Women Speak on NFP: Why My Husband and I Don’t Use Contraception

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This is a guest post by Stephanie of Captive the Heart in the Women Speak on NFP series. In this series you will hear from women using various methods of NFP, some to avoid pregnancy, some trying to conceive, and their experiences.

Disclaimer: This series is not meant to be a substitute for any method of training in NFP! If you are interested in one of the methods introduced in this series, please contact a certified instructor for information about training in that method of NFP. 

I bet not everyone gets to learn about contraception with the help of a Slip N’ Slide. Seriously. Born and raised Catholic, I learned somewhere along the way that the Church never permits artificial forms of birth control, but until I attended this particular gathering of my high school youth group, the one involving said slide, I’d thought birth control was one of those things, like Crocs and the Backstreet Boys, that wasn’t really taken seriously anymore.

I’ve discovered, as it turns out, that birth control totally is serious business. Love, I was told that night, is meant to be free, faithful, total, and fruitful (the slide was supposed to represent this, I think). It’s meant to be given without reserve, promised and sealed in fidelity, to hold back nothing, and to invite a man and woman to become creators of new life. It all made a lot of sense, especially when I discovered that the Catholic Church didn’t insist that every sexual act produce a baby.

So yes; my Catholic faith tells me that contraception is always inherently wrong. If you told me that it’s foolish to follow a bunch of rules just because the Catholic Church tells you to, I’d say you’re absolutely right. The amazing thing about the Church, I’ve learned, is that every time I’ve put a question of teaching to the test, there’s been a perfectly clear, logical answer that emphasizes one’s best good. Rules don’t exist to burden us (there’s a reason why you stop at a red light, for instance, or why your iPod manual tells you not to take your iPod swimming), but to let us live in the most fulfilling way.

The thing is, I don’t want to lead with my religion. I want to lead with who I am. My understanding has since deepened beyond a teenager’s somewhat blind obedience to her faith. The more I learned, the more convinced I became that birth control is one of the greatest inhibitors of romance, intimacy, and true freedom. I’ve come to see that biologically, practically, logically, and even romantically speaking, choosing not to bring contraceptives into a relationship is one of the absolute best ways to foster trust, honest communication, and authentic love. Who doesn’t long for that?

In the past few years, various friends and personal reading have led me to become a huge advocate for what I like to call the crunchy life. You know: coconut oil, kale, homemade cleaning products, and natural deodorant. I know I’m not the only one — in my observation, the benefits of things like green juice, organic restaurants, and neti pots are becoming commonplace on the pages of many women’s magazines.

It’s a puzzle to me, then, that with all the justified concerns we have about our well-being and environmental impact, so many of us seem to overlook a critical area of our lives: our reproductive health. Biologically, the birth control Pill and other hormonal contraceptives work by releasing large amounts of synthetic hormones, estrogen and progestin, that suppress ovulation and mimic the hormonal symptoms of pregnancy. In other words, they fool a woman’s body into a sort of state of constant pregnancy.

This, to me, couldn’t be further from natural. Consider, for instance, the fact that it’s normal to take medicine when you have a headache. It’s not normal when you don’t have a headache. In the same way, the Pill is marketed to “treat” a condition that doesn’t exist: it’s intended to actually prevent a woman’s body from functioning as it naturally does.

What’s more, the information packet for the Pill contains an extensive list of side effects that are directly related to taking it, ranging from weight gain, acne, migraines, and high blood pressure all the way to heart attack and increased chances of breast and cervical cancer. Ironically enough, the Pill often lowers a woman’s sex drive, the very thing she sought to liberate, as well. While packets are quick to point out that the Pill is merely “associated with” higher instances of serious conditions, and that they are rare, I still personally don’t find that the freedom to enjoy sex without pregnancy outweighs these risks.

I’m angered when I see how readily the Pill is pushed on women, largely in the name of profit. Friends have described taking birth control to me as feeling trapped in one’s own body, not feeling at all like oneself, and living in fear of what might happen to one’s complexion, weight, and future children, if one ceased to take it (you can read more anecdotal testaments here). We deserve so much more. The health-related shortcomings of birth control speak for themselves, but I think the logical case against contraception is just as convincing.

Free, faithful, total, and fruitful. It seems that even to a nonreligious individual, these four elements of love and sex are, at some point in a relationship, very desirable. I think most would agree that the body speaks a language, and that sex and love speak the same thing, whether one intends them to or not. They say, I want you, and all of you, forever. Isn’t that what we’re all longing to hear?

If one of these elements is missing, the body essentially speaks a lie. I want you, it says, but not all of you. It’s a conditional promise. When the fruitful aspect of sex is artificially eliminated, there’s a withholding of one’s fertility and the accompanying responsibility it bears.

That exact sense of unconditional love and responsibility is my biggest reason of all not to contracept. I met my husband Andrew four years ago, and when we became a couple, it didn’t take long for either of us to know we’d never go on another first date. Not only was he a handsome lover of words who’d hide notes around my apartment, he shared my take on birth control. During our engagement, we signed up for Natural Family Planning (NFP) courses to prepare for a contraceptive-free marriage.

Choosing to forego birth control in our marriage comes down to love. Karol Wojtyla, the man who became Pope John Paul II, wrote that the opposite of love is not hatred, but using another person. One need only look to the culture, I think, to see that hookups, friends with benefits, and cohabitation have left so many of us broken. We’re promised freedom, but are left instead with deep wounds. No one’s body or heart is meant to be used only for what it can offer sexually; it’s meant for love that sacrifices and heals.

Each of us is so much more than just a body, but in our humanness that can be easy to forget. Even in a loving marriage, there exists the possibility of desiring one’s spouse for self-gratifying purposes, rather than a desire to express love for the other. It’s a daily battle to let love prevail over lust.

I want my husband and I to have the best possible chances of winning that battle–when birth control takes pregnancy off the table, I can only foresee a greater temptation to use one’s spouse, even unintentionally, to take sex for granted. Birth control, I think, could easily become a crutch to mask a lack of self-control for one another’s sake.

In our attempts to not take sex for granted, we’ve found NFP a powerful way to understand sex as good and beautiful without idolizing it. A far cry from the rhythm or calendar methods of old, NFP is a scientifically precise, observation-based method of simply tracking, rather than altering, the existing conditions of a woman’s body in order to determine periods of fertility and infertility throughout her cycle. When used correctly, NFP is as effective at postponing pregnancy as the Pill.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard not to giggle, at first, when we learned that cervical mucus was one of the observable signs of fertility. We discovered that planning to use NFP in the abstract and actually sitting in a classroom learning it, trying to pretend a couple wasn’t standing there talking about ovulation the way most people talk about the weather, are two completely different things. You get used to it.

It’s actually something I’m so thankful for–I’d venture that, between texting my husband about my mucus while I’m at work, filling in my chart together each night, and constantly discerning a prudent time to begin a family, we have a more goofy, more intimate, and more joyful sex life than we ever could with contraception. The responsibility of planning our family doesn’t just fall to me as I take a daily pill or replace a monthly patch; it’s shared by the both of us. The self-control required to abstain during times of fertility sets us free to truly give ourselves to one another.

Intimacy isn’t a right to be demanded. It’s the fruit of loving, willful submission. Sexual freedom, we’ve seen, doesn’t mean a total lack of responsibility for each other. It means a willful choice to love in a pure, self-giving way. “Freedom,” said John Paul II, “exists for the sake of love.” That is, when you love someone, you actually desire to place their happiness before your own. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.

Love that is free, faithful, total, and fruitful; love that sacrifices and unites. It’s nothing less than any of us deserve. I’d say that’s definitely worth a trip down the Slip ‘N Slide.

This post originally appeared on Arleen Spencely’s blog.

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Stephanie delights in bike rides, good books, puddle jumping, The Avett Brothers, hammocks, avocados, and the notes her husband Andrew sneaks under her pillow. She is thirsty. Knowing so many others are, too, she spent a missionary year with Generation Life speaking to students about human dignity and authentic love. Her passion is telling young women they possess immense worth and that pure, sacrificial love is real; she thinks a truthful understanding of sex and love is medicine for an aching culture. Upon noticing there were few resources for Catholic brides-to-be, Stephanie decided to make a humble attempt at filling the void. Her blog,Captive the Heart, is a collection of wedding ideas, spiritual reflections, inspired dates, and general ways to plan a sacred, stylish celebration and a holy marriage.

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Comments

  1. Anne-Marie says

    I love this post! I can totally relate, as a woman and wife and mother; you did a great job writing this, because the difference in religion (non-catholic) is the last thing I think of. I thought hormonal birth control was harmless until I realized that the prescription meant to cure my chronic migraines was *causing* more. I learned about my body’s fertility signs while TTC, and it was just the beginning of a new love affair with my own amazing body. Birth, breastfeeding–I feel like I’m a super hero, now! And thank you for standing against the stereotype that being catholic means knowing less about bodies, sex, etc. I may not be called to your church, but nearly all my relatives and ancestors have been.

  2. says

    One great thing I think you touch on here is that there is no worry about what your husband might think or do if there’s a surprize pregnancy. Since switching to NFP from FA I feel a lot more confident with this part of our relationship. We both understand that even if we’re TTA or just “whatever happens happens” that there’s a need to understand and prepare to be responsible for the results of our actions.

    Honestly, there’s something incredibly sexy about a man who faced with the statement “You know if have our date night tonight we could end up with another baby.” says “That’s fine with me, I love being a dad.” (or is willing to say, “Well maybe we should have date night next week – it’s not the right time.”)

    Knowing that I could approach my husband in 3 weeks with a positive sign and not have to worry about his reaction is amazing.

  3. says

    Wow. I am even more humbled to have been included in this series next to this. THIS is an amazing expression of love and explains it so well. I feel like I should print this and hand it out to people. Seriously. Thank you.

  4. says

    Stephanie! So well written. This truly moved my heart- I yelled “yes!” or “exactly!” at least four times. I think we’d be friends. God bless & thank you!

  5. Margaret Kelly says

    Stephanie, thanks for your post. I think your theological points are compelling, and I appreciate that you emphasize the real physical risks of artificial birth control. However, I think that supporters of NFP need to be careful with the argument that NFP is desirable because it’s natural, not artificial. Not all natural things are good and desirable – think of mice, cancer, and body odor, for example – and most of us rely regularly on unnatural things like air conditioning and antiperspirant. Many unnatural things keep natural phenomena (air, our sweat glands) from functioning as they naturally do – and thank goodness! And I think it’s disingenuous to mention the (real, compelling) health problems that many women report experiencing when using birth control without also noting that many women take birth control without noticing any symptoms, and that some women even take it alleviate other problems – acne or irregular periods, for example.

    Yes, introducing chemicals into our body exposes us to risks that must be clearly exposed and evaluated, but I don’t think that we can honestly make the argument that it is bad by virtue of being unnatural.

    • says

      I actually believe that NFP lovers should push forward the case that artificial birth control is extremely harmful and dangerous. Studies show more and more how dangerous the pill is to our bodies, the environment, and relationships. And that’s news that all women deserve to hear (check out 1flesh.org for peer reviewed articles). The pill is not medicine. It is bad practice that many doctors use the pill to mask symptoms of PCOS, PMS, and irregular cycles. The pill doesn’t fix these problems, it works like a bandaid masking symptoms by producing a false cycle. So for example, when a woman with PCOS goes off the pill to get pregnant, the problems are still there. But there’s good news! NaProTechnology is cooperative medicine that works with a woman’s natural cycle to discover the underlying problems and offer real solutions. And it’s totally networked with family planning (thanks, Creighton). It’s fabulous! It’s true, technology can be really good, and natural things can be nasty, but this is not one of those things. Introducing synthetic chemicals into our body that changes our natural fertility is dangerous and unhealthy, and women deserve better. Way better. Because let’s face it, we’re awesome (naprotechnology.com) Blessings!

    • says

      While cancer is a mutation of something natural mice and body odor are both natural things which serve a purpose even if someone thinks it’s “icky” – Mice are an integral part of many species food chains and body odor plays a key role in our identification of blood related family members and possible sexual partners. Just because some people maybe be repelled by body odor or mice doesn’t mean they aren’t “good and natural”.

      While women often use the pill to treat other problems they’re, sadly, usually treating a symptom and not the disease – there’s almost always an underlying reason for things like irregular periods, heavy periods, painful periods and even the dreaded acne that deserve to be cured, not just made manageable.

  6. says

    Ladies, thanks so much for your nice words!

    Margaret, I minored in Philosophy and I always make an effort to be sure that the arguments I make are logical, but maybe I’ve gotten a little rusty here =) You make a good point that using unnatural things to deal with natural inconveniences is not necessarily bad–I totally agree, and would be pretty sorry to give up my deodorant or AC!–and I’m also aware that many women use the Pill without complications, though I agree with Michele and Molly that it masks symptoms of certain ailments, rather than addresses their root cause.

    I wonder, though, if there are two different arguments at hand. I’m not sure if the logical end of the argument “birth control is bad because it’s not natural” is that “all unnatural things are bad.” Would you say there’s a distinction between using something artificial to help, rather than to harm? Given the objectively documented harmful aspects of artificial birth control, it seems, in my eyes, to be distinctly different from items that have a neutral or beneficial effect . Thanks for reading!

    • Margaret Kelly says

      I don’t mean to argue that BC isn’t harmful, or to minimize it’s negative effects. I just think that we need to avoid making the argument that “BC is bad by virtue of the fact that it is unnatural” because clearly unnatural things are NOT necessarily bad or undesirable, as such. Even unnatural things that cause harm in one way could be considered good or desirable because they assist us in attaining other goods that are desirable. For instance, I think a woman could cogently argue that the good of having sex whenever she wants with a very low risk of pregnancy is a good, therefore artificial BC is good even though it has the regrettable effect of causing health problems. So, sex-whenever-she-wants is deemed a greater good than avoidance-of-health-risk; ergo, BC is good.

      I think that maybe those of us who are advocate for NFP could learn a lot from the writers who have argued that we would do well to be less reliant on processed foods. In “Salt, Sugar, and Fat,” a book I just finished reading about the processed food industry (which I very much recommend!), Michael Moss describes the production and marketing strategies of processed food companies. He comes to the conclusion that the processed food companies consistently produce goods that are fast, affordable, profitable (for the companies and maybe for the economy in general), and convenient – but unhealthy. It’s not that the processing methods are altogether bad, because they produce the goods of affordability and convenience, but that these methods sacrifice the good of nutritional value. Similarly, I think one could argue that artificial BC puts the good of convenience ahead of the good of the mother’s health. It’s a tradeoff that some might be willing to accept – just like some people might accept that the convenience of fast food is worth the greater long-term risk of heart disease and cancer – but it doesn’t seem like a wise or sustainable tradeoff to make.

      Anyway, I enjoyed reading this. It’s great to hear so many testimonies to the power of natural family planning to build thriving marriages and families!

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