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Natural Family Planning considered

July 5, 2023

By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Co-Director, Diocesan Natural Family Planning Office

Congratulations! Perhaps you are newly married, or perhaps you are still busy getting ready for the big day. Issues and adjustments of all kinds demand your attention, and it might be easy to let some things just slide. Even so, starting a new life together is the perfect time for the two of you to have a heart-to-heart talk about family planning.

Really? Wasn’t that all settled at the clinic or the doctor’s office? Well, that is the first thing to consider: being a fertile woman is not a disease that needs medical treatment. The ability to conceive and bear children is a good and healthy thing, and the alternating phases of female fertility and infertility have been well documented for nearly a century. Today any woman can learn to understand her own fertility by observing its physical signs or biomarkers. These reflect the hormonal changes that govern the female cycle and indicate times of fertility and infertility within that cycle. Natural Family Planning teaches women to identify and evaluate these changes.

This knowledge gives her an entirely natural, healthy, highly effective (98-99% effective) way to plan a family – simply by abstaining during the fertile time of the cycle. Also, because Natural Family Planning is true family planning, the same knowledge enables couple to identify the optimum time for conception when that is their family planning intention. NFP is also unique because responsibility for conception is shared by both husband and wife. After all, since a woman is fertile only a few days each cycle and a man is continuously fertile from puberty until death, it hardly makes sense that she should bear the burden of risky contraceptives.

And yes, the hormonal contraceptives currently used by 61 million American women carry significant health risks. Learn all you can, even if you may need a magnifying glass to read the fine print in the package inserts. This information will alert you to some of the immediate medical hazards risked by women who use the Pill and other chemical contraceptives including Norplant, patches, Yaz, rings, and IUDs. In addition to raising the risk of blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, gallbladder disease and depression, these chemicals substantially increase the lifetime risk of breast cancer. (Learn more at https://bcpinstitute.org, website of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute.) Let the facts inform your choices.

There are also other values to consider in your approach to family planning. Couples who choose contraceptive drugs and devices view fertility as a problem – HER problem, which she must fix. But of course, a fertile woman is not broken or defective, but is perfectly healthy. Natural Family Planning recognizes this truth and educates couples to accept and respect the woman in her totality. NFP empowers women: family planning is no longer a female “problem,” but a responsibility shared by husband and wife. Knowledge is always powerful, and learning to understand and respect how our bodies are designed has a powerful influence on couples who use it. It fosters attentiveness, appreciation, patience, and communication, which tend to strengthen a couple’s relationship.

It is also important to consider this question in light of God’s plan for married love. Especially in a culture that regards sex as something that human beings fashion for themselves, it is essential to consider sexuality from the perspective of the God who made it, and all of us. When you stand before the altar of God on your wedding day, you promise yourselves to one another in a love that is free, permanent, faithful and open to the gift of children. This is the kind of love with which God loves us, and it is the absolutely unconditional love for which we all long. It is the love that God intends should be embodied in every act of sexual intercourse, an act that by its nature says: “I love you totally. I give all of myself to you forever, and I freely and completely accept all that you are.” Yet contracepted intercourse says something quite different: “I love you, but not all of you. I give myself to you, but not all of me. I withhold my fertility /I will not accept your fertility.” In this way, married love can become conditional, demanding, and divisive rather than uniting a couple in giving and receiving the total gift of each to the other.

At every level – health, effectiveness, relationship, faith – God’s plan is good. Time spent learning it yields tremendous benefits over a lifetime. NFP methods, and modes of learning, have evolved to include many online options, as well as in-person classes. Different NFP methodologies appeal to different people, and there is certainly something that will suit your preferences. The Catholic Church, which has always taught and continues to teach that God made sex to be both unitive AND procreative, has endorsed natural methods of birth regulation for the better part of a century and supported research and teaching organizations. Such organizations approved by the Church thus have long histories of reliability, which is not the case for the many random fertility awareness methods currently crowding the internet. The most comprehensive single site for this information is hosted by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops: https://www.usccb.org/topics/natural-family-planning. We also invite you to connect with our diocesan NFP Office at www.rcdony.org/nfp or email us at apietroapoli@rcdony.org.

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