Natural Fertility Regulation or Natural Family Planing (NFP) has been getting some attention in the news and on blogs over the last week. The New York Times published an article titled An Evolving View of Natural Family Planning. The article looked at Bethany Patchin and Sam Torode who married in 2000, wrote a book entitled Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception in 2001, then recanted their statement in 2006 and divorced in 2009. There were a flurry of responses to this news article. Then Danielle Bean wrote an article entitled Five Ways I Don’t Love Natural Family Planning. Where she received quite a bit of support and critique from her readers.
I teach Natural Fertility Regulation. Specifically, I teach the Billings Ovulation Method. Initially it was the Catholic Church’s teaching around family planning (Humanae Vitae) that piqued my interest in Natural Fertility Regulation. Then I started to see the value of Natural Fertility Regulation from a medical perspective and became interested in becoming a teacher.
I believe that all women should have a basic understanding of their fertility. Most women, both young and old, know very little about their reproductive system. But the reality is the majority of women have such limited opportunities for learning about their fertility, school sex-ed classes skim the topic of female fertility and most medical professionals don’t tell women about it either. Some women learn about their fertility from family, friends, the internet or come across books like Taking Charge of Your Fertility and are amazed by what they discover.
There is so much stigma associated to Natural Fertility Regulation. When the topic comes up some of the first things people assume are that it’s not reliable and too difficult to learn. Modern methods of Natural Fertility Regulation methods are well researched and based on scientific knowledge. Yes, some of the methods are more effective than others and some are simpler than others, but when modern methods of NFP are used properly (perfect use) they are 95-99+% effective at avoiding pregnancy. Typical use is around 80%; the typical use for most method of family planning are often lower in effectiveness.
Using NFP to avoid pregnancy can be very effective as long as the couple is motivated and receives proper follow-up by an accredited teacher. But, NFP requires self-discipline and self-mastery especially during the times when a couple needs to abstain during the woman’s fertile phases. I would be lying if I said that this was easy. It isn’t. A woman is often most interested in intercourse when she is fertile.
Some couples choose to mix NFP and barrier methods, at this point it is considered a Fertility Awareness Method. Many NFP methods don’t encourage mixing of multiple methods of family planning because it can cause confusion, lack of confidence and a decrease in the effectivess of both methods. The reality is, however, that I teach a wide range of people who choose to use the method in a variety of ways. I ensure that each client understands how to use the method properly, but I cannot control what she chooses to do after that.
I should note, however, that a couple practicing NFP without the use of barrier methods should not be experiencing months of ongoing abstinence. I come across women complaining of nonstop abstinence while using NFP and it makes me scratch my head. Even Danielle Bean in her recent article on NFP makes this statement and it surprises me. Yes, there might be times of extended abstinence during a time of stress, sickness or transition but months of ongoing abstinence raises red flags. Either it’s the method of NFP or the couple hasn’t received regular chart consultations with an accredited teacher. But, this is not normal and I want to make that clear.
I don’t believe that Natural Fertility Regulation is for everyone. But, I do believe that all women should have a basic understanding of their fertility. What women choose to do with knowledge of their fertility is up to them. They could use this knowledge to avoid pregnancy or achieve pregnancy, but at the very least it gives women the knowledge they need to protect their reproductive health.