Sunday, July 24, 2011

NFP Ain't Easy

Pope Paul Vi released his encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) on July 25, 1968. In commemoration of that date, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has established July 24-30 as Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week. The Catholic practice of NFP typically finds it’s foundation in paragraph 16 of Humanae Vitae:

If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier.

As a married Catholic struggling to be faithful to the teaching authority of the Church, I have to say that NFP ain’t easy. Those responsible for promoting the practice often point to some statistics that I think might be a little misleading.

First is the claim that the divorce rate among those who practice NFP is remarkably lower than the national average. It is implied that this is so because of NFP. Baloney! It’s because the factors that lead a couple to practice NFP are also likely to be same factors that lead a couple to view marriage as indissoluble. In other words, rather than long and stable marriages being caused by NFP, both long marriages and NFP use are caused by faithfulness to the Magisterium. If a couple is faithful to Church teaching, they will enter into marriage understanding it to be a life-long union. Similarly, they will reject contraception and turn to NFP for regulating the size of their family.

Another common claim is that NFP requires the couple to abstain from sex during only one week of the woman’s cycle. The window of opportunity includes the pre-menstrual and menstrual period. The small window of abstinence requires regular and accurate readings of base temperature, mucus, and cervix. Any illness or disruption in sleep patterns (common occurrences in a house full of kids) can affect the readings. These cause the window of abstinence to grow larger. In addition, the desire for intimacy seems to peak during ovulation, right in the middle of the abstinence window.

In our experience, the advertised one week of abstinence to three weeks of opportunity ends up being inverted. We end up with one week each month during which it is “safe” to be intimate. That one-week window ends up getting further reduced as a result of sharing the house with seven kids. Throw in the absence of the ovulation hormones and pheromones, and you have a scenario that is definitely less than optimal.

The options are to either (a) abandon ourselves to passion with the full knowledge that we are fertile and will probably end up with another little Hilgefort in diapers, (b) violate Church teaching and conscience and, in the process, corrupt the very act by which we seek to strengthen our marriage, or (c) exercise restraint and responsibility.

Nobody ever said that obedience was easy.


Erica said...

Hi Kurt – I just came across your blog. We have had the same struggles with NFP. Worry about inaccurate temperature checks due to restless nights with the kids, and constant mucus and cervical checks. We were actually about ready to give up, but a friend pointed us towards another NFP method. The Billings method. It is based on mucus only. No cervical checks! No temperatures! It might be a good option for you too.

Sheri said...

As you know nothing good is ever easy. We also tried the type of NFP you describe,way too consuming. There is an easier way, the Creighton Model Fertility Care System & NaPro Technology. or

Jen said...

LOL! We find we have about 10 days of "go time" a month. We have two small children, are chronically sleep deprived, and have the same challenges you describe. It ain't easy being Catholic. :)

Kurt H said...

We learned the sympto-thermal method through the Couple-to-Couple League after our second child. We knew exactly what we were doing when we got our third!

The engineer in me has a hard time believing that a method that uses only one of the three indications (mucus) can be as accurate as one that uses three (mucus, temperature, and cervix).

If there were only enough demand, I'm sure that somebody would come up with a disposable urine strip. Unfortunately, even among Catholics, the demand probably just isn't big enough.

Sheri said...

Ok Kurt, you sound like the engineer in my home :)

They say its 99.9 percent effective if you follow the rules. There are so many variables with the synmpto-thermol method...
I guess in the end it doesn't matter which method one uses, God has the final say. :)