have a cycle of unusual length once in a while.

Natural family planning is an umbrella term for scientifically-based methods used to observe the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s monthly cycle. The effectiveness of modern NFP methods in postponing or planning pregnancy is based on monitoring biological signs of fertility, not on the length of cycle as used in the rhythm method. Some of these modern NFP methods include:

The basic difference is that the rhythm method considers menstrual cycles generally while NFP looks at each woman’s cycle individually, which makes NFP more effective. The secular trend is to lump these together, which is patently disingenuous. This fallacy puts an outdated, generalized concept together with modern methods of avoiding and achieving pregnancies. Is this done with any other form of spacing births? Are statistics regarding outdated forms of condoms and hormonal contraception still circulated? When is the last time you heard Planned Parenthood cite the effectiveness rates of contraceptives from the 1930s?

Common Misconception: I’ve tried NFP, and it doesn’t work.

Since NFP involves learning about each woman’s cycle individually instead of treating all women as essentially carbon copies of one another, it can be challenging at first and will take time to learn. This is especially true if a woman has irregular cycles or certain medical issues that can be treated, once identified. Stick with it, consult experts as necessary, and you should be able to practice NFP with a very high level of success. The Creighton Model claims an effectiveness rate above 95%. Plus, with an abundance of online resources and tools, no matter where you are, an expert is just a click away.

See you tomorrow when we’ll discuss whether NFP is basically just another form of contraception.

Links to other posts in this NFP series:

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  1. says

    Don’t forget the Billings Ovulation Method! http://www.thebillingsovulationmethod.org

    If NFP isn’t working, a different method can make all the difference. We had a terrible time with Creighton, but Billings worked quite well for us. Many women who have struggled with other methods find the hormone monitor in Marquette allows them to understand their fertility.

    Another common misconception is that couples have to do everything perfectly all at once. Couples who are used to contraception can be intimidated by the method, by the abstinence, and by Catholic teaching on sexuality. They see the NFP couple with all the kids and think that they could never do that (or would even want to do that).

    What I would say is to give NFP a try. Learn the method. Do what you can. It takes time to learn the method and it takes time to learn how to work the method into your marriage. You’ll find that (1) she will feel a lot better off the contraceptives and (2) the method will help you both develop good habits that will change your marriage.


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