In Defense of NFP: A Reaction Piece

Sometimes I read something that gives me such a strong reaction that I become a little obsessed with it and just have to respond to it. This is a reaction to my friend Kayla\’s post on birth control (BC) vs. natural family planning (NFP), which she wrote forever ago, but I needed some time to process things before my response and I had things to do in real life that prohibited me from being able to articulate what I wanted about it. Like Kayla, this is a topic that I am very passionate about, because I feel it is so misunderstood in our society and because the feminist in me just can\’t sit idly by while I feel like women are being put in unnecessarily difficult situations based on our patriarchal society. It\’s frustrating to me. So here are my thoughts about the topic and some of the key points I would like to bring up.

Also, for the record, (3 more months…eek!) Evan and I have decided to practice NFP as our preferred method of birth control. Though we are not married yet, I have faith that this will be right decision for us. I also truly do not mean to offend anyone\’s decision or anyone personally. This is a response to something I found to be very impassioned and my passion about this subject is strong, but is not intended to judge anyone else\’s decision. These are just my opinions.
NFP is not the same thing as Catholicism
I really don\’t like talking about Catholicism at all while talking about NFP. I think, other than the fact that it\’s the approved form in the Catholic Church, it really has nothing to do with Catholicism at all. It has more to do with biology and relationships and decisions and math than it does with Catholicism. So when Kayla\’s first disclaimer comes from a place of not being a \”perfect\” Catholic and how the church views NFP and BC, I already feel that this is going to be less of an intelligent discussion on BC and NFP and more of a defense against a perceived attack on their sexual choices by the institution of the church.I honestly wish that NFP wasn\’t as advocated by the church because I feel like it seriously limits its power and scope. I think that affiliation seriously decreases its appeal among non-Catholics and I think that is probably the most disappointing aspect of NFP as a whole. I hate that more non-Catholics don\’t know about it. This is not solely a religious issue or a church issue or even a pro-life issue. To me it’s a reproductive issue and a health issue and an educational issue.
I\’m also surprised by the lack of openness she admits straight away and that she is in fact not very informed about the subject, which I find suspicious at best. To have such strong opinions that are unfounded seems short-sighted and closed off, again contributing to the perceived defensiveness rather than an open discussion. That\’s just my opinion and I truly mean no ill-will be it.
Birth Control is not necessary (or even desirable) for all women
I once wrote a persuasive paper on NFP when I was a freshman in college and one of the things that I mention was the lack of physical side effects that you have by practicing NFP. However you slice it, BC has side effects. All medicine does. I\’m not advocating that we don\’t use medicine or anything, but I do think that we have a responsibility to think about what we put into our bodies. Yes, Kayla is completely right in that BC is no different than any other \”unnatural\” thing we put into our bodies, but the thing that really gets me is that while other medicines fix something that is a problem, BC fixes something that isn\’t necessarily a problem.
I\’m not getting into being open to having children.While some people need BC for medical reasons, I, Karen, with a relatively normal menstrual cycle that has never been an issue in the past, really have no justification for altering my cycle really at all. So, the question I ask myself, is why take something that may have side effects, such as blood clots and the over-aging of your cervix when I can just as easily not take it and still have a perfectly legitimate way of preventing pregnancy and such. It\’s kind of like the logic of believing in God. If there is a God and you believe, great! If you believe and God and there isn\’t a God, no harm no foul. If you don\’t believe in God and there isn\’t, you\’re fine, but if you don\’t believe in God and there is a God…well who knows. The bottom line comes down to this, I wouldn\’t take Tylenol unless I had a headache and I don\’t believe that my personal cycle situation is worth any negative side effects, considering the physical side effects to NFP are literally 0. Look at the proportion of active crypts (mucus secreting crypts that diminishes over time when aging). There is a dramatic difference from the number of S crypts produced from a woman who has never been on the pill to a woman who has been on the pill. \”After 3 and up to 15 months of contraceptive pill use, there is a greater loss of the S crypt cells than can be replaced.\” Some Notes on the Cervical Crypts, Dr. E. OdebladThe issue for me at least is not that I am against medicine, but more of why would I do that to myself when I don\’t have to. Not to mention the lack of libido the pill can cause (which, if you ask me, completely defeats the purpose of the entire thing).
I\’m not even going to really get on the topic of being open to God\’s will. If he wants it to happen, it will happen regardless, right? Also, I don\’t think it is totally necessary to have children to be a good Catholic. God gave us free will actually, if you remember that, and why wouldn\’t planning your family have to do with that. The issues of NFP as a birth control don\’t even bother me and I support Kayla\’s stance on this section. Relationships, in my opinion, are about an expression of God\’s love regardless of whether they ever result in a child. Period. Note: This also helps strengthens my view on supporting gay marriage.
NFP\’s effectiveness rate
I am a super, super paranoid person. Especially about this. I\’m not sure if I ever want children because I\’m not sure I could mentally handle it due to my anxiety disorder. It\’s biology. There are rules and if you follow the rules it\’s extremely effective. If you use a cervical mucus and a temperature method (STM) it\’s about 99.6% effective. It\’s as effective as BC, provided you follow the rules. Just like BC is effective provided you take it every day, etc. That\’s statistics. Plain and simple. Now I\’m not saying that BC is less effective statistically, but, my lovely fiance is living proof that BC doesn\’t always work, yes, even while taking it properly (Although, on a personal note, I am so happy it didn\’t work out that time).
Relationship Issues
I think the whole divorce rate for NFP is misleading. Generally those who practice NFP do so for religious reasons and those people are less likely to get divorced anyways  so I can see that. But, the thing that I really want to address is the inclusion of the male in NFP as opposed to fertility being the sole responsibility of the woman. I am extremely passionate about men being involved in fertility, because, hello, they kind of have an important part to play in reproduction. It\’s wrong to say that fertility and reproduction is a \”woman\’s\”  issue because that takes the man and later father out of the equation altogether. I don\’t think that\’s right. The way our situation works is I am responsible for taking my temperature (i.e. sticking a thermometer in my mouth when I am barely awake anyways) and determining the cervical mucus status and Evan is in charge of filling out the chart and figuring out the math. It\’s a joint effort. It\’s one that we can both be a part of that doesn\’t hurt my body or alter a natural function. I\’m not saying at all that our relationship will be better because of it, but I do know that if I am comfortable discussing the details of my cervical mucus with him or my menstruation, than I will be perfectly comfortable discussing anything with him and that is what strengthens relationships. It\’s not to say that another couple is \”doomed\”, there are so many ways to connect to your partner intimately, and this is just one of them.
Not Having Sex Whenever, Wherever
One of the major points Kayla brings to the forefront is having to abstain for half the month (which is a bit of a stretch if you ask me, but I suppose if you\’re not comfortable with period sex then fine, I\’ll accept it). This is just so oppressive. I mean we\’ve waited like our entire lives to have sex and now I\’m advocating for a method that includes less sex? I\’m not sure you actually have less sex on NFP (I mean it doesn\’t kill your libido like the pill can). For me it\’s about responsibility and working to have the best possible outcome. It\’s like studying in college. It kind of sucks at the time, but the end result, not having a baby when I\’m not ready and not having to take medication to change up my cycle to me is worth it. I remember when I was in high school I heard someone talk about how the mainstream media didn\’t believe that young people were able to abstain because we don\’t have foresight or we weren\’t smart enough or we didn\’t have enough of a backbone or whatever. Essentially, the mainstream media just straight up doesn\’t respect young people or think that they could possibly be capable of making good decisions of not having sex before marriage. To me, this decision is much more than the day in and day out of whether I can have sex with my husband and more into the overall philosophy of what I believe in. Interestingly enough, my fiancé, when he met me was fully prepared to have sex. He grew up a Protestant and probably never even heard about NFP before meeting me. Yet, over our 3 year relationship, we have come to this decision, of sound body and mind. Not having sex for a greater purpose (i.e. not having a baby) than your carnal desire at that moment does not make you repressed. Besides if you can\’t think of other ways to fulfill these needs, you are probably not being creative enough.
I also feel the need to address to the following quote from Kayla\’s post.
\”[P]art of me thinks that proponents of NFP who aren’t married don’t understand everything about having a sexual relationship with a person, and proponents of NFP who are married either hate sex or secretly hate their spouse.\”
I find this to be personally offensive, and probably the most hurtful thing I\’ve ever heard you say. I may not be married yet, but I will be in 3 months and the thought that you think that I may hate sex or my husband is absolutely appalling. This proves to me that this post is not a defense for BC at all, but an attack on the decisions of other people, whom you claim are your friends. My choice is just as valid as yours and this comment alone shows me you do not feel the same way. How are you any better than those who tell you your marriage will be worse because you\’re on BC? How can you even pretend, at this point, that this post is about your reasons for choosing BC rather than a feeble defense against what you obviously assume to be a major threat to your freedom? That is interesting to me, because society is all about BC right now. Who do you feel like is attacking you, because it certainly is not the majority? Should I even invite you to my wedding if I know that you believe that the choice I have made means I hate sex, or worse, hate Evan? It\’s extremely hurtful to me personally to know that you judge this decision when I have never once judged yours.
I practice NFP because I\’m a Feminist, not in spite of it
The main reason I support NFP is not even under moral grounds (although it\’s an added bonus) or even biology (although, I wouldn\’t do it if it wasn\’t biologically sound). Ultimately it has to do with being a feminist, which seems weird when you think about modern day feminists. NFP is all about knowledge. It\’s all about learning and recognizing who you are and how your body functions. It\’s about education, which I have always equated with freedom. If I have the knowledge, I have the freedom to use it. If School House Rock has taught me nothing else (besides the process of a Bill being passed in congress), it has ingrained in me that \”Knowledge is Power.\” and for someone who claims to love books and learning so much,  I am actually surprised NFP is portrayed so negatively. I know when I\’m ovulating. I know when my period will be early or late. I know when things aren\’t acting the way they should be. I now know that my temperature is always really low, so when it\’s below 98.6 degrees I still may be \”feverish\”. More importantly, I know when something isn\’t right or when my body is out of whack or when I\’m more stressed than usual, because guess what, my body tells me. It\’s in my cervical mucus, it\’s in my temperature.
How, pray tell, is covering up these things with a false period freedom? I cannot for the life of me understand how understanding these processes can be a bad thing regardless of what you do with that information. I am in control of my fertility. I am not dependent on a hormonal pill to control this thing. My body was created to control fertility. I think to not have this knowledge widespread is oppressive. I think that to tell women you have to take a pill to solve all these problems without even giving you the full information on what your body is doing naturally is wrong. That is repressive. BC, in my opinion, is just another example of the patriarchy and mainstream society claiming that I am not capable of controlling myself or capable of using higher level thinking in terms of sex or capable of learning about my body and myself and I understand why. Knowledge is power and power is dangerous to those who have something to lose. Putting fertility in the hands of women and only women is not freedom. It needs to be both parties and anything less is unacceptable. This issue, in my opinion, is a grave disservice to women who bear the sole responsibility of both her reproductive decisions and the reproductive decisions of her partner.
It\’s not all rainbows and butterflies
There are some things that kind of suck about NFP and I would be remiss if I did not address those things as well. It takes effort, and like most Americans, I\’m lazy and sometimes I forget or I wake up too late or something (which just means I have to wait longer). I\’m also a little upset because my cycle doesn\’t particularly care when I decided to plan my wedding date and it might not exactly be at an ideal time. In the grand scheme of things though, these issues are really just not a big deal. Not when I know the reasons why we\’ve made this decision in the first place. There are plenty of other ways to express sexual intimacy during those times when sex is really not an option. Also, despite what you may think taking your temperature is really not hard at all. I don\’t even get out of bed. I barely wake up at all. For me it\’s better than taking a pill. (Although I wish my thermometer was faster and had a digital sync…that would be rocking). I\’m also afraid that I\’ll mess up or I\’ll get my cervical mucus wrong or whatever. Those fears are real and it\’s something that I struggle with as I prepare to get married. That\’s where faith comes in I suppose.
I suppose that all of my opinions could be disregarded as \”I don\’t really know\” because \”I\’m not married yet.\”, but my counter to that is that I still have sexual desires and needs that need to be addressed and I am currently in the process of practicing NFP (without the sex part yet, but the charting and all that is being done as we speak). I know that I\’m 3 months off, but this post wasn\’t written 3 months in the future, so unless I waited an extremely inordinate time (although I know I have anyways), my opinions are stated as they stand now. I doubt they will change, just like my commitment to not having sex until marriage hasn\’t changed even in the liberal environment of Austin and away from my parent\’s control. My sexual decisions are something I am proud of and believe in and am committed to and reflect both my ideals and my view of my upcoming marriage.


1 thought on “In Defense of NFP: A Reaction Piece”

  1. Ah, Karen, I'm just now reading this. Thanks for writing this–there are so many things that I love about you and the fact that you took the time to write this thoughtful reflection is one of them. I can't wait to see you become Mrs. Fuhr! So happy for you!

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