Church Teaching, Marriage, NFP, Sexuality

NFP and the Catholic Church have some big problems

If you’re a Catholic adult, there’s one thing that’s for sure: you’ve heard of NFP. Married, single, considering a vocation… everyone knows that NFP, or Natural Family Planning, is the Church-sanctioned way to space out children. It doesn’t involve contraception, you can learn more about your own body, it works, and it brings couples closer together. NFP for the win! Right? It’s sold to Catholics as a miracle, but no matter how you frame it, there are a lot of problems.

People aren’t using NFP

The first problem is the most obvious one: Catholics aren’t getting on board. While it’s not true that 98% of Catholic women use birth control, a large percent of them do. An even larger portion find birth control to be morally acceptable. Why does this matter? Because it’s yet another sign that American Catholics are being completely and utterly failed in their catechetical education.

The state of catechesis is miserable. Catholics are not only not being taught what Church doctrine is, but they’re not being taught why things like birth control are illicit. With that in mind, is it any wonder that people eschew NFP for birth control pills, condoms, or IUDs? These things are easier, there’s less room for error, and there’s a very good chance they’re even told by their parish priests that it’s OK to use.

We’re being lied to

If there’s anywhere women are being told about NFP, it’s during the one weekend of marriage prep they usually receive (Engaged Encounter, anyone?), and it’s taught by some perky instructor, probably a Baby Boomer, who paints a rosy picture of how amazing it is to use Natural Family Planning. It’s easy! It’s fun! People who use it have more sex than couples who use birth control! It’ll bring you closer together! And you only have to abstain, like, three days out of the month anyway! OR you could use it to GET pregnant, too! You get to have SO MUCH SEX! It’s the best!

Let’s just call this what it is, ok? This is nothing more than a bait-and-switch. Using NFP doesn’t guarantee that you can easily get pregnant, or easily avoid children. Method failures happen all the time, and charting doesn’t prevent infertility. You don’t get to have sex whenever you want, and far from bringing couples closer together, it can cause tons of frustration and distance.

And you know what? That’s OK. It’s not the best-case scenario that anyone would ever ask for, but as Catholics, we’re called to sacrifice. And that’s what NFP is: a sacrifice. We’re called to sacrifice so much, but it’s not being sold to us that way, is it? We get rainbows and unicorns blown up our butts, and then we’re left to our own devices as we struggle.

NFP Shaming

As if it wasn’t bad enough that Catholics have to struggle and sacrifice, there exists a vocal group that are all too happy to shame people, even though they’re following Church teachings by practicing NFP. Did you know it’s possible to use NFP with a “contraceptive mentality”? That if you space out your pregnancies “too much” or permanently try to avoid pregnancy then you’re sinning? As ludicrous as it may sound, these people exist, and they’re all over Facebook and the internet, running their mouths about how Catholic couples can only avoid pregnancy for “grave reasons,” in a complete misunderstanding of what exactly “grave reasons” is supposed to mean. As Humanae Vitae explains, couples are simply meant to use prudence and good judgment. Some people cannot, for whatever reason, have large families. It could be money, it could be stress, it could be anything — but it doesn’t matter to these people, because unless you’re actively dying, avoiding pregnancy makes you a sinner. Get that? Catholics who are already sacrificing are looked down upon by sanctimonious rad-trads who want to shame everyone into living some warped version of mid-century hell.

And then we wonder why people don’t want to use NFP. You may have suffered through two method failures, have had multiple c-sections and are scared of what will happen during another pregnancy, don’t have much money, and still, you remain faithful. You don’t use birth control, and you stick with NFP, putting your trust in God, and it’s still not good enough. So why even try?

Say it with me for the people in the back: there is no contraceptive mentality to using NFP. Taking advantage of the small period when a woman is naturally infertile is not contraception. And the Catholic Church does not force women to live in some Quiverfull world where she pops out children until her uterus ruptures and she dies. If a couple discerns they are meant to only have one or two children, and they choose to use Natural Family Planning indefinitely, then they aren’t sinning, and shame on those who make them feel that they are.

NFP is not a bad thing. It’s wonderful that the knowledge is available for people to control their fertility without breaking Church doctrine to do it. But the Church has a real problem here, and it’s going to take a lot of work to fix it.

4 thoughts on “NFP and the Catholic Church have some big problems”

  1. Thank you so much for this. I just had a go around about that awful term “contraceptive mentality.” It’s hostile, it’s insulting and actually does cause harm. And it’s completely inaccurate! Thank you again for standing up for Catholics trying so hard to live their faith.

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  2. OMG!!! PREACH IT!!!! I am screaming internally with joy at every word that I’m not the only who has thought. every. single. thing you wrote!!! I’ve written on this topic, but not quite like this. Also, that woman you describe – two method failures, multiple c sections, and no money – that’s me! I feel seen! Thank you!!

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  3. I really liked this post up until the part on NFP shaming.

    What is meant by “you may have suffered through two method failures”? This seems to be in reference to bearing children. What a terrible way to speak of pregnancy and children.

    The teaching of Humanae Vitae is distorted. St. Paul VI does say NFP can only be practiced for a serious reason and this serious reason is known through a “right conscience” not conscience in itself. While the couple discerns if they have a serious reason, nowhere in any Church document does it say that the couple infallibly judges. To say that a couple cannot abuse NFP is an error. The consistent teaching of the Church is that children should be welcomed unless the couple has a serious reason. The couple does judge if their reason is serious, but to say that their decision is always correct is completely erroneous. They could decide their reason is serious even if it is not. While HV does say that the married couple has the final decision, it also says that their decision must be informed by the teaching of the Church and a proper understanding of marriage. The couple doesn’t define ‘grave reason’ they judge whether their unique situation is a grave reason. Conscience deals with judgment not definition. Like virtue, NFP is a mean between extremes and we can be critical of abuses of NFP without arguing that women need to “pop out babies till they die”. Does a millionaire couple who don’t want kids because they’ll “cramp their lifestyle” and so practice NFP have a grave reason? According to the author, yes. According to right reason and sound judgment, no. Then it seems they are approaching NFP with a “contraceptive mentality”.

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    1. I don’t see where the author says it’s totally chill to not have kids because they cramp your lifestyle, and I just don’t see any evidence that couples are practicing NFP with such selfish motives. (Even if I, personally, thought I did see evidence, I don’t know how any couple except me and my husband is actually discerning or on what grounds.)

      The term “contraceptive mentality” doesn’t mean “selfishly using NFP.” If you use NFP selfishly, the sin is just selfishness. It has nothing to do with contraception, mental or otherwise.

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