Kathleen Domingo: Is NFP Practical for Catholic Women?
Q: How do you gently but assertively guide women who are in casual conversation over the teachings of the Church when they ask things such as: In our study it talks about how the Church encourages NFP, but then provides a statistic which says that only 6% of Catholics use this method. How can we be sure that the Church is teaching things that are actually practical for the faithful? Wouldn’t more people be using NFP if it worked or fit into our modern lifestyle?
A: Since “the pill” became popular in the 1920’s, the Catholic Church has often been the only voice opposing its usage, even in marriage. The teaching, based on the complementarity of male and female sexuality and the ends of marriage, received profound explanation in Pope St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. However, even with the Church’s rich teaching, the reasons behind the opposition to contraception are largely unknown or misunderstood.
The truth is, contraception is convenient. Most women (even Catholic women) use it, it is relatively effective, and there is no coherent reason given in the culture to oppose it. In fact, quite the opposite is true — phrases such as “safe sex”, and “responsible parenthood” teach that using contraception is the safest and even most ethical choice.
So, to bring up a holistic, life-affirming alternative, even to Catholic women, can be daunting. But, right now, for the first time in a long time, there seems to be a moment where women are listening.
This year’s Women’s March had the unexpected outcome of creating chaos in a community that for decades has been dominated by the single voice of reproductive rights. Organizers of the March miscalculated when they “disinvited” a pro-life feminist organization, unleashing a maelstrom of commentary from women nationwide, in periodicals and blogs , all attesting that a great many women do not fit this single-minded perspective. Most of the commentary has been decrying abortion, but a small but growing number of women are bravely speaking out against artificial contraception, claiming that the practice not only does not guarantee women’s equality but can actually be harmful to women.
Let’s capitalize on this moment to help women, even women who have been using contraception for years, understand that there is a better way that works in harmony with their bodies and benefits their marriages.
It is important to remember that the Church teaches things because they are true. Things are not true just because the Church teaches them. It may be that mainstream women are slow to understand the negatives of contraception and the benefits of Natural Family Planning (NFP) and fertility awareness, but we welcome all women who are willing to explore these options and how they work not only with one’s body but with the deepest longings of one’s heart for love and connection.
NFP and fertility awareness have made great strides in recent years. The science is more accurate and the method more streamlined both for couples wishing to conceive and those who want to space pregnancies. I have used more traditional methods of NFP for years, but I recently began using Natural Cycles, an app created by a physicist couple based on an algorithm and regulated by self-recorded data. It is 99.9% effective for either achieving or avoiding pregnancy if used as directed. Best of all, these tools that relate to modern women also help us avoid the nasty side-effects of contraception–both physical and psychological.
There is a reason that NFP-using couples have such a low divorce rate. It is because the method itself promotes a different way of interacting. NFP (and any fertility-awareness program) can certainly be used as a natural birth control method. But, when it is not, when it is used in the life-giving spirit that it is intended, it creates a spirit of openness and generosity you can find nowhere else. I don’t know that any woman has ever said that her IUD fosters generosity in her marriage. But, countless NFP practitioners have said that!
Why? Because NFP is different. Fertility awareness works in accord with the natural function of the woman’s body, providing her knowledge about her fertility and her overall health. Used by a couple for family planning, NFP demands that a husband and wife have conversations about whether having a child right now is right for them or not. And, countless anecdotal evidence confirms that, if you can have open and honest conversations about fertility, then communication is increased and improved on every other topic!
Natural Family Planning and fertility awareness continue to be one of the best-kept secrets to helping women and families thrive. Like anything, it takes practice and a commitment to the process, but the results far outweigh any sacrifice.
Let’s take this moment, when many women are more open to hearing alternatives to the feminist status quo, to share the beauty of NFP with our sisters, daughters and friends. Invite them to try something different that will free them from contraception’s side-effects and open them to a lifetime of life-giving love.
Kathleen is Director, Office of Life in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles working with thousands of women on some of the most critical issues of our time dealing with dignity of the human person at every stage of life.