“Why are you making me learn NFP?”
It’s a question I get a lot in my capacity as the Director of Fertility and Life Ministries for the Diocese of Lansing. Often this question comes from engaged couples going through Marriage Prep, but I also get it from couples referred to me by a priest.
While it’s easy to think this question has a “can’t we just use contraception?” connotation behind it, I’ve found that some faithful Catholics who reject contraception also don’t see value in Natural Family Planning.
Let’s discuss two common reasons couples don’t want to use NFP, and how we can respond:
The first reason is that couples are not familiar with Church teaching about NFP, which may lead to rejection.
The second is that couples don’t plan on using NFP.
Our response to these couples will depend on where they’re coming from, but the foundation is the same. When couples ask why they “have to” learn NFP, highlighting the beauty of how their sexual union images the Holy Trinity is foundational.
Where to Start When Teaching NFP
When I work with couples, I always start with JPII’s Theology of the Body by emphasizing how their union images the Holy Trinity.
He is not maleficent, cruel, or selfish. He does not use or objectify. As such, the Father pours out Himself totally, as a self-gift to the Son. The Son, in turn, actively receives that gift and pours out Himself totally, as a self-gift to the Father. That mutual, eternal love between the two IS the Holy Spirit.
A married couple, in imaging the Holy Trinity, can visualize their union by contemplating how the husband pours himself out totally as a self-gift to his wife. The wife, in turn, actively receives that gift and pours out herself totally as a self-gift to her husband. That mutual love between the two IS (or can be) a child.
Once that foundation is set, I can have a discussion with the couple on why they reject NFP.
I find it’s easiest to convince a contraceptively-minded couple of the beauty of NFP. I used to approach these couples by highlighting the dangers of contraceptives and how women become objectified by them. While that approach often worked, I discovered those couples would eventually stop using NFP once it became difficult or cumbersome. So I switched methods (NFP pun intended).
Their Union Images the Holy Trinity
Now, I start by explaining how their union images the Holy Trinity. Then, we discuss how contraception prevents them from pouring themselves out totally to each other because one of them is withholding their fertility. Next, we talk about Humanae vitae and how we can know (through our reason alone) that sexual intercourse has two ends, procreative and unitive, and to trying to separate the two destroys what sexual intercourse is. It turns it into a different kind of thing.
It’s true that I have a somewhat smaller rate of convincing these couples to choose NFP using this method than I did using the scare-tactic method, but when I follow up with these couples down the road, they are still totally sold on NFP. These couples also tend to use periodic abstinence more successfully than the others do. In short, contraceptively-minded couples respond better to the “why” behind NFP than they do to “contraceptives are dangerous.”
NFP Isn’t Just About Avoiding Pregnancy
Couples who don’t plan on using NFP, however, require a different approach. When a couple comes to me totally sold on the Church’s teaching against contraceptives but then rejects NFP, I still start with how their union Images the Holy Trinity. I show them that part of that is total self-gift to each other, and there may be a time in the future where part of that self-gift is abstinence due to illness or a different serious life event. I then do a little digging to find out where they’re coming from.
Sometimes a couple is actively trying to conceive, or plans to once they’re married, and they view NFP as a type of contraception. For these couples, I explain that NFP isn’t just about avoiding pregnancy. It’s also about conceiving a pregnancy. 75% of couples who use a certain method of NFP conceive within three cycles of trying to get pregnant whereas it can take up to a year without using NFP.
The Postpartum Period
I also make them aware of the fact that it’s more difficult to learn a method of NFP during the postpartum period if they do plan on using it to space pregnancies. The reason for this is that it can take up to a year (sometimes longer) for a woman to start cycling again, and her hormones can make it difficult to track her biomarkers.
Other couples reject NFP, and see it as a type of rejection of God’s gift of children. It is praiseworthy when couples throw themselves fully into the arms of the Lord and decide to accept children without hesitation. In fact, it is what all married couples are called to. However, the use of NFP does not mean that a couple isn’t doing that. All couples should actively discern, “Is God calling me NOT to have a child this cycle?” not the other way around as it is often approached.
Benefits of Learning NFP
I always recommend that a couple learn NFP even if they don’t plan on using it. If someone in the family gets a serious illness or a tragedy happens, then they don’t have to totally abstain during that time or learn an NFP method in the throes of suffering.
In conclusion, we are privileged to work with couples in this most intimate part of their marriage. When a couple comes to us wanting to know why they “have to” learn NFP, it is incumbent upon us to find out where they’re coming from and show them the beauty of their vocation and marital union as it images the Holy Trinity. We can share the benefits of NFP with all couples, even those who don’t plan on using it.
NFP Life™ featuring Dr. Danielle & Kyle Koestner — This six-part video series is an overview, witness, and introduction to the beauty and science of Natural Family Planning. Watch the trailer below and register here.