Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the only form of birth control that does not involve altering sex in any way. "You're wrong," you might think "because I know having sex on the Pill must be the same as having sex off the pill - physically, the motions are all the same." On the contrary! Everything is very physically altered when contraception is introduced. If you and I were to go on a picnic to a secluded glade in the high mountains, it'd be lovely. You'd set out the plates, I'd get out the tea cups and we'd feast on delicious food. But what if we did the same thing, but we ate poisoned food? Say food that was laced with poison, that would kill us slowly - all the motions would be the same, but would it be the same - physically? In a word: no.
The non-religious reasons why NFP is a great idea is because it works with the body, and with nature, not against it - and it works to improve our human nature, not tempt it to excess. Any form of hormonal birth control (all types of the Pill, IUDs, Norplant, Depo shots, etc.) alters the woman's body so that she will not ovulate. This is really quite troublesome; a woman's body was made to ovulate every month, and here we are stopping it and declaring that it wouldn't hurt her health. How do we know? And now we do know - we know the Pill is shown to cause blood clots, possibly cancer, cause some women fertility problems down the line after they STOP taking it. And it's no wonder. We decry hormones in our food (rightly so) and question hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women, but we don't question the hormones we encourage women to ingest every month?
The Pill is listed as a Class One Carcinogen by the World Health Organization - in the same category as cigarettes and asbestos. But even WHO refuses to take its own research at face value and recommend that women not take the Pill. No, instead the WHO recommends women balance this danger (that it certainly causes cancer) with the Pill's attendant benefits. This is playing Russian roulette with a woman's life, quite frankly. Since when is death something that has to be balanced against my sex life? Could they really not think of any other alternatives?
The religious (Catholic) reasons stem from what we already know about sex. If sex is where two become one, wherein we truly accept all and give all, then an altering of our bodies at a chemical level is fundamentally at odds with this complete giving. It is to say to your spouse "yes, I want all of you - except the fact that you can make babies. That I do NOT want, and I don't want to give you that part of me either. Please take a dangerous chemical so that we don't have to deal with that." Likewise, this is why men cannot ejaculate outside of the woman's vagina - because it is a violation of the terms of self-gift. You are not giving yourself to your wife if you 'finishing' anywhere but where you are supposed to. A man's orgasm is necessary to the creation of life and so he owes it to his wife to only experience this within her, where life has the privilege of being nurtured.
The possibility of children defines the sex act: it is always, biologically, its purpose. The fact that we know sex has a far greater reaching implications than creating children is wonderful, fabulous, a great added bonus! But the fact remains that sex is for babies. We know that because when we're having a lot of sex au natural and we DON'T get a baby, we know there is something wrong - something is wrong when two healthy people are having sex and not creating babies.
NFP allows our biological rhythms to guide our sex lives. It means that we can, at any moment, change our intentions - either to create life, or to abstain from creating life. If we decide, prayerfully and honestly, that we should not create a baby, then we can avoid the times of the month a woman is fertile - which isn't usually especially long. We are free to have sex during the infertile times or - and this does happen - decide that our reason to wait wasn't THAT important and have sex whenever we please.
If you believe that NFP would not work for certain people, you are ignorant of basic human biology. Unlike men, who are always fertile, women are only fertile when they ovulate. Women ovulate once per month and that egg only lives for twenty-four hours. But it does get tricky because sperm, lover of eggs, can live in a woman's body for five days - so if you have sex on any of the days leading UP to your ovulation time, there is a possibility of pregnancy. All told, if you are following the most conservative rules, there can be up to 18 days of abstinence - or maybe fewer. It does depend on your own personal cycle. (thank you to the anonymous reader who pointed out that there can be more abstinent days than originally thought, especially in difficult times like post-partum).
If there are couples out there who have sex every single day, month in and month out, then maybe NFP would be very difficult for you. For the rest of us, it's more about adjusting our expectations and our mind sets. It is about mutual respect and discussion. Because there are days of abstaining every month, every month the couple must revisit again their reasons for abstaining and ask "are we still sure - is it worth the sacrifice?" Because not having sex with your spouse IS a sacrifice! But sacrifice, not getting what you want, as we already learned, can be good for you.
This is the context for a faithful married Catholic's life. Having sex with your spouse, for a possible 24 days out of 30 if abstaining, or 30 out of 30 if you want otherwise, with the husband finishing inside his wife. These are pretty much the 'outside' limits - the most definite limits the Church puts on your sex life. Most other conclusions we must arrive at with reason and are NOT spelled out for us. Far from micro-managing us, the Church leaves a great deal to our own reason and prudent decision making. The rest - the grey area - is what, presumably, this blog will be all about.
For more information on NFP, please see the online resources tab at the top of this page.