His response was disarming, in part because of the emphatic way it was offered, but also because there is a part of me that expects fellow-Catholics to be a little more open to the Church’s teaching on marriage, sexuality and contraception. Most people, I’ve found, know little more than the typical set of misconceptions that float around our society and are used to designate Catholics as “crazy” when it comes to these matters.
When we tell people that we practice NFP, we usually receive one of three responses
Disbelief – “You mean people actually do that!?” they say. Yep, people actually embrace a method of planning their family that involves self control, discipline and a recognition of the full dignity of our bodies. Radical, huh?
Skepticism – Once, shortly after telling a couple that we practice NFP, the woman piped up with this gem:
Defensiveness – If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that few people have any understanding of the Church’s teaching on sexuality. However, they know they are vehemently against the practice of NFP and can defend their position by citing the reasons why it’s unreasonable. I have yet to be convinced by their conviction.
As Catholics, our job is to understand the teachings of our Lord and, by extension, the teachings of our church. We need to learn these principles and defend them. To that end, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has designated July 24-30, 2011 as National Awareness Week for Natural Family Planning (NFP). To get you in to the spirit of NFP Awareness week, I offer three not-so-secret secrets about NFP.
NFP is good for your marriage – Engaged couples often think that NFP would be detrimental to their marital relationship because, they assume, it puts some restrictions on physical intimacy and eliminates spontaneity. They have been taught by years of reading magazine headlines in the supermarket checkout line that spontaneity is key to a happy and healthy physical relationship. While it might be true that NFP adds some level of “order” to the marital relationship, the positive effects of NFP far outweigh the lost “thrill” of spontaneity. Due to the increased communication and intimacy that comes with understanding fertility, NFP-practicing couples see a divorce rate of just .2%, which is certainly a far cry from the almost 50% of society at large. Also, anticipation trumps spontaneity any day.
It’s not just for Catholics – There is a joke floating around that NFP stands as much for “Not for Protestants” as it does for “Natural Family Planning.” However, the theology behind NFP is not exclusively Catholic, but rather, is rooted entirely in the Bible. Evangelical radio shows such as Family Life Today have prominently featured episodes dedicated to the practice of Natural Family Planning and various evangelical magazines have picked up on the increasing trend of Protestant Christians embracing the NFP lifestyle.
NFP is effective – The extent of most people’s knowledge of NFP is the rhythm method which, as I understand it, involved counting days from start of the menstrual cycle and circling off a definite number of days to avoid intimacy if a couple was trying to avoid pregnancy. Honestly, that might be a terrible description of the rhythm methic because I don’t know the rhythm method because modern NFP isn’t the rhythm method! There are several different methods that a couple can use to go about tracking their fertility (Billings, Creighton, Sympto-Thermal) that are infinitely more precise than just counting days on a calendar. Each of these methods empowers couples to observe the real signs of fertility and determine the likelihood of conception. There are real scientists behind these methods and real support organizations dedicated to helping you learn the method to begin living a life free from artificial contraception.
These are just a few of the secrets you might not know about NFP, but there are many great resources to consider if you want to learn more.
The USCCB has a page dedicated to the 2011 NFP Awareness Week, full of resources.
The Austin Diocese can point you in the right direction is you’re looking to take an introductory course in the practice of NFP.
In the past, I’ve written a few pieces about the incredible impact of NFP in my own marital relationship: