First of all, let me note that this Natural Family Planning (NFP) post is NOT a how-to. I don’t really even know much about the practice of NFP. I’m just going to write about my understanding of why the teachings of the Catholic Church prohibit the use of artificial birth control, but encourage using NFP for child-spacing. Second, let me give a little heads up:
***Warning: Though this post will not be at all graphic, I suspect I may use the S-E-X word once or twice. I’m just saying because my Mother-in-law reads this. And my Grandma. And my Dad. Sooo, yeah. Here we go.
I remember going to a Catholic wedding many years ago (even pre-atheism!), in which the priest actually had the bride and groom vow to use natural family planning. When I heard that, my eyes bugged out, and my jaw dropped, and I just could not believe that they were supposed to do that. And that he said that during their wedding ceremony!
In my understanding at the time, NFP was the same thing as the rhythm method. And I really couldn’t wrap my mind around why in the world the Catholic Church would prohibit birth control anyway. I was pro-choice back then, but I could still at least grasp why religious groups might argue against abortion. Saying that people shouldn’t use birth control seemed barbaric and archaic and kind of ridiculous.
Fast forward about 12-ish years. I now know that NFP is not the same as the rhythm method. I’m now firmly pro-life. I now understand why the Catholic Church does not support the use of artificial birth control. It’s actually pretty cool. Check it out:
It all started when Super Friend told me about this post by Jennifer Fulwiler. I think it was the first or second post of hers that I ever read. Jennifer has a blood-clotting disorder that is exacerbated by pregnancy. After her sixth baby was born, she had multiple blood clots in her lungs. In the post I linked, she talks about how she probably ought not have any more children. And yet, she is not willing to use artificial birth control or sterilization to prevent pregnancy. That was a pretty powerful story for me to read, and led me to want to learn more about NFP.
As I said, I never did really learn much more about how NFP is practiced. But I did learn about how effective it can be when done right. I did learn that it can be used both to help achieve pregnancy and to avoid it or to space pregnancies. And, most importantly, I learned why the Catholic Church endorses this method of child spacing or pregnancy prevention but not the use of artificial birth control.
As I see it, it all boils down to this one thing: Openness to Life.
The Catholic Church teaches that new life is a gift from God. That all life is precious. And that the main purpose of marriage and sex is bringing new life into the world. Now, before you get all freaked out and start saying, “Yup! I knew those Catholics were all a bunch of twisted puritans! Sex is only for creating babies?!?!” or something like that, let me add that the Church teaches that the primary purpose of sex is making babies. NOT that that is its only purpose. The Church does not teach that it is wrong to enjoy sex or that every single time you have sex you need to be trying to have a baby. The Church does teach that, by engaging in the act that creates life, you should be open to the possibility of creating life.
The Church does not approve of the use of artificial birth control or sterilization because these separate the act of creating babies from the possibility of creating babies. They sever the life-giving act from the opportunity to give life. According to the Church, if there is a reason that you should not have a baby right now, then instead of changing the way your body works so you most likely cannot get pregnant, you abstain from sex so you most definitely do not get pregnant. And yes, the Church does explicitly teach abstinence before marriage.
And though there are plenty of reasons for concern about the lack of absolute effectiveness of artificial birth control methods and the introduction of unnatural hormones into one’s body, I don’t think that actually has anything to do with the Church’s position on the issue. The Church says that if we should not get pregnant, we should not have sex, so NFP is a sacrifice-based system, involving both partners. And, as an aside, I’m pretty sure that most of the big Catholic families you see around are not big because NFP doesn’t work, but because the Catholic teaching leads them to be open to life such that they don’t often use NFP for preventing pregnancy.
The Church does not shame people about sex. It actually holds sex as sacred. It values the God-given function of the sexual act, to create life. And in doing so, it celebrates the other functions of sex, to give pleasure and bring two people closer together. The Church holds that, by separating sex from its main purpose of creating life, we change it.
I gotta tell you, when I first read about this stuff, I was stunned. I was completely taken aback by how beautiful this concept was. I could not believe that what I had always assumed to be misogynistic and sententious was really based in openness and reverence. It rang so true to me, as has almost every element of the Catholic teaching that I once thought was so backwards.
So, there you have it. The reason for using NFP and not using artificial birth control, according to the Catholic Church, as best I understand it, in a reeeeally overly-simplified nutshell. Blythe wrote more (better) about it here.
This post was based on a question from my friend Liz (again). I love that she asks me such great questions about Catholicism, and that she answers my questions about being Mormon. You should check out her blog.
So, what do you want to ask about?