Friday, May 4, 2012

Obstacles to Understanding NFP

NFP part 2
(Thoughts continued from NFP Part 1)

One main obstacle to understanding NFP is that it is constantly compared to and considered as an alternative to contraception. NFP is not contraception, nor is it an alternative to it. Contraception is contrary to Natural Law, and is against the sacrament of marriage itself. Morally, it is simply not even relevant in a discussion on NFP. It would be as if during a discussion on hospital vs. home care for the terminally ill, someone was to chime in and say, "Well, what's wrong with euthanasia?" NFP is not "Catholic contraception," any more than annulment is "Catholic divorce." Approaching it with a contraceptive mindset is an obstacle to properly understanding both marital sexuality and Natural Family Planning.

NFP exists as an effective, scientifically-based alternative to complete abstinence. It is not an alternative to contraception. NFP allows a married couple to still have sex in their marriage, because sex is part of marriage. This brings us to the second obstacle to understanding:

The second obstacle is to forget that sex is an integral part of marriage. Sex is not just something that is only allowed once you're married. (You can't even validly get married if you can't physically consummate- that's how intrinsically important it is.) It is literally part of living the sacrament of marriage, which was given to us by God, not designed by man. It is unitive, and procreative, and also, of course, pleasurable. However, if all three of these characteristics are not present, it falls to an act of lust, rather than love. Lust is defined as "self-seeking sexual desire," or the use of another for self-gratification.[1] One should not want sex only for the pleasure, nor only for unity, nor only for procreation. Contraception is against natural law and Church teaching because it intentionally severs the connection between sexuality and one of its major purposes.

A third obstacle to understanding NFP is that is it too often confused with the "rhythm method" or some other out-dated or ineffective means of spacing pregnancies. This confusion always calls into question the actual effectiveness of NFP. I would like to think that this obstacle may be the easiest to clear up, since use of NFP is not necessary in order to simply understand and acknowledge the facts about it. The fact is that NFP is based on science. It is based upon knowing how the female body properly works, and using that knowledge prudently. If NFP users follow the rules of their method diligently, it can be highly effective in avoiding pregnancy if necessary. The highly convenient corollary is that it is also very helpful when a couple begins trying to conceive.

Additionally, the information that NFP helps its users to establish can be useful to everyone, not only Catholics. For instance, many contraceptive users also employ fertility awareness as a means of knowing when they will "need" to use contraception in order not to conceive. This is the difference between Natural Family Planning (NFP) and the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). The book we used to learn NFP was actually a book on FAM. I had seen it recommended numerous times on the Catholic Answers Forum before I bought it (FAM simply becomes NFP by abstinence). It is a highly informative book about women's bodies and fertility cycles. The fact that this book is written for a primarily secular audience is a testament to how useful the benefits of fertility awareness really are for all women, not only Catholics who are using NFP. [2]

Along with a few other bloggers who have recently expressed their opinions, I think that NFP does need to be evangelized. It needs to be evangelized effectively. In order for it to be effective, information about NFP needs to cover all of its facets, though, not only the ones most relevant to us Catholics. There must be an appropriate balance between Natural Law, and Catholic teaching and morality, and facts about the female body and fertility awareness that are informed by medical science. If the scientific information is spread as well as the Catholic information, perhaps it could correct some of the misinformation that is out there. I think that more people will be open to at least hearing facts based on science, especially people who are completely engrossed in secular culture. NFP is like many other moral issues that can be supported both by theological and secular arguments. We need to be well-versed in both in order to get our information across.

[1] Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners (West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 2009), 26, 131.
[2] Toni Weschler, Taking Charge of Your Fertility (New York: Collins, 2006)
The method Weschler teaches is essentially sympto-thermal NFP. While her FAM method allows for use of barrier methods, she does say that abstinence is most effective. She also lists a number of Catholic NFP resources in the back of the book.

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