Why is NFP not Contraception?

nfp chart

It all boils down to one central feature: NFP isn’t artificial.

Still, that simple fact won’t silence most objectors. “If you’re trying not to get pregnant, then isn’t that basically the same as using a condom? The result is the same; what’s the difference?”

There are surely selfish ways to employ natural family planning—just as selfish as using birth control, condoms, etc. Most good things, in excess, can be somehow perverted.

Instead of focusing on NFP-as-failed, let’s give a bit of attention to the natural dissimilarities between NFP and contraception. The clincher comes when we take sexual intercourse as an integral act: namely, one that involves not just physical processes, but also intentions. Neither alone makes up the act of sex; and both are separable from one another in some way. (E.g., a rape victim hardly “has sex with” her aggressor. Equally, one who lusts after his friend’s wife isn’t blameless, just because he didn’t “do” anything.) In short, it’s possible to have simulated intercourse that reflects certain aspects of—but isn’t the same as—the real thing.

Artificial contraceptives—when used for this purpose—degrade sex from “real” to “simulated.” In other words, they remove or mitigate a feature of the action, i.e., the organic, physical complementarity of male and female, leaving behind only part of the “material” needed for sexual intercourse. Furthermore, using contraceptives means not only that a couple wishes to avoid pregnancy, but that they intentionally mar the act to achieve this end.

On the other hand, NFP avoids both of these pitfalls. It leaves intact the full biological “material” of sexual intercourse, and doesn’t require a couple to prioritize intentions over the act, itself. Avoiding pregnancy by gauging natural fertility cycles doesn’t demand  a separate intention (e.g., putting on a condom) aimed at rendering the act fruitless. Rather, any intention to avoid pregnancy is subjected to a freely engaged in, physical action that is known to be naturally fruitless at certain times.

By

Andrew Haines is president and founder of the Center for Morality in Public Life, and a doctoral candidate in the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. He serves as the editor of Ethika Politika.

  • http://on-this-rock.blogspot.com/ Father John Hollowell

    I’ve always said if NFP and contraception are the same, then there should be absolutely no reason to NOT switch to NFP (since they’re the same and all…)

    • Terry Carroll

      Agreed.  NFP is not contraception.  It’s birth control. 

      • Marion (Mael Muire)

        Just as gently reasoning with your youngster, patiently explaining to him the difference between right and wrong, and using time-outs and deprivation of his favorite games and toys is the same disciplining approach as belting the daylights out of your kid until he is black and blue.

        Both of these approaches have the same end in view, that is, to control your child’s behavior.

        So, there’s really no difference. No difference at all.

      • BobTrent

        Yes, NFP IS Birth Control. Pope John Paul II wrote that NFP is one way of controlling birth.
        Onan planned his family – to have his own and not Er’s. He certainly didn’t use any kind of artificial contraception.. all NATURAL. It’s a NATURAL fact that if no semen is emitted into a vagin0.67 or a 33% likelihood. If God had left Onan alone Tamar would likely have become pregnant even if Onan”did it right” EVERY time.a procreation is unlikely. But it’s SO easy to slip up. Just one little squirt and she has been inseminated.
        If Onania is 0.004 likely PER COPULATION to result in conception, when you’ve done it 100 times this 0.004 (0.4%) becomes
        Sorry; my dumb smartphone messed this up.

  • DJ Hesselius

    I don’t think “artificial” has much to do with it.  There are herbs out there that can be used as contraceptives (the book Eve’s Herbs by Riddle discusses this), and certainly coitus interruptus isn’t artificial either. And the Church does not condemn “artificial contraception” but simply “contraception.”

    NFP isn’t contraception because contraception cannot help one become pregnant. NFP can, and depending on the specific model (say, Creighton) offeres a wealth of information to the an NFP only doctor on why a women may or may not be able to achieve pregnancy.   NFP isn’t contraception because in order for NFP users to avoid pregnancy, they must abstain from sexual relations during certain, specific times.  The whole point of contraception is so that the users do not need to avoid sexual relations at all (granted, it doesn’t always work out that way, hence the contraceptive failure rate.)

    • Micha Elyi

      “NFP isn’t contraception because” abstinence isn’t contraception.

    • BobTrent

      Many “artificial” contraceptors decline coitus during the wife’s menses.

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  • Paul

    They’re not the same. With NFP, the couple respects the natural biological cycle(fertility) God has endowed the woman. Having a good understanding of the wife’s fertility cycle, the couple has a 50/50 chance at conception based on when they decide to perform the marital embrace. Another important thing to understand is that NFP is not all about avoiding conception but rather is also about helping couples conceive.
    Contraception is an upfront to God since it is an unnatural(artificial) means to avoid pregnancy(mostly for selfish reasons) while availing only of the ‘pleasures’ that come with the marital embrace. By God’s design, the marital embrace has for its purpose serve (2) ends; BABIES and BONDING with ‘pleasure’ as an incentive(perks). A marriage devoid of this fundamental understanding presents a very difficult situation in understanding the merits of NFP. Notwithstanding the culture that encourages and glorifies the ‘endless pursuit of pleasure’ at all cost(hedonism) that presses upon all as the ultimate goal in life.

    • c matt

      The methods are certainly different – one introduces an outside agency (whether made of elastic material or ingested herbs or chemicals), the other does not (just the natural cycle).  However, simply because one of the means is not sinful does not translate into an automatic pass.  The intentions must also be moral.  Artificial is sinful because the means itself are sinful; NFP can be sinful if the intentions are sinful (i.e., no grave reasons exist for avoiding pregnancy).

    • http://www.facebook.com/agithens Anna Trotta Githens

      I agree wholeheartedly except I think that the pleasure that results from the “marital embrace” should really be viewed as a reward (as opposed to an incentive) for the reciprocal gift of self to one’s spouse, which could potentially create new life. Without this reciprocal gift of self, the objective is purely selfish, which seeks the reward (pleasure) without giving the gift. 

      NFP also requires discipline, patience, and respect for one’s spouse while developing virtues such as temperance and prudence. NFP helps to strengthen a person interiorly while simultaneously strengthening the couple’s marital bond and increasing their faith and trust in God. NFP is about empowering the individual and encouraging independence, as opposed to dependence on man-made devices. Self-mastery and self-possession lead to self-determination, the ability to determine actions taken by the self, which are qualities all oriented toward gift. When I possess myself I choose to act in the freedom of my own
      body, which permits me to be the author of genuinely human activity (as JP II said in Theology of the Body).  

      As Joseph Pieper explains, “The discipline of temperance defends [the human
      being] against all selfish perversion of the inner order, through which alone
      the moral person exists and lives effectively.”

      • Peter

        “NFP also requires discipline, patience, and respect for one’s spouse while developing virtues such as temperance and prudence.”
        In an ideal world perhaps… but I know some married catholic men who use the NFP and knowledge of their wive’s cycle as a pretext for extra-marital affairs or self indulgence.

        • http://www.facebook.com/agithens Anna Trotta Githens

          Then there is something wrong with the marriage itself or the relationship with God, not with NFP. Artificial contraception didn’t even exist until 50 years ago. We have a tendency to think we are so much smarter simply because of new inventions that most of us had nothing to do with, and in many cases are making us less prudent and wise. We act as though we are so self-reliant when we need a prescription for birth control pills produced by Johnson and Johnson. 

          In 1940, 93% of both men and women were virgins when they got married and the divorce rate was much lower. I highly recommend “Contraception: Why Not?” by Janet Smith on DVD. It will definitely influence your thinking on the birth control issue. 

          • Father of 8

            Artificial contraception has been around a lot longer than 50 years ago and can be tracked as far back 7th century BC in China. NFP is not artificial contraception, but it is birth control no matter how you dress it up. 

            • srdc

              AC has been around, along with homosexuality, incest, fornication, etc.  but Christians were told to avoid these practises.

            • http://www.facebook.com/agithens Anna Trotta Githens

              I am talking about advanced methods such as the pill and IUD’s. There’s a world of difference between these methods and those used in the 7th century. It’s pretty evident that this whole debate picked up speed during the second Vatican Counsel and was the central issue in Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae issued in 1968. 

              Natural Family Planning is about planning a family naturally. That is why those words are used instead of using the words “Controlling the Birth of Children.” You can compare it to seeing a glass half empty or half full. There’s no way for us to speculate on how a couple thinks, communicates, and plans a family together. Just because NFP seems unattainable for some doesn’t mean this is the case for everyone else. Many people can’t grasp the idea that a priest can live a chaste life in continence for the kingdom.. You may find NFP to be a dressed up name but I find it to be exactly what it says it is.

              • BobTrent

                Chemical means of preventing pregnancy and causing abortion has been around for millennia. It was called in Greek “pharmakeia” which, though rendered “sorcery,” refers to drugs, mostly herbs, that cause sterility or induce abortion.

          • KarenJo12

            I seriously doubt those 1943 numbers. A woman — but not a man! — who had sex outside of marriage was a whore, so any woman who answered that survey in any way other than the socially approved way faced harsh judgment.

        • srdc

          The thing is that sex is the marital act. It’s not that marriage changes this, but contraception changes both sex and marriage.

    • Ron Van Wegen

      “Contraception is an upfront to God…” um, I think you mean “affront” :-)

  • JP

    Perhaps a distinction should be made between Artificial Contraception and Birth Control. NFP is Catholic Birth Control. So is abstinence (the most effective form of birth control). It should also be noted that NFP requires consultation with a priest before it is used. Otherwise, the couple may put off having children indefinitely for the wrong reasons. 

    • Fr. W. M. Gardner

      JPCelibacy, marrying late-in-life, and abstinence all result in fewer births, but are not usually referred to as birth control because they involve no sexual relations.  However, periodic continence is properly described as birth regulation, since it regulates sexual relations in order to prevent pregnancy.  I don’t see how one can deny the contraceptive nature of periodic continence.Therefore, artificial contraception is always illicit, but periodic continence may be licit for grave reasons.

    • NFP mom of 3

      Um.. Couples may need to consult a priest if thy are having trouble discerning “grave reasons” but many situations do NOT require this. When my fertility returns at 8 weeks after a csection and I still have a new, nursing baby do you really think I need to traipse down to the rectory to get permission to wait for another baby? That’s patently ridiculous. Married couples aren’t idiots you know….there are certainly situations in which consulting a priest would be helpful, but it is probably unnecessary in quite a few situations. A couple tends to know if hey have a pressing serious reason to wait on a pregnancy. Never mind that many priests may not even care if we are using NFP or contraception to begin wih unfortunately.

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  • schmenz

    Mr Haines:

    Truly, NFP is the “third rail” issue in Catholicism today.  But allow me quickly to borrow your opening phrase.   It all boils down to one thing: avoiding childbirth.

    True, artificial contraception compounds the evil, and mightily.  But if the intention is to avoid children for less than grave reasons, then NFP is just as bad in that sense as the Pill.  And let us stop beating around the bush: the vast majority of the reasons people use to practice NFP are not grave.

    If we as Catholics cannot face up to the seriousness of the problem with NFP then we are in dire straits indeed.

    • http://twitter.com/CrunchyConMom Crunchy Con Mommy

      have you done a study on it? maybe we should have some actual data here before assuming we know other people’s reasons for practicing or not practicing NFP and condemning them based on our unfounded assumptions!

      • NFP mom of 3

        Yes until you know intimately the physical, emotional, and spiritual states of couples please reserve your judgement. Others carry burdens you are not privy to, don’t add another. Instead perhaps we could all just encourage generosity in marriage to all. We all need encouragement, not judgement from others.

    • Saoirse

      thank you.

    • Carson Weber

       schmenz, where does the Church teach (please quote a document) that one must have a “grave” reason to use NFP to avoid conception?

      • Cord_Hamrick

        Carson:

        Something like that is part of the teaching, though I don’t know if it’s under the exact term “grave” (bringing to mind associations of mortal sins, which have to do with “grave” matter).

        The thing to keep in mind is:

        1. Having children is a very great moral good. One thereby creates human life, which God pronounced “very good”; one is cooperating with God in peopling the universe (and hopefully Heaven) with immortal souls. Every new baby is a miracle: Here is a person who, for good or ill, will outlive the galaxies. As C.S.Lewis observed, apart from the Blessed Sacrament, your neighbor is the “holiest object present to your senses.” A very big deal!

        2. Having said all that, we are morally permitted to abstain from even great moral goods, provided we are abstaining from them not for the sake of some evil, but for the sake of some other moral good. For example: Eating is good; prayer and penance are good; it is therefore morally permissible abstain from eating in order to commit oneself to prayer and penance.

        Likewise, marriage is good; serving as a priest or nun is also good; abstaining from marriage in order to serve as a priest or nun is morally permissible.

        Likewise, childbearing is good; allocating your resources of time and money in such a way as to ensure your existing children are well-provided for is also good. Following the pattern given above we conclude that abstaining from childbearing in order to best allocate your resources for your existing children is morally permissible.

        3. However we have to qualify Item #2: A person who makes $1 million a year is not in danger of lacking resources to raise his children (at least, not financial resources). He needs to have a good reason for limiting his number of children, and if he is doing it simply because he wants to be able to afford a yacht, then one suspects he has a disordered value system: He under-appreciates the value of a child and over-appreciates the value of a yacht. He is not seeing the relative values of each “through God’s eyes.”

        But even there I would not say that a man with a $1 million annual income must never limit himself to, say, two children. That’s an unusually small number for such a very well-heeled individual, but what do we know about his expenses? Perhaps the wife has a medical condition which makes pregnancy dangerous? Perhaps there are other issues unknown to us as outsiders? So of course if we observe, as outsiders, a well-heeled married individual with few or no children, we absolutely must not start thinking condemnatory thoughts at them. They may have issues with infertility, or there may be good reasons, of which we’re unaware, for them to abstain from this good.

        But as far as we ourselves are concerned, we must have value systems which see a baby not as a net liability but a huge net blessing (with some responsibilities and liabilities attached which loom large in our fallen eyes but pale in comparison to the value of the child in God’s eyes), and a yacht not as as a huge net blessing but as a very minor net blessing with responsibilities and liabilities attached which almost cancel them out. Or to put it more succinctly: People are people and stuff is stuff.

        And at any rate we must remember that most men and women who’re practicing NFP are strongly encouraged, every month, to reconsider their stance against additional children purely by the action of their hormones while the wife is ovulating. If their reasons are adequately serious, then they’ll exercise the necessary willpower. If their reasons are inadequate, their bodies may not stop pointing that fact out to them, in an insistent fashion, until they come ’round to seeing it God’s way.

    • cincy

      Humanae Vitae did not say: Thou must not avoid childbirth. It said: Thou must not separate the unitive and procreative natures of the marital act.

      NFP users do not separate the two meanings of the act.Quit painting with the same brush of mortal sin those who use NFP with a selfish intention and those who contracept. These are two completely different things.

      • BobTrent

        I’m not a Catholic so I don’t care much about HV. It makes some good points but it carries no authority for me.
        It was the Roman Church that “withdrew its finger from the dike” in 1853 (and reaffirmed in 1880) by being the first significant organ of Christendom to approve the “rhythm” method, the first form of what later became called “NFP.”
        The Anglo-Catholic (Protestant Episcopal) Church of England held out 77 years, then capitulated in 1930. From there it spread throughout Protestantism, accepting what CINOs had been doing all along.

    • Cord_Hamrick

       Schmenz:

      I don’t know that it is so dire as you suggest.

      First, mere cooperation with God in this area is an act of willful resistance against the evils of our culture in favor of honoring God. Let us say that a person does so with a mixed mindset: Fine. That’s less good than a non-mixed mindset. But the sheer teeth-gritting insistence on obeying God still puts the person into a position to learn from God and receive His graces to a degree far beyond mere capitulation to the culture, even if their motives remain intermixed with error from the culture. (A person’s paradigm often doesn’t change overnight. But sometimes they must start by being obedient, and then allow the experience of obedience to change their hearts until they understand why God’s law is what it is.)

      Second, have you noticed that NFP requires a great deal of self-control and mortifying the flesh in most cases? That can’t be a bad thing for developing spiritual maturity. How much better would society be in general if the percentage of people accustomed to deferred gratification in sexual matters were to increase?

      Or, put it another way: The person who practices artificial contraception does not have to exert willpower in a fresh battle every month. It therefore has a self-limiting factor. There’s every reason to believe that a society in which contraception is an assumed mentality will suffer from birth rates which fall near or below replacement level. We see the stats for Europe and Russia, and they are not good.

      But even if more than half the couples practicing NFP were to have a partially-contraceptive mindset in doing so, the problems of population shrinkage would certainly not occur because of the additional daily self-discipline required. The woman is most attractive when she is ovulating, and the couple desire each other most at that time. That’s the way it works. Thus, in the aggregate, couples with identical mindsets using the pill (which prevents ovulation, reducing the desire each partner has for the other) will have fewer children than those using NFP for the wrong reasons.

      And remember what the benefits are of more children in society: Parents of young children demand (as consumers and voters) a rather different character to public space than do DINKs. Imagine the change in the economics of film-making alone, when society has a larger percentage of parents of younger children and a proportionally smaller percentage of childless adults.

      And you would still get the additional benefits of avoiding divorce and having happier marriages purely from keeping the woman’s hormones healthy and allowing the neurotransmitters and hormones and nutrients exchanged in intercourse to have their natural effects.

      So, okay, NFP for the wrong reasons is NFP for the wrong reasons. But I think it has a tendency to educate the practitioners, to draw them towards a correct mindset over time in an organic way. And over time the replacing of artificial contraception with NFP ameliorates a lot of other social ills.

      So I think you’re taking too narrow a view, when you say, “But if the intention is to avoid children for less than grave reasons, then NFP is just as bad in that sense as the Pill.” No it isn’t. For the world at large and even for the individuals, NFP is better.

      • schmenz

         No one is saying that NFP is like contraception in the strict sense, that of destroying a child.  It IS like contraception in the motivational sense, and that is what I was trying to explain. 

        Again, if the motive is to avoid children until the couple finds it convenient, the method is secondary, though of course contraception compounds the offense.

        • Cord_Hamrick

           Schmenz:

          Reading your reply, it seems likely that you misconstrued my earlier note…as having misconstrued your earlier note! (Online conversations can be complicated things, eh?)

          I would never have thought, from your original note (to which I replied), that you thought contraception and NFP were morally identical.

          So when you say, “No one is saying that NFP is like contraception in the strict sense…” I’m inclined to answer, “No one is saying that you are saying that NFP is like contraception in the strict sense.”

          My concern was to point out that the mere practice of NFP, being for some folks extremely difficult and for all folks a regular exercise of significant self-discipline, is a crash course in drawing closer to Christ and thinking with the Church. And certainly the initial decision to change over to the practice of NFP, after a couple has been long accustomed to using other methods, purely out of a conviction that this is what Christ demands of them and a desire to be loyal to Him, is a powerful step in the maturing and sanctification of the believer. It amounts to a kind of conversion, in that area of one’s life, and that conversion will be reaffirmed monthly: No small thing.

          I also wonder if you’re overstating the prevalence of otherwise-orthodox Catholic couples using NFP for insufficient reasons, because it’s merely “inconvenient” to have a child. I certainly agree that this happens. But my instinct is that it happens less often than you think, and that when a couple starts out with the wrong priorities and attitudes, these priorities and attitudes tend to improve over time. In many cases (not all) they are eroded like a sandcastle on the seashore as the tide comes in.

          I say this because the very discipline required by NFP — especially the fact that a couple must abstain during the fertile time, which is when their bodies drive them most fiercely towards coitus — is quite inconvenient. Hormones can be distractingly insistent during this part of the month, and it happens again, and again, every month. A couple who is interested in “convenience” — that is to say, the easy path, the path of least resistance — will find themselves either giving in to their desire for one another (in which case the problem is self-correcting in one way) or having a serious talk about whether their reasons for avoiding another child are really sufficiently serious after all (in which case the problem is self-correcting in another way).

          Does this always work? Of course not. A person with firmly incorrect priorities and values can resist not only the urgings of the Holy Spirit but the urgings of their own God-designed libidos. People sometimes cling to error for a long time.

          But I’d guess that if you take a group of otherwise-orthodox Catholic couples practicing NFP for bad reasons today, and revisit them in five years, not only will you find some added children, but a lot of improvement in their understanding of the value of children and their reasons for avoiding conception.

        • BobTrent

          “Contraception in the strict sense” does NOT destroy a child. It prevents a child from coming into existence.
          Destruction of a child is called ABORTION (murder of a preborn child) or if after birth is called “infanticide” (murder of an infant).

    • BobTrent

      Not “grave”? Surely you jest. Not wanting a(nother) child IS a grave reason if you don’t want one.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KIOD5YVRUI7NGJYMSWVQRNUWVQ jorge

    When you cheat — and you know that then it is up to God to take the opportunity. And you are not upset, just waiting for His will to manifest.

    NFP  completely changes your mind set. In the co-creation of life to start with, but then it moves to another areas of your life: work, friends,  etc. You become more  malleable to Him.
     

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/UZKQ3DPYWKVAIYLKFBM53XLPTM Carl M

    Excellent point…to purposely avoid the conception of a child during intercourse is a form of contraception and contrary to the teachings of the Church on the purpose of sex in marriage.

  • Ken

    So, you object to this argument:  “If you’re trying not to get pregnant, then isn’t that basically the same as using a condom? The result is the same; what’s the difference?”

    And then you ignore it.

    Until you are able to present a realistic argument on why doing X to accomplish Z is different and/or better than doing Y to accomplish Z, this tired debate will continue.

    • srdc

      There is a difference between nature rendering an act infertile and you rendering it infertile.

      Contraception is like wanting to raise funds for a good cause, but forging a cheque to do so.

    • Cord_Hamrick

       Ken:

      To whom are you replying?

      At any rate, if you examine the arguments made in my several posts in this comment thread, you may find your question answered. I think the response I posted earlier to Christina Channell may be on-point, particularly. (That response references another earlier post replying directly to the article, though.)

  • http://twitter.com/CrunchyConMom Crunchy Con Mommy

    NFP is NOT contraception because each and every sexual act is open to new life!

    As a convert to Catholicism, I truly do not understand this hateful divisiveness between Catholics who don’t use any form of child spacing/birth control/family planning and those who use NFP.
    If you are lucky enough to have the health and financial freedom to be able to not worry about child spacing, that is awesome, and no one who does NFP would argue that you need to be doing NFP. But that doesn’t give you the right to be “holier-than-the-Pope” and condemn people using NFP.

    If you threw the time and energy that you spend juding NFP users and arguing against it into arguing against artificial birth control, maybe you could make a dent in the 98%ish of the population who is performing sexual acts that aren’t open to new life instead of making faithful Catholics feel unwelcome in your midst. We should be partners in this instead of enemies.

    • kim

      Agree totally with this point.  In this day and age with families spread out from coast to coast, it can’t be automatically assumed that families have the support structure they need close by to make raising 10 kids a possibility.  And one might have “friends” and “neighbors” around, but they aren’t any help because most of them think it is nuts to have more than 2 kids (so they aren’t willing to help you out).  The folks who are fortunate enough to have the support around them shouldn’t look down their noses at those who don’t!

      • http://www.facebook.com/agithens Anna Trotta Githens

        Not everyone who uses NFP has several kids. God only gives us what we can handle. 
        And truly faithful people wouldn’t “look down their noses” at those who don’t use NFP.

        • BobTrent

          And not every couple who doesn’t use NFP or any kind of contraception has many children. Some don’t have any.

    • Saoirse

      no one’s judging anybody but passing off this NFP as not being a form of contraception is beyond belief . what is the purpose of IT ? so you’re not using prescriptives,condoms or an IUD and your intentions are the same. sex without a resulting unintended pregnancy.

      • srdc

        There is a difference between nature rendering an act infertile and you rendering it infertile.

        It’s the difference between sabotage and working to rule.

        Sexual brain chemistry speaks the language of both bonding and parenthood. Oxytocin and Vasopressin. Marriage laws affirm what already exists. This is why sex is the marital act.

        • BobTrent

          You mapping out the wife’s cycle, measuring her temperature, and sampling her cervical mucus so that you can have sex when she is most likely infertile is nothing but trying to enjoy the pleasure of sex while avoiding procreation.
          What is this but the very definition of contra (against, opposed to) ception? Pleasure with no consequences. NFPers have the same motivation as Onanists, artificial contraceptors, masturbators, and other practicers of (hopefully) lifeless sexual intercourse: No (more?) Children. Many contraceptors will not murder their children if they get them. Some NFPers will abort theirs whom they do not want. Don’t kid yourself.

        • Andrew Case

          The difference is the freedom to engage in sex at any given time, as opposed to only specific times. The intent is not to have children. The intent is there, thus you are NOT open to new life using NFP any more than using Birth Control (and it restricts the openness of new life to just the wife as opposed to both parents). This is just an excuse, nothing more. All modern birth control works from within, some preventing implantation, other preventing fertile eggs from developing. This prevents the pregnancy, nothing more. And as birth control is not 100% (though it is much more successful than NFP) even when using it the couple must be open to the chance of pregnancy anyways. The arguments fall flat when faced with open honesty.

          In the end, God judges on intent. He made man and woman to be together, not separate until a child is wanted. In the modern age all we are doing is ensuring that when we receive the blessing we can care for it in the best manner we possibly can.

  • Christophe

    It’s not contraception because it’s not sex. NFP means not having sex on a certain day. How can you be contracepting if you’re not having sex? It may be a sin against charity, or generosity, etc., but it’s surely not contraception.

  • sullibe

    The biggest difference, as I see it, between NFP and Contraception is that NFP is information, information about a woman’s body and her cycles and how it all works together.  

    Contraception is a thing used for either controlling a woman’s body and her cycles, or controlling a man’s body (in the case of condoms or spermicide).

    I think the statement “the vast majority of the reasons people use to practice NFP are not grave.” is obtuse and false.  

    Indeed, let us be honest.  NFP is HARD, it’s difficult to abstain when it’s truly necessary, and there are a plethora of reasons why and when it may be truly necessary.  The reason the Catholic Church doesn’t specify to these reasons is because each couple will have to prayerfully discern, with God, what those reasons may be.

    I do not believe the vast majority of Catholics are practicing NFP for less than grave reasons.  Are there some? I’m sure there are. But the “vast majority”? No, I seriously doubt that the majority is putting in the time, the effort, the discipline, and the frustration, simply to follow Catholic teaching regarding Family Planning, and ignoring it’s teaching on discernment of NFP.

    • http://www.facebook.com/agithens Anna Trotta Githens

      It’s the hard that makes it better. Doing hard things makes for stronger individuals which is what society is seriously lacking today. Artificial contraception is not hard and requires no thought, discussion, discipline, abstinence, or faith.

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  • Derek Whitman

    In my humble opinion, it seems as though contraception and NFP place faith in science and not faith in God. There are comments on here about not being able to afford ten kids or there isn’t enough support from your community or family to raise so many kids…but, didn’t God take care of the Israelites in the wilderness and didn’t Christ feed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a handful of small fish?

    • NFP using mom

      Derek- Many couples who employ NFP use prayerful discernment. In fact all the Catholic NFP users I know certainly do. We don’t simply ignore God in our family planning decisions. In fact if you’ve ever actually spent weeks and months in abstinence you would know what a spiritual struggle and time of prayer it can be.  I can speak for my husband and myself that we do our best to practice prayerful, prudent judgement. 
      Sometimes the situations in our lives may be God calling us to times of self-control and self-denial.  You can’t set up this false dichotomy of  “having as many children as possible= trusting God while spacing or limiting children = not trusting God”. God expects us to make prudent decisions, whether it is in our careers, family life or finances.  Sometimes we need to trust God that now is a time to wait

  • Randijobrickey

    Yes, both contraception and NFP can be used to avoid pregnancy but avoiding intercourse is not immoral whereas every form of contraception is.

  • Essy

    If a couple is not doing anything, there is nothing to contracept.

  • Madeleinef

    good details about the difference in means between artificial birth control and Natural family planning—–too many comments below are negative and totally miss the point of the integrity and sacredness of the sexual intercourse being natural and according to God’s plan and control

  • http://www.facebook.com/ChristinaChannell Christina Channell

    I struggle with this issue quite a bit.  I don’t understand how using NFP and using a condom (with as low a “protection rate as 82%) are not both “open to life.”  I don’t ask this in a judgmental way at all, but rather as a person who really just has trouble grasping it.  

    I wrote a post about it recently in which I kind of talk it out further.  http://recoveredcatholic.com/2012/07/22/nfp/

    • Cord_Hamrick

      Christina:

      You may find my earlier (long) post in this comments thread to be helpful; it deals with the differences between abstaining from an act versus doing the act in a way intended to separate it from its natural ends.

      Let’s put it this way: God builds instincts and pleasures into us to drive us towards certain good things, which we call the “ends” (think: intended purposes) of those instincts and pleasures.

      Our moral instincts tell us it’s twisted and nasty to take those pleasures in a fashion which separates them utterly from their natural ends, as in the case of a person who practices bestiality or a person who sniffs glue or a Roman binge-eating, vomiting to make room, and then binge-eating some more. And while pica (craving to eat non-food substances like sheetrock and whatnot) and bulimia are unwilled disorders and thus not morally reprehensible in the person who struggles with them, we still recognize them as disordered. Pretending that you were happy that your friend liked to eat sheetrock would be kinda twisted.

      So we can see why, apart from the libido-reduction and happiness-reduction and bodily dysfunction associated with artificial contraceptive technologies, it’s kinda twisted for a person to have sex for the pleasure while using technologies which cancel out the procreative and unitive aspects of sex, thus separating sexual pleasure from its God-intended “end” in much the same way that bulimia or pica or Roman binge-eating separate eating from the natural end of nutrition.

      Indeed, it occurs to me that one of the things folks with same-sex attraction difficulties could say to their various less-charitable critics would be: “Oh, you think my sexual preferences are ‘twisted?’ You call me a pervert? Well what about you, if you use contraceptives? At least my unusual preferences are inadvertent; they happened to me like a person who has pica. Yours were adopted voluntarily to increase your opportunities to have pleasure without exerting self-control, like a Roman at a feast who vomits in the corner and returns to the table. If it’s right to call my situation perverted, at least it isn’t my fault. You adopted perversion as a choice, friend. Take the plank out of your eye first.”

      Anyway, all that is dealing with the ethics. But please note: While it is twisted to separate an instinct and its pleasurable conclusion from its God-designed “end,” it is not immoral to abstain from partaking of a good in favor of a higher good.

      Nothing wrong with buying a BMW. But if I abstain from that good in favor of feeding the poor, isn’t that better?

      Nothing wrong with spending time with my friends. But if I do that a little less in order to spend time with my wife and kids a little more, I am not thereby denying the goods of friendship; I am only affirming that my time is limited and that frequently the wife and kids must take a higher priority.

      Nothing wrong with marrying. But if I give up that (very great) good for the sake of the Kingdom and become a priest or a consecrated religious, it doesn’t mean I’m denying that marriage is good. (I am sacrificing to God, and one doesn’t offer God something worthless as a sacrifice!) But I am pursuing another good, for God’s glory.

      Nothing wrong with having sex during a fertile time and conceiving a child. But if I abstain from doing so and only have sex during infertile times, I have to ask why: Am I denying the goodness of children, of human existence? If so then that’s a twisted moral judgment. But if I am doing it because I am pursuing a higher good — not something selfish like buying a BMW but something high-priority like making sure my existing children are adequately fed or that my wife’s body is adequately recovered from her last pregnancy — then it is not only morally permissible but may be a moral obligation.

      Does that make more sense of things for you, Christina?

  • Saoirse

    oooh please as the very act of mapping out the patterns of fertility versus nonfertile times is WHAT ?

  • Carson Weber

    Natural Family Planning, if used to avoid conception, is most certainly is contraception: ‘natural’ and ‘moral’ contraception. What it *is not* is ‘artificial’ and ‘immoral’ contraception. Contra, from the Latin, means “against.”  If you utilize the method to go against conceiving, then you are certainly contracepting.  Though, in modern parlance, we use that term “contracepting” to equal “artificial contracepting.”

  • Michael

    Is keeping your mouth shut in a tense or serious situation the same as telling a lie?

  • Charles Lee

    So, if I understand it correctly, mathematics is OK (NFP or rhythm method), but chemistry is not OK (birth control pill), nor physics (condoms).  

    • srdc

      Contraception opposes chemistry too.   Sexual brain chemistry in men and women speaks a certain language with Oxytocin and Vasopressin.

    • Cord_Hamrick

       Charles:

      I think that your question is perfectly reasonable if one assumes that “natural” versus “artificial” is the best explanation of the reasons for preferring NFP over the various pills and barriers and implants.

      But I don’t think that “natural” versus “artificial” IS the best explanation; in fact, I think it’s a bad one because those terms are (a.) ambiguous and (b.) so commonly used in advertising copy.

      We are told that such-and-such toothpaste is “all-natural.” So? So what? Perhaps at “all-natural” toothpaste could be made out of rattlesnake venom, which after all occurs in nature and would deserve the title; would that make it any better than “artificial” toothpaste containing baking soda and fluoride?

      Or perhaps the contrast intended is not between “natural” and “artificial” but between “natural” and “supernatural?” Please: Make my toothpaste out of ectoplasm!

      So it seems to me that this selling point, “natural”-ness, is good advertising copy for those who are easily swayed by such buzzwords. But I would rather not be the kind of person who was swayed in that way. If something is “natural,” and I am supposed to conclude that this is a good thing, I’d better have it explained — in great, exhaustive detail — what exactly “natural” means in that context, and why I should believe it to be a good thing.

      Now I think that if one gets behind the shallow, advertising-slogan level of things, one can call NFP “natural” in the sense that it works in conjunction with existing healthy aspects of the human sexual organs and biochemistry and cycles, rather than suppressing or disabling them, and that there is good scientific reason to believe that suppressing or disabling them is bad for the long term health of the human organism.

      If one takes that level of care to precisely define the word “natural” and backs up one’s assertion with reliable data, then one is truly trying to honestly persuade a mind (which is a good, dignified, other-honoring form of human discourse) rather than circumvent the mind and propagandize the emotions through the use of slogans.

      Of course, this takes more time for both the person doing the persuading and the person he’s trying to persuade. Honesty and Diligence are hard work on both sides.

      But I think NFP wins out in the honest debate, too. Please see my other (rather long) post elsewhere in this comments thread for a fairly detailed discussion of the ethics of “artificial” contraceptive methods from a Natural Law/teleological perspective. A person who isn’t a complete moral relativist must, I think, come to grips with the fact that the way we moderns unthinkingly abuse our sexual instincts and powers was not only viewed as twisted and disgusting by a vast majority of our human forebears dating back to as far as we have records, but parallel actions with respect to eating, breathing, and other instinctive human activities are likewise viewed as depraved when those activities are wrenched away from their natural ends.

      But that is the ethical argument. The biological-health and marital-health arguments are also persuasive, I think.

      The website 1flesh.org has some discussions of this, along with familyplanning.net and iusenfp.com. And for those who’re suspicious of bias among NFP-only advocates, they can check out the website of Dr. Christine Northrup (drnorthrup.com) and read her report on how birth control pills reduce libido in many women…which goes a long way to explaining the attendant increased divorce rates and reduced marital happiness.

      Barrier contraceptives likewise prevent marital happiness when they prevent the absorption of semen into the woman, preventing the transmission of hormones and neurotransmitters associated with emotional bonding and well-being, and a plethora of nutrients beneficial to the woman’s reproductive health.

      In short, 1flesh.org has it right: By popularizing the use of stuff that messes up how sex works in the human organism, we’ve made it a morass of discontent and dysfunction. As the family unit is the basic subunit of human society and the optimal environment for the nurturing and personality-formation of a healthy human being, the results over time are a lot of agitated, neurotic, dysfunctional people contributing to the overall dysfunction of society.

      It’s insidious, but really it makes perfect sense if you think about it. We’re worried about how certain plastics introduce hormone-emulating molecules into the water, causing hermaphroditic fish and infertile frog populations and stuff like that; yet, we think we can mess with the sexual faculties of most members of an entire human population for decades and not encounter unexpected side-effects? Completely nuts!

  • Workingfor6

    wow.  just wow.  I am so, so sick of the “holier than thou” Catholics spending their time spouting off at their fellow Catholics over issues that Rome has already and clearly spoken on.  Take your Latin-only, Pope-disrespecting, NFP-bashing, illogical ideas and go call yourself something other than “Catholic.”  Seriously – like there’s nothing better for you to do with your time than to attack believers?  And if the truth of the matter is really to be known, it’s the HUSBANDS who claim to be anti-NFP, not the wives, who spend decades pregnant without any time to recover, just so their husbands can have their way whenever they like. 

  • Al_Kilo

    The term “contraception” is wrong because no method is really contraceptive.
    All methods only decrease the probability of having a child.
    Even a method that is “98% effective” means that a women stands a high chance of becoming pregnant after a couple of years of having regular intercourse.
    A more appropriate term would be “lenteception”
    A new term would make people think twice, and realize that with each intercourse the is a normal probability of becoming pregnant.
    60’s era dogmas have de-coupled sex from procreation, but one leads to the other, it is normal biology, stupid!
    A change in mentality is needed: 1.2 million abortions per year is a scandal.
    Also people practicing NFP are well meaning, put please lets stop this semantics.
    NFP uses an artificial, humanly created barrier, like all other methods.
    Instead of rubber or hormones, NFP uses time. In NFP, time is used as an artificially imposed barrier.
     
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ID7o5L3CaRU
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mq-ZGktYWWA

    • irritated with Pharisees

       oh good grief. an imposed “barrier” of time??  talk about semantics.  and what do you suggest as the alternative, mandated marital bonding every 24 hours?   regardless of illness?  regardless of interest?  Yeah, that’s perfectly natural and loving, Al. 

      Sometimes the loving choice is to keep your pants on.  Because prudent, responsible, loving parents sometimes realize that spacing a next pregnancy is the best choice for them.  Choosing to NOT have sex is affirmation that sex and procreation do indeed go together – “it is normal biology, stupid!”

      • Al_Kilo

        I agree!  But NFP is still a human made barrier to prevent the sperm from entering the oocyte.
        My point is that the attitude  of NFP couples is the right one, and should serve as an example to all users of any form of barrier. All too often people think that “98% effective” means that one will never become pregnant. This is a false belief of the “free for all adult pelvic right” crowd. As a result, as soon as they become pregnant they seek abortion, as a back up “contraception” method
        In Catholic teaching, NFP is the right option. But those that use other methods, even though they are considered sinful, should still stay clear of greater sin (abortion). One way is to remove abortion as back up “contraception”, by never considering any method as totally “effective”and accepting responsibility of parenthood if pregnant. It’s a gradation of sin, from no sin, to sin to really terrible  sin. The idea is to start with avoiding at least the really terrible  sin.
        Does that make sense?

  • Cord_Hamrick

    This piece is both right and wrong. It is certainly wrong from an apologetics perspective. What I mean is, a suspicious person will not be convinced by this piece.

    Folks, look at it THIS way:

    God invented instinct for a reason; namely, to lead us to do that which was good, when mere logical argument by itself would be insufficient to drive us towards that good.

    Likewise, God invented pleasure  for a reason; namely, to reward us for doing that which was good, in support of the instinct.

    Instincts and Pleasures are of different species, and one of these is the sexual instinct and the attendant sexual pleasures.

    Examined closely, we find that the sexual instinct has a distinctive “telos”; that is, a distinctive end towards which it drives us.

    The end or “telos” of human sexuality is not merely procreation. It is family-formation as well. The hormones and neurotransmitters released and even exchanged during baby-making bond man to wife and build affection even when a baby is not made. The cyclical nature of fertility makes it impossible to make a baby every time. But the bonding chemicals are involved even when conception does not occur. A person whose sexual attentions are initially rather plastic (flexible) becomes molded and “hardened” over time, focused in upon the mate in an exclusive fashion. (Ever known a person with multiple divorces who always seemed to marry a person of the same overall physical type?)

    The result of these instincts, and all this hormonal conditioning over time, can easily be foreseen! Man and wife are increasingly bound by affection for one another so that each child born to them is raised by his biological parents — the adults in all the world who’re most instinctively inclined to work hard to defend and raise him — in the company of his biological siblings, and with relationships to grandparents and cousins.

    Now this is either random good luck (as far as the survival and well-being of the species and each person in it) or divine Providence working through the laws of biology. Christians hold it’s the latter.

    But, in that case, there are Natural Law implications: These instincts drive us towards an end which is good: Childbearing is good, family is good. These pleasures are the end-points of the instinctual drives, rewards for doing what produces children and binds families (and discourages divorces).

    That is the first thing to grasp: These things are good, and God drives us towards them and rewards us for acting in ways that promote them.

    Here is the next thing to grasp: When instincts and pleasures are bent away from the good towards which they are designed to function, and utilized to support some purpose antithetical to their intended ends, those pleasures and instincts become objectively disordered, or in the more old-fashioned terminology, they become “perverted.”

    For example, consider pica. This disorder is one in which a person’s instincts are disordered in such a way that they crave eating non-food substances: Sheetrock, nails, sand, feces, glass, paper, whatever. The instincts exist and even a certain kind of pleasure or relief in following those instincts exists, but they are twisted to an unhealthy end.

    We know that a twisting has taken place because we know the proper end of eating; namely, nutrition.

    We can see a similar disconnect in the bulimic or the person who gorges “to feel better” and becomes morbidly obese as a result of trying to “self-medicate” against depression by eating tons of ice cream. Likewise the story about the Romans who gorged at banquets, vomited it up to make room, and gorged some more to continue enjoying the pleasure of eating. In each case, the biological act of eating has been disconnected from the good it was intended to achieve and attached to some other end. The person still experiences the instinctual drive, but the pleasure has become attached to something other than the correct natural fulfillment of those drives.

    Now consider what our moral instincts and consciences tell us about all of this.

    We don’t fault a person for having pica. He/she presumably can’t help it. Why would he/she ask to want to eat sheetrock, to be bothered by warped cravings? We don’t assign moral blame when something is involuntary.

    As something becomes increasingly voluntary, of course, an increasing moral blame is assigned. The person who binges for fun is living to eat rather than eating to live, and we frown and say, “that’s twisted.” The Roman gorging-and-vomiting story, apocryphal or not, is seen as an example of immoral behavior, because we think they could have helped it.

    The extreme example is this: Suppose you could pay a lot of money to have yourself strapped into a machine which would keep your body alive for a long time, with your overall consumption of resources being minimal or no strain on society, and with electrodes wired to the pleasure centers of your brain, so that you would experience nothing but maximal pleasure for the rest of your life, all the time. Would that be right?

    No, it wouldn’t. It’s wrong to “steal” pleasure that way, separated from its proper ends of particular goods. Pleasure is directed towards doing good of various kinds. In a fallen world, fallen people sometimes wind up with twisted instincts that take pleasure from evil, but that doesn’t mean evil is good; it means the instincts have been twisted away from their proper ends.

    If it’s medically possible we want to reset those instincts toward their proper ends. But medicine can’t do everything and not all disorders are treatable. If this one isn’t treatable, we want the persons who suffer from disordered instincts to at least try to reject the unhealthy ends and direct their instincts, if possible, towards healthy ones. At least, they shouldn’t willfully reinforce them: That would be morally culpable.

    So, applying these generalizations to the question of contraception, what do we find? We find that the instincts and pleasures, when not twisted, direct us to a set of particular goods: Procreation, and permanent, stable family-building so that childrearing can be accomplished with the child surrounded by those who are biologically his “natural allies,” so to speak.

    It is therefore immoral to willfully obtain sexual pleasure apart from these ends. In particular orgasm ought to be obtained only in a way which stifles neither procreation when possible nor family unity surrounding whatever children have been produced. These, after all, are the goods towards which the sexual instincts and pleasures are directed. Willfully twist the instinct away from those ends, and you’re perverting the instinct. Separating the pleasurable reward from those ends is twisted just as spending one’s life wired up to a pleasure-machine is twisted.

    Notice also how barrier contraceptives impede the transmission of hormones and neurochemicals from one partner to the other, preventing the intended bonding. And notice how hormonal contraceptives impede the cycle of fertility, reducing the attractiveness of each partner to the other and making long-term contentedness with one another less likely. There are perfectly good biological reasons to call the birth-control pill “the divorce pill.”

    (Does anyone think hormones have no psychological impact on the individual? Can anyone who ever went through puberty swallow such a whopper?)

    So it’s not just the procreative end which is defeated or impeded by contraceptive technologies; it’s also the unitive bonding which is reduced or interrupted.

    So, the Church is right. She was right when she said divorces and sexual objectification and abortion-as-backup would result from widespread contraceptive use. It did, and for reasons entirely explicable on both the biochemical level and as the separation of sexual instincts and pleasures from the goods towards which God intended them to push us.

    One final thing, and we are done: Just because an instinct directs us towards a good, does not make acting on that instinct obligatory. We are permitted to not act on it, provided we are substituting a greater good for it.

    For example, one can eat lunch, or forgo one’s own lunch in order to serve in a soup kitchen. One can marry and be a father or mother in one’s own family, or one can forgo marriage so as to remain available full-time working for the kingdom of God.

    Likewise, one can have sexual relations with one’s spouse on Fertile Occasion X and have a child. Or, one can abstain on Fertile Occasion X, and not have a child…so long as one is pursuing a greater good; e.g., a better allocation of resources to feed and clothe the children one already has.

    This is not a twisted use of instinct, or an obtaining of sexual pleasure apart from its intended goods, but is rather an abstention in favor of another good. Of course, one must have a proper value system: A child is a very great good. Siblings for one’s existing children are a very great good. A Mercedes-Benz is good, but not so great as a human person; so if one is abstaining from having another child in order to be able to afford a Benz, then one’s priorities are twisted.

    Anyhow, the wisdom of NFP is this: Don’t be twisted. Don’t, in old-fashioned parlance, willfully make a pervert of yourself. Abstain from a sexual act which would produce a child if you like, so long as you do so in pursuit of another equal-or-higher good, but don’t try to steal pleasure while separating the act from the good towards which God directed it. And especially, don’t do so in a way which defeats both the childbearing and the childrearing and the unitive, family-building aspects of sexual intercourse. There’s more than enough divorce in the world already.

    • Al_Kilo

      Cord
      This good stuff. The question I posed is this. Is there anyway possible to redirect the “contraceptive” thinking in those taking “artificial contraception” to think that way? The reason why I think this is critical, is that current abortion rates are a calamity. Although NFP is the ideal, there is no way every one will start using NFP. But at least if people started to think that there is no such thing as “contraception”, it may be a start. Does that make sense?

      • Cord_Hamrick

        Al:

        Thanks for your kind response.

        Re: “No such thing as contraception”: Are you basically trying to say, “You keep on using that word [contraception], but I do not think it means what you think it means?” If so, join the folks running 1flesh.org and make a web-graphic of Inigo Montoya from the movie “The Princess Bride” with the factoid about contraceptive failure rates and side effects at the top, and then the famous Inigo quote at the bottom. That seems to popularize arguments on the Internet sometimes, if it gets any traction. I’ve no idea if it would.

        Anyway, I think your intent is noble, and it may have a touch of strategic genius.

        But I can’t say for certain, for I confess I’ve never had the skill of thinking in a crowd-psychology kind of way. I’m like Rain Man, a sort of idiot savant; except that in my case the “savant” may be interpretable as merely another and very ponderous idiocy, for the sole lonely talent in personal idiosyncratic wiring is to break things down, analyze them, and analogize them until they make sense to me…and then explain them at daunting length to others.

        If the others aren’t scared off by the “daunting length” part, I think they usually get a pretty clear if exhaustive picture, and some questions get answered. So I think that makes it useful to the world, even if the audience is a limited one.

        Anyway, that’s my trick, and I’m a bit of a one-trick-pony, but I’m mystified by what makes a given phrase or an opinion become a repeated meme in our society. Other people have that talent; I don’t. But maybe you do; so try the argument, see if it works. Something must.

        • Al_Kilo

          Good points, there is nothing like the simple honest truth.

  • Lesley

    No, its not about artificial/natural, or about intention – its purely about what means are moral and what aren’t. If a couple decide that it is not the right time to have another child now, they are free to use their fertility knowledge coupled with self-discipline to only have intercourse at times when conception will not occur. They would be wrong to choose to contracept instead, because contraception is wrong. The intention is the same, but there are good means and bad means.

  • BobTrent

    Yeah, NFP is natural…just as natural as Onanism and masturbation. None of the three use anything artificial, unless the masturbator is using something besides his hand.
    Condoms, IUDs, chemicals, all fail on occasion to prevent conception, just like NFP and Onanism, so they are “open to life” as well.

  • BobTrent

    If Catholics who promote NFP would spend a little of the money they save not supporting children on aiding those who are building up the Church with many children, there would be less division and rancor and the Church would grow.

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