Au Naturel

The Ups and Downs of Natural Family Planning

In my budding feminist years, Natural Family Planning seemed as useful as tossing a grenade into a dance hall and hoping no one would get hit. It was birth control at its most non-existent: a protective shield without the shield. At the time, I assumed the Catholic Church promoted it in order to keep women pregnant. Then, I did my homework. I learned the facts, got married, and came to view Natural Family Planning as a feminist’s dream.

Bring On The Dream
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a method of birth control that teaches women to use their menstrual cycle to avoid pregnancy. It’s simple biology: during a normal menstrual cycle a woman’s body will menstruate, prepare for ovulation and possible conception, ovulate, and, if conception hasn’t occurred, prepare to menstruate again. Fertility comes into play at ovulation, when a woman’s egg floats down a fallopian tube in search of sperm. The point of birth control is to keep egg and sperm apart. With NFP, this is done by not having sex when a woman is fertile. The trick is to know when that fertile time will take place.

It’s not hard. Women aren’t fertile for long (24 hours a cycle, approximately) and their impending ovulation is marked by bodily changes: a rise in vaginal mucus and arousal. NFP courses teach women to note these changes and, most importantly, take their basal temperature every morning, at the same time, and chart it. When temperatures spike, ovulation has occurred. After several months of charting, a woman should know when she’s fertile, when she’ll ovulate, and, conveniently, when she’ll menstruate again.

Now Wake Up
It takes work, though. It requires vigilance, persistence, and?if NFP is your only form of birth control?the strength to turn down intercourse when hormones are most excited. Also, despite NFP’s high efficacy rate, it’s not always useful. After all, it’s tag team birth control; if the relationship’s male isn’t supportive?or, worse, is abusive?NFP isn’t recommended.

It also isn’t recommended if: the woman can’t awake at the same time daily; she isn’t committed to long-term temperature taking; the relationship isn’t monogamous?NFP, obviously, will offer no protection against sexually transmitted diseases. It needs to be said that, in many cases, NFP is impractical and unreasonable.

Hit The Sack
Nevertheless, for long-haul, responsible couples who are faithful and don’t work swing shift, NFP offers solid birth control without side effects, latex rashes, or?for the serious Catholic?guilt. For feminists like myself, NFP offers insight into the female body. It teaches women to understand their bodies?their reproductive systems and menstrual cycles?and to use them to their advantage. It’s pure empowerment. It’s self-love.

NFP is a decision. While deciding, I considered all forms of birth control?each heavy with the rhetoric of my society and Church?and chose NFP because it made sense. NFP is not so much a grenade or shield but a realization that my body works perfectly?naturally?on its own.