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August 25, 2010

Column #1,513

The Wisdom of Natural Family Planning

By Mike McManus

“There is…a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing”

Eccelesiastes 3:1-5

                We live in a culture that has separated sex from procreation. That’s the major result of “The Pill,” introduced 50 years ago.

                Many assumed The Pill would decrease out-of-wedlock births, which were 5 percent of the total in 1960.  In fact, it spurred promiscuity, an 8-fold growth of unwed births to 41 percent.  Widespread premarital sex also led to a 16-fold growth of cohabitation, jumping from 430,000 couples living together to 6.8 million in 2008.

                There is an alternative to The Pill to plan one’s family, to have no more children than the couple wants, and to avoid contraception altogether.  It is called Natural Family Planning, or NFP.  Many Protestants never heard of it, and millions of Catholics who learn about it as part of marriage preparation, reject it as too difficult to practice.

                Women cannot conceive during two-thirds of every month. If a couple limits sexual relations to that period, she will never get pregnant.  However, from 8 to 12 days each month, before and during ovulation, she can conceive.

                Natural Family Planning is a scientific technique indicating with certainty the days when to have sex and avoid pregnancy, and when they should abstain should they wish to defer child-bearing.

                The Couple to Couple League ( has volunteers who have trained 200,000 couples in this Sympto-Thermal Method.  Women are taught a two-step process to observe their signs of fertility each month:

1.      Each morning they take their temperature and record it. When they can conceive, their temperature rises one half of a degree.  Then it falls during weeks of infertility.

2.      During her fertile period, a woman’s body creates a natural mucus secretion. When it is present, sperm can survive 3-5 days, and conception is possible.

A 2007 study published in “Human Reproduction” reports that 900 NFP women who went through 17,000 cycles were 99.4 percent effective in preventing pregnancy!

I asked Mike Manhart, Executive Director of the League, to explain the benefits of Natural Family Planning: “NFP is completely safe.  There are no side effects, no health risks. It treats us with full dignity and respect. By contrast, contraceptives communicate a message, `I love you completely except your ovaries.  I want them not to function.’

                “NFP works in accordance with God’s plan.  He made us this way, to give time for fertility and times of infertility.  And it gives us a deep sense of appreciation and awe of children,” he explained.

                “Each and every month, we have to decide: Should we or should we not have a child? If you know you are fertile, you are armed with an important piece of information.  It is important to have a conversation about whether to have a child, which contraceptive couples never talk about. They say they will think about it down the road, but down the road never comes.”

                J. Budziszewski, a Catholic convert, wrote a Foreword to a book, “Open Embrace” by Sam and Bethany Torode, in which he made this eloquent statement:

                “Conjugal sex serves not just one great good, but three, and they need marriage to come into their own.  First, among these goods is procreation: God told Adam and Eve to `be fruitful and multiply.’ 

“Second is union. When Adam was lonely, God didn’t give him a man, an animal or a crowd of people, but a woman – different from him, yet made with God’s image. When he saw her, he was so astonished that he cried, `This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’ (Genesis 2:23).

“The third, or sacramental, good of conjugal sex becomes real only when the spouses are united to Christ, for they become a living emblem of his sacrificial love for the Church… Paul is so awed by this that he calls matrimony one of God’s secrets. `This mystery is a profound one,’ he says. `and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32).’”

These three goods: procreative, unitive and sacramental – are all present in Natural Family Planning. Contraception deliberately closes the door to new life, which Budziszewski calls “merely a collaboration in selfishness. Children change us in a way we desperately need to be changed.  They wake us up, they wet their diapers…they knock us out of our selfish habits and force us to live sacrificially for others.”

Consider the wisdom of Natural Family Planning.

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