Talking about contraception is an important part of marriage preparation. Contraception in its various forms has become the status quo for sexual relationships outside of the Church. Some Catholic couples either don’t know or don’t agree with the Church’s teaching. Getting comfortable talking about contraception is vitally important for the moral and sexual health of the couples you work with.
So how do you have this conversation?
1. Know the Church’s teaching inside and out.
There’s no getting around it: the Church’s teaching on contraception runs contrary to what is accepted by modern culture and is often misunderstood.
If you aren’t sure why contraception is forbidden, read the teaching and prepare to discuss it. This doesn’t mean you need a graduate degree in theology before you start doing marriage prep.
Fortunately, the Catholic position is actually more intuitive than that, but you should know what you’re talking about and why the Church teaches what it does.
For many couples, you may be the first person who has ever shared the negative aspects of using contraception.
They will likely have questions and may even have objections.
You need to understand the principles behind the doctrine and be ready to explain why it is good for the couple’s marriage to avoid contraception.
Some good resources (for you and the couples) include the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, Catholic Answers, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
2. Be honest about the Church’s teaching.
Many couples have stories of priests or mentors giving them incorrect information about contraception and marriage. They may be upset when they find out they’ve been misled.
If that’s the case, tell the couple gently, but honestly, what the Church in her wisdom teaches about marriage and sexuality.
Don’t dance around the truth. Be clear about what is and isn’t allowed. Deliver the message with charity, but don’t leave the couple wondering what you actually mean. Then, you can work with them to figure out how to follow the Church’s teachings in their marriage.
You shouldn’t feel embarrassed or afraid of the Catholic understanding of sexuality.
There are many good reasons to avoid contraception, from the potential health risks to the way it tends to violate the dignity of both spouses. If you know these reasons, you’ll be able to explain the Catholic position while truly understanding and believing it yourself, which is crucial.
3. Be patient with couples (and yourself).
For some couples, the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is strange and confusing. They may have a hard time understanding how a couple goes about having a happy, fulfilling marriage and sex life without birth control.
Obviously, you shouldn’t belittle or criticize them. Charity and gentleness are needed at all times.
Keep in mind that it’s not necessary for them to fully understand and agree with you right away.
Give them the truth clearly and kindly, then allow them time to think about what you said and discuss it privately. Suggest that they also pray about it. Conversion and understanding don’t have to happen immediately.
Let the Holy Spirit work, and don’t feel the need to “win” the discussion and answer every objection the first time you broach the subject. If a change of heart is needed, remember that it is God, not you, who will work that out.
4. Offer an alternative.
The thought of being married and having sex without contraception can be overwhelming for some couples. Visions of 20 children or 15-passenger vans may pop into their heads. The couple may fear the health risks that can be associated with pregnancy, especially if the wife has underlying health problems.
On a theoretical level, wives may believe the Church only values them for their ability to have babies.
Fortunately, the Church doesn’t simply forbid contraception and abandon couples to figure it out on their own. It offers an alternative approach: Natural Family Planning (NFP).
There are a lot of great resources available for couples who want to learn about NFP, including our own new course: NFP Life.
You’ll also want to know if NFP coaching is available locally, if your parish doesn’t have a program for that. Oftentimes, local nurses will be certified to teach the methods of NFP. If your parish does offer a program or class, have the information on hand and give it to the couple right away.
You’ll also want information on medical professionals who actually know how NFP works (learn more about Dr. Danielle Koestner here). As frustrating and tragic as it is, some OB/GYNs can be woefully untrained and uninformed about the scientific methods used in NFP.
You should understand the basics of NFP — and why it isn’t the “rhythm method” — so you can answer initial questions from the couple. Allow the details to be covered by the mentor or course.
The bottom line…
NFP has tremendous benefits for the couple’s health and their marriage. Understanding these can be helpful when explaining why they should practice Natural Family Planning in their marriage.
Contraception and family planning may be a difficult topic for many couples, but if it’s done with charity and wisdom, such conversations can bear a lot of fruit.
Above all, remember that the Church has very good reasons to teach what it does, and these teachings are actually borne of science and theology, not just one or the other. When you meet with couples to talk about contraception and Natural Family Planning, you can be confident that you are sharing good news for both their physical and spiritual health.