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“It is a strange irony that in a culture nearly obsessed with going green and eating organic, it would promote women ingesting up to 20 times the normal level of hormones into their system (through contraceptives). Natural Family Planning (NFP), on the other hand, is 100 percent organic, and 98 percent-plus sustainable.”—Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone (Oakland)
Does Contraception Make Marriage Easier?
While we’re on the subject of NFP, this New York Times article has been making the rounds. It’s about Sam Torode and Bethany Patchin (formerly Bethany Torode), authors of the well-known book Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception, who were once vocal opponents of artificial contraception. In 2006 they announced that they no longer believed that natural family planning is the best method of birth control, and went on to say that it is in fact harmful to marriages. In 2009 they divorced.
The article focuses on the problems that NFP caused in their marriage, and the reasons they ended up speaking out against it. Mr. Torodes said that it makes men feel guilty for desiring their wives during times of abstinence. He also pointed out that it’s a bummer (or, to use his words, “theological attack”) that women must abstain during their peak times of desire unless they want to conceive a child. Ms. Patchin pointed to the physical and emotional stress caused by two unplanned pregnancies that resulted in closely spaced children.
My take? They’re right. It is hard. As our own Simcha Fisher has pointed out, NFP has its downsides, and they can be serious. But the part of this discussion that is too seldom explored is that contraception is no bed of roses either.
Let’s set aside the moral problems with contraception, and look only at the impact that it has on marriages. To take Mr. Torodes and Ms. Patchin’s points one by one:
- NFP makes men feel guilty for desiring their wives during times of abstinence. Certainly some men struggle with this, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that this is an inherent part of a life without contraception—open communication can go a long way towards ameliorating this issue. Meanwhile, contraception comes with its own serving of guilt: Without the built-in times of periodic abstinence like you get with NFP, women can start to feel obligated to be available for intimacy all the time. Those with low sex drives feel guilty when they’re not interested as often as their husbands are, and their husbands feel guilty for the opposite reason.
- Women must abstain during times of peak desire. No question, this one is true, and it’s a downside of using NFP to space kids. But does contraception really offer a better alternative? Hormonal methods of birth control are notorious for reducing women’s sex drives, and barrier methods are inconvenient and have higher failure rates. Plus, NFP has the advantage of putting the laws of supply and demand to work in the couple’s favor: Scarcity always increases demand, and this area of life is no exception. The required times of abstinence that come with NFP tend to lead to a natural increase in desire for both men and women during “safe” times.
- Surprise pregnancies are hard for women physically. Yup. Surprises do happen sometimes to those of us who are bad at NFP, and that can be hard. But at least you get a kid out of it in the end! What mother has ever looked around her Thanksgiving dinner table, recalled the tough pregnancy she had with her 30-year-old son, and said to herself, “I wish that one had never been born”? And let’s not forget that contraception 1) does not guarantee that you won’t experience an unexpected pregnancy, and 2) is also hard on bodies. The Pill and other hormonal contraceptives are powerful chemical cocktails that come with serious risks like blood clots, and permanent sterilization requires the surgical severing of a functioning part of the body. Barrier methods may be the one exception, but their relatively high failure rates and inconvenience levels mean that few people want to use them for the long term.
- Surprise pregnancies are hard on marriages emotionally. There is truth here as well; there are plenty of NFP-practicing couples who have gone through stressful times due to pregnancies that came at inconvenient times. But let’s consider the flip-side of the coin, the stressors that come with using contraception to avoid surprise pregnancies. Among my non-Catholic acquaintances, disagreements about child spacing and birth control methods are some of the biggest sources of tension in marriages. I can’t count the number of times a woman at a playdate has reported that she and her spouse have bitter arguments about whether he’s going to get a vasectomy or she’s going to get a tubal ligation, or someone mentions that her marriage is suffering because of a lack of agreement about when and if to have more children. Also, women frequently report feeling resentful that the most common methods of birth control (the Pill, the shot, the patch, IUD’s, etc.) make their bodies bear the burden of birth control alone.
I have a lot of friends on both sides of the NFP/contraception fence, and it is not the case that my friends who use contraception report better or more satisfying marital lives than my friends who use NFP. In fact, the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen points overwhelmingly to the truth of the claims of NFP proponents: It’s a safe, effective way to space children that also strengthens marriages. But this is not to say that NFP is a magic bullet that makes everything perfect. It’s not. We live in a fallen world, and the arena of human sexuality is one of places where the fallenness manifests itself most intensely. Mr. Torode and Ms. Patchin were right that NFP is hard; they were just wrong to think that contraception offers a solution.
I thought the last few lines of the article were touching in a bittersweet way. Looking back on Open Embrace, his marriage, the divorce, and everything else that’s changed, Mr. Torode said simply, “I am out of the business of trying to tell people what they should do. I am out of that business for good.” My guess is that there’s more to that statement than meets the eye. Surely if he had found contraception to be the liberating solution it seemed to be, he would have continued to write about its benefits, sharing this great news with others. But the tone of his statement makes me wonder if perhaps he found that there are no easy answers when it comes to human sexuality; that every method of birth control has its crosses, and that contraception really doesn’t make marriage any easier.
Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/does-contraception-make-marriage-easier/#ixzz1ThaKp337
“The Church’s stand on birth control is the most absolutely spiritual of all her stands and with all of us being materialists at heart, there is little wonder that it causes unease. I wish various fathers would quit trying to defend it by saying that the world can support 40 billion. I will rejoice in the day when they say: This is right, whether we all rot on top of each other or not, dear children, as we certainly may. Either practice restraint or prepare for crowding…”—Flannery O’Connor
Natural Family Planning
I’m slightly concerned for my generation because I don’t think they realize the choices they have. And let me be clear, I understand that not everyone in the world will agree with NFP, but the fact that people don’t even know about it is wrong. People should be fully aware of all the options they have.
Up until last year, I thought there were a few options I had for my future.
- Either have sex now and use birth control.
- Or wait until I was married to have sex and then use birth control.
That’s what Health class, the media and my parents told me. And either way - I end up using birth control. And I thought, well, this must be normal then, but at the same time I was frustrated. First of all, most of the pressure of birth control is put on females. Also, I didn’t really like the idea of spending a ton of money on birth control, especially The Pill, because I can’t swallow those darn things. I almost felt like I was being punished for my fertility, but I figured I’d have to get use to the idea if I didn’t want to get pregnant.
But then I heard about Natural Family Planning. It uses your body’s natural and normal functioning to determine the days of the month you are most likely to get pregnant. There are no health risks or side effects and it’s extremely effective when used properly.
Plus it’s free.
I think we really need to start teaching sexual abstinence and chastity as a lifestyle, not as a birth control method.
But more importantly, I hope you just realize all the options you have.
It's NFP awareness week.
So what is NFP?
- NFP [Natural Family Planning] is a method of spacing /avoiding births that works in tune with a woman’s natural cycle. By keeping track of her cycle, temperature and cervical mucus, a woman can determine when she is and is not fertile.
- When used correctly it is as effective as a condom. Failure rates between 1-3%.
- It doesn’t involve the insertion of anything, the covering of anything, or pouring multitudes of chemicals and hormones into your body- it’s all natural.
- In addition to avoiding births, when a woman WANTS to conceive, it will be easier because she will know what time is best due to knowledge of her fertility cycle.
- It is NOT calendar or “rhythm method.” What makes NFP so effective is that your period needn’t be “regular” in order for it to work- because it is based totally on the symptoms your body gives you, so even when your body is like, “BLAH I HATE YOU.” it works. [girls, your body tells you everything and it’s really quite amazing.]
- It fosters communication between couples, so that- if they don’t wish to conceive at the time, they need to talk to each other about it and decide what to do. Which is good, obviously.
It’s not extremely prevalent in the world today, but that only adds to it’s counter-cultural hipsterness. Also, it’s all natural. Like… vegetables?
I mean, come on. The mindset that the woman ought to artificially modify her body if she wants to avoid kids is sooooo mainstream. It’s a fear tactic, quite frankly, and a patriarchal lie, oppressing women into defiling their bodies with chemicals and deviced when in reality, the sexuality of a woman and her body working in tandem is incredibly powerful. It glorifies the mysterious nature of a woman’s body and doesn’t load it up with fake hormones [which, in the long run, does a large amount of damage.]
So, to review, you aren’t damaging your body in any way, there is nothing fake about it, you are working with- not against- your body, AND it’s just as effective as barrier methods. Also it can help you GET pregnant too, when you are ready.