Natural Family Planning
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the general title for the scientific, natural and moral methods of family planning that can help married couples either achieve or postpone pregnancies. NFP methods are based on the observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman's menstrual cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy.
The Catholic Church teaches that marital intercourse is a sign and symbol of committed love and is most fully human only when it is open to the gift of life. Each time a couple makes love they are reenacting their marriage vows as they give themselves freely, faithfully, fruitfully, and totally to one another.
This belief needs to be coupled with the Church’s assertion that as stewards of God’s creation, we are responsible to care for the children we help to create. Natural Family Planning respects the life giving (procreative) and love giving (unitive) aspects of intercourse by not separating the two, the way that contraception does. Contraception not only blocks conception, it also blocks husband and wife from completely bonding. Natural methods, while avoiding pregnancy by abstinence during the fertile time, are still open to the transmission of life.
How does NFP work?
NFP instruction helps married couples learn how to observe, interpret and chart the wife's signs of fertility. This enables husband and wife to identify the fertile and infertile phases of the wife's menstrual cycle.
When husband and wife wish to attempt pregnancy, they will understand that intercourse during the fertile phase of the wife's menstrual cycle will likely result in pregnancy. When wishing to postpone a pregnancy, husband and wife would abstain from sexual intercourse and any genital contact during the fertile time. No artificial methods are used during the fertile time.
NFP is unique among methods of family planning because it enables its users to work with the body rather than against it. Fertility is viewed as a gift and a reality to live, not a problem to be solved. The methods of Natural Family Planning respect God's design for married love! NFP represents a unique approach to responsible parenthood because it
- calls for shared responsibility by husband and wife
- is based on scientific research about the signs of fertility
- treats each menstrual cycle as unique
- teaches husband and wife to daily observe the signs of fertility
- has no harmful side effects
- maximizes the possibility of achieving pregnancy when intercourse takes place during the fertile phase of the wife's menstrual cycle
- is effective for postponing pregnancy when intercourse takes place during the infertile phase of the wife's menstrual cycle respects the unitive and procreative nature of conjugal love
Theology of NFP
The teachings of the Catholic Church about how God created men and women in His image and the meaning of the Divine gifts of human sexuality, marriage, conjugal love and responsible parenthood contribute to a theology of NFP. This theology is helpful to reflect upon in order to arrive at a deeper appreciation of God's will for married love. The U.S. bishops emphasize the importance of this theological reflection when they wrote in their document, Married Love and the Gift of Life that . . .
Married love differs from any other love in the world. By its nature, the love of husband and wife is so complete, so ordered to a lifetime of communion with God and each other, that it is open to creating a new human being they will love and care for together. Part of God’s gift to husband and wife is this ability in and through their love to cooperate with God’s creative power. Therefore, the mutual gift of fertility is an integral part of the bonding power of marital intercourse. That power to create a new life with God is at the heart of what spouses share with each other.
—(USCCB, Married Love and the Gift of Life, 2006)
In Humanae Vitae, the Church affirms that efforts at birth regulation, “must be done with respect for the order established by God” and that “each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life.” In his 1994 Letter to Families, Pope John Paul II wrote, “in the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm in a responsible way the mutual gift of self, which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant.”
What are the benefits of using NFP?
In NFP both husband and wife are taught to understand and live God's design for married love—this will give them countless blessings! NFP methods promote a holistic approach to family planning, which both respects procreation and has the potential to deepen the intimacy of husband and wife.
NFP methods support reproductive health. They are good for the body. The World Health Organization in 1999 classified oral contraceptives as a Class 1 carcinogen, “known carcinogen to humans.” The natural methods have none of the harmful side effects caused by chemical contraceptives (e.g., pill, injection, etc.). For the woman, NFP charting can even assist in the diagnosis of underlying medical problems. And, if a couple find they are having trouble conceiving, NFP information can help them pinpoint the most fertile time of the wife's cycle.
NFP methods can be marriage strengthening. NFP relies on couple communication and behavior change. NFP methods require husband and wife to cooperate with each other in the most intimate area of their lives. During times of periodic sexual abstinence, husband and wife live a renewed courtship as they discover non-sexual ways to express their love for each other. On a practical level, husbands are encouraged to "tune into" their wives' cycles, and both spouses are encouraged to speak openly and frankly about their sexual desires, hopes for number of children, and prayerful discernment of God's will for their marriage.
When living the NFP lifestyle, husband and wife learn that they have a shared responsibility for safeguarding God's gifts of human sexuality, marriage and family. They also grow in their understanding of God's will for their family size. NFP has the potential to make good marriages great!
NFP is good for marriage and honors God’s design for married love!
- Supports reproductive health
- Has no harmful side effects
- Is environmentally friendly
- Is inexpensive
- Cooperates with a couple's combined fertility
- Is useful to either achieve or avoid pregnancy
- Can be used throughout the reproductive life cycle
- Requires shared responsibility and cooperation by husband and wife
- Fosters mutual communication between husband and wife
- Encourages respect for and acceptance of the total person
- Promotes marital chastity
- Values the child
Methods of NFP
Each NFP method is focused on one or more signs of female fertility. They can be grouped into three categories
- Cervical Mucus Methods (CMM) The methods that observe cervical mucus are commonly called the "Ovulation Method" or "OM." In NFP education, a woman learns how to identify the normal, healthy, cervical mucus, which indicates the days that sexual intercourse is most likely to result in pregnancy. A number of NFP providers teach a variety of approaches to the observation and charting of cervical mucus (e.g., Billings Ovulation Method Association—USA, Creighton Model FertilityCare™ Centers, Family of the Americas, etc.).
- Sympto-Thermal Methods (STM) The methods that observe several signs of fertility and cross-check two or more of the signs to pinpoint ovulation are commonly called the "Sympto-Thermal Method" or "STM." STM typically combines charting of the Basal Body Temperature (BBT) and cervical mucus with other optional indicators, such as changes in the cervix and secondary fertility signs. A number of NFP providers teach a variety of approaches to the observation and charting of these signs (e.g., Couple to Couple League, Northwest Family Services, various diocesan programs, etc.).
- Sympto-Hormonal Method (SHM) The method that observes several signs of fertility and adds the use of an ovulation predictor kit (OPK) or fertility monitor is called the "Sympto-Hormonal Method" or "SHM." Similar to the STM, this approach adds the self-detection of reproductive hormones in the urine with the assistance of an OPK or fertility monitor. Various diocesan NFP programs make use of the SHM as well as Marquette University's Institute for NFP (Marquette Model).
Here are more resources you can use to learn more about natural family planning.
Pope Paul VI Encyclical letter on the regulation of birth
The American Press and Birth Control: Preparing the Ground for Dissent
James Hitchcock Professor James Hitchcock outlines the historical backdrop of the American media's frenzy over birth control in the 1960s and its implications on Catholic laity.
Contraception, Infallibility, and the Ordinary Magisterium
Russell Shaw Shaw uses this article to review an article previously published by Dr. Germain Grisez and Rev. John C. Ford, S.J. Shaw seeks to propose a summary on the topic of Humanae vitae and whether Pope Paul VI spoke infallibly when teaching that contraception is immoral.
Pope John Paul II and Humanae Vitae
Janet E. Smith Pope John Paul II reflects on Humane vitae and speaks to the Church about such things as the "gift of sexuality," and the body as an "expression of the person." In his reflection we find connections between love and sex. Professor Smith argues that Natural Family Planning is a program that draws upon these similar connections.