Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Natural Family Planning Super Sucks?

In a recent article published in the Washington Post, young women are represented as trying to modernize the world's view of NFP while stepping away from all the Catholic-ness a little bit. Here's an example of what I mean:

"When McGuire argued, in a post called “Making Catholic Sex Sexy,” that church publications should ditch pictures of women in baggy pastels holding babies and that natural family planning should also be used to avoid pregnancies, dozens of readers protested."

They weren't kidding. When Ashley McGuire posted her original article she got some flack but now that she has been referenced in this article she's gotten even more:

"Because of an article that ran in Sunday’s Washington Post“Young Catholic Women Try to Modernize the Message on Birth Control”—that left me surprisingly unsettled... No matter how savvy our marketing may be, NFP will remain a radical, counter-cultural choice, at least for the foreseeable future, because it asks…no, it demands that we reject our cultural programming and embrace a different way of thinking. Not simply about sex, but about everything: children, family, marriage, finances, work, God, desire, love, life’s purpose, life’s meaning, human freedom, the Divine Will, suffering, sacrifice. Again, everything. NFP is not Catholic birth control." Source

I'm not trying to say that this kind of criticism isn't true, needed,or valuable. I really think that it is. I think that we need to talk about the difficulties of practicing NFP with our fellow NFP-ers. But should we broadcast our every difficulty with it in the same breath that we introduce this very foreign concept to people? I don't think so.

Captivating, isn't it?

Imagine you were trying to inform someone about why they should breastfeed. Would you tell them all about the benefits to them and their child? How it promotes the immune system of said child by passing the mother's immune defenses through the milk? How it helps the mom lose weight faster after childbirth? How it's free? Of course you would. Would you then follow that up with "But it's hard and your baby will probably suck on your nipples until they're sore and raw. Plus this means that you'll be the one getting up every 2-3 hours with your newborn while your lazy husband sleeps peacefully throughout the night?" No. You're trying to make a pitch. That's a problem for customer service. 

Customer service? This isn't the Apple store, what does that even mean?

It means that we have a responsibility to follow up with that person. We have to check on them and help them if they are having problems. We can't leave them to suffer alone. I think too many people fall into the Screw 'Em or Fix The Necessities group of NFP-ers. We have a responsibility to meet people where they are. If they're not ready to open their hearts and bedrooms to God should leave them high and dry?

I don't think we should and had the woman who taught me NFP felt that way I would never be where I am now. She met me where I was which was "not confident in the Creighton system," "fairly certain I will be pregnant in 6 months" and "skeptical" (per my review of the course.)  Instead of pushing "openness to life" and "but children are blessings" down my throat she shared with me how she was scared at first too but how much it helped her relationship. She gave me her phone number and told me I could call her anytime day or night and I did. We called her the night after our wedding. Yeah. True story. (The 'every other day' rule is just plain cruel!)

We don't need to spend our time and energy converting the already converted. We don't need to broadcast our every woe with the system just to 'keep it honest.' And we definitely don't need to ask a woman who has been taught her whole life that she alone controls when she has kids to abandon that mentality that instant and welcome as many kids as God gives her (if she even believes in God that is.) Instead we need to focus on getting the information out there and accessible. We need to be supportive, caring, compassionate, and loving.  We need to get women to understand that NFP isn't a guessing game anymore and that they still have relative control over their fertility. We can't force the grace on them to then have 10 kids, that comes from God alone but we can pray for them and we can love them. That is our most important obligation.


  1. I only used NFP or about 5 months before David and I started TTC so I don't really have to much experience, but I never really thought it was very hard. I guess if you start doing it at the beginning of a marriage/relationship and you don't know anything else, it isn't as difficult.

  2. Absolutely agreed! It's difficult to meet people where they are because WE are where WE are, dammit! But seriously...I don't think we should shy away from the fact that pinpointing fertile days IS scientific and even easy with some new methods (I use Marquette...LOVE the certainty that comes with the ovulation monitor). and I don't think having a bit more control over it means you're not giving enough to God. This is a good post. Sharing... :)

  3. I honestly think the issue comes from having to think about our bodies. Even though people know that the pill is not effective 100% of the time ( I know a lot of people who were conceived while their moms were on the pill), you just take it and stop thinking about it. It's a done deal, let's get it on. With NFP, you have to think, especially at first. In sex Ed classes they don't teach you to think, they teach you guard or to react. Sadly, so many women have NO clue what their bodies even do each month and when you don't want to get pregnant ( now or possibly ever) suddenly having to pay attention is scary. It's a control thing. It was for me for sure. Marketing it like FAM (which is to say condoms are ok unless you're catholic) is the best way in my opinion. It's natural, it's scientific, there are cross checks, and it works unless you don't want it to in which case it still works!!

  4. I agree, Katie. I read Emily's article and I think she offers good points but if pamphlets are our commercials than we need to put out the appealing before we can state the price.

    Natural Family Planning needs to be more approachable (like I had to google "TTC" to understand Mandi's comment and I've been nfp-ing for 5+years). And I also agree that we need to be upfront with people about the difficulties - at least at some point in the conversation. A lot of us don't want the cross, we just want the resurrection. But once we are sure that we want the Resurrection we can chose the Cross because we understand the total good. If that makes sense.

    1. Glad I'm not the only one who didn't know what TTC stood for! :)

  5. ALL too true --- the breastfeeding analogy is a great one because it is OH sooooo true.

    -failed breastfeeder!!

  6. The breastfeeding analogy is spot on! There is no sense in talking about the virtues if we aren't backing with support. Almost everything in life is hard but having people there to walk you though makes it that much easier.

  7. You have the most awesome buttons. I love this post.

  8. Great point. I have never seen advertising for any product or service that shows difficulties or negative aspects (with the exception of side effects of medicine). Advertising is meant to entice people and to get them to consider something they might not have thought of using before. It's good for people to see both sides of NFP, but I especially think for people who are unsure it's best to appeal to them with all of the positive aspects first, and later to begin to discuss some of the difficulties.

  9. Amen, sista! I agree. Sugarcoating things, trying to squeeze Catholic teaching into a "modern" worldview doesn't help anybody. I mean, haven't we had enough of that? It's definitely a temptation, but I think the difficulty of the teaching, in a weird way, is what's so awesome about it. That's my two cents, anyway!

  10. I loved that you brought up breastfeeding because I help teach breastfeeding classes at my local health department and (especially when I was in the middle of the three month growth spurt) I have certainly felt before that we gloss over the hard parts. I was reminded of that experience when I read some of the responses. (Btw, speaking as a lactation educator, you should not have sore and raw nipples and if you do, something is wrong.)

    The point is this: breastfeeding is hard, but formula-feeding is hard, too.

    NFP is difficult. But the pill is no cakewalk, either.

    I love that there is more awareness about the side effects of the pill, because they really aren't being discussed by healthcare providers with their patients. The drawbacks of NFP? Well, I think those are pretty obvious upfront. Even if teachers minimize them, the media ( ) makes sure they are front and center.

  11. So glad to have read your post today! I'm still trying to regain a normal cycle after discontinuing the pill.
    Is there a good class I can take online and/or order from online to learn how to properly follow NFP?
    I haven't been too worried about it over the past few months because my cycle has been so wonky, but now I'd like to learn how to track my cycle so when we're ready to get serious and TRY then I'll already know when to do so! Right now it is in God's hands entirely.
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Check your archdiocese website for classes. And go to the iuseNFP Amazon store and pick up Dr. Toni Weschler's Taking Charge of Your Fertility!

    2. There are lots of teachers who are willing to do long distance classes (via Skype or something similar.) I can get you in contact with some if you want. E-mail me at if you're interested in that.

      Also, as far as materials I would order Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It's great book and very thorough. In fact I just made and iuseNFP store tonight that has lots of great books and items in it. Here's the link to it:

      Let me know if there's anything else you need! :)

  12. Agreed. I mean, most people my age (22-23) IF they know about NFP think it's obscure, strange, cultish, or out-of-this-world difficult. Oh, I forgot: most people also think it's ineffective. Let's face it, in a culture that glorifies instant gratification and consumerism, NFP isn't going to be anything but the underdog starting out the gate. ("You mean I have to... THINK about my fertility? I might have to... abstain??? Why would I do that when I can pop a pill that comes from a pretty pink case?"

    That's why we have to be incredibly careful when it comes to how we portray NFP. I usually market it as something "all-natural" to my friends because I'm honestly pretty hippie and to them it makes sense on just a purely physical level that I'd forgo chemicals and artificial hormones via b.c. After they're used to me talking about NFP, THEN I move in for the kill and throw in some harder hitting deets. Once they're interested. Actually, I have a lot of friends who are sensitive to hormones and have given NFP a whirl because they know my husband and I use it. Win.

    Side-note: maybe my husband and I are strange, but we don't find NFP difficult. It's just part of our lives. There's no other option for us because even if I DID want to ignore Church teaching, I'm hyper sensitive to (artificial) hormones and wouldn't be able to tolerate b.c. pills.

    1. Sarah Marie, about your sidenote - I'm so glad to see it because I totally agree! I just tonight asked my husband if we were weird because we didn't think NFP was really hard. Yeah, it was at first, but not once we got used to it, and definitely not after having a baby.

  13. "But should we broadcast our every difficulty with it in the same breath that we introduce this very foreign concept to people? I don't think so."

    I completely agree! I was just discussing this with my husband tonight. Keep up the great posts!

  14. Arrgh! NFP _is_ "Catholic" birth control. I think denying that fact, and then trying to market NFP as birth control in the same breath is where so many women raise an eyebrow and think, "oh, really?" and then turn a deaf ear.

    NFP is not contraception. It is birth control.

    I suppose the WaPo article was a beginning, but the commentary there and elsewhere fell quickly into the same old us v. them camps, with denigrating comments being made by several of the most insistent proponents of NFP.

    If you (again, general) want to teach NFP strictly as a more healthy, aware method of birth control, I think that's a good thing. And from there, women who begin to understand their femininity in regard to their fertility as a result, may be more open to Catholic understanding of sexuality and sexual relationships, but you can't go whole-hog out and hammer young women over the head with both NFP and Catholic teaching. If you do, they will ultimately write NFP off as just some crazy Catholic thing that has nothing to do with them.

  15. Could NOT agree more, and I love the breastfeeding analogy. In fact, I think that's a great foundation to try to tap into. So many women are embracing it because it's so well-established that it's the healthiest option, even though it can be painful, difficult, and inconvenient. Just like so many "green" things. People are already coming around to these ideas -- we just need to demonstrate that NFP belongs there too!

  16. Amen! Great post! Love the breast feeding analogy, too!!!

  17. Hey Katie, I just borrowed your button image in this post for my latest post...I hope you don't mind? If you do, email me and I'll take it down. I did give you credit!

  18. I totally agree with this. BUT... I also think our "customer service" sucks. We spend almost no time in NFP classes talking about the difficulties and what resources people can turn to when they encounter those difficulties. This is like teaching a breastfeeding class and not telling people about La Leche League and lactation consultants and 24 hour help hotlines like my hospital has.

    We are especially bad at addressing the difficulties of prolonged periods of abstinence. It tends to be glossed over as not likely and in general abstinence is portrayed as something that will make your marriage stronger. In fact, if you have no external sources of support-- the NFP equivalents of La Leche and lactation consultants and hotlines-- it can be damaging rather than strengthening.

  19. I am deeply troubled that the anguish that many couples (including us) experience with NFP to the detriment of their marriages goes virtually unheard and is thus deemed de facto unimportant. Is the sacred bond of marriage somehow less important?

    It is exceedingly difficult to reconcile that NFP and abstinence are the only options regardless of whether the marriage bond is irreparably damaged.

    The Church's teaching focuses so much on "each and every act" and the procreative aspect of sex, that it neglects the unifying aspect of sex and therefore the health of the sacred marriage bond. My marriage, like many, has suffered tremendously due to practicing NFP.

    1. First I'd like to apologize if you think this post was to gloss over the pains of NFP. It wasn't, not in the slightest. I think it's important we recognize the difficulties that come along with practicing NFP, vitally so, but I don't think that those difficulties should be at the forefront of our advertising.

      I think the overemphasis you're speaking of when it comes to the Church staunchly promoting sex's procreative aspect is exaggerated by society overemphasis of the unitive and neglect of the procreative. The Church has never stated that one is more important than the other but it could appear that way because of how much they talk about the procreative aspect.

      Please know that I'm praying for you, your marriage, and many blessings to come your way.

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    3. I've been there, buddy, and I've got some practical advice that might help.

      Most couples who struggle with NFP have one of several easily solvable problems:

      1. Poor understanding of the method/wrong method. Trying another method may help with your problems. The book Taking Charge of Your Fertility and the Billings Method website hae a lot of great information to help you with the method.

      (By any chance, are you using Creighton? Despite its marketing, many couples, including us as well as Katie and her husband, have struggled with it. Both the Drs. Billings have severely criticized it as a method of avoiding pregnancy. CCL founder John Kippley practically accused Dr. Hilgers of fudging his numbers and hiding his data. It is also more work than most methods of NFP.)

      2. Actual health problems that need to be addressed. Cycle irregularities often have underlying causes and you may need to see a doctor to get them fixed. Creighton has many flaws, but THIS is where it shines, and this is where I believe Dr. Hilgers true calling is. A FertilityCare specialist may be able to fix things and make NFP easier.

      3. Real marital issues or mental health problems. If this is an issue, get help. You will not be able to use NFP successfully until you get these issues resolved.

      4. Poor understanding of Church doctrine. Do you know what the Church REALLY teaches about sex? How about sin and grace? You may have a misunderstanding about what the faith requires. (Some NFP advocates have been mistakenly teaching clear doctrinal error for years.) The works of John Paul II/Karol Wojtyla are great, although they are dense and are translated from Polish. Start with the Catechism that is online at the Vatican's website. YouCat is a new catechism for young people that is supposed to be easier to read and understand and is recommended by Pope Benedict XVI. If you are not using NFP out of love for your own body (wives) or love for your wife (husbands), you are doing it the wrong way and for the wrong reasons.

      5. Bad attitude about using NFP. Abstinence sucks. We all get that. But there are benefits. You do get "all natural lovemaking" for most of the cycle. It has no unpleasant side effects. And even the abstinence forces you to find other ways to love each other. But if you focus on what you can't have or what you think others are having (they aren't BTW), you are going to be miserable. That's true for everything, not just NFP.

      I hope this post has been helpful and I wish you the best.

    4. Hey waywardson, I appreciate the hell out of all your information and encouragement but I do have to clarify something.

      Steven and I have not struggled with NFP because of Creighton. I struggled at the beginning because of #4 and #5 on your list. Creighton has worked really well for me. (Although I realize it doesn't for everyone.)

      Thanks providing anonymous some charitable info! :)

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    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. I'm glad YOUR Creighton teacher "met you where you were". Ours told us everything was fine when my wife was getting more confused and pushed "openness to life" and "but children are blessings" down our throats when we were struggling.

    Oh, and if you think the "every other day rule is cruel" try getting married on Peak Day. On the bright side, the wedding pictures looked great!

  21. My husband and I used NFP for five years and did not conceive. However, the cost to our relationship and to my mental health was horrible. Every time my period was a bit late, I'd panic and calculate my due date. Why? I spent my 20s in grad school and am now starting a career that I love. I'm not 'selfish' (the most common rebuttal we hear when we're struggling); I spend much of my time out of class building relationships with the young adults I teach (I'm a professor), many of whom are without parents for the first time and cut adrift from their home churches. I have some who come to me sobbing with crises of faith because they know I am both a believer and a scholar. Should I be pregnant and if I were due during January, I would miss an entire year's round of tenure-track job interviews. If I were due in the early Spring, I couldn't fly out to complete interviews. I'm leave replacements for other faculty (many on maternity leave), and so if I were to become too ill to work, I would cause gross inconvenience to my institution and get a poor evaluation.

    Also, I have serious chronic health problems that would make childbearing complicated and painful. My husband loves me and doesn't want me to suffer. The argument that "Well, ABC is also difficult and often fails" is hardly an argument at all, since different couples experience wildly different circumstances. While we may wish we lived in a child-friendly world where all women are healthy, we live in a broken world and in broken bodies.

    In great part I am disturbed that the people responsible for this teaching are all unmarried men. Married women do also advocate for it, but the mandate that Catholics not examine methods of contraception rationally and with earnest care for preserving created life comes from people who have seldom had to practice NFP within marriage. NFP also favors couples in which women are not breadwinners and are not seriously ill; is that fair? Is a Catholic woman's only choice 'be a nun' or 'choose only careers that are baby friendly and you can't be sick and married because sick women don't deserve a husband'? Women bear the lion's share of responsibility for monitoring and enforcing NFP, and it takes a toll on us when we combine it with periods of financial and physical stress.

    I hesitated posting this because I know what the standard answers are. "You're selfish. Yes, it's hard, but shut up and do it anyway. You and your life matters less than this teaching." But consider; Humanae Vitae was written decades ago. Our knowledge of how various contraceptives work has grown by leaps and bounds, and most NFP advocates provide information that is very out of date, and completely ignores the very viable option of modern IUDs (which do not induce miscarriage, as previously was thought). The Bible says absolutely nothing about contraceptives, though they were in common use during the time of Jesus. But it says a great deal about compassion, and supporting those who struggle, and justice for women and the oppressed. Jesus particularly hated the Pharisees because they focused on the rules over and above the intent.

    I say this as a convert and an otherwise unapologetic Catholic - we need to seriously question whether our leadership (who don't have to support our babies or help us cope with the consequences of marital strain) is fully equipped to address this question. Should God override my choice of contraception, I will accept it and scramble to work around it, knowing with certainty that it was God and not my inability to count, wake up at the same time every day, and cervix-gaze. We need to be open and supportive when discussing the pain this doctrine causes as well as the positive effects it brings. And most of all, we should love each other and treat the stress of pregnancy and prolonged abstinence as serious issues. We need to treat poverty and maternal illness as grave concerns. It sounds like many of you already are.

  22. "My husband and I used NFP for five years and did not conceive. However, the cost to our relationship and to my mental health was horrible. Every time my period was a bit late, I'd panic and calculate my due date."

    "Should God override my choice of contraception, I will accept it and scramble to work around it, knowing with certainty that it was God and not my inability to count, wake up at the same time every day, and cervix-gaze."

    With all due respect, I think these are your real problems, not the Church's teaching on NFP.

    NFP works. The science is solid. It IS as effective as artificial contraception. The Billings Ovulation Method is highly researched, highly effective, and very simple. You don't have to wake up at the same time every day or do anything with your cervix.

    But what you are saying about contraception shows that you are interested in it not for sex, but for security. If you have an unplanned pregnancy with contraception, you can blame the doctor, blame the manufacturer, or blame God. If you have an unplanned pregnancy with NFP, then you feel that you can only blame yourself.

    We've been there. And yes, you are right about modern IUDs not inducing miscarriage, but they cause other health problems. And you are right that there is little support for couples. Many NFP promoters set couples up for failure by not helping them with the science of the method and with the personal issues that cause people to struggle because they want people to have lots of babies, whether they want to or not.

    But this is the attitude of certain promoters, not the Church.

    I like to think that struggles with NFP show problems in a marriage, from health problems to relational problems to psychological problems. In other words, contraception will not solve your fear of pregnancy, your medical problems, or your doubts about your own body.

  23. I think you have to realize you are selling something countercultural, and I think part of that is being credible. To "advertise" by saying you can only get pregnant 5-8 days per month (which is true) but then to teach people a method which means they have to abstain 10-14 days (not abnormal) or more (not unheard of)makes you non-credible. When you spend a lot of time talking about the horrible side effects of the pills every woman in town is taking without trouble, when you promote junk science (I see a lot less of that now than I did years ago) it doesn't help your credibility and when you are selling something as a moral good, credibility is your major asset.

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