(Editor's Note: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared July 19-25 NFP Week. Natural Family Planning is approved by the Catholic Church as a way to prayerfully practice responsible parenthood while avoiding the intrinsic evil of contraception.)
SALT LAKE CITY — In 1968 Pope Paul V outlined the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control is his encyclical Humanae Vitae. While the Church does not approve of artificial birth control, it does allow for the use of Natural Family Planning methods, because they do not interfere with conception.
“The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator,” Pope Paul wrote in the encyclical. “It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships. … To experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator.”
If “there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances,” married people may “take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained,” Pope Paul wrote.
Natural Family Planning (or fertility awareness) is a broad term that includes scientific, natural and moral methods that can help married couples either achieve or postpone pregnancy, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Since the methods of NFP respect the love-giving (unitive) and life-giving (procreative) nature of the conjugal act, they support God’s design for married love,” the USCCB states.
NFP methods are based on the observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services, NFP is safe and reasonably effective in preventing pregnancy when used correctly. It may also be used to aid in achieving pregnancy by helping predict when a woman is most fertile. In addition, these methods have no side effects or adverse reactions from using medication.
Dr. Joseph Stanford, a University of Utah professor and family practitioner, has been involved in the NFP field since 1986. He became interested when he and his wife decided to use it in their own family. He has authored several studies on the subject and has also trained NFP teachers.
While just 3 percent of women of reproductive age practice NFP, “I believe it is the best approach for couples to deal with their fertility in a way that cooperates with the way God designed it,” Stanford said. “It helps them understand their bodies and their fertility on a health level and also helps them on a communication and a spiritual level as well.”
“The value medically is that it’s a healthy approach to fertility, women’s health problems and also infertility,” he said. “For a couple, it’s a shared method that both are responsible for so it gives them the opportunity to work together about their fertility needs.”
The CDC lists the failure rate of NFP at 2 percent to 23 percent; Dr. Stanford said it is comparable to other birth control methods and success if the couple is committed to its practice.
Modern methods of NFP were developed in the 1960s; others, including charting hormonal production, have been developed in the past 20 years.
These include the sympto-thermal method, the ovulation method, also known as the Billings ovulation method and the Creighton Model System, according to an article written by Stanford in First Things, a publication of the Institute on Religion and Public Life.
Once a couple learns these methods, they are no more inconvenient or time-consuming than the use of contraceptives, Dr. Stanford said.
Stanford does caution against cycle-tracking phone apps, because there are “only two of them that have published data that say how effective they are,” he said.
Detailed information on NFP can be found at https://naturalwomanhood.org.
A new study by Richard J. Fehring, PhD, RN, and Michael D. Manhart, PhD, found that the use of periodic abstinence lowered the odds of divorce by 31 percent to 41 percent: