The Thinking 

The Truth about NFP Gets Complicated

April 19, 2012


IN THE entry about Natural Family Planning, John G. writes:

I see you stumbled across some statistics put out by the NFP industry. You should be aware that all the numbers you’ll see in those contexts will fall into one of three categories: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.” I don’t believe there is any scientific validity to any of them. And wouldn’t it be horrible if there were? The only thing more dreadful to contemplate than artificial birth control would be a system of charts and graphs of mucous and temperatures that had a 98% “effectiveness” rate. What could be less “natural”?

A much more realistic portrait of the effectiveness of NFP is presented in this wonderfully humorous and yet accurate piece:

As a slogan, “Use NFP: It Doesn’t Work!” has many strong arguments in its favor. First, it is true. NFP proponents tout its 99 percent effectiveness rate, but they neglect to mention that this is true only if the husband is in the Navy and assigned to extended, uninterrupted sea duty of three-year tours or longer. Otherwise, for most Catholics I know, NFP means a baby every two years or so, though the rate can slow with age, as the couples learn a proper respect – that is, fear – for each other and are too tired in any event for what Catholics call “the conjugal act.”

You might notice, by the way, how closely Harry Crocker is aligned with the true Catholic spirit exemplified by the wonderful letter of Pope Pius XII which you recently published on your site, unlike the proponents of the NFP industry who tout their bogus statistics.

                                 — Comments —

Laurence Butler writes:

John G sounds a bit bitter. My first question to him is, what’s your alternative? You’re claiming their statistics are bogus, but you haven’t articulated why, other than that it’s challenging for people to really abide by the program (which is an inditement of the people, not the program).

If a couple was effectively practicing abstinence before marriage, the abstinence portion of NFP is no problem, and the rest of the time the married couple can be intimate without thoughts of early babies or contraception or anything but each other.

John G contends that the use of charts and mucous is unnatural. I challenge John G to find one doctor’s office in America that doesn’t take these sorts of things into consideration (other than a Planned Parenthood clinic, of course). What shall we do, avoid all doctors too? If John finds mucus and charts unnatural or off-putting, then colds and calendars (both of which come from our natural world) must really make him uncomfortable.

Mrs. H. writes:

NFP is very useful to:

1) monitor gynecological health and identify problems such as cancer before a routine checkup

2) prevent a pregnancy, if so motivated (usually only a very strong motivation, such as death)

3) most importantly, CONCEIVE! Let’s not forget the positive aspect of NFP, not just the “preventative.”

I understand John’s cynicism–NFP touted as the “moral” birth control for couples who want to have a respectable number of kids respectably spaced so they can live a respectably comfortable middle class life. But I don’t think many uses NFP that way. They may intend to when they become engaged (“We’ll wait a few years and save money”), but then marriage happens and babies happen and it’s not worth it anymore–NFP, I mean. It’s much less stressful to just accept the babies as they arrive.

NFP is the gateway drug to the perpetual parturition lifestyle, because doing nothing to control your fertility and just letting it run wild (within marriage) is shocking to our culture. So some folks will say “we’re using NFP,” when they’re really not, having no real motivation, and they’ll be pregnant a month later. And that’s a good thing, not a “user failure.”

Rita Jane writes:

I’ve always figured that the point of NFP was that it had a fairly high failure rate, simply because it’s aggravating and unpleasant to use it “correctly.” Laurence Butler suggests that, “If a couple was effectively practicing abstinence before marriage, the abstinence portion of NFP is no problem…” That seems a bit of a stretch. Before marriage, how many of us remained celibate WHILE:

1. Living with our intended.

2. Sleeping in the same bed every night with said intended.

3. Frequently being completely alone in a private place with said intended.

Anyone? Of course not. Cultures that value chastity before marriage tend to (sensibly) encourage limited contact between the sexes, short engagements, early marriage and no cohabitation. Without those restraints, normal human urges will soon triumph, as they do for all but the most motivated NFP practitioners.

A reader writes:

Once the population’s fertility is destroyed by synthetic hormones, including those from contraceptive pills, we won’t be discussing birth control anymore.

Kimberly writes:

Sadly, NFP is only widely known of in this systematic form of charting and cross-checking. The Couples to Couples League made the poor decision to cater to the feminists, and in doing so they did away with both the teaching of the non-systematic form of NFP and the Kippleys themselves, who did so much work to establish the CCL to begin with. This was the work of the enemy.

As far as I understand it, Ecological Breastfeeding, the non-systematic form of NFP is meant to be the main form for Catholics to use, and the systematic form is meant for use in only “grave circumstances.” However, it is essentially impossible for the working woman to succeed in using this non-systematic method. The baby must be nursed very frequently for it to work, and one of the often skipped “Seven Standards” is a daily nap (at least 30 minutes long) for the mother to get her much needed rest (which will help her body function the way it is supposed to) and for the baby to have his pacifying needs met. So many women claim to use Eco-bf. and yet they leave out this huge piece of the pie, and they have an early return of menses. They bounce around saying, “Oh, that doesn’t work. I tried and it didn’t work for me.” This is both a lie and an outrage. Not only does breastfeeding this way provide infertility that will make it possible to avoid the cancer-causing pill and still achieve healthy spacing between babies; breastfeeding greatly reduces the risks of breast cancer. The longer a woman nurses, the more her risks decrease. And there are many other health benefits to the mother.

The comments John made are understandable and simultaneously revolting. His implication that it’s impossible to live a comfortable life or have a healthy sex life are based on a perverted understanding of what life and sex are about. Understandable, because this is what the vast majorities feel on these issues, and revolting, because it is utterly false. Having children spaced two-years apart is wonderful for the quality of life and for a healthy marriage.

I had my first baby a few weeks after I turned 21. I am now 26 and I have three strong, healthy sons. My youngest is 15 months old and I have not had any signs of my fertility returning. My husband has described me as a “powerful wild-cat” in the way I bounce back from pregnancy. During pregnancy I have the typical exhaustion and complaints of most other women. But after giving birth I lose the weight very quickly, usually within three to four months, mostly due to my hungry nursing newborn that gets as much of my milk as he could possibly want. I do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu now, a very demanding sport even when only training with other women, and I am stronger and more fit than I have ever been in my life. People are amazed that I have three small children and look this young and thin.

Breastfeeding also forces me to eat a healthier diet. Babies cannot digest milk that is full of dairy, sugar, and other hard to digest ingredients. If I don’t eat well I don’t get to sleep, as I will be up with a miserable, crying baby. So this is another big factor in keeping me thin and strong. I eat lots vegetables and a healthy amount of organic meat.

During pregnancy, my husband and I usually go through a few months of mostly abstaining. But between pregnancies, there is no need whatsoever to do this, and since I feel so confident in my appearance (more than I did before I had any kids, even), we have a strong attraction to each other. We have a powerful passion, not only built on physical attraction, but built on a love that has already shown us it’s life-creating power, it’s beauty in these amazing little people that belong to us now. And since we have little children around, we can’t be perverted in the filthy, life-draining way. We do like St. Francis de Sales recommends; we think about the act while it’s taking place, and not before and not after. He speaks of the impressive way that elephants mate; every few years, they take five full days to mate, and then when they finish, they take a mud-bath to cleanse themselves of impurities. He said that elephants are remarkable, noble creatures. He was fascinated with animals.

Anyway, my husband and I do work hard, both of us, and there are certainly times that we are too exhausted to act on our desires. But that doesn’t hurt anything; it only makes us more excited and our passion more intense when we do find the energy and opportunity. We did not abstain entirely before marriage, and we lived together. We finally felt compelled to obey God at one point, and abstained for a full year before we were married, but we still lived together. This past has caused its share of problems, but I think God has blessed our little efforts tremendously. He knows it was the best we could do based on what we had been through and on what we had known. His Mercy is unfathomable. Our love life is far better now than it ever was before we had children. Far, far, far better.

Since the percentage rate for couples who have lived together before marriage is something like 11%, it is all the more motivation to use NFP based on the high success rates for married couples who use it.

Mary writes:

I’m with both John and Kimberly. I loved the Crocker piece – it’s witty and tongue-in-cheek, and I think it’s smart to keep your sense of humor about these things. I’m with John in that I think just letting a family happen naturally, without too much NFP “science” in the form of charting and mucous-checking, is the ideal. There’s a certain beautiful freedom in giving over that control, even though it’s available.

But Kimberly is dead on with her comments about nursing, and there’s beauty in that, too, in using a mother’s body to nurture her baby and naturally extend infertility, again, even though there is an alternative available. I had to stop nursing to get pregnant, as did many other on-demand nursers I knew back in the baby days.

Of course, nothing’s a sure thing. And that’s the most beautiful part of all of this.

Kimberly writes:

:-) I guess I should have read the Crocker piece and not just the quote. I think the article is pretty funny and makes excellent points. I’ve been in arguments with Catholic women that fiercely defend their unnecessary use of NFP, or proudly imply that I am not in tune with my own body like they are with theirs because I refuse to waste my time learning how to chart my fertility signs until a “grave reason” comes up, if one ever unfortunately does.

My main point is that there is a reasonable, healthy, highly “natural” solution. People need, desperately, to become educated on Ecological Breastfeeding, the non-systematic form of NFP.

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