I feel like we have been marketing NFP the wrong way. We have been presenting it as an alternative to contraception, but it’s not. “It’s just as effective as hormonal birth control without all of those nasty chemicals!” This may be true, but then when contraceptive users see how many children Catholic NFP users tend to have, they see that as undermining our claims of effectiveness. The reason for this is because the contraceptive mentality is entirely different from the mentality that follows Pope Saint John Paul II’s cornerstone piece on Catholic sexual dogma, Theology of the Body.
As Inigo Montoya would say in Princess Bride, “Let me essplain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” Women these days take contraception to set their default fertility status to sterile with 2-3 planned exceptions. Catholic women using NFP allow their bodies to follow their natural fluctuations of fertile to infertile, and if they need to avoid pregnancy, they try to plan their marital acts around that. In other words, for us, having babies isn’t the exception to the rule, not having babies is. Hence, the confusion when we speak of its effectiveness with non NFP users.
So to me, comparing Catholic NFP to contraception is comparing apples to oranges. The mentality is so vastly different. If you get pregnant while using contraception perfectly, the pregnancy is a “contraceptive failure.” If a Catholic becomes pregnant while trying to avoid pregnancy with NFP, we tend to consider it the natural result of having sex, trying to get pregnant or not.
I really feel for all of these panicked women who have experienced contraceptive failure who are desperate to find a contraceptive that “works” and never fails. The fact is every contraceptive has a failure rate, even with perfect use. But with the rise of contraception, there has also been a rise in the belief that sex should never lead to pregnancy unless we want it to.
Our breakthroughs in science have given us the illusion of control. It reminds me of the movie Jurassic Park. In it, we are presented with the hubris of the scientists who blithely believe that they can keep an iron grip on the exact amount of dinosaurs they have populating their park. As the irreplaceable Jeff Goldblum states:
John, the kind of control you’re attempting simply is… it’s not possible. If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously . . . I’m simply saying that life, uh… finds a way.
Life finds a way. The reason can be mysterious. Is it God’s will or the evolutionary imperative? Is it both? Is new human life so inherently bad that we should be the only living beings on Earth that feriocously fight against it using any means at our disposal? And why the heck won’t cockroaches adopt that philosophy? Am I right?
As Catholics observing NFP, we have no illusion of control. Because most of us can’t even control ourselves! Once you let go of the illusion of complete control over your life, you aren’t quite so devastated when things don’t go according to plan. And once you see that your most wonderful blessings came from events that you would have never planned if you did live in a world where you had complete control over everything in your life, letting go of that illusion becomes much easier.
Yes, most of us practicing Catholic NFP do have larger than average families. But quite frankly that has nothing to do with its effectiveness. We aren’t using it for its effectiveness. That being said, evidently every NFP method boasts a very high rate of effectiveness with no side effects and the absolute worst risk being pregnancy. The cognoscenti inform me that the healthy, crunchy crowd loves NFP. NFP works with your body’s natural functions rather than fighting against them. So don’t let us large families scare you off if you want to learn more about it. Go for it. It is so easy once you have mastered it. Unless you’re breastfeeding. Then, it is impossible. I’m just keeping it real with you guys.
In the meantime, we should accept that there is no infallible man-made invention that completely removes the procreative aspect from sex. To really bang you over the head with my ridiculous metaphor, we shouldn’t be those smug scientists from Jurassic Park. No one liked those guys. And the dinosaurs liked them least of all.