What if I told you we all have to change our mindsets and the narratives we believe when it comes to NFP?
What if I told you we’ve all been raised on the culture of death, contraception, and sex-on-demand, and that it deeply affects the way we view NFP… even as Catholics faithful to the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage?
What if I told you that changing the narrative that we believe, and the way we talk about NFP and sex, would actually go further in helping us accept unexpected pregnancies and necessary times of abstinence?
Our Culture Has Separated Sex from Life
No matter how committed we are to the Church’s teachings on sex and contraception (that sex cannot be separated from its life-giving nature by using artificial means such as birth control pills, IUDs, or condoms), we’re all living and breathing in a culture committed to the contrary.
Our world has completely separated sex from new life. Birth control has become a supposed “human right.” Sex on demand a foundational way of expressing one’s identity as a human person. Babies—if desired at all—must come when and only when parents want them.
As Catholics, we know these are not ways to view our lives and the purpose of sex and love. But we can’t help but be affected by it. And it has impacted the way we view and practice natural family planning.
This View Has Influenced Our View of NFP
We’ve come to expect natural family planning to be as easy to use, as predictable, and as instant a way of postponing pregnancy as birth control. This is based on some of the clinical research based numbers put forward by NFP methods and organizations. These numbers and science are supported. But they depend upon the knowledge of the couple using the method, working with a trained NFP professional, and the physical health of the woman.
We aren’t told—and rarely understand—how unique our body’s physiology is as women. Understanding a method and then being able to chart and understand our own fertility may take time. Time that’s measured in cycles, months, and sometimes years. Not simply a once-every-three-years IUD implantation appointment.
Sex is a Major Part of Marriage
We don’t understand before we’re married that sex is something that affects every aspect of our married lives. It’s key to our relationship with our spouse. Conversely, our lives and relationship may make demands upon how we practice NFP.
We rarely can imagine how difficult abstinence might be during times of fertility. Or how much we want to express our physical married love when the time for conception may be easy. We fail to estimate the cost abstaining demands. We fail to estimate the sacrifice of love it can be for our spouse, ourselves, and our family when we discover the need to postpone another pregnancy.
These are just some of the many factors that impact how we use NFP in our marriages. A few of the many ways practicing NFP in real life can be so much more demanding and strenuous than taking a pill and forgetting it with birth control.
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Has NFP Failed Us? (No.)
As Catholics, we say we believe in openness to life. But it is easy to become embittered when we feel “NFP has failed us,” resulting in an unexpected pregnancy. Or when it means prolonged times of abstinence when responsibility towards our family demands that sacrifice.
I believe this is, in part, due to the narrative with which we view natural family planning. It is often one of complete control and convenience. The same one that the contraceptive culture we live in brought us up on. We haven’t been formed by a world that recognizes the reality of the purpose and importance of sex. Rather, it denies its power and suppresses it through contraception.
Changing the Narrative
This change in the narrative from one of focusing on how much we can control our fertility and maximize our sex lives, to one of understanding that sex really does equal babies, is radically divergent from the poisonous culture we have been raised in. It requires immense self-knowledge, deeper marital communication, and continued daily sacrifice. This is in addition to discernment, acceptance of God’s will for our lives, and living with the power of our combined fertility as two unique people called to the vocation of marriage.
The way in which that we view our sex lives, family planning, and marriages needs to change from one control to one of sacrifice and self-giving. We need to shift our mindset from sex within marriage as an on-demand entitlement to a mutual gift and expression of love. One that may require us to make difficult, adult decisions about whether or not right now is a responsible time to engage in the thing that creates new human life.
Abstinence in Marriage
We need to change the way we see abstinence within marriage. From an unjust act of self denial to a tangible expression of sacrificial love for our spouse, children, and ourselves. We need to understand that our intimacy as married people is not solely expressed through physical intimacy.
We need to change our concept of NFP. From a failsafe program that should guarantee us as much sex as possible, only yielding babies when we want them, to the reality that it is a science that enables us to understand our own unique fertility. Then we make decisions based on this knowledge.
A Life-Long Process
Changing our internal narratives and beliefs about sex, fertility, and natural family planning may take our entire lives. It’s not an overnight decision that frees us from the toxic messages we’re surrounded by.
But living in the truth and freedom of what the Catholic Church teaches when it comes to the beauty and power of sex can give us the gift of living in harmony with reality. And this fulfills our potential to be fully human in the way God created us to be.Let's Talk about NFP: Here's What Needs to Change #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Christy Isinger is a wife and mom to five lovely, loud children and lives in northern Canada. When not homeschooling, she is a devoted reader of English literature from Jane Austen to Agatha Christie. She writes about the beauty of faith, life, and the home at her blog and is the co-host of the Fountains of Carrots Podcast. You can find out more about her here.