If your married sex life is hot & spicy, it is likely you’ve had to think about some family planning (and if you haven’t, you should). I am pregnant with child #4. My husband and I have said we wanted 4 children since we were engaged. Up until now, we’ve been pretty comfortable with the thought of getting pregnant, so a half-hazard “pull n’ pray” method to space things out a bit has worked for us. Now, family planning is going to take on a whole new importance for us, especially the prevention side of it :-). That is why I took such interest in a recent conversation with a friend as she shared some of her knowledge on natural family planning. I’ve asked my friend, Jess to share this with you, so whether you’re looking to promote or prevent pregnancy in your sexual relationship, this is some great wisdom to have.
After prolonged use, many couples find that the once-fabulous benefits of birth control eventually become not-so-fabulous, as the spontaneity that came with that first round of pills eventually loses its edge, making you think, ‘okay, so this is it?’ So, you increase in ‘inventiveness and frequency’ to try to find that feeling you felt on your wedding day (or the first second time), and still, the honeymoon effect is gone. I’ve have been on both sides of that fence; I may not be an expert, but I can at the very least, offer my experience for people looking to learn more about safe, natural, marriage-enriching alternatives to birth control (and to that pesky inventiveness).
Long before I’d met my husband, I was a birth control-using “Christian” (I use quotations because I was not by any means acting like one). I’d chosen not to wait until marriage, so I thought that I was just doing myself a favor and preventing pregnancy while benefiting from birth control’s promises of ‘spontaneity’ and ‘freedom’. I didn’t like the side effects of birth control, and yet saw no viable alternative.
After years of attending a Catholic church, I decided to forgo relationships until I’d found ‘the one’ and was living a celibate, happy existence. I was finally at peace in solitude, a feeling that soon gave way to a sober examination of the life I’d lived before. Although I’d generally been satisfied with my life, I realized that my expected ‘freedom’ in using birth control was in fact, anything but freedom; even if it was a boyfriend, even if I thought I was in love, being on birth control meant that my body, as it was, was inadequate and not worth the wait. I’d succumbed to the worldly wisdom that the ‘ultimate’ way of life is one of self-love and satisfaction; birth control enforced the idea that I should be ready, willing, and impregnable to allow for ultimate satisfaction.
I believed that my value was not in my character, my spirit, the way I loved others, or my divine role as a woman, but in what I was (or could be) to a man. I’d been imprisoned not by birth control, but by my wanting to be loved and accepted – birth control did not cause or control this desire, it simply allowed it to perpetuate.
A few years later, I’d converted to Catholicism, met and married my husband. In practice with the Catholic faith, we learned Natural Family Planning for six months prior to our marriage. We remained abstinent until our wedding, and from thereafter, we have used Natural Family Planning (NFP) to both achieve and avoid pregnancies.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the contraceptive-free solution many married Catholics use for achieving or avoiding pregnancy. Unfortunately, many resources on the internet use the term ‘Natural Family Planning’ to define a wider range of methods, many of which are not actually ‘true’ Natural Family Planning. Therefore, before you can understand what NFP is, I must first explain what it is not:
1. The Rhythm Method / The Calendar Method – This antiquated method is essentially the use of a standardized cycle length to predict ovulation. Unlike NFP, this method assumes that all women have the same cycle length. We now know that cycle lengths differ, as do the quality of fertility cycles.
2. Natural Birth Control – I’m not sure if there is such a thing as ‘natural’ birth control. If there were, NFP would not be it. Birth control is purely to avoid pregnancy, whereas NFP is used to avoid or ACHIEVE pregnancy. It is, however, very ‘natural’ in concept, as it is perfectly safe for the couple to use as long as they need.
3. The ‘pull out method’ – I’m not even sure who invented this one (probably a man), however I hope that you don’t rely on ‘pulling out’ to avoid pregnancy. If you do, read on!
According to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB),
“Natural Family Planning is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman’s cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy.”
The two primary forms of NFP are the Sympto-Thermal method and the Creighton method. Both are free of contraceptives (chemical, surgical, and mechanical), are user-friendly, and are perfectly safe for both men and women. Additionally, NFP is highly effective when correctly used (most pregnancies that occur during the practice of NFP to avoid pregnancy occur with user error). These NFP methods are researched and rigorously tested, and for those who use them, no other birth control or alternative comes close.
What’s the catch? Unlike traditional birth control, where the couple can engage in sexual intercourse ‘whenever’, NFP requires tracking of the women’s signs of fertility – when she is fertile and the couple wishes to avoid pregnancy, the couple must restrain themselves from sex.
Not only can NFP give you back the ‘honeymoon period’ after each month’s abstinence, the self control, communication, and respect you gain from the practice can only benefit your marriage. From the USCCB: “NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life, and recognizes the value of the child. By respecting the love-giving and life-giving natures of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife.”
If you’re struggling to conceive, you might benefit from talking to an NFP consultant prior to seeking out alternatives. The small window of fertility is not as easy to hit as you’d think, and unfortunately, couples can try for as little as six months to a year before being told that they should consider fertility treatments. Additionally, external factors could be impacting your ability to conceive, such as stress (from moving, work, etc.), a thyroid problem, or another medical issue that can be detected in your NFP chart.
Additional Benefits (adapted from USCCB):
- Calls for mutual responsibility by husband and wife
- Requires the couple to communicate
- Has no harmful side effects
- Is effective for those wanting to achieve or avoid pregnancy
- Is cheap
- Effective for achieving, spacing, or limiting pregnancy
- Marriage enrichment and mutual understanding
- Appreciation for the value of children
- Fosters respect for and acceptance of the total person
- Moral acceptability
How does it work?
A woman’s body experiences a number of different changes throughout the menstrual cycle. The two primary methods, Sympto-thermal and Creighton, teach users to learn to recognize, evaluate and track specific changes of fertility. If a couple is trying to avoid pregnancy, they then practice abstinence during the fertile period of a woman’s cycle. If trying to achieve pregnancy, the couple then avoids intercourse for most or all of the infertile cycle, and engages in intercourse during the ‘peak’ period, on or around the day of ovulation.
The Sympto-thermal method, taught by local consultants through the Couple-to-Couple League, teaches users to evaluate and track basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and cervical changes. This method is best for healthy women with normal cycles who are not breastfeeding.
The Creighton method, taught by local consultants through the Fertility Care Center, instructs users on the evaluation and analysis of cervical mucus. This method is better for women with irregular cycles, women who are breastfeeding, and who would like an additional measure of their health, whether or not they’re currently ‘healthy’.
How do I get started?
Start by talking with your spouse about NFP, and if you agree, seek out a consultant for the method you feel best fits your family’s needs and abilities. For a complete list of NFP providers, look here. If you’re not ready to take the step to contact a provider but would like more information, you’re welcome to leave a comment on this post or fill out the contact form on this blog and I will contact you as soon as possible.
Take home message:
In hindsight, I can say with great confidence that the waiting, respect, communication and ‘honeymoon effect’ that come from NFP far outweigh any ‘benefit’ I thought I gained from the spontaneity of birth control. More importantly, however, our marriage became the proof that I needed to believe that self-love and satisfaction are truly fleeting types of happiness – in the small, patient, loving acts does true happiness dwell.
For a comparison of birth control methods and their risks, read here.
For more information about NFP in general, read here.
For wrong information on NFP, just google it. Atrocious!
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