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					                        “    The Church teaches that the sexual union of husband and wife
                                              is meant to express the full meaning of love,
                                  its power to bind a couple together and its openness to new life.
                                                             United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Married Love and the Gift of Life

the benefits for marriage of
Cherishing Fertility
D       o you want to avoid
        divorce? To be true to their
public vows to love for as long as the
beloved lives, married couples have
to be vigilant and have constant
recourse to the graces of the sacra-
ments. A healthy marriage requires
attention: conscious efforts to com-
municate better, and certainly a
growing prayer life together.
   One practice ties all these together
and seems almost magical in its abil-
ity to strengthen marriages. In fact,
less than 1% of couples who practice
it suffer divorce. That activity is nat-
ural family planning (NFP).1

Not Your Grandmother’s
Rhythm Method                               Most people have never heard of               Sharon’s marriage, as it has helped
“Oh, that,” maybe you are think-          natural family planning, and those              so many other marriages?
ing. “Isn’t that the old, unreliable      who have are often skeptical. One
‘rhythm’ method?”                         woman, Sharon, relates how she felt             Sex = Babies + Bonding
  Not so fast. It’s true that the         during her Pre-Cana introduction to             The answer lies not so much in what
rhythm method failed when a               NFP: “I sat in the class with my arms           NFP is but in what sex is. Sex has
woman’s cycle wasn’t uniform.2 But        folded and an almost closed mind                two meanings: babies and bonding.6
NFP isn’t rhythm. Natural family          and heart. But, it was there I started          God wants sex to be life-giving: to
planning uses specific signs of the        to realize (although I didn’t yet want          give life to the relationship of a hus-
woman’s natural rhythms of fertility      to admit it to anybody) that my                 band and a wife (bonding) through
to plan sexual activity for the pur-      thoughts about NFP came strictly                giving life to a new person (a baby).
pose of either avoiding or achieving      from a place of ignorance.”5                       Like Mike and Sharon, many of
pregnancy. Modern methods of NFP            Her fiancé, Michael, liked the idea            us wonder, “Can’t I just have the
have a 99% success rate in avoiding       of protecting Sharon from using                 bonding, without the openness to
pregnancy.3                               potentially dangerous contraceptive             babies?” The problem with this idea
  NFP methods, especially NaPro           chemicals by using NFP. But he faced            is that the two meanings of sex are
technology, also have success rates       other problems. He was hampered                 inseparable. Being closed to new
ranging from 38% to 82% in achiev-        by old habits, such as viewing por-             life makes us closed to our spouse.
ing pregnancy, depending on the           nography, that made it difficult for              After all, a wife’s fertility is part of
problem causing the infertility. (In      him not to objectify women. How                 her; female fertility is a personal real-
contrast, the morally objectionable in    could he value his wife as a whole              ity not to be chemically suppressed
vitro fertilization method has a suc-     person?                                         or destroyed. The same is true of a
cess rate ranging from 21% to 27%.)4        How could NFP help Michael and                husband’s fertility. Do we treat our
spouse’s body and fertility with rev-
erence or with fear?
   Sadly, our whole culture seems to
                                                                                  “      The total giving of oneself, body and soul,
                                                                                                        to one’s beloved is no time to say:
fear fertility. Society’s message is
often that the worst possible con-
sequence of sex is a baby. But, as
                                                                                              ‘I give you everything I am—except . . .’
                                                                                                                                        United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,
                                                                                                                                                      Married Love and the Gift of Life
Dr. Janet Smith puts it, “… if a preg-
nancy results from an act of sexual                                                                                                 significant issues—a grave violation
intercourse, this means that some-                    Really Good Things                                                            of their dignity and their right to in-
thing has gone right with an act of                   for Marriage                                                                  formed consent. Couples using NFP
sexual intercourse, not that some-                    In fact, married couples abstain                                              avoid these problems.
thing has gone wrong.”7 Fertility is                  from sexual activity all the time, for                                          But the biggest benefit of NFP
not a disease: it’s a sign of health.                 all kinds of reasons. (You’re prob-                                           comes from letting God into the bed-
   What would you think about some-                   ably abstaining right now!)8 Couples                                          room. Sex is too wonderful to close it
one who said, “The worst possible                     who use NFP tend to have as much                                              off to God. (It should be noted that
consequence of a job is a paycheck!”                  intercourse as other couples.9 All                                            there are couples who give their mar-
It would be a little odd, wouldn’t it?                kinds of benefits come from NFP:                                               riage to God by opening themselves
There are many reasons to have a                      more communication, more discern-                                             in an absolute way to new life. This
job, but its primary purpose remains                  ment about God’s will, more respect                                           generosity and NFP are mutually
to support oneself and one’s family                   for one another, not to mention pre-                                          complementary ways of life.)
financially. Likewise, sex has many                    serving the woman from all the toxic                                            Mike and Sharon were so im-
wonderful effects, but its primary                     side-effects of contraceptive drugs.                                           pressed with what NFP did for their
purpose remains enabling the gift of                     These effects include blood clots,                                          marriage that they began to teach it
a new life. (This is one of the most                  hypertension, migraines, and de-                                              to other couples. Reflecting on this
secure findings of evolutionary biol-                  pression. In addition, it should be                                           experience, Mike said, “[In] teach-
ogy.) And babies are indeed gifts, one                considered that the Pill may occa-                                            ing NFP for seven years and talking
of the great rewards of marriage.                     sionally operate not through pre-                                             to couples about these issues, Sha-
   Because NFP respects the fact that                 venting pregnancy but as an abor-                                             ron and I have never, not once, met
the conjugal act is ordered to new                    tifacient (causing an abortion).10                                            a husband or wife who says about
life, NFP is not “Catholic birth con-                 Also, it must be noted that the main                                          [NFP], ‘It’s the dumbest thing I ever
trol.” There is a fundamental differ-                  mechanism of the intrauterine de-                                             did.’ We consistently see a mixture
ence between having contraceptively                   vice (IUD) is most certainly abor-                                            of surprise, joy and peace. And sur-
sterilized sex and abstaining from sex                tifacient. Women and girls are not                                            prise, joy and peace are really good
during a fertile period.                              often adequately informed of these                                            things for a marriage.”11
                                                       Mercedes Arzú Wilson, “The Practice of Natural Family Planning Versus the Use of Artificial Birth Control: Family, Sexual and Moral Issue,”
                                                      Catholic Social Science Review, vol. 7 (Nov 2002), p. 1. 2The method’s failure rate is 9% (R.A. Hatcher, et al, ContraceptiveTechnology, 18th Edition
                                                      [New York:Ardent Media, 2000]. 3Summarized at and
 FIND OUT MORE                                        ness-p02.php. 4Summarized at 5Sharon and Mike Phelan, “Escape from Fuddledom,” http://
                                             6Janet Smith, Ph.D., “Contraception: Why Not,” audio CD. 7Janet Smith, Ph.D.,
 Family Life Offices in Massachusetts                  Humanae Vitae: A Challenge to Love (New Hope, Ken.: New Hope Publications, n.d.), p. 10. 8As Christopher West likes to say. See
 Boston:,           9“Study confirms that couples using natural family planning have intercourse just as frequently as couples
                                                      using other methods,” 10/11/2005, 10Walter L. Larimore and Joseph B. Stanford, “Postfertiliza-
 (617) 746-5800                                       tion Effects of Oral Contraceptives and Their Relationship to Informed Consent,” Archives of Family Medicine, vol. 9 (Nov. 2000), pp.
 Fall River:,                 126-133. 11Phelan and Phelan, “Escape from Fuddledom.”
 (508) 999-6420
 Springfield:                                                                                                                                      THE FUTURE
 (click on Departments/Ministries and Family Life),                                                                                                                    DEPENDS ON
 (413) 452-0614
 (click on Departments and Marriage and Family),
 (508) 929-4311
 Information on NFP
 Couple to Couple League International,                                                                                                          Life Long. Life giving.
 Fertility Care Centers of America,                                                                     Massachusetts Catholic Conference                                                                            West End Place, 150 Staniford Street, Suite 5
 One More Soul,                                                                                Boston, Massachusetts 02114-2511
 NFP Outreach,
                                                                                                           phone: 617.367.6060 ~ fax: 617.367.2767
                                                                                                         Web: M ass C atholic M arriage .org

 Want to Learn More? Watch for The Future Depends on Love television series on Catholic TV and on

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