Dumping Contraception for Natural Family Planning

Welcome back! It’s Day 2 in our weeklong series on natural family planning (NFP). This post is linked up with NFP Link Week hosted at the blog NFP and Me.

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.

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Today’s Mass readings deal with fears and misconceptions. In the First Reading, as Moses led the Israelites into the desert, they were afraid. Afraid as they were of their Egyptian slave masters who pursued them, they were more afraid of the uncertain future ahead of them. They actually wanted to go back. Moses encouraged them, “Fear not! Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the LORD will win for you today.” Leaving behind contraception to begin natural family planning (NFP) can be a bit like this. It can be easier to cling to familiar ways than to leave them for something new and uncertain, no matter what the promise.

In today’s Gospel Reading, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb in search of Jesus. Still wrought with grief and unable to find his body, she is confused. When she encounters the risen Christ, she doesn’t recognize Him, supposing Him to be a gardener. When she does finally recognize Him, she refers to Jesus as teacher, revealing the depth of her misconception about who Jesus really is. Our misconceptions often prevent us from seeing the Truth as it really is. In that spirit, let’s try to clear up a couple common fears and misconceptions about NFP.

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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