Welcome to NFP Club. The first rule of NFP Club is: You do not talk about NFP Club.
You can’t talk to engaged couples about NFP — you’ll scare them away. You can’t talk to experienced older couples, either, or you’ll get an earful about the bad old days of rhythm-and-blues and 23 children.
You can’t talk to radical providentialists, who insist that iustae causae translates as “fill your hungry belly with rocks, and get conceivin'”; and you can’t talk to non-Catholics, who will think you’re a pervert for even saying “abstinence.” Nor can you talk to your doctor, who will write “family planning: nothing” on your medical record (especially if you’ve caught that Sexually Transmitted Disease known as “pregnancy”).
And, of course, you can’t talk to a dissident priest, who thinks the Church has no business in your bedroom (immortal soul, si; bedroom, no). Nor even can you really talk to a faithful priest, who will be so thrilled you know what “NFP” stands for that he’ll assume you’re home free.
But if you don’t talk to someone, you’re going to jump in front of a train. The truth is, sometimes NFP stinks.
Yes, there are couples out there who rejoice in their obedient participation in God’s miraculous plan of procreation. There are men whose holy continence rivals St. Joseph’s, and women who sigh, “Fiat” every month.
But for many of us, uniting our wills with God’s sounds more like “Uncle.”
Don’t get me wrong: I think the prudent use of NFP can be a font of grace in a marriage. I (and the pope) think it is fully in conformity with the teachings of the Church. I even think that, after ten years, I’m starting to get the hang of it.
But is NFP, as its cheerleaders insist, God’s plan? Well, only in the same way that confession is God’s plan: It won’t kill you, and it gets the job done; but in God’s original plan, it wouldn’t have been necessary.
Confession is inconvenient and embarrassing, and most of the time, you do it just because you have to. Sometimes the only thing that makes it tolerable is considering the alternative.
NFP is the same: It’s the worst possible method, except for all the others. That’s because NFP is both an aid and a penance. It gives you the opportunity to grow spiritually, but it also gives you some first-class suffering to offer up.
It doesn’t help that some proponents of NFP pretend that it’s all togetherness and respect, profundity and cuddles. If you feel frustrated with it, remember that you’re not alone. Everyone struggles sometimes; it’s not just you. It helps no one to ignore the challenges. Catholics should talk about the trials of NFP, as well as the blessings.
That being said, here are some people you can talk to, and how:
Talk to your spouse. Men tend to be understandably reluctant to have these wretched conversations, but you have to do it. Women can use NFP on their own if necessary, but it’s not about being on your own — it’s about being together.
Men and women can easily misunderstand or underestimate each other’s unique trials in practicing NFP. Ask your spouse: What can I do to make this easier on you? And once you have listened, you can tell your side.
Talk to your priest. This is good for both you and the priest. Our spiritual fathers need to know how NFP plays out in the trenches. But don’t reject out of hand a celibate man’s ideas about sex: After hearing 46 million confessions, he probably knows more than you do, Mr. Pass-the-Absolution.
Talk to God. You can yell and whine at God. You can moan and growl and blubber — He can take it. Complain in detail every night, if it gives you some relief. Just don’t forget to end every rant with a plea:
Help me do better. Help me to notice when You’re trying to draw me closer to You. Help me to see sex, and my spouse, the way You do.
Talk to yourself. Justdon’t be a broken record. Give yourself something new to think about — reread church documents on marriage and family, take up your Catechism, or pick up a good Catholic book on sexuality. Don’t just settle for being obedient: Try to understand why God wants this for you. He doesn’t intend for you to be subserviently miserable, so keep returning to the reason behind the rule.
Talk to others who use NFP. This is why the Internet was invented. Of course, you will run into the usual assortment of jerks and weirdos, but mostly you will find married Catholics who are dying to commiserate, encourage, and share their good ideas. There are more of us than you think.
Talk to people who don’t use NFP . . . carefully. Be honest, but offer a balanced picture. If you’re speaking to an engaged couple, don’t present NFP as a slick little vehicle for marital bliss and bouncy good times (guaranteed at least half the month). Don’t bother to pretty things up for couples who openly scoff at the Church. You won’t get through to them, and an overly rosy picture is discouraging for couples who are trying to do right.
Instead, speak honestly and fully. Most couples want to hear the full truth. I suggest something like this:
Look, God is asking you to do something that will sometimes be hard. But if you stick with it, there will be some incredible, unexpected rewards at least some of the time. These benefits are not inevitable, but they are achievable, and the alternatives offer only fleeting and shallow satisfactions. This is a chance to do something wonderful for your beloved. Do you love each other enough to take on this strange and beautiful challenge?
As long as it’s acceptable for everyone else to talk about sex these days, why should Catholics be shy? Many disenchanted couples are suffering from a lack of honest information about NFP. For their sake — and for our own — let’s find the people we can trust, and let’s be straight with each other.
For goodness sake, let’s talk about NFP.