Some of you might not realize this, but I am an NFP teacher. To others of you, it might not come as a surprise at all. To still others of you, I know you are snickering behind your hands because you know that we have ten kids and you are thinking, “Yeah? and how is that working out for you?” To you I say, “it is really terrific.”
I could talk a lot here about how NFP is not “Catholic Birth Control,” and how what we teach encourages couple to be open to life, but first of all that kind of sounds like sour grapes even to me, and second of all that is not what I want to talk about. Besides you have probably heard all of that before.
My wife and I have been NFP teachers for a long time, 13+ years in fact. We have been using NFP only a little longer than that. We did not use it when we got married thinking it was one of those things that was really not that important. Boy were we wrong.
Over that time though my view (our view) of NFP has changed. when we started using NFP we were at a rough patch in our relationship. We were young, we had been married for a couple of years and while we had known each other for quite some time before we got married, as any married couple will tell you, that is not the same as being married to the person. There are ins and outs of each other that you have not figured out, and at some point in time in the first five years usually, couples start having some problems getting along. This was were we were.
For a long time after we started using and then teaching NFP, I credited it with saving our marriage. I thought it might have been the necessary communication that is required to make NFP work. While I am sure that is part of it, that obviously was not all of it. And that is what I wanted to talk about.
The method of NFP that my wife and I teach and use, is called the Sympto-Thermal method. This means that, as the name suggests, we look at several different indicators to determine when a woman is fertile and when she is not. The beauty is that the more important it is to the couple that they avoid getting pregnant or that they conceive, the more indicators you can use and therefore the more accurate it can be. If you are one of those couples like us (most of the time) that really just need to know when (in round numbers) there will be a pregnancy and when there most likely will not, you don’t have to be that accurate, and if you need more, then there is more information for you to use.
However, no matter the method you use, and I am not picky, all of the programs that I have encountered tend to make these wild promises in their promotion pitches. NFP couples have lower divorce rates. NFP couples have more Sex. NFP couples are happier. They have smarter, healthier, happier, lower sodium marriages. Ok that last one I have never heard but you can imagine it if you have ever heard a serious NFP pitch.
The truth is some-what less that these things and more than them at the same time. While it is true that NFP couples do tend to have a lower divorce rate, most couples who would bother to take the time to learn NFP already are highly invested in their marriage in the first place. They usually tend to be the ones who really believe those things they said in their wedding vows. So yes, we as a group do have a lower divorce rate but it can’t be attributed to NFP alone.
How about the big one. A better Sex Life. Lately I have seen a couple of posts running around on the internet that claim that Catholic couples have better sex lives. By Catholic couples I think they mean NFP couples, based on the ones that I have read. This again is not really a true statement, well maybe it is, but let’s look at where it is coming from.
Couples who practice NFP, strictly as a form of birth control, there I said it, will probably find the methods frustrating and even might find that they are having less sex than promised by the articles. SURPRISE! The truth is that NFP, at least the method we teach, is at its heart two things. First, it is fertility awareness. We teach a couple how to read the signs that a woman’s body gives off to help them interpret fertility. Second, it is about respect. Respecting life primarily, but respecting the sanctity of the person as well.
As I said before, if a couple is going to take the time to learn NFP, the likely have some level of this respect for each other already, the classes we teach can’t magically make you respect your spouse any more, but maybe we help couples to understand something new about each other that gives them just that little bit more to respect about each other. Giving couples the monthly, weekly or even some times daily conversation about, are we open to life, are we ready to commit or do we need to wait, is only a stepping stone. And while it might open the door to more and better communication, it is not necessarily going to lead to a better sex life.
So what about the better sex life? Those studies can’t all be wrong can they? Again, I point to the couple who is already committed to their marriage. To them, if they have another baby, planned or unplanned, it will likely not effect the state of their marriage. These people, even if they are trying to avoid pregnancy, somewhere in the back of their minds understand this, and so yes, will be more likely to say, something like, well we could interpret today as the start of phase 2 or we could be seeing the evidence of last night. Or Well we have waited and we have seen the thermal shift and it is going in an upward trend so I think we are safe. Or even, well I have always loved the sounds of the pitter patter of little feet. Those couples who think like that, really probably are going to have a better sex life. But once again that is much less to do with NFP and much more to do with the couples attitude toward life.
I am not saying that NFP can’t help these things. But I believe in telling people the truth. NFP will help your marriage, but you have to actually have a marriage I mean a real marriage before it will.
The last point that I will cover is respect. I am going to be talking mostly to the guys here. Being a guy, I am in the unique position to do that. This is going to be a little off topic because, well it is my own little sales pitch for NFP. While the rest of this has been about understanding what it is and what it is not, this part is going to be about me telling you guys why this is important.
You (as a husband) have to have respect for your wife. PERIOD. But there is more to respect than just flowers on occasion and remembering when her birthday is. There is laundry and dishes and housework even when you don’t feel like it. I am not saying that I am a perfect husband, far from it. I am not saying that NFP is going to make you a perfect husband, but it can’t hurt. Your wife, as you know, has this on again off again fertility thing. Now it can be somewhat controlled using drugs. But that does have some consequences. First, if you have ever used cruise control in an 80’s model car you know that it can be a little unpredictable. Sometimes it creeps up, some times it shuts off, sometimes going up or down hills it can be unpredictable. While cruise control and birth control drugs have gotten better over the years they are still not perfect. And like cruise control there are some dangers. If you have ever gone around a corner at 65 that really should have been 55 or more like 45, you know that cruise control can be down right dangerous. The same can be said for birth control drugs. You are introducing something into a woman’s body, in there fertility cycle, that is unnatural, and can be dangerous. Just listen to the end of a YAZ commercial if you doubt me.
Now, all drugs can be dangerous. This is true. But we strictly regulate them and hopefully we are careful about when we take them and only take them when they are necessary. used all the time the risks go up and well you end up with problems. Life is precious guys. Probably most of you would really get upset if something ever happened to your wife, and life is full of dangers. If you can look at the woman across from you and say, “Hey I want you to take this drug for the next 20+ years that is going to increase your risk of stroke, heart disease, and maybe even cancer, without flinching then go for it. That would be like telling her, “Get on the beltway in Baltimore, get the car up to 65 push the cruise button and just keep it on until you reach Denver, because the car gets better gas mileage that way.” Yes, she might be able to make it but the risks of something going wrong along the way that are related to that even speed are pretty darn high, and I would hope that you would have more respect for your wife to understand when to moderate the speed on her own, or even with you. In the same way I would hope that you have the respect for your wife to understand her fertility, and share that with you.
If you would like to learn more about NFP, you can contact me, or feel free to check out some of these wonderful sites.
Couple to Couple League international
I use nfp
The Billings Method
Cycle Go Pro A Review
Images in this post come from wikipedia, CCLI, USSCB, and some are even from me.