I have not always been a fan of NFP.
- First I grew up thinking that NFP did not work for avoiding pregnancy.
- Then I got to experience how frustrating charting is when it enables one to see health issues at a time when one does not have the resources to pursue treatment.
- Then I saw how people misunderstood the Church’s teaching on birth regulation and contraception, and how couples ended up miserable because of their misunderstanding of NFP.
- Then I learned that it is often far from instinctive for a man to take serious interest in the workings of his wife’s body.
Eventually I made peace with NFP, but peace is not synonymous with perfect love. There are some things about NFP that I expect to always hate. These things will not show up for all NFP users, or even for any individual NFP user all of the time. But they are as inherent to the use of NFP as patience is to parenthood. Sure, you can be a parent without patience, and sometimes you can even be a good parent without needing patience during a particular time in your child’s life. But, overall, it would be silly to think that patience is not inherently required to parent well.
I am very thankful for NFP and the many ways in which it has benefited me personally, but I cannot be blind to its shortcomings.
That said, here are the 3 things I passionately hate about NFP:
NFP requires a good marriage. Now you might think that I should love this requirement of NFP. After all, who doesn’t like a good marriage? Besides, so many people will tell you that NFP creates incredible marriages. Yet while I do believe that good marriages are fabulous, and the patient practice of NFP can indeed make a good marriage great, I still hate the fact that in order to work well, NFP requires that one begin with an already good marriage.
People with not-so-great marriages probably need NFP more than anyone else. But NFP is unlikely to work well for them.
NFP, especially in the early phase of its use, can add significant stress to a relationship. And that isn’t the worst of it. NFP not only requires good communication and profound love, it also requires sexual abstinence at times when a couple may really, really want–or in some sense even need–to have sex.
Couples with not-so-good marriages often rely on good sex to make up for other areas of weakness in their relationship. Even if they can’t talk through their problems, at least they can reassure themselves of their love with a good time in bed. Happy hormones go a long way to compensate for a love which is too immature to deal directly with the troubles which every marriage inevitably faces.
NFP, on the other hand, not only requires decent communication and a strong love which goes far beyond the physical to work well, it also periodically deprives a couple of sex as a way to gloss over serious issues.
This means that for couples who do not have a good marriage, NFP will be anywhere from miserable to impossible.
And I hate that. I really hate that. It just isn’t fair, or helpful for those who want to have a good marriage but aren’t there yet.
NFP demands too much of men. This might also seem like a funny objection. After all, isn’t it the woman who actually has to pay meticulous attention to her body, and give up sex at the times she most desires it?
Sort of. But sex always places a disproportionate burden on women. In order for NFP to truly work well, it is the man who must work to be an amazing husband.
The proper use of NFP requires that men become good husbands, husbands in the fullest sense of that word. It is not enough for a man to simply be a husband (n.) by legally connecting himself to his wife, he must also be willing to husband (v.). Instead of merely being able to appreciate his wife’s sexuality, a man must understand his wife’s fertility as well. Most women will at some point become tired (often physically tired) of carefully practicing fertility awareness. For NFP to work, it is essential that at such times men are informed enough to be able to understand what is going on, and adequately solve the problem. A man who wants to enjoy a full sexual relationship, but does not really want to be a husband, will be incapable of understanding the problems which inevitably arise with NFP.
Furthermore, NFP requires that men not only become good husbands, but great lovers as well. Although there is no scientific evidence of the common canard that the female libido rises with ovulation and falls thereafter, there is significant anecdotal evidence that many women find sex more appealing at times the couple has decided to abstain, and that women are often disinterested in having sex according to a pre-set schedule. In order to compensate for this aspect of NFP, men must be able to overcome a natural adolescent sense of entitlement, and be willing to work to make sex appealing to their wives.
NFP requires a woman to value her body as good in itself, not merely as a tool for reproduction or male pleasure. Many women want to use NFP as a Church-approved or healthier way to avoid babies, but find it incredibly challenging because they do not appreciate their fertility cycle for its own sake. This is a problem because, aside from calendar methods such as cycle beads, NFP can be difficult to practice when one does not begin with the base of reverence for fertility, particularly that of a woman’s body.
Once again, this is an area where the patient practice of NFP will tend toward cultivating the quality necessary to live it well, but I have seen too many women miserable and resentful of NFP because all they wanted was something to space out babies, and instead they found themselves incredibly frustrated because NFP demanded greater self-appreciation than they possessed. While I appreciate the fact that NFP constantly beckons women toward a beautiful appreciation of our bodies, I hate the fact that women who do not already live with an awareness of the inherent awesomeness of their bodies are likely to find NFP too frustrating to benefit much from it.
All these things I hate about NFP. I suppose that much of it boils down to the fact that I hate that NFP requires self-discipline. Self-discipline is by definition difficult, and least likely to be had when needed most. Of course the practice of NFP cultivates self-discipline, but it often takes years for a person to really mature, and NFP requires self-discipline from day one. It isn’t as if charting is guaranteed to start out interesting and easy and only become a boring (or challenging) chore once one has cultivated sufficient self-discipline to accurately track one’s fertility regardless of how dreary it may be on any given day. And let’s not even talk about the abstinence part of couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy.
It is one of the nastier ironies of life that those without self-discipline are most likely to really need to avoid pregnancy, and, of course, to have the most difficulty with NFP (or any method of avoiding pregnancy, to be honest, but this post isn’t about how I hate the work required to refill prescriptions and remember to take pills).
So here I sit, thankful for the ways in which NFP has enriched my life, but sad that those who need NFP the most are the least likely to be able to practice it successfully.
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