Irresponsible Claims for NFP

scared2As a Catholic theologian, I am aware that the Catholic Church tends to be so promotional of NFP as to neglect to inform users that, as in all medical advice, there are potentially dangerous “side effects” to the use of NFP. This practice is unfortunate. It destroys confidence and subverts “honesty in advertising.”

Consider, for example, the medical advice given to patients by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:

Q.   How effective is NFP in preventing pregnancy?

A.   Natural family planning is not as effective as most other methods of birth control. One in four women who use this method become pregnant. The method is not suited for the following women:

• Women who should not get pregnant because of medical reasons

• Women with irregular menstrual periods who may not be able to tell when they are fertile

• Women with abnormal bleeding, vaginitis, or cervicitis (these make the cervical mucus method unreliable)

• Women who use certain medications (for instance, antibiotics, thyroid medications, and antihistamines) that may change the nature of vaginal secretions, making mucus signs impossible to read

• Women with certain problems unrelated to fertility (for instance, fever) that can cause changes in basal body temperature  (source)

If our  bishops would include these on a “warning label” with their NFP promotional pitches, then Catholic women who suffered through unwanted pregnancies would feel relieved that it was not their fault that they got pregnant while using NFP.  Meanwhile, those considering using NFP for the first time would be encouraged to know that the bishops are straight shooters and that they are not blinded by ideological and theological factors.

As things now stand, the glowing testimonials in favor of NFP are motivated by the “unspoken truth” that NFP is currently the ONLY OFFICIALLY APPROVED method for regulating pregnancies.  Hence,
Catholics who want to believe that Paul VI could make no major error in drafting Humanae Vitae will want to do fancy cartwheels to demonstrate  that he was 100% right about NFP.

Consider this, for example.  When you visit the  cheerful site known as Catholic Online,  you will hear a Catholic mother of six explaining how she came to hold fast to NFP.   Along the way, however, she makes some pretty fantastical claims:

When women learn to read their cycles, they often report a renewed sense of self-worth. . . .  Women often can’t place their finger on it, but they sense this. Not surprisingly, couples who practice a method of NFP have only a 5% rate of divorce by comparison to the 50% rate in the population at large. Clearly, when couples treat one another with dignity and respect, honoring the wholeness of each person, their relationship is positively effected.

I say “fantastical” because if the text in red were true, then sex therapist and couples counselors would have  used this info by way of shoring up sagging marriages everywhere–and not just among Catholics.  Yet, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is not true.   And this unfortunately is the case, despite the fact that I have heard this claim routinely used in NFP  promotionals.   Hence, this is something like being told to take huge doses of vitamin C to prevent the onset of the common cold.  “Every belief works in the eyes of the believer” (Michael Polanyi).

Mark Twain — ‘What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.’

Fraternally,

Aaron Milavec

2 thoughts on “Irresponsible Claims for NFP”

  1. I used NFP over a period of thirty years . As a method in my case it was a complete failure. Even though I had a very regular cycle I still managed to miscalculate and had numerous unplanned pregnancies.

    I actually think it’s a good method if one is TRYING to get pregnant. Sucess Guaranteed⚡️

  2. Words of Sharron Cole in English Group D at the recent Synod:

    The Church’s vision on conjugal love and responsible parenthood as expressed in Humanae Vitae has great beauty and depth. However its declaration that “sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive [is] so intrinsically wrong provoked massive dissent from the moment the encyclical was promulgated. Many Catholic married couples have made their own decision in conscience about how to exercise responsible parenthood which may mean the use of artificial contraception. For some, this has meant leaving the church. Others remain but often with a sense of unease.

    As an ex board member of Natural Family Planning, I know that this method of contraception permitted by Humanae Vitae is an effective method for motivated couples. However for many couples, the method is simply not practicable -they may hold multiple low-wage jobs, have mental health problems, or struggle for diverse reasons. Every family has difficulties which might lead them for a period of time to use artificial contraception in the interests of responsible parenting. Marriage naturally leads to a desire for children which is a biological imperative and a great grace of the sacrament. In my experience, very few couples suppress this desire with its constraints tending to be the couple’s resources to cope, not selfishness.

    The response of the Church to this unsatisfactory situation has been for better catechesis or to ignore the dissent. This “paralysed status quo” cannot continue. The matter must be discussed afresh because lay people will not be content to leave it to clergy alone. Too many in authority responded to clergy sexual abuse in a way which demonstrated that they lacked the expertise in sexuality and psychology to make good decisions, with the result they became complicit in perpetuating enormous harm, harm done to lay people.

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