Considering our vocation to be a light to the world, we have a duty to discover and transmit God’s truth in all aspects of human existence, including human sexuality. And that involves sharing the truth about the often misunderstood and hotly debated topic of natural family planning (NFP).
Let’s begin with a definition from the USCCB:
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the general title for the scientific, natural, and moral methods of family planning that can help married couples either achieve or postpone pregnancy.
NFP methods are based on the observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy.
Since the methods of NFP respect the love-giving (unitive) and life-giving (procreative) nature of the conjugal act, they support God’s design for married love!
Put simply, NFP entails using natural methods to achieve or postpone pregnancy. As a pastor of souls, you know how quickly the issue can get complicated and very specific.
The best way to address the needs of your faithful is to provide a cohesive and comprehensive education on NFP that supports God’s design for marital love. (This is especially applicable for couples in marriage preparation courses.)
Many NFP courses are available, but not all are created equally. Here are five qualities of a great NFP course:
1. It Stays true to proven science
Catholic sexual morality is not something the world of science is well-versed in. At the same time, even some of the most well-intentioned Catholics aren’t comfortable in the world of reproductive science.
So if you’re evaluating a course on NFP for your own instruction or for your parish, make sure you dig a little to ensure it provides scientific data to support any concrete assertions.
What does the science really say about natural family planning?
The vast majority of reliable scientific research supports the following statements:
- NFP has zero side effects and is completely natural (unlike artificial contraceptives).
- NFP is an effective method for even sub-fertile couples to conceive a child naturally. (Studies show NFP reduces the time to achieving pregnancy by as much as 70%)
- When carefully followed, NFP is just as effective, if not more effective, at postponing pregnancy than artificial contraception.
2. It Respects the authentic teachings of the Church
Whether it’s talked about or not, many Catholics believe that NFP is all about preventing pregnancy while enjoying the pleasure of the marital act, which means that many people love the idea of NFP while others spurn it as “Catholic contraception.” Still, others believe it’s all about having as many children as possible; after all, didn’t our Father in heaven command us to “go forth and multiply?”
All of these opinions are sorely mistaken and require gentle instruction from the Church’s pastors.
A proper NFP course must take great pains to coalesce with the authentic teachings of Holy Mother Church to recall any lost sheep and keep the rest on the straight and narrow.
The supreme authority of the Church has given us some general guidance on the topic as we find in Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Connubii, Pope St. Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, and Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Additionally, a course must take care to consult any local bishops’ conferences providing suggested talking points on the topic of NFP.
3. It Explains the legitimate health benefits of NFP
One of the often-overlooked beauties of NFP is that it allows a woman to listen to her body and be more in-tune with how God created her.
Instead of living in ignorance, or worse, resorting to destructive artificial methods catered toward unnatural and selfish desires, a woman practicing NFP enjoys a number of real health benefits in line with God’s established order.
Through charting ovulation and menstruation women are able to use NFP as a means to help regulate their cycles. NFP is also helpful in diagnosing and treating women suffering from reproductive conditions like PCOS, endometriosis, and ovarian cysts.
NFP can be used at all stages of a woman’s reproductive life without the damaging physical side effects of hormones, drugs, or other forms of artificial contraception.
4. It Expresses the spiritual aspect of the marital love
The best NFP courses never stay at the natural level. As with everything in our Faith, all things refer to God and lead us back to Him. Human sexuality and natural family planning are no exceptions.
In addition to the health benefits discussed above, NFP provides the couple the opportunity to see sexuality in a much nobler light. This opens the door to a more complete understanding of how and why God created us with sexual desires and the true meaning of the conjugal act.
NFP emphasizes both aspects of marital love:
The life-giving (procreative) aspect – by preserving an openness to life, unlike artificial methods.
The love-giving (unitive) aspect – by which the spouses work as one in a mutual and intimate gift of self where there’s no room for selfish or base desires.
Thus, the faithful practice of NFP can reflect God’s love for each and every one of us… a love that is life-giving and love-giving.
5. It Shares the rich benefits brought to married life
By supporting God’s intended plan for human sexuality (the life-giving and love-giving aspects), couples using NFP witness extraordinary benefits in their married life. According to Theology of the Body, love needs to be true, total, faithful, and fruitful. By its very nature, practicing NFP helps to promote healthy communication and respect within marriage. Individually, the husband and wife progress to a greater understanding and respect for themselves and one another. And as a couple, they discover a much deeper appreciation for the beautiful gift of human sexuality and the supreme dignity of their marital bond.
Faithful exercise of NFP allows spouses to enter into reflection about the Divine plan in their own marriage. It supports and protects their dignity. As husband and wife to carry out their marriage truly, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully through NFP, they unlock deeper levels of intimacy.
As a pastor seeking to inform yourself or to offer marriage preparation resources for your faithful, you know that an approachable and authentically Catholic course on NFP is vital for the adequate propagation of the truths of human sexuality.
If that’s what you’re looking for, check out our newly completed on-demand course on NFP.
And don’t worry, we made sure to check all five boxes above before sharing it with you.