NFP and PR

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A week after I got married, I had to visit one of those urgent care clinics for antibiotics (if you think this is too much information, you should totally stop now, because this is a birth control post). Apparently, you can pick up all sorts of things in Vegas even if you don’t happen to cavort with ladies of the evening.

But I digress. After four minutes with the nurse practitioner, who had known me for exactly that amount of time, she determined I was pregnant. Now, mind you, she had no such basis for making this determination – certainly not my cycle, which as a dedicated natural family planning devotee, I was keenly aware of – except for one small fact about my medical situation that stuck out to her like a sore thumb.

I, a young woman of 30 – professional, accomplished, middle-class, law school-educated, with a life of child-free bliss ahead of me – did not and had not ever used any form of chemical birth control.

Ergo, pregnant.

Potential medical malpractice lawsuit notwithstanding, I picked myself up off the floor and explained, politely, that I had no interest in birth control, understood the risks and complications of such a horrific decision and had happily made it. She made a joke about how people who use the rhythm method are called “parents.” I explained that what I did was nothing like the rhythm method. She proceeded to assume I was a lunatic.

I tell you this story not because I want you to see me as some sort of victim. No. One encounter with a member of the medical profession who is unfamiliar with the naturalistic technology that accompanies fertility awareness, culturally pervasive since Toni Wechsler published Taking Charge of Your Fertility in 2006, but because it brought up something I’d only been wondering about since I’d been through my own NFP educational experience.

Why don’t more people know about NFP?

The relevant appeal seems clear cut to me, but then again, I’m in marketing and think I know everything because I read it in an AdAge. But seriously. In a world where people freak out about high fructose corn syrup, buy only organically-grown vegetables, make their own soda, worry about the effects of chemical mosquito repellant and the hazards of dumping AA batteries in your kitchen trash. Why, on Earth, do people think its fine to ingest a chemical that interferes with a symphony of hormonal and chemical processes modern medicine doesn’t fully understand.

I’m not alone in my thinking, either. Elissa Stein and Susan Kim, much further left than I am and certainly no friends to the organized “patriarchal religion” they abhor, penned a book called Flow, which took on the mainstream understanding of the female cycle and the knee-jerk need to control not just birth, but the whole shebang. The authors point out – and rightfully – that in this age of organics, sustainability and environmentalism, birth control just seems so…twenty years ago.

Perhaps the Catholic Church, for all it is maligned in mainstream media, might be on to the solution. After all, those of us who’ve been through the ringer of NFP understand ourselves maybe a tiny bit too well, an education we most likely got as adults and one that was never offered in the “comprehensive sex education” classes that my public school forced on nervous 8th graders that claimed to teach me everything I needed to know about my body to survive the next forty years of my life until menopause. The problem is, of course, that the Church is far too modest.

NFP it seems, needs some new PR.

You’ll probably suspect I’m calling the Church to make the teachings “more relevant.” I’m not. They’re fine exactly how they are. And arguing over the intricacies of dogma surrounding, say, what extenuating circumstances are enough to warrant delaying pregnancy with NFP, won’t move this ball forward, primarily because those of us who argue about whether drowning in student loan debt is the same as being unable to make rent and put food on the table in the context of whether it constitutes a financial hardship are already believers. Bringing NFP into the 20th (yes, 20th) century has nothing to do with diluting the message, because that’s what draws most young Catholic women to the practice in the first place. A few spiff-ups on the presentation end could really help us spread the wealth, though.

For instance, my NFP instructor, who swore us to secrecy about the process as though we were going to discuss, at length, our sexual habits with just any old person in the grocery line, was about 90 years old, wore stretch pants and an embroidered cat sweatshirt and showed us a VHS (yes, in 2010 and yes, the pastor of the Church had to be called just to find a VHS player) where couples waxed poetic about how much they loved each other while wearing the sack dresses and floral Laura Ashley high-waisted pants that were so popular in 1989. And don’t even get me started about the embarrassment this self-esteem black hole suffered after a visit to Couple-to-Couple League, where I learned more than I ever wanted to know about people I never wanted to see again. Or the GeoCities-esque website I was granted access to, with its rose-hued color scheme, dancing sparkly pictures of babies, and huge florescent Comic Sans print.

And then there’s the curriculum, where, although all of the wonderful, amazing parts of NFP are investigated as in depth as the inner workings of the Basal Body Thermometer, no one ever talks about the hard parts. Like remembering. Or charting. Or having confusing results. Or, worse: the potential that you might go weeks without intimacy, you might learn about your body’s shortcomings, or that you might experience – along with all that elation at understanding your internal systems – fear, anxiety, trepidation and uncertainty. That things might not work out. And that you might need help. From real members of the medical profession.

Its not that these things are bad: at least, they weren’t when they were introduced (although I think the embroidered cat sweater missed the era of its cultural mainstay status). The VHS was popular twenty years ago, as was Laura Ashley. Comic Sans was on everything when I still ownned a desktop PC that ran Microsoft Bob. Couple to Couple League was invented when everyone thought fondue parties and Jonathon Livingston Seagull was worthwhile reading. It was all very, Our Bodies, Ourselves. But even Our Bodies, Ourselves is decades in the can.

There’s a moment here. A moment when we can take what we have, package it on DVDs starring normal-looking 20-year-olds, and with honesty and straightforwardness. Our generation isn’t used to flowery language and the pop-spirituality of the 1970s. We aren’t going to end our research at one website or one church-issued pamphlet. We have a thirst for knowledge that requires facts, case scenarios and realism. And, more than that, Truth.

And we’re hungering for it. I’m not kidding you when I say that the world just needs a little education. And you’re probably the one who’s best placed to do it.


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Based in Chicago, Emily Zanotti is a strategic partner and Account Executive with Hynes Communications.Β  Emily is a nationally recognized writer and social media consultant who has served as new media director for a number of campaigns and non-profits.

As the Director of Web Strategy for the Sam Adams Alliance, Emily pioneered a national blogger outreach strategy that helped to organize and network state-level activists into a national grassroots force and produced a number of viral issue-based campaigns.Β  As an independent consultant, Emily helps organizations structure social media strategies, develop successful online brands, and tailor liberty-minded messages to a youth market.

Emily has covered state-level politics as a blogger for nearly a decade, first in Michigan and now in Illinois. She appears frequently as a guest on WGN Radio and has seen her work appear in the Chicago Tribune, National Review, iVillage and BlogHer, where she also serves as a Contributing Editor.Β  Currently, her work is being compiled for publication in a forthcoming book.

Emily is also a Second City-trained comedy writer and stand-up comedian who performs frequently in Chicago and across the Midwest.[/author_info] [/author]

Emily Zanotti

Emily Zanotti

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102 thoughts on “NFP and PR”

  1. Avatar

    But let’s not forget the important point that is…well…often forgotten in the teaching of NFP: it is to be used only for “serious reasons”. It is not to be used as an alternative, chemical-free, form of birth control. I think we need less marketing of NFP and more marketing of the concept of “generous parenthood” and large families. I’m pursuing this in depth over at my blog, Philothea on Phire.

  2. Avatar

    This is right on. As a former campus minister trying to convince students that the Church’s view on this was actually very green and holistic, I felt pretty disappointed when all I had to give them was brochures with women in denim jumpers with 5 kids. That is why I am so glad to see sites like popping up, along with my own group’s mission at The Guiding Star Project to make this good news relevent to all women. We’ve got something amazing to share here and I think we may open a lot of minds back up to the Truths of the Church when they can see we have this issue so right when it comes to repsecting and honoring women’s bodies.

  3. Avatar is AMAZING! I love it. AND the Guiding Star Project. Own it, girls and spread the word! πŸ™‚

    And, yes, I understand the need to promote big families, but NFP isn’t just to “delay” pregnancy, if I recall my experience correctly. Not everyone wants to have to use pharmaceuticals to get pregnant.

  4. Avatar

    Yes, I know NFP isn’t just to “delay” pregnancy, and that it can be used to help couples “achieve” pregnancy as well, but let’s stick to the “spacing births” idea for the moment. The point is, if you are “spreading the good news” about NFP and promoting it as “truth” and a “teaching of the Church”, you must also include the important caveat that NFP is to be used only for serious reasons. If you think it is necessary to promote this widely among women, are you then assuming that so very many have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy?

  5. Avatar

    I tend to think if you’re having this conversation with someone, they already believe in NFP, and you haven’t gotten there yet.

    I do think there are a lot of people with serious reasons. But you have to actually spread the good news before you get caught up in the details.

  6. Avatar

    Great article – thank you. Making NFP understandable and accessible to a wide range of women, whether women of faith or not, is a marvelous and wonderful “evangelization” of the culture of life and New Feminism. Jay, you’d be encouraged to know that young Catholic women are reaching out across the “aisle” and introducing the very “green” very sound and very New Feminist practices. This is so important because young women today are so driven by “male models of success” and unhappy and conflicted. It’s encouraging how many young Catholic women are working to define female-centered models of success and happiness which, yes, for some Catholic women and their husbands will include large families. I also love the New Feminism tone and dialogue: it’s nonscolding, warm and welcoming to women and patient and nurturing and calm. How exciting!

  7. Avatar

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. Defining feminism for ourselves is at the core of “owning” NFP, and that’s what I want to argue: that its not something to be ashamed of, or afraid of, or only in small rooms with people who speak about it in hushed tones (or worse, who are stuck twenty years in the past). I’m proud to use it, for all of its intended purposes, in the company of other women and with the guidance of an incredible community of priests and faithful. But we have to be beacons. We have to be examples. Not everyone is going to come over to the Catholic faith, but there are many, MANY reasons the Church is ahead of the game on this, medical, environmental and otherwise.

    The trick to spreading a message is to make it relevant. Make it relevant and the rest will come.

  8. Avatar

    This is exactly what iuseNFP is going for! Don’t change the message, just put it in a new package that appeals to more women. Woman deserve to be taught about their body and shouldn’t have to be dependent on a carcinogenic chemical laden pill to help with their fertility. If we know that the packaging is turning women away then we have an obligation to fix it. It’s an injustice to women everywhere if we don’t. πŸ™‚

  9. Avatar
    Angela Beale Martin (MD)

    This is so fantastic! I am an Ob/Gyn resident trying to pave the way at my program for the NFP-minded. It isn’t easy. I think the new FertilityCare centers and their clean website ( with younger folks smiling without blouses and jumpers on makes a difference. I am working with a small group of medical professionals to provide sound medical care to patients without the use of contraceptives for any purpose in Indianapolis. We have stopped researching the root cause of so many female ailments because the pill can be used to mask symptoms, so it takes going back to the 1970s and picking up where research left off for things like endometriosis. Thankfully, the folks at the Pope Paul VI institute have been dedicated to this cause for many years and supporting the medical professionals brave enough to swim against the mainstream. If you come up with a hip marketing jingle, commercial, pamphlet, etc, I would be happy to promote the material in my practice!

  10. Avatar

    Love it, Emily! And love the conversation that follows. You ladies give me hope for the future of our Church and society! Nearly all of the serious Catholic couples I know (under 35) do not use contraception. I think that’s really pretty remarkable considering how it’s pushed on us like candy. The women of our generation are sick of being treated like we’re diseased, and of being made to neuter ourselves in order to fit into male models of success!

    I also think the Creighton model is making up for some of these deficiencies you rightly pointed out. We have an actual MD who is trained in Creighton in our city, with two practitioners working with her, and it’s like a real office which takes insurance and everything. No stretch pants or VHS. It’s great.

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. Avatar


    I am in Indianapolis! Where is your practice. Do you have an email? I am currently working with the Kolbe Center and Dr. Melanie Margiotta. I’d love to know more about resources in the area, as my husband and I do marriage prep (with an NFP component) in the diocese.

  12. Avatar

    I do think that most NFP programs are updating their materials and generally trying to take some positive steps in terms of marketing…and I haven’t seen anything quite as outdated as you mention currently being used by the major players in terms of NFP instruction and promotion. We have over 300 women on our NFP forum and thankfully no one has described classes like what you took. Though those classes and instructors still exist, as you can attest to, I do think they are in the minority now. It’s not there yet but I do think that things are moving in the right direction thankfully.

    I have to admit it does make me cringe to hear you call out CCL like you did. The NFP world is made up mainly of volunteers doing the best they can and I think it’s important we work to improve the situation while not publicly tearing one another down. From what I’ve seen recently CCL is doing their best to take some big steps forward in the updating and modernizing of their materials.

    Calling attention to the weak points of NFP promotion has been done a lot recently and I wholeheartedly agree that change is needed. But I think what we really need now are people with the skills and passion to step up and act. We all know there’s not much money to be found in teaching or promoting NFP and I’d be willing to bet that if there was you’d see quite a change. NFP groups clearly don’t have the money that the big Pharmaceutical companies do to hire the professionals. They work with what they have and what people generously devote to the cause.

    When we started (Our NFP forum) we didn’t have a budget…we still don’t…as a family of 6 with a modest income we pay for our site out of our own pockets. We aren’t marketers or designers…but we do the best we can with what we have. I think NFP promoters and organizers often fall into this category. Even when they have a budget it’s extremely minimal. There are common sense changes that can be made to update a look and I think that is being done for the most part, but a complete overhaul would likely cost a lot of money that these organization simply don’t have.

    With the negative experience you’ve had, have you considered becoming an instructor? Maybe donating your impressive skills to an organization clearly in need? I’m sure they’d love to see someone with your background walk through their doors! I know I would!

  13. Avatar

    For Jay, I just want to direct you to a article by Janet Smith that helps to discern the proper moral use of NFP.

    It is very encouraging for women to understand that the Church is presenting the beauty of NFP not as a sentence to involuntary motherhood, but as a means to be able to discern with their partner and God what is in the best interest of their family. It will vary for every woman. Some of us are called to large families and others will struggle for years to conceive that one precious child. NFP accomodates both of us to be able to work with our fertility and not supress it.

  14. Avatar

    Great article Emily. Lots of good comments too. Catholic marketing, though getting better, is way behind the curve. Some of the reasons are good. The Church provides many services and particular attention is given to the poor. A Catholic hospital may not hire the best and brightest marketing stars because it spends that money on care.

    That being said, it is vital to use resources wisely. In this culture, one of the better places to spend it is on marriage and family services. 40% of children are raised without a father, this would seem to have a huge impact on vocations. Though the NFP world is doing what it can with what it has, more resources need to be available and parishes may have to subsidize this to make it happen. In my neck of the woods, we do have NFP teachers, but we don’t have the medical infrastructure of a pro-life only OB/GYN.

  15. Avatar

    “I, a young woman of 30 – professional, accomplished, middle-class, law school-educated, with a life of child-free bliss ahead of me”

    Can you explain the above statement?

    As Jay stated “It is not to be used as an alternative, chemical-free, form of birth control.”

  16. Avatar

    Emily, I’m just so thankful for your article! I agree that birth control is “so twenty years ago!” I love Jay’s point on embracing large and beautiful families also. With having men and women in our society who welcome NFP (to postpone or create a baby) and encourage the beauty and naturalness of it, how can it not be luring to those who are not aware of NFP! I know as I was going through NFP classes, I was and continue to be so proud of those families who use it and embrace all God has given them. NFP is such a blessing! We all need to continue to advocate and be excited to have such knowledge about our bodies! It’s is such a gift. God Bless!

  17. Avatar

    I think you’re probably right about a major PR problem when it comes to NFP. We’ve shared similar experiences both at the doctor (after having a baby) and in training.

    The hope I see is people like you and people who have commented on this post. There is potential for a new movement in the right direction where couples can embrace NFP and help each other seek holiness through their bodies as a gift of self.

    Thanks for this honest reflection.

  18. Avatar

    Thank you for this fantastic post!

    After I got married and after the birth of our second child, we started exploring the idea of NFP (yes, for serious reasons). Both my husband and I recoiled at the thought of discussing such an intimate matter with a bunch of strangers or worse, fellow parishioners.

    When I discovered Toni Wechsler’s book, it was a literal Godsend for us. Here was all the information we needed, including a great deal of fantastic material about female biology in general. It provides a clear and concise methodology that we could easily understand and implement, and I didn’t have to talk about my sex life with anyone except my own husband.

    I highly recommend that book to any woman, regardless of her station in life, for the sheer educational value. The only warning I’d offer is that the book is secular, so it does suggest (though not promote) the option of using a barrier method of birth control (i.e. condom) during fertile periods.


  20. Avatar

    Natural Family Planning as opposed to “Family Planning”? Come on! You’re always too poor and too busy and too something else. The women I counsel coming by for abortions say their doctor told them to because it wont be normal – yet ones that change their minds have normal kids.

    Is it life threatening medically or just scarey financially and even ending career-wise. The word you use in a later post, “feminist” really sticks the point – you wont be a woman and raise the child and lose your career – well ask the man to, tell him the baby needs a leader, a defender, bcause mom only wants to avoid God’s plan from birth. Stop ready Ad Age – it’s a world that doesn’t exist but for people who’ve sold their soul to the company marketing plan that even the CEO doesn’t really give a rats about.

  21. Avatar

    YES!!! It is exactly why I started an NFP blog as well, Real Catholic Love and Sex. There are joys in NFP and there are benefits as well as frustrations. It’s not that anyone is trying to bring a contraceptive mentality to NFP users, it’s that the rest of the world thinks we are crazy and we are proving- one month at a time- that we are not!

    Thank you for your post!

  22. Avatar

    Thank you, Kristin D! You said exactly how I felt when I hear CCL (and other volunteer NFP organizations) get slammed for not being relevant. As a CCL teacher and chapter coordinator who is under 30, I completely agree that we need to work on our image. I can assure you that CCL is trying and has been for the last several years. But changes, especially huge sweeping ones which include marketing, cost money that as a volunteer organization, we don’t have. So while it is a priority, it takes time to implement as the money and expertise become available. I can also echo the request for volunteers. I would love to increase our chapter’s presence in social media, but I have a toddler and little experience, if someone were to take that on I’d be thrilled. And we are in real need for new, young teaching couples. Many of our teachers love what they do, but they have been doing it for twenty plus years. Some would like to retire, but when we are maxing out our classes with couples (a great problem to have), they recognize that until there are more teachers to meet the demand, they are very much needed even if they aren’t as relevant to their students. So if you think NFP needs an image upgrade, don’t just talk about it–it’s now a recognized fact–volunteer your skills if you are able. And if you happen to live in northern Virginia I know we can find a place for you. Just don’t visit our website till next week since the new one hasn’t gone live yet!

  23. Avatar

    Excellent post!
    Let us not make the “good” the enemy of the “perfect.”
    If NFP could catch on a bit with even non-Catholics, that would be a good thing. It would raise awareness, increase support, and reduce stigma. I would welcome anything toward that end.
    Unfortunately, NFP takes discipline and sacrifice. On the one hand, the people of today lack those abilities – people want instant gratification. On the other hand, people will go to all sorts of lengths to eat “organically” etc – which does indeed take a bit or sacrifice and discipline.
    Plus, NFP is “green” – the most important attribute of anything these days.
    So Emily I’d say you’re really onto something.
    Keep at it!!

  24. Avatar

    I think ALL women, married, sexually active, using chemical birth control, or not (or any combination) should know about NFP and how to use it.

    I’m willing to bet that those women who do will catch abnormalities with their reproductive systems before they become major problems.

    After all, isn’t just good sense for a woman to know how her body works, and what is normal and what is not?

  25. Avatar

    Okay… I’m totally in. If the only videos they use are VHS and in Laura Ashley style… you should know that I produce and edit videos! And it looks like Katie@nfpandme can make graphics….. just let me know what you need! I can shoot video and interviews in my spare time…

    Tammy @

    I’m serious.

  26. Avatar

    As a catholic who initially was reluctant to accept the Church’s stand against contraceptives, I too agree with you, there needs to be a proper re-branding. More awareness has to come to all of this age, in the manner this age understands the best.

  27. Avatar

    NFP is for anyone who cares about their bodies, the environment, their fertility and any children they may have. By focusing on the common ground that we Catholics share on this issue with environmentalists and women’s rights activists, we can bring people to the greater goods of fewer unwanted pregnancies, a safer, cleaner water supply and healthier women and children. NFP comparatively easily and cheaply ACHIEVES all the stated goals of the modern birth-control believer without chemicals, pollution, and unintended health consequences.
    Would it be beautiful if every sex act was a loving one between married people? Yes, but in the meantime, we are responsible for spreading the message, especially in the healthcare field, that NFP is a terrific alternative to chemical and mechanical birth controls.
    Thanks for this article.

  28. Avatar

    It annoys me how extended breastfeeding as a completely natural way to space babies (the ‘plan’ it appears God Himself designed to ensure optimal maternal-child health) gets lost in these conversations of NFP. Before anyone slams–I know it “doesn’t work for everyone” but it HAS worked for me and my husband–we’ve been married 15 years and have 5 kids, spaced 2-3 years apart–exactly as we were taught by CCL when we were engaged “back in the day.” If ‘regular’ NFP needs an image update and a campaign to accurately inform the public, the same is true and then some for breastfeeding as a means of naturally spacing babies–take the very public flack over the recent TIME magazine cover, which was ugly, weird and did nothing to help the extended breastfeeding cause.

  29. Avatar

    I’m in and agree wholeheartedly. In fact, this summer I’m trying to pair up with a FertilityCare practitioner to develop a Creighton Model curriculum for teens. NFP is about so much more than pregnancy. If only more women knew how well they could serve their gynecological health by charting and staying in contact with a NaproTechnology member. Would love to explain more but gotta go…….

  30. Avatar

    I wish I had known about Creighton years before being engaged & married. Having highly irregular issues, my (former) obgyns were just clueless and wanted to prescribe the pill. Come to find out that I have PCOS and endometriosis, to the point of needing surgery. NFP-obgyns diagnosed this.

    I’m happy with FertilityCare; no babies and denim on the covers, but real issues, real concerns, real medicine. There is an element of secrecy though — that they don’t want me to share the wonders or the books, etc. with others. I understand that starting out one would be prudent to go under the guidance of a practitioner, but how can I influence others that it’s real medicine if it’s secretive!

    Women today want this real medicine; they want to know they can live faithful to their beliefs; they want to know that they have the support (from the Church, their parish, their obgyns); they want to know the pit-falls and not just all of the benefits.

    Had my own mother known about the medicine and how it actually works, I’m sure she and my father would have used NFP instead of an IUD. You’re totally right, it is all about PR and marketing. (I think that if there was a way for professionals and individuals willing to donate time, talent and treasure, to come together through a forum, website, etc., you would find there are many out there willing to share in the burden of this PR-debacle.)

  31. Avatar

    Truth cannot be reduced to a marketing gimmick. The type of Truth taught by the Catholic Church is Divinely inspired by God and it will always be effective no matter what “packaging” it is in. You can make NFP look as modern and hip as you want but if there isn’t a change in people’s hearts and an embracing of the truth that children are a GIFT from God then there won’t be any change in society. NFP will simply be used in a contraceptive and very “green” manner.

    Someone else made the excellent point about ecological breastfeeding and how that NATURALLY spaces births in and of itself. When regularly practiced, ecological breastfeeding will delay the return of your fertility for anywhere between 12-24months!

    As Catholics we are called to be OPEN to new life within the marital embrace regardless of the known state of our fertility. You could do everything right in your charting and ecological breastfeeding and still end up pregnant when you were trying to avoid doing so. On the reverse, you could be perfectly healthy with no known medical conditions, charting your fertility, and having marital relations during known fertile periods and never get pregnant.

    We are not in as much control as we think and speaking of control, how much better and less stressful for all of us would it be if we just let go of trying to control every aspect of our existence and started practicing our Faith that God will never give us more than we can handle, that ALL things are possible in Christ Jesus, and that God our Provider will provide for ALL the needs of those who place their trust in Him.

  32. Avatar

    Christine, While I agree that people’s hearts need to change to use NFP as the Church calls for, it is good to remember that NFP itself is not “Catholic.” The Billings Ovulation Method, for example, is a biological method, and will work (to achieve or postpone) weather you are Catholic or not. I see many people wary of NFP saying what you are saying, “It can be used with a contraceptive mindset!” This is, simply, impossible. The very word “Contracept” means to interrupt the natural end of an act. Contracept, does not mean “postpone children.” It is impossible to “contracept” while using NFP properly. If one wishes to postpone children, they work with the God given times of fertility and infertility. They never “interrupt” an act thereby “Contracepting” it’s outcome. They simply, do not engage in the act in the first place.

    Now, it is quite possible to use NFP selfishly- but let’s think about that for a moment. We have already established NFP requires some sacrifice, some self-control. You sacrifice your desires to help you and your spouse meet your goal of postponing children. When one is in the habit of “giving” in this way to one’s spouse, it begins to transform us. It is my firm believe that NFP is a sanctifying action. And even if a couple (Catholic or not) uses NFP with the intent of “green birth control,” the act of monthly self sacrifice will sanctify them and help them know God better.

    I would much rather non-Catholics use NFP than the Pill or other contraceptives. At the very least, it is a great first step of what could be a journey into the Church.

    For this reason, I think it is imperative for NFP teachers to do exactly what this blog suggests. It is certainly our goal at NFPAware, and we have had great success both with Catholics and non-Catholics.

    People’s attitudes toward family do need to change, but relevant NFP teachers, being honest, being open and understanding the “needs” of young couples will help draw the skeptical in. And believe me, EVERYONE is skeptical- even some of our dear Priests. NFP is a great bridge to draw people toward a proper understanding of family. For most, it will take time.

    “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got.” And so far, what we have gotten is 2% (albeit a false number, but the true number would surprise me if it were more than 20%) of Catholics are using NFP. NFP outside of the church is unheard of. Medical communities laugh and scoff at the notion. And still, we have a generation wanting alternatives. It is our time to step up, tell the truth, and just maybe, not use Comic Sans.

    At NFPAware, I have been teaching for nearly 1.5 years. I have taught 42 couples (more than all of the other teachers in my area combined), 4 of which are doctors or med students. I have presented to panels of doctors and been given rave reviews. Four doctors in town are referring non-catholic patients to me. We are catching people’s attention, and it’s because we strive to be professionals.

    Thank you Emily for the excellent post. By the way, I wanted to mention that the Billings Ovulation Method does give the most available days to couples and it is the easiest to remember to do, and the least invasive. We are supported by over 57 years of research (more research than ANY other method of planning a family- contraceptives included). We only have 4 rules, and couples will never have to abstain for weeks and weeks at a time. If you are interested in freeing up a few more days, give us a call πŸ™‚ (918) 4010-NFP

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    Ecological breastfeeding doesn’t always delay the return of fertility by 12+ months. I was 25 & healthy when I gave birth to my first child. I ecologically breastfed her for over a year. BTW I do know what “ecological breastfeeding” (vs. cultural breastfeeding) is: on demand feedings round the clock including multiple times at night as demanded, no significant gaps between feedings, continuous mama-baby contact, no pacifies, no bottles, no formula supplements of any kind. I did all this religiously and yet, my fertility returned at 6 mos postpartum. NFP charting was virtually useless to us during the initial months after my fertility returned: irregular cycles, irregular temperature charts, and no consistent mucus sign meant we found ourselves in a prolonged state of abstinence. We were fearful that another child “too close” to the first one would be an unmanageable situation. Thus, fear entered our marital relationship and placed real limits on our intimacy for several months. Eventually we reached a breaking point, and identified that the contraceptive mentality we’d unwittingly adopted via NFP was spiritually unhealthy.

    The goal of Catholic wives isn’t to “out green” the secular world or be “more feminist than thou.” Our goal is to be holy in our vocations as spouses and parents. Sorry, but being a good Catholic wife does not mean you get to adopt a bunch of worldly assumptions, marry them to a “natural” family planning method, and call things all good. NFP with a contraceptive mentality is still better than artificial birth control, but any contraceptive mentality is not really healthy and definitely not Catholic. NFP shouldn’t be framed in the secular rhetoric of female empowerment. It’s really not about empowerment and greenness at all. Catholic marriage is first and foremost about openness to God, to spouse, and to life.

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    Haven’t read the comments, but I absolutely agree that NFP’s image needs to be fresh and current. I just wonder if the author hasn’t seen some of the latest coming out? Because there are some great resources out there now. As an NFP provider and presenter, I consider some of the highest priorities to be NFP’s image and making sure we are honest about what living NFP means. I wish you had sat through my “NFP Intro” presentation last night to 11 couples as part of their marriage prep. I think you would have been pleasantly surprised. I would also refer you to Pheonix’s excellent Intro video they put together. It is everything you describe. A 5 minute version can be found here.

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    I think the problem is that most people were never taught NFP (Catholic) or don’t know it exists (non-Catholic). There is also widespread confusion promoted in the media and in medical schools that NFP is the same as the rhythm method (which obviously doesn’t work). Well, NFP is not the rhythm method! People who use NFP properly have an unplanned pregnancy rate approaching zero. I for one am for an NFP education program in every parish, as well as having NFP be part of the curriculum for second-semester seniors in Catholic high schools. Not for the younger kids, but to the graduating young men and women as they prepare to go off to college or enter the workforce.

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    Sarah, you mentioned it was hard to use CCL postpartum because you were so irregular. I just wanted to let you know that the Billings Ovulation Method is so easy to use in irregular cycles. There are only 4 rules that never change, and even when you are not ovulating, we can track your hormones and see exactly what is goin on and when ovulation might be anticipated (rather than after it has happened). BBT is very fickle when you are up on and of all night with baby, but mucus is unaffected. Over 57 years of research, 1 million biological tests and confirmed 99.5% effective according to a study conducted by the Chinese government in 1997. You may want to consider coming over πŸ™‚ (918) 4010-NFP.

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    I agree 100%.
    Fortunately, not all couples went through your bad experience.
    Besides the live NFP formation, there are excellent online resources.
    It’s true that the Church has only one chance to teach about NFP, it would too bad to miss it.
    When couples who are well taught about the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding NFP, they want it.
    See stats below from
    Answers from Couples who went through the marriage prep course (answers from 2,000 couples in 2011).
    2008 2009 2010 2011
    No 5% 6% 7% 5%
    Maybe 23% 33% 32% 30%
    Yes 72% 61% 61% 65%

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    I really hope some of you will hop on over to my blog and read some of my thoughts on this subject. I think as Catholics we need to think this through very carefully. I have a number of posts on NFP.

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    I’m a nurse. It’s misleading to say that BBTemps are always disturbed/”fickle” when up all night w/baby; just getting an hour sleep before temp-taking is often adequate. It’s also misleading to blanket state that “mucus is unaffected from disturbed sleep”. We did symptothermal for 20 years + stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, weight changes + even getting older affects mucus all the time: this is why temperatures are such a helpful cross-check for many. A new 2009 online resource is Click on the book cover: “NFP:The Complete Approach” Eco-BFeeding is covered, too +SARAH: a daily nap is needed to help w/BFeeding infertility; it is usually skipped

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    Question for you ladies,

    What is your understanding of “serious reasons” to avoid pregnancy?

    In my own experience, as a convert, it wasn’t discussed. However, as I learned about my fertility I found that I went from thinking in terms of whether or not I wanted children to thinking of any child I was given as a gift. I was excited about motherhood. I still charted, but only for my health and so that when or if I got pregnant, I would know right away.

    The Creighton Model training I am receiving now requires me to declare whether we are “avoiding” or “trying to achieve” pregnancy. I refuse to do either, and it causes some friction because the instructors are trained to check the box for their clients. I think this aspect of the training should be omitted.

    What are your thoughts and experiences?

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    And…on final thing.

    I am 43 and nursing our 16 month old round the clock because we are moving our family of seven (with two older kids out of the house but still needing Mom daily) later this month and I actually do want to avoid for this short period of time because I had two miscarriages before this child came along, and — I don’t have the energy for it right now. I’m afraid that with the move and my age, I could miscarry again.

    (Hope that’s not TMI, but it’s relevant to the discussion.)

    The defined dogma of the Church is here from Dr. Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma:

    The primary purpose of Marriage is the generation and bringing-up of offspring. The secondary purpose is mutual help and the morally regulated satisfaction of the sex urge. (Sent. certa.) CIC 1013, Par. 1.

    We’ve interpreted that as our primary purpose to bring-up offspring – we need to avoid for this period so that we can take care of the seven we are raising – and we are also meeting the secondary purpose as a couple.

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    Great post idea! I totally agree with you on spiffing up/modernizing the marketing campaign to young Catholics. But you kind of dropped a point here, and this is where true evangelization comes in when you write: “Why, on Earth, do people think its fine to ingest a chemical that interferes with a symphony of hormonal and chemical processes modern medicine doesn’t fully understand.” I have an answer: fear.

    – Simply put, culture has indoctrinated these women in the belief that it is the surefire way to avoid pregnancy. And they have also grown up in a world where they are told any pregnancy when you think you are not ready is bad. And mixed in to that are all these ideals about what it means to be “ready”: are in a committed partnership, have x amount of money in the bank, attained certain level in career, and have satisfied all desires the caretaking of a child might have impeded. In becoming a “pro-choice world”, society has actually shown women a false choice – a either/or situation. Instead of PR, what we need is to show them how the Truth offers a real choice (both/and) and support it.

    Regardless of how hip the DVDs and apps are, how many scientific studies show the harmful effects, I don’t think we’ll ever get women off the pill or into FAM/NFP until hearts and minds are changed.

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    Hi STACY: The book NFP:the Complete Approach at NatFamPlanInternational (see above) has 2 pages in chapter 1 that you can read online/other options. Several items are briefly touched on in Chapter 1 for discerning – just click on the book – I found them so useful to discern “a baby now or not?’ A good one: Humanae Vitae states: physical, economic, psychological + social conditions may be considered but I had to balance that w/great stuff from the Bible/Catechism/Church documents,too, over 25 years; my hubbie always wanted another one before I did – hehehe- You and hubbie must pray, however and listen to the Holy spirit above all – you will be at peace w/a decision or not ; and then there are 2 of you! No one can tell you: it must be your decision before God. { we had 7 over 18 years time }
    **seems the creighton folks are “professionals” to me + many like me are against this medicalization of NFP! I have heard several different complaints re: cost, dependency, secrecy, records,pressure(see above + elsewhere) Should be a lay thing to me BUT seek medical help if needed is what I think + I am a nurse….maybe they worry about liability? – I greatly respect Dr Hilgers but it seems to me his original work was w/infertile women who did not have a temperature shift, so focus more on mucus but many doctors know how greatly useful the temperature sign is – give it a try if needed; you can even tell 99% if you ARE pregnant. I will be BLASTED for my opinion but you asked for thoughts! These are mine + I am not alone. A NFP method must include moral teaching with it: see your struggle w/o this; I know a creighton person who taught folks living together + did not mention the immorality – Blessed JPII stated it cannot be “biology” only… Breastfeeding as child spacing should be included, too, in a NFP course because many think charting is either a pain or immoral; and can you get PG while nursing ? yes or no? search Eco-breastfeeding which gives 75% of women 9-20 months of infertility…welcome to the politics of NFP!

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    Stacy: I totally agree–just because a couple isn’t _actively_ trying to conceive doesn’t mean they are trying to avoid/postpone. It is silly to “force” couples into one or the other camp. After all, sometimes a couple might be in a temporary situation like yours where it doesn’t seem like the “best” time to become pregnant, but it wouldn’t be the “worst” either. Some people just like to chart to keep statistics on their cycles and so forth and if you happen to get pregnant that would be just fine too! This reality is what motivated me, as a fertility educator, to add the category “open to either” to the chart booklets I designed for the Fertility Matters Method (TM) a sympto-thermal method of NFP based on the rules in Margaret Nofziger’s book, A Cooperative Method of Natural Birth Control. Usually couples in the “open to either” category are ones who use charting (as you noted) as a way of tracking their health and verifying if and when a pregnancy begins–something that can be very important when you get to the end of the pregnancy and need to know a more precise due date, for example.

    In designing the Fertility Matters Method, and the books and classes that go with it, my target audience has been those who choose to use NFP for health reasons–not necessarily Catholics–which coincidentally is why my husband and I chose NFP. Our conversion to NFP was an open door for us into the Catholic Church, so I well appreciate the importance of the NFP apostolate as a means for opening minds and hearts to the other truths of the Catholic Church. I know from my own personal experience as well as what I have witnessed in the lives of couples I’ve taught and counseled is that using NFP opens not only your body but also your heart and mind to children and helps you to see how God is the one doing the “planning.” There are critics who see the teaching of NFP as wrong because they fear that couples unthinkingly use it as “catholic birth control.” It is possible that this might be true of a few, (although I have never personally witnessed a couple use NFP for a lengthy period of time with this mindset) however, in general, I think this fear is misplaced because actually using NFP forces both spouses to cooperate with something outside of themselves, something that they eventually identify as originating from God! And cooperating with God makes us humble…and humility leads to wisdom…and wisdom…well you can’t go wrong if you’re becoming wiser.

    If anyone wants to view my website and give me feedback on my PR/marketing of NFP, I’d appreciate it: stcroixbirth dot com, Natural Fertility.

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    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This is a very sensitive and difficult conversation, and it seems it has been started, in part, by the HHS Mandate and all the discussion of contraception in the media. It’s good to discuss it.

    Thanks for the resources too.

    “I will be BLASTED for my opinion but you asked for thoughts!”

    Do not worry. I hope that no one will blast anyone for sincere thoughts and a sincere desire to be obedient to God and their family. We can’t come to any better understanding if we can’t feel safe to discuss it.

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    That is an excellent point about choosing to know your body better for health reasons, and how that can be an open door to seeing the wisdom of the Church.

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    Great points!
    The least complicated way to learn NFP would be to go
    This great organization has even done a study that shows the benefits of NFP to stability in marriage and the negative effects of artificial birth control.

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    I took the pill before NFP use because I could not find anyone to tell me what NFP was- even as a nurse;not even calendar rhythm was explained ; all we got were jokes and snide remarks: even from doctors and Catholic ones, too. We wanted to use NFP and, yet, do you know what? It is the same today – the culture “has them” ; I cannot believe that so many Catholic women today have never even heard of NFP ; when we got married , they said, “Don’t use it”, why, with all the dissent – now women say , “NFP, what’s that?” “Why hasn’t my doctor told me about it?”

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    The reason why Creighton does not use a temperature shift is because Billings does not use a temperature shift and Creighton is derived from Billings. (Although there are important differences. Drs. John and Evelyn Billings harshly criticized Dr. Hilgers “standardization” of “their” method.) The BBT shift is a less accurate indicator than the cervical mucus.

    Dr. Evelyn Billings discusses why the Billings Ovulation Method dropped the BBT.

    Dr. Hilgers own research and the research of others found the BBT to be a less accurate indicator of ovulation.

    The BBT can be a useful cross-check to confirm ovulation, but it is an optional sign. Many STM advocates give it far to heavy of an emphasis. For example, Kippley has temp-only rules, but no mucus-only rule. This can lead to unnecessary abstinence.

    As for the Creighton Model, it seems to be more aimed at diagnosing and treating disorders than at learning normal fertility. As a method for normal couples to prevent/achieve pregnancy it is a lot of unnecessary work.

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    @JD:thanks for trying to clarify. The 1st Billings link has only Billings references from 1992 + older + one Odeblad from 1994. More recent research sees the temp rising often a bit before ovulation from progesterone helping ovulation + from our teaching STM for almost 20 years, when this link says,” …the temp rise usually occurs only after ovulation and is not very useful” – I am sorry but I have to scratch my head and say , “HUH?” The paper s full of opinions in my reading of it. **I agree with you that the temp is a great cross-check w/mucus for avoiding PG + temp-only rules are very useful when mucus is scanty or absent or gross to some women…the 1st 2 cases are common especially in older women + the temp was very reassuring as I got older…the next 2 links are only abstracts + seem to discuss temp-only or use of temp, yes, for achieving pregnancy and not seen as useful in those cases – we are discussing avoiding PG it seems in this blog

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    While there are legitimate differences between the various NFP methods, and it is useful to compare and discuss, in order to learn from each other, let’s try to remember we’re all on the same team here… I don’t think it helps spread the good of NFP to unnecessarily critique other methods. There are so many different needs among couples out there and God has blessed us with a variety of methods from which they can choose–or to which we can refer couples who might benefit from a different approach than our own for a particular season.

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    Yes, you are correct + Blessed JPII stated that there must be different methods because couples have different needs. It is important for different methods to be fairly described, though, because just like me at one time, I was “looking” for NFP + had to choose which provider to go to; it is important to distinguish facts from opinions/personal experience…some are very pricey, too, + sometimes money is very tight for someone to be misled somewhere unfairly. I am so happy there is so much online these day.
    ** Is Ignitum a word or a pun?

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    I wonder if my comment above is maybe why there can be difficulty promoting NFP? There are so many different types of NFP + opinions as well – I even know people who like all sorts of forms of calendar rhythm…it is hard to sort it all out when you really need to get down to the nuts and bolts + our society is so much into “quick fixes”. NFP is just not a fast deal to enter into…lots of women are on hormones and are clueless about their body’s workings

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    I will also disagree about the need for moral teaching to go with NFP. The science of NFP is medical information and I believe that it is immoral to withhold valuable medical information from couples who may disagree with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, overmoralizing NFP puts it into a “Catholic ghetto”. Catholic teaching is that contraception is wrong for everyone, not just Catholics and all women and all couples, not just Catholics can benefit from it.

    This is not to say that moral teaching should be ignored, but it should be taught separately or optionally. Mixing the health information with the moral information dilutes and confuses both. “99% effective at avoiding pregnancy for couples who should be open to life.” is a rather unclear message. For those who are already skeptical of the science (which is most people), the “openness to life” talk sounds like CYA, while for those who are already on board with Catholic teaching, they are wondering why couples should go to all that effort to avoid pregnancy.

    As for teaching NFP to a couple who is living together, anecdotally, when cohabitating couples start practicing NFP, this often forces the issue: Either they break up or they get married.

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    Yes, different couples have different needs, but meeting those needs does include talking about the disadvantages of various methods as well as the advantages. For example, some people like the cross-checking of the BBT, others don’t like the extra work. Billings and Creighton can achieve 97-99% effectiveness without it, so it is an optional sign. Some couples want more security in avoiding pregnancy, others are more willing to use “low risk” days. Each method has its own philosophy about what is and is not “safe”, and one method’s philosophy may not match that of the couple’s.

    The reason I bring this up is that we were presented Creighton as the “Gold Standard” of NFP, but our experience with that method was terrible. Creighton is very teacher dependent and if you have problems with your teacher, you are going to have problems with the method. Reading the Drs. Billings’ critique of the Creighton Model helped us understand why we were struggling. Others LOVE Creighton. YMMV. Learning STM gave us good and useful information about the BBT, but had we not already known about the mucus sign, all those indicators would have been very confusing. And the “official” STM rules lead to more abstinence for us.

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    @STACY: I am so glad you are nursing: I am convinced BFeding so many for so long kept my cancer there local {+ an annointing at a healing Mass must have done the “rest”}
    **okay JD, we will have to agree to disagree. If I taught a cohabitating couple how to use NFP + did not mention it was immoral to live so, I would be complicit in their immoral living + would not like to speak w/God about it on my judgement day; many such couples “go green” + have no problem using NFP immorally + look at the Scott Hahn conversion story: what a great conversion story from the teachings on birth control. R U Catholic? Mass today for the Ascension sends all the baptized out to ALL the world ’cause the Church teachings ARE for every human being + how can they live it if they don’t hear it? included in this needed moral teaching must be all the other marital sexual behaviors traditionally considered immoral { like IVF, masturb., withdrawal, sterilization, etcetera}. Lots of Catholics are not formed at all + it is rarely seen “taught separately”… “Nuff” said…

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    If the Church isn’t teaching the morality separately, that’s their problem.

    The reason why combining the two doesn’t really work is that a lot of people are pushing psuedoscience in the name of religion. From “creation science” to “curing” gay people, people believe a lot of garbage if it supports their religious beliefs. I grew up in the buckle of the Bible Belt, so any time anyone was pushing science and religion at the same time, I knew to tune them out. While the science behind NFP is sound, discussing it from a primarily religious context gives this a bad association. When the teaching couple shows up in a 15 passenger van and talks about “openness to life” and the evils of masturbation, the credibility level for the non-religious (and secular Catholics) is close to zero. This is a big reason why NFP has such bad PR.

    Put another way, modern NFP has been around for over 40 years. So why do people still think of it as “Vatican Roulette”?

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    okay JD; I am not sure how this all affects our duty as baptized Christians to “leaven the temporal order”. I would rather ponder beautiful Church teachings, or the Bible, to know what to say to someone versus thinking about what the world thinks or how they react. A great read is “Christifideles Laici” or “The Role of the Christian Lay Faithful in the World”: see just how critical OUR role is in forming people in moral issues like contraception. Holy Mother Church IS teaching all the time + plenty of folks are listening; it is up to US to help spread what Mother Church beautifully says through the Holy Spirit.
    **Plus, the Holy Father is often speaking about how science cannot do without faith + he started a new Science and Faith foundation – maybe you can help him with some of your ideas for improvement….As a nurse, I am convinced that Faith and Science meet beautifully + we must express that to others – best wishes

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    JD – There must have been a time when you did not “tune out” someone who spoke on the morality of NFP; yet, the 2 MUST have been combined somewhere along the way because they go together. A person who “tunes out” is the real problem in society // they may not want to listen OR we live too noisily to know how to listen to God as He speaks every day to folks, often THROUGH others….what was it that caught your attention? Pray to be like that, and speak. Folks DO hear it and they DO ponder it later and marvel at it and then it is up to them to reject it or embrace it. Pride cannot get in the way to where we are afraid to speak the truth for what folks will think of us – pray for courage and as w/blessed JP II , “Be not afraid”.

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    I well recall getting the CCL “magazine”–it was more like a newsletter then(this was in the old days before it was in color and looked like a magazine) and thinking that the people who wrote all those articles against contraception were batty–but yet “something” (a/k/a Someone) kept prompting me to read those newsletters from cover to cover, until one day I realized that I was convinced. Yes, times have changed and perhaps young people are more skeptical than they used to be, but God is still God and He is the one who changes hearts. But someone still needs to proclaim what is true, in order for others to hear the truth. I think the question isn’t whether to teach or not teach the truth, but how _best_ to teach the truth, in order that some will listen. And of course to pray a whole lot. And to be patient. Heart changes take time.

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    That is beautiful Christelle – maybe “give back” to John and Sheila Kippley who wrote a lot of those newsletters; send a thank you + read at their blogs why they started NFPI /
    **We have digressed from this blog a bit; why more folks don’t know about NFP – maybe fewer are married + so run to the doctor for “no baby” and STDs ; so many are sterilized + it seems the culture is not about trust and fidelity and life ….God must be chuckling at us trying to figure all this out / hehehe – gotta go clean the kitchen…

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    Great article. Thanks for taking a light and fun tone with a topic that has become stale and overwhelming.

    The couple who taught us about NFP in the basement of our church had nine kids – I appreciated their commitment to the cause, but I think most of the couples at the class had a hard time taking them seriously when most people don’t want such a large family.

    The main reason NFP is hard to “sell” is because it’s FREE. No big corporation stands to make any money if couples choose NFP, so it has to be a grassroots effort. I’m happy to see someone as cool and interesting and normal as you is leading the way πŸ™‚

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    I do agree that it’s important, if not vital, to update and modernize the appeal for NFP, also for the sake of non-Catholics who may be interested. Don’t they deserve it, too? I was once a non-Catholic, who found out about NFP and decided it was the healthiest choice. We started our marriage with NFP, and then we were drawn into the beauty of other Catholic teachings and eventually converted. I think those who are so bent on bringing up “grave,” “serious” warnings need to take an internet rest on that topic. I think they should not ignore those important callings, but apply them in a deeply personal way in their own marriages, and pray for others, and try not to be a detriment to the joyful good news of what NFP can do for women, for marriages, and for families. I think the health benefits and medical information alone is a huge reason to promote it to all (not just Catholics). Most women probably don’t realize that they can very likely predict their period arrival to the day, with a simple daily temperature observation. But there’s so much more that would bless women all over the world, of all religions. This should not be the antiquated, goofy thing that only hard-core Catholics do (and keep fairly secret), this should be Feminine Awareness for all women. Let’s share the love.

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    Hey everyone. Your comments have been amazing and so supportive. If you’d like to get in touch with me privately (I just saw Ann’s comment above), you can reach me at I’d be more than happy to continue the conversation and, honestly, get involved further. I thought I was the only one… πŸ™‚

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    I am having a hard time w/some other columns, too. Some stated they were coming from a hindsight view w/o fertility now or w/no NFP use, and some w/o children + just studying theology + I am troubled how to respond; comments seem judging + too pie-in-the-sky, so how can they be empathetic? so many NFP moms homeschool ( no time), have awesome special needs children ( no time) have debt (from school), have critical extended family ( no support) + FEEL like they are going crazy, + we are supposed to just say, “Let the babies come?” PPPLLLEEEAAASSEEE! and yes, who wants to live this kind of bliss/joy? { it IS blessed }
    **anyways, I was different + our instructors had 5 kids; I thought “cool”, and I thought the Church must be wise about something that I could not fathom , but then it took me years to find out what NFP was – no one talks about it + none of the users want to teach or public speak on it…I gotta go run and clean the kitchen some more…

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    What a freakin awesome conversation. We just launched a website called Ova Ova to help make practicing the symptothermal method easier than ever before with automated and easy-to-use charts. I would LOVE any feedback for this group of passionate ladies. The website is and you can reach me at

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    NFP is confusing to me … I thought it was to be used in matters of grave need… I didn’t work that right … sorry it’s been a long day. I thought NFP was to be used in circumstances where child bearing is not safe, etc… not for the purposes of avoiding marital responsibilities and living a “child free bliss”. Has NFP become ‘Catholic Birth Control’ just like some say Anullments in America have become ‘Catholic divorce’? Just curious what everyone’s take is on that. I thought NFP was approved for ‘dire circumstances’… Not for convenience in a materialistic and child aversive society…. Not making a judgement on the author here… Just trying to get this practice straight in my mind. Thanks!!

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    Thanks for the reply. I actually have read your article 4 times in its entirety over the last 24 hours… Well written…. But I’m concerned about the misuse of NFP and the watering down of the teaching to the point that ‘planning’ one’s family is considered to be what is responsible parenting.

    As far as I understand Scripture and Holy Tradition, God is the One who plans these wonderful creature’s debut into this world…. To intervene is a grave prospect… And this is the tone of the Church’s teaching on NFP…

    Attempting to make mainstream what is supposed to be exception reminds me of the question asked of Jesus about Moses issuing the right to divorce…

    Convenience is not the reason for NFP… Unfortunately, where there is gray area, there will be many who choose to take license…. This is my concern… That license may be taken unless this teaching is rightly prefaced with the gravity of the practice.

    You say that “arguing over the intricacies of dogma surrounding, say, what extenuating circumstances are enough to warrant delaying pregnancy with NFP, won’t move this ball forward” because it is essentially preaching to the choir… Point taken… But ‘using’ NFP as a way to bring young women into the Church is like using punk rock in the Mass to provide a seeker sensitive environment.

    NFP is not the answer to society’s woes… It CERTAINLY isn’t the answer to the Church’s woes… It’s a way to address a grave and serious situation… It’s like Retrouvaille… Not RCIA!

    I applaud everyone who takes the time and energy and true piety necessary to make the sacrifices for NFP to work… I’m a pharmacist of conscience that had to switch careers because of hormonal contraception… It’s a noble thing to go the NFP route INSTEAD of choosing the chemical one… But the truly natural route is one that leaves control of the womb to Him. It’s the teaching of the Church… The Scripture… And Holy Tradition…. Any discussion of NFP… Especially with those uninitiated… Should be prefaced thusly.

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    Aaron: I think part of the confusion here is how to define “natural family planning.” While on the surface most people probably define NFP as some form of systematic NFP (the ovulation method or the sympto-thermal method in all their variations) AND the use of that systematic method as a means to avoid/postpone pregnancy–these are actually two separate though interconnected ideas–a set of knowledge and one APPLICATION of that knowledge. There are other applications to systematic forms of NFP than the avoidance of pregnancy. One application is the use of this knowledge to conceive children. Another application is to simply track bodily symptoms in order to understand oneself for health reasons (which can be done by any woman–whether married or not). Therefore, when training a couple in a systematic form of NFP, the teacher teaches skills–how to observe, record and interpret bodily symptoms–AND a set of principles for how to apply that knowledge. The teaching of the skills of observation, recording and interpreting is value-neutral in the sense that the teacher is simply helping women to apply a scientific method to her own body. What is NOT value-neutral is how to apply that knowledge. That is why the various teachers of NFP include ethical principles such as the one you are pointing out–the question of the seriousness or not of a particular couple’s intentions for using this knowledge to avoid/postpone pregnancy. Those such as yourself who are concerned that the act of teaching NFP might lead some to use this knowledge frivolously do not sufficiently take into account that the body of knowledge has other applications which CANNOT BE USED AT ALL if the information goes untaught. (Most of the couples I counsel use NFP to become pregnant vs. avoid pregnancy.)

    Another way to say this is that any gift can be used improperly. I can give someone a large beautiful heavy ceramic vase and they can turn that into a murder weapon. The fact that someone can mis-use an object (including an immaterial one like knowledge) does not mean that they should be deprived of that knowledge.

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    Aaron, first of all, I don’t disagree with the idea that NFP has to be used in situations where there is a serious need, spacing children, etc. I’m not arguing that point because, as it says in the article, quite specifically, if you’re at that point with someone, you already have them believing in NFP. Right now, the Church doesn’t have that. I tend to believe that that is a symptom of a larger departure from traditional dogma which has occurred over the last forty years or so, but its also the fact that the Church hasn’t updated or modernized their training materials for NFP – or for that matter seriously preached it – to a generation who has grown up in a very anti-NFP world. We’re actually SHAMED for using it by our peers. We’re laughed at and mocked.

    One of the best things that has come of this article, honestly, is that I have met a bunch of incredible people working to make NFP more world-friendly, preaching its good news far beyond the Catholic Church and modernizing the teaching and practice of it. And they’re are all these fantastic, young, modern women. Its blowing my mind. But the VERY best part of this article is that I have non-Catholic friends, people who have used birth control all their lives because they were “told” to, coming up to me and asking about NFP. They want to know. And I not only want to share the news of NFP with them, but the greater teachings of the Church on which it is based.

    My biggest message here isn’t that there is a problem with the Church. Its that there is a problem with society, and by preaching NFP, I think we can convert souls. Because they are just aching for this knowledge.


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    Thank you for your responses and I apologize if my comments were offensive in any way… I can say that the conversation on this site has been incredibly mature Christian and charitable… I actually made a comment on the ‘California Catholic’ site (where this article was posted a few days back) suggesting they move to this site if they wanted a mature conversation on this topic… It is a moderated site and MY comment suggesting they might avoid the drama of some seriously uncharitable posting by moving the conversation was filtered out…

    Too funny…

    I’ve subscribed to that service far too long… Every article is some travesty or scandal and it seems to attract those gunning for an aggressive exchange… I am sorry if I was following suit with my comments…

    God bless you all in reaching the lost.


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    I, too, subscribe to California Catholic and I would like to say this to you Aaron: hang in there with them. I think the Catholic paradigm is changing … as JP II thought it would, could and should. Let’s bring them with us. Steady, loving and patient … we have no need for anger or righteousness. Truth prevails of its own accord, despite us. I really admire your participation here. You might try posting another comment with different wording if you want to give it one more try. I’ve thought several times I would going to unsubscribe but they are my peeps, too.

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    What about a national NFP expo? Get all the big and little NFP players together. Get some great speakers too. Then publicize publicize publicize. During National NFP week 2013??

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    After two years of California Catholic I’ve ubsubscribed. I tried posting again and it was filtered out yet again. I must have angered the moderator with my comment that the discussion was uncharitable and the suggestion to move here to continue on….

    I have 7 children 12 and younger and a wife to love… Let alone our farm, a full time job, etc…. I am tired of continuously being fed scandal by that service. I think it has affected my walk.

    God bless you all.


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    well, I did not finish cleaning my kitchen, but I hung out 2 loads to try to save some money, I ate a PB&J that my 10 year old made me, I pondered how we need to rent a van for 2 more out-of-state needed trips because our van won’t make 3000 mile trips, + I ran a couple errands. I pondered my great life + thought that NFP is like the crucified Christ that Paul preached + it made me think that we, too must include faith-based reasons in promoting NFP as the Kippley’s wrote in their Complete Approach book….NFP help us with lust + selfishness + I think we owe it to others of faith or not to hear this. NFP has graces in it that form people as it IS a channel of grace but we need to help them intellectually, too because we are body, soul and mind – what do you think?

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    “JD – There must have been a time when you did not β€œtune out” someone who spoke on the morality of NFP; yet, the 2 MUST have been combined somewhere along the way because they go together.”

    It is precisely THIS assumption that is the problem! That people ONLY are interested in NFP for moral reasons. Or that only moral reasons are good enough. Such thinking puts NFP into a “Catholic ghetto”. When confronted with a “morality first” approach, most non-Catholic (or lax Catholic) couples respond with “thank God we’re not Catholic” or “no play-a da game, no make-a da rules”. But many couples are not satisfied with artificial contraception.

    The reason why we started looking into NFP is not for moral reasons, but because of how hard artificial contraception is on a woman’s body. The artificial hormones are terrible for a woman’s health, and the Copper IUD is not only risky, but leads to all sorts of long-term health problems due to copper toxicity. And nobody likes condoms. The moral component of many NFP programs made us extremely skeptical and it was only in getting the same information from a non-Catholic source and verifying the science that we were able to trust it. After seeing the benefits in our marriage from it, we see that the Church isn’t as crazy as some people think.

    I agree 110% with Emily Zanotti’s last post about the secular world mocking NFP and also about even non-Catholic women wanting to know more when they learn about it. Look up Taking Charge of Your Fertility, the leading secular NFP book, on Amazon. The current edition has 380+ 5-star ratings; the previous edition has over 400 5-star ratings. Women WANT this information. Withholding it or practically turning it into a traditionalist RCIA class doesn’t help the Church.

    And even if a couple “misuses” NFP or even uses condoms during the infertile period, this is a huge moral and health improvement over using the Pill.

    The website of Billings LIFE (Australia) is a great example of an website of a Catholic organization that does a good job promoting NFP to modern couples. Lots of information on the method. Lots of information about health. Lots of information about the health benefits of NFP over contraception. They even have electronic charts!

  79. Avatar

    JD has a great point here.

    “Look up Taking Charge of Your Fertility, the leading secular NFP book, on Amazon.”

    I learned nothing about NFP when I converted, but the name was so close to “family planning” that I was suspicious. So I actually bought this “fertility awareness” book instead and LOVED it. Fertility awareness speaks loudly to any woman. It’s easy to understand that more information about your health is a GREAT thing.

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    @Stacy Trasancos: The name is a large part of the problem. “Natural Family Planning” is neither natural (Really, what is natural about temping and charting and basing your love life on that?) nor is it family planning. (First “family planning” is a euphemism for contraception and NFP is NOT contraception. Second, marginally-planned “oh, what the heck” babies are one of the blessings of using such methods.)

    I believe Billings LIFE calls it “fertility education”. Sadly their American website (BOMA-USA) still has that late 1990s “Web 1.0” feel to it.

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    JD–I just checked the BOMA site and did not see any reference to “fertility education.” Actually, I started using the term “fertility education” a number of years ago as an analogue to “childbirth education” (which I also teach). I chose “fertility education” as an alternative name to Natural Family Planning (I term which I didn’t like because of its similarity to ‘family planning’) and also actually to clearly distinguish what I teach and counsel from ‘fertility awareness’–because at least for me (although I don’t think I’m the only one) ‘the Fertility Awareness Method’ immediately is associated with Weschler and TCOYF–and therefore is at least potentially, as suggested in the book, a combination of fertility awareness and condoms or other barriers. If the term fertility education catches on, great! πŸ™‚ (Not saying that there might not be others using the term “out there”–just that BOMA doesn’t appear to be one of them…)

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    @Christelle: Billings LIFE (Leaders in Fertility Education) in Australia, not BOMA-USA. The Drs. Billings were/are Australian.

    www (dot) thebillingsovulationmethod (dot) org

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    Thanks for this feedback + continuing the conversation. It’s been an eye-opener to understand where y’all are coming from. I have realized before that some only want the NFP information + better understand your ideas. I do still stick with my views to include some morality with it, however + believe your input helps see how to promote it some differently. Blessed Pope John Paul II even asked for changes before he died in 2005 but always stated that NFP must be presented in a moral context + not “just biology” {for you secular folks – Catholics have “marching orders”}
    **NFP IS a moral issue because contraception has been a moral issue in the Judeo-Christian tradition for thousands of years. It will always remain so despite those who approach it from a secular view. It will remain a topic to widen folks’ experiences + views + if not presented w/some morality, it may never enter their minds as to that reality. Using condoms w/NFP not only scientifically reduces its effectiveness, it can morally weaken the marriage relationship. I know from experience how selfish contraception made me + I still battle with those bad habits of getting what I want when & where I wanted. Not using condoms or contracepting behaviors like withdrawal,etc can help make us more selfless + chaste and this can improve the marriage. Moral issues help folks keep using NFP, as well, when the ‘going gets tough” + they may want to just go get sterilized. This is a sad mutilation to me. often deeply regretted down the road + can have serious health effects, too. Have a great Memorial Day holiday.

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    Ann, I understand where you are coming from, even though I disagree with your opinions.

    The way some NFP advocates approach the subject is to put all the moral demands front and center (and sometimes add a few more than the Church requires). The Kippleys are a great example of this. Kippley’s new book leads off with the moral teaching and the evils of contraception. They don’t seem to be interested in meeting couples where they are. Furthermore, their materials put a heavy emphasis on add ecological breastfeeding and attachment parenting to their NFP program, neither of which is required by the Church. Plus they go a bit overboard on the benefits of abstinence. There was an infamous story in their old CCL manual about how 10 months of abstinence(!) helped a particular marriage. (Anyone facing 10 months of abstinence needs to either see a doctor or find a better method.)

    This is not to say that John and Sheila Kippley haven’t helped a lot of couples, but this message isn’t going to reach most of the couples who would be interested in NFP these days. I think a large part of this is generational. The Kippleys’ original audience back in the 1970s were faithful Catholics who were raised pre-Vatican II. They were already committed to obeying the Church and needed to (1) understand what the Church taught and why and (2) a better alternative to the ineffective Rhythm Method, which they may have already been using with mixed success (3) in a world before “women’s lib” (4) and where the Pill and IUD were seen as the answer to all the world’s problems.

    But that audience is too old to need NFP. The young Catholics of today were raised in the very lax 1980’s/1990’s “follow your conscience” Church. Think of Melinda Gates (age 44) who was all but told to dissent by the sisters at her school and truly doesn’t understand why the Church is so concerned about contraception. I was in college before I found out that the Catholic Church still thought contraception was always wrong. (What? We still believe that? Isn’t there a loophole of some sort?) I found this out through a pro-life group who was distributing fliers on campus, not the local parish or campus ministry. And my reaction was not one of obedience to the Church but defiance. (What does the Pope know about sex?) The non-Catholic world thinks it is outright irresponsible to have “unprotected” sex except for the 2.3 times in your life that you actually want your perfectly planned babies.

    What I am saying is that approaching it from a moral perspective first will largely fall on deaf ears when aimed at people currently of reproductive age. Yes, a few people still appreciate this, but most will not. On the other hand, young people are more receptive to the idea of green living, being hormone-free, and protecting their health. Contraception is no longer seen as a godsend, but a necessary evil. Showing people that contraception and sterilization really ARE unhealthy a healthier way is possible is how you get them to listen. (You wouldn’t believe how many women think that their body failed them because they can’t tolerate the side effects of the Pill or an IUD.)

    As for the fears of dropping moral rigor, I believe that Benedict XVI said something about if a male prostitute starts using a condom, that can be a moral step in the right direction. This does not mean that the Church approves of either male prostitution or condoms, but that some sins are worse than others and that moving from a more sinful activity to a less sinful activity is a sign of moral development. Barrier methods are less morally problematic than hormonal methods for multiple reasons. If a couple uses them, they will quickly find that they are doing something that decreases both the effectiveness of the method and the quality of the encounter. This may be an intermediate step for some couples who are dissatisfied with hormonal contraception, but might find long periods of abstinence too daunting at first. Even if they do not, they are in a better position than they were.

    This is not to say that the moral element should be ignored, but young people have to believe in and trust the health/scientific element before they will even listen to the moral element. Remember, they have been raised to believe that contraception is responsible and morally required. Once people understand that the Catholic Church isn’t pushing psuedoscience or requires us all to be the Duggars or the very large family in the Monte Python skit, they will be more open to what the Church DOES have to say on the issue.

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    I think we are trying to persuade different groups ? maybe? Couples may use condoms but by golly they better know from me that they are immoral + that Confession is there for them. I had to work through past Pill-use early on + thanks be to God I WAS “moralized” + could get onto the right path sooner than later and so not have a longer time of regrets. Even Christ in His last discourse only prayed for His disciples, NOT the world. We are around a lot of happy, energetic, young, faithful Catholics who love philosophy + theology. We just taught a course yesterday using Kippley’s new materials {NFP the Complete Approach} and the evals said, “We learned a lot about love, life, children.” “Awesome class” “We got a lot of valuable information” “The information we received was great” “We learned why it is better to use + do NFP w/o contraception” “This was a great class w/useful info and we have decided to use this method for our family” I knew none of these young couples before, but we have become fast friends.
    **I am having difficulty w/seeming cynical remarks above + judgmental comments like “they don’t seem interested in meeting people where they are” + “those w/ 10 months of abstinence need a doctor or a new method” {what method DO you propose here? chaste abstinence IS the method here + we went months + months when chemo was in the mix – the point is it CAN be done}
    **This is Pentecost Sunday : the Holy Spirit gifts persons differently + the Kippleys were gifted w/a great love of the Church + a missionary mind to spread Her teachings far + wide ; they have had downloads from over 100 countries for their book @CHRISTELLE, if you do a NFP event nationally, I hope you can invite the Kippleys + give them an award for their faithful service despite continued criticism. If the Church + parents had done a better job of forming young folks, they won’t find out about NFP late in college as you did. John Kippley will hear some welcome words from Our Father in Heaven.
    PS – the Kippleys do not mention ‘attachment parenting’ in their book but DO help many women by defining eco-breastfeed. Many believe charting NFP is wrong or they find it burdensome. How many such nursing moms do you know? I know more than I can count here + across America from California to New York and down to Florida. So, best wishes in your style….the moral approach bears ‘everlasting fruit’ – I’d like some of that – who else?

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    Pope Benedict the 16 , when Cardinal Ratzinger in 1969, said that those outside the Church would become unspeakably lonely and that they would feel horror at their poverty but that they would look to those small #s in the Church and see what they have always been searching for in secret…the Church must simply be a Church of faith ; {we} must simply be what {we} are … and people will come // just be Church and that witness is all that is asked for – it is up to God to let the seeds grow – we can be optimistic in this work of leavening and sanctifying the temporal order

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    OK, so I made this video for the contest currently going on over at Goodness Reigns, but I have to tell you that when we were planning it, I read this article and became even more motivated to make it happen! Hope you like it! It is meant to be entertaining, vibrant, fun….you know, all the things that so far haven’t described ANYTHING having to do with NFP…

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