NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING - CHURCH'S STAND
Family Planning generally means having children by
choice and it is possible not to have children when
the parents do not want them for some valid reason.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is considered a moral
means of following the teaching of the Church regarding
birth regulation within marriage. It offers a life-style
in which sexuality is respected and promoted in its
true and fully human dimension (unitive and procreative)
and in which a person is never used as an object. With
NFP, the couple lives out God's plan for marriage and
sexuality through a total self giving, framed by dialogue,
shared responsibility and self control.
Nowadays, whenever the subject of human love and marriage
is discussed, family planning is soon mentioned. It
is a widely held belief that one of the most serious
problems to be solved by young people getting married,
is that of preventing children arriving too soon or
in too great a number. This attitude is altogether wrong.
It is a kind of mental sickness in society which creates
problems that ought never to have existed.
For every hundred who marry, ten will never be able
to have any children, so they certainly do not have
the problem of avoiding pregnancy. The peak of human
fertility is usually between 20 and 25 years, with a
gradual decline thereafter, the decline becoming much
steeper after the age of 35. Once the age of 40 has
been reached about 50 per cent of marriages have become
sterile. There are some married couples whose fertility
was high enough for conception in the first few years
of married life, but who lost their chance of having
children through postponing their effort to do so until
the natural decline of fertility had brought it below
a level at which conception was impossible.
Very often the avoidance of pregnancy in the early
years of married life, whatever the means adopted, imposes
a serious strain upon the marriage. The marriage may
survive it, or it may not.
If young people could be persuaded to marry with a
willingness and eagerness to follow their natural inclination
in their love making, and to leave to Almighty God the
decision as to whether they will have children immediately
or not, there would be many more stable and happy marriages
in the community than there are at present. Family Planning
would be recognised as being only a temporary expedient
for the majority, to be applied when sexual maturity
and harmony in living together make its acceptance easy
for both the husband and wife.
Occasionally, some serious problem, usually of a medical
nature, makes the avoidance of pregnancy very desirable
or even imperative .
Children are a gift and a great treasure for their
parents. However, if pregnancies come too close together,
it may be harmful to the health of the mother and of
the children. Moreover, if the family is poor, frequent
childbirth may create financial problems and the mother
may not be able to give enough time to each child. This
is why spacing childbirth is important to the family.
Natural Family Planning is planning either to achieve
or prevent pregnancy by timing of the marital act. By
observing and recording certain natural symptoms and
bodily changes that occur in a woman's menstrual cycle
and using the information as a guide, a couple can learn
to identify fertile and infertile phases in the menstrual
cycle. If the couple wishes to achieve pregnancy, they
can be aware of the best days for this to occur. If
they wish to avoid pregnancy, they should abstain from,
not only intercourse, but even genital contact during
the fertile period.
"But isn't Abstinence a disadvantage"? is
the question that easily arises.
On the contrary, according to many couples practicing
NFP in various countries, periodic abstinence, often
called periodic continence, has been found to have a
rejuvenating effect on marriage.
Having intercourse on impulse can become routine and
meaningless. By contrast, NFP couples get a periodic
rest from intercourse. During this time, the husband
and wife look forward to coital intimacy with eagerness
and anticipation. Periodic continence, preserves the
mystery and beauty of the sexual relationship and can
relieve the subtle pressure for "sexual performance".
Also, the time of continence, gives the couple opportunities
to express love for each other in non-genital ways.
This assures the husband and wife that neither one is
being used by the other. The NFP lifestyle helps to
open new levels of communication and affection. "There
is a season for everything … A time to embrace,
a time to refrain from embracing" Ecc 3:1, 5. The
Bible not only recognises the value of periodic abstinence,
but in the Jewish cleanness regulations, it actually
prescribes 14 days of abstinence beginning with menstruation
(Leviticus 15: 19, 28).
Some say the marital act should be spontaneous
Spontaneity should not be confused with impulsiveness.
For many couples, the use of contraceptives such as
condoms, diaphragms and foams is inconvenient and unspontaneous.
True spontaneity can be discovered within the NFP lifestyle.
The Natural Sequence
With natural methods of family planning, the act of
sexual intercourse is normal and there is no interference
of any kind with the normal biological mechanisms. It
is for this reason that more and more people are developing
a preference for a natural method, coming to see later,
the less obvious evidence of the wisdom of their choice.
Catholic teaching on the subject of birth control is,
for the present, a minority opinion in the world. It
has not always been a minority opinion and the time
will come when it is not a minority opinion any more.
God in His infinite wisdom created women in such a
fashion that during their reproductive years, they are
more often infertile than fertile. A man is always fertile.
The person who believes in God will conclude that there
must have been some very sound purpose in His mind.
The complex sequence of events which determines the
occurrence of ovulation is such, that even when the
woman ovulates more than once in a menstrual cycle,
these ovulations are separated only by a matter of hours;
there is only one ovulation day in any cycle. Allowing
for the continuing nourishment of the husband's cells
within the wife's body, there is only about a week,
and usually less time, during each cycle when conception
is possible. It is part of the natural order of God's
creation that there are more days of infertility in
the cycle than days of possible fertility, and so the
couple is provided with considerable freedom for the
expression of their conjugal love in sexual intercourse.
The Fertile Time
For the Catholic, the avoidance of pregnancy, if necessary,
is achieved by the method of periodic continence i.e.
the avoidance of intercourse at those times when conception
may follow. The success of the method depends on the
accurate charting of the infertile days. For many years
the infertile days were predicted on the basis of the
variations in the length of the menstrual cycles. This
menstruation method or Rhythm Method, had the basic
defect of all methods involving prediction, that the
pattern on which the prediction was based might alter;
in this instance, the menstrual cycles might suddenly
change their length, and the prediction regarding infertile
days would be incorrect. In addition, if allowance were
made for considerable variation due to irregularity
of the cycles, the days available for intercourse in
each cycle became few in number.
When used to avoid pregnancy, the Natural Methods of
family planning involve complete abstinence from genital
contact during the days of possible fertility. It involves
self-restraint, especially on the part of the husband,
and also a great deal of understanding during the time
of abstinence. After the period of abstinence, the couple
can return to the marital act with a newness. It is
helpful to explain that the wife now has the opportunity
to return the generous love her husband has given in
his self-restraint for her good and the good of the
family, by making a positive conscious effort to be
attractive and to invite her husband to the physical
act of love. The woman who loves her husband readily
understands that he will respond immediately to this
loving invitation. She will find great joy in his responsiveness
and in her ability to satisfy all his physical and emotional
needs. The infertile time is then awaited with joyful
anticipation by both husband and wife, and their great
awareness of each other can even enable them to experience
a level of happiness hitherto unknown in their marriage.
The application of the natural methods has promoted
the development of greater communication and co-operation
between them, virtues which are essential to the stability
of marriage itself.
Respecting God's Creative Intent
Human fertility is a wonderful gift, enabling the husband
and wife to share, by an act of love, in the creation
of a new human life, a new, unique human being to live
in God's family for eternity. This fertility is of primary
importance in the gift which the husband and wife give
to the other and accept from the other when they declare
that henceforth there will not be two lives, but one
life in common. The realisation of this truth motivates
them to respect and protect their fertility, to understand
and practice responsible parenthood.
It is not difficult to understand that the Creator,
by providing days of infertility both before and after
the fertile days, has provided for those circumstances
when the couple, faced with medical, economic or other
problems, should prudently postpone pregnancy, at least
for the time being. Without suppressing or destroying
their fertility, without distorting the marital act
of love, they can continue to express and foster their
love, in happiness with each other and with their children.
The woman's reproductive cycle is a manifestation of
God's creative intent at any particular time. During
the days of pre-ovulatory and post-ovulatory infertility,
it is God's will that coitus will not result in pregnancy,
whereas during the fertile phase it is God's creative
Will that an act of coitus can result in pregnancy.
When there is a need to postpone pregnancy, the spouses
find other ways to express their love during the fertile
phase, not least by the sacrifice involved in the acceptance
of abstinence from genital contact for the sake of the
beloved person. There is total acceptance of God's will
as it is demonstrated in human biology.
Benefits of Natural Family Planning
Now that it is becoming common knowledge that the modern
methods of natural family planning have a level of effectiveness
in the postponement of pregnancy which is not exceeded
by any contraceptive or sterilising technique, there
has developed a deeper insight into the beneficial effects
of the use of a natural method upon the conjugal relationship.
A better level of communication is achieved: deeper
insights into each other's physical and emotional needs.
The couple learns to look at their combined fertility
and decide together what they will do, there is a sharing
of responsibility in the achievement of the intended
result. Most of all there is a demonstration of a willingness
to accept the gentle discipline required, so that self-respect
and love grow as both husband and wife observe in themselves
and each other the goodness of which they are capable.
Every human life becomes precious, especially the lives
which may be the product of their love, and the child
is restored to its rightful place at the centre of concern
within the family.
As Pope John Paul II said in 'Familiaris Consortio':
"The choice of the natural rhythms involves accepting
the cycle of the person, i.e. the woman, and thereby
accepting dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility
and self-control. To accept the cycle and to enter into
dialogue means to recognise both the spiritual and physical
character of conjugal communion, and to live personal
love with its requirement of fidelity. In this context,
the couple comes to experience how conjugal communion
is enriched with those values of tenderness and affection
which constitute the inner soul of human sexuality,
in its physical dimension also" (N.32).
Pope Paul VI taught us in 'Humanae Vitae' that the
discipline of natural family planning "bestows
upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates
the solution of other problems; it favours attention
for one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness,
the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility"
On June 5, 1987, at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II
received in audience, the participants in a Study Conference
on responsible procreation, sponsored by the Centre
for Studies and Research on the Natural Regulation of
Fertility of the Department of Medicine of the Catholic
University of the Sacred Heart in Rome. In the course
of his address, the Holy Father said:
"Not withstanding the difficulties you may encounter,
it is necessary to continue with generous dedication.
The difficulties you encounter are of various kinds.
The first, and in a certain sense the most serious,
is that even within the Christian community, voices
have been heard, and are still being heard, which cast
doubt upon the very truth of the Church's teaching.
This teaching has been vigorously expressed by Vatican
II, by the Encyclical 'Humanae Vitae', by the Apostolic
Exhortation 'Familiaris Consortio' and by the recent
Instruction 'The Gift of Life'. A grave responsibility
derives from this: those who place themselves in open
conflict with the law of God, authentically taught by
the Church, guide spouses along a false path. The Church's
teaching on contraception does not belong to the category
of "matter open to free discussion" among
theologians. Teaching the contrary amounts to leading
the moral consciences of spouses into error.
The second difficulty is constituted by the fact that
many think that the Christian teaching, though true,
is yet impracticable, at least in some circumstances.
As the Tradition of the Church has constantly taught,
God does not command the impossible, but every commandment
also carries with it a gift of grace which assists human
freedom in fulfilling it. However, there is need for
constant prayer, frequent recourse to the Sacraments
and the exercise of conjugal chastity.
Obstacles to accepting NFP
"Perfect love casts out fear" according to
St. John (1 Jn 4: 18) and the opposite is also true,
fear can cast out love. How often teachers of natural
family planning have heard, " I'd like that, but
I don't think my husband would. I wouldn't even dare
What is this which a woman is afraid even to mention
to her spouse? Periodic abstinence. Sexual self-control.
Not giving in to sexual urges whenever they arise. Being
different in a sexually satiated society. Developing
the virtue of marital chastity to control sexual aggressiveness
and selfishness. Placing sex at the service of authentic
Sexual self-control inevitably involves some difficulty
and for some it may be the daily cross that Jesus told
us we must carry as the cost of discipleship. However,
the Christian is called to let his love for God overcome
his instinctive fear of sacrifice.
There is also a fear of failure that must be overcome.
Some people fear that they will fail to understand how
to make NFP work for them, others fear that the method
will fail them. On the first count, it is reassuring
to know that the poorest of the poor in Calcutta are
practicing NFP successfully and that there are teachers
of NFP throughout the world who are ready and willing
to assist learning couples in every way. The greatest
way to overcome this fear of failure is through increased
trust in God, and that is not easy. With NFP, a couple
learns the mutual fertility God has given them and exercises
the Divine gift of sexual self-control when avoiding
pregnancy. Then, having done their best to keep God's
laws, they trust that if they should experience a rare
surprise pregnancy, His Providence will take care of
NFP versus Contraception:
side effects or adverse effects. It is safe.
number of side effects which are harmful. It
can be very dangerous.
respects the human body and the fertility aspect.
goes against fertility interfering with the
natural process and the changes in the human
encourages and builds the bond of love between
encourages urge intercourse and the marital
act is not necessarily an experience of love
between the spouses.
can be used to postpone, as well as, achieve
is used only to thwart pregnancy and at times
even life i.e. through early abortion.
cherishes self denial and self sacrifice.
makes one selfish and self centered.