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.
Before I got married, I went to the gynecologist to get my first prescription for some birth control pills. Even though I was Catholic, it just seemed like it was the thing everyone automatically does. However, a few months before my wedding, I got curious about natural family planning and decided to take a few courses in it. Just so I at least knew what I was turning down.
I must admit, it did seem pretty overwhelming and a hassle for my first few classes. It involved a lot of charting and knowing how your body works. But then I paused and thought a moment. Despite all that extensive sex ed throughout my school days, I had no idea how my own fertility worked! I didn’t know what days I could conceive, I had no idea when I ovulated, and I barely noticed what my body did on a monthly basis. It was blowing my mind how much I was learning about basic female function that had been completely ignored in my primary education.
Then, I started learning more about the pill and the other forms of hormonal contraception, and it just didn’t appeal to me at all. I mean, if I don’t like synthetic hormones in my food, why would I want to be ingesting them daily through birth control? And it elevates your risk for breast cancer? And it just sounded like a pain to have to go to the OBGYN every so many months to get injected or have something shoved up my ….. well, you get the idea.
So I decided to make the commitment to use NFP. Luckily, my husband was very supportive, because he is awesome like that. That is why I married him. And we have never turned back after four years of marriage.
There are several different methods of NFP. They all involve knowing exactly when the woman is fertile and abstaining from sex on those days, which usually lasts about 5-10 days, depending on what kind of cycle the woman is having that month. Or, you can have sex those days if you are planning on having a baby, and you tend to get pregnant WAY sooner than if you are just winging it.
We started with the Marquette method when we first got married, which worked perfectly (with the exception of one slip up that I can only blame on us being newlyweds and throwing caution to the wind). But, Marquette was too difficult for me to use once I started breastfeeding, so we switched to the Creighton Method, which I like a whole lot better.
Common myths about NFP:
1) It is ineffective. False! Its effectiveness depends entirely on you. Instead of you medicating yourself and just hoping you’re not part of that 1-15% that gets pregnant on birth control anyway, you know if you had sex during one of your fertile days that a baby is a definite possibility. And if you do get pregnant, you don’t have to worry about that increased risk of ectopic pregnancy that comes with certain methods of contraception.
2) It is just for crazy Catholics. There has been a huge amount of NFP users in the more crunchy crowd in an effort to reduce their hormone intake and lead more natural lives. And it is great for breastfeeding mamas who are trying to keep their diet as wholesome for baby as possible. Also, a lot of women are finding that hormonal birth control makes them feel ill and want an alternative. It is also helpful for couples that have had some difficulties trying to conceive, and want to find out for sure if they are doing everything right before they spend all that money on fertility treatments.
I always think it is hilarious that people think that couples who use NFP and have lots of children is proof that it doesn’t work. Because who would have lots of children on purpose?! Well, we would. But if you aren’t super into kids right now, that is ok too. NFP will still work for you, with a little bit of self control, and a whole lot more communication and appreciation for the amazing things your body can do.