Opening the Floodgates

So a few weeks ago I began a series on Natural Family Planning (NFP) to start an open and honest discussion about the what, why and how of NFP. The response has been tremendous: Nearly 150 of you replied to the online survey and many submitted in-depth, heartfelt comments about your personal experiences.

According to our BustedHalo survey, 76 percent of readers said they plan to practice—or already do practice—natural family planning. Wait… hold up, I said to myself as I looked at the data: These results caught my eye instantly.

Since numbers from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops tell us that fewer than 4 percent of married Catholics report using NFP methods to plan and space pregnancies, clearly my column got forwarded around to some NFP groups, who wanted to share positive NFP stories with a wider audience.

And I think that’s terrific; there’s a weird divide in the Catholic Church between the more conservative and more liberal among us, and I hope this column can be a safe place for all views. That said, the demographer in me must note that the data I’m reporting here are skewed. But since more liberal young-adult Catholics don’t discuss NFP often, I’m opening the floodgates.

Below are some personal stories and comments that readers shared in the past few weeks—with both the positive and negatives of NFP. And running alongside my piece is a personal story of NFP from a college friend of mine, Mary Alice Teti. She explains the “why” of NFP—and why fertility awareness is central to her faith. I encourage you to read her thoughtful essay. And if you want to test your NFP knowledge, take this short quiz to see how you stack up on the Church’s teachings.

Converting to NFP

Jeff and his wife, Michelle, married at 26. She was on the Pill when they got married. Early on in their marriage, they decided to learn more about their faith and attended an NFP seminar.

“At first we were in the ‘who are you to tell me what to do’ demographic, especially in my bedroom! But as we grew in knowledge we learned contracepting was sinful and we had to stop,” he writes.

There’s a weird divide in the Catholic Church between the more conservative and more liberal among us, and I hope this column can be a safe place for all views.

Six months into their marriage, they threw away the birth control pills—and then abstained from sex for three months while Michelle figured out her cycle. “We played A LOT of Scrabble,” Jeff writes, but it was worth it: “NFP has incredibly blessed our marriage in so many ways besides fertility awareness. We have two boys, 4 and 1 and a half and have successfully used NFP to achieve and postpone pregnancy.”

Like Jeff, 86 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of NFP. And when asked to choose from a selection of (mostly negative) comments about NFP — “It’s great for some people, but not for me”; “It’s too complicated”; “It’s not practical for our modern lives” — 71 percent chose the positive statement that NFP is “a wonderful way to space out births and plan a family.”

Jeff and Michelle are now NFP instructors. And indeed, some 84 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the Church should require a course in NFP during marriage preparation programs.

Can guys get on board, too?

But for the majority of young Catholics, the issue isn’t yet resolved. Kathi, 25, says she’s been planning to start NFP for at least a year. She’d been taking birth control pills, but after she married “it just seemed unnecessary,” she writes. “I felt more guilty about being on the pill than I did about having sex with my husband before we were married.”

Her husband supported her decision to stop taking birth control pills and she did, with the intention of starting NFP. But her husband wasn’t excited about all the charting and abstaining, and the two began to use condoms instead. “Your article said that men get excited about it. Are you serious?” she asked me.

Fair point, Kathi. Some men get into all the charting and planning—like solving a little mystery each cycle—while others are less interested. This, to me, is one of the challenges of NFP: Both spouses need to be on board.