Catholic Online reports on a young couple’s ideas about natural family planning—which sound like a lot of couples’ ideas about other kinds of family planning, aka contraception.
Kristine, of Tacoma, Washington, has been married for three years and is pregnant for the second time. She says that natural family planning
“teaches a man and a woman to develop a mindset of ordering their lives according to God’s Providence — discerning whether or not they are able financially, emotionally, or physically able to get pregnant each month.”
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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The first part of this statement reflects a basic Catholic idea (and one shared by many religions): seeking to understand what God wants you to do. But the second part is harder to parse. Kristine seems to be saying that NFP helps her and her husband discern whether God believes that the couple is financially, emotionally, or physically able to get pregnant. But NFP involves charting a woman’s body temperature, along with other indicators of ovulation, to figure out when she’s ovulating, and abstaining from sex then. This is a little more taxing than taking a pill or using a condom, and a lot less effective (it has a 12 to 25 percent failure rate), but it’s still a means of attempting to prevent pregnancy when you don’t want to get pregnant. Sounds like reproductive choice, not God’s Providence.
The way NFP is different, of course, is that you exercise this choice by abstaining from sex, rather than using a device or hormone. The latter, according to Kristine:
separates the two meanings of the procreative act — unitive and procreative — and thus sex becomes disordered.
If sex does not always express both a couple’s love for each other and their desire to reproduce, it’s “disordered”—a spiritual mess. But here’s the rub, and here’s why NFP feels disingenuous to me: when a couple is practicing NFP, they are not interested in getting pregnant. So when they’re having sex during the other, presumably non-ovulating times of the month, their sex is still non-procreative. They’re having sex, but they don’t want to have children. That’s why they abstained during ovulation.
To me, NFP seems, like annulment, to be a loophole created when the Catholic Church recognized that even its very faithful could not possibly live according to every aspect of the Church’s vision. Not every marriage works out, and not every married couple wants to be constantly reproducing.
The Couple to Couple League of Chicago, which offers classes in sympto-thermal family planning, claims that NFP is 99 percent effective. Others disagree, and, regardless of statistics, it’s easy to see how body temperature might vary independently of ovulation (when you’re coming down with a virus, when you’re stressed out, when you’re drinking). I guess that’s where God’s Providence comes in.