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Ellen HollowayMarch 10, 2021
We have done a disservice to our entire Catholic community by keeping quiet about Natural Family Planning and then rushing through it in marriage prep. (iStock/jacoblund)We have done a disservice to our entire Catholic community by keeping quiet about Natural Family Planning and then rushing through it in marriage prep. (iStock/jacoblund)

Why don’t more Catholics use Natural Family Planning? Well, it’s because we don’t talk about it. In marriage preparation classes, this important teaching of the church is either brushed aside or espoused as a cure-all for marital problems. It is almost never talked about in a pastoral context before or after that.

We teach our first and second graders about the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist before they embark on their First Communion. We teach our teens about the gifts of the Holy Spirit before they are bestowed on them at confirmation. And we teach our kids about morals and the sanctity of life as they are encountering the world’s misguided standards.

So why not provide similarly robust preparation for marriage? Why not mention fertility awareness both before and after it comes up in the marriage preparation process, as well as the beauty of God’s design of the fertility cycle in women and the use of prayer and discernment with your spouse to plan your family through N.F.P.? We have done a disservice to our entire Catholic community by keeping quiet about N.F.P. and then rushing through it in marriage prep, when it is realistically too late to take root.

Why not mention fertility awareness both before and after it comes up in the marriage preparation process?

It is well known that most Catholics use some form of artificial contraception, but why do we accept that? Let’s look at a different issue: abortion. It is clear to us as Catholics where we need to stand on abortion issues. Abortion is morally wrong, and that is generally well known in the Catholic Church. Well, the use of contraception is also against church teaching. The prevalence of contraceptive use, inside and outside of marriages, is a huge problem for the church. If we ignore contraception and give N.F.P. only a cursory mention in marriage preparation, then Catholic couples will continue to use artificial methods of birth control.

How are we going to fix this problem?

We can talk about it early and often. Girls start getting their periods somewhere between the ages of 9 and 14. We can talk with these young girls about the beautiful way God designed their bodies and teach that the fertility cycle is a sign of good health, not a nuisance that we have to “deal with” as women. We can teach this as parents or in religious education classes under the umbrella of Theology of the Body, which tells people their bodies are gifts to the world and can be gifts to their spouses someday (whether their spouse is Jesus or they are called to marriage).

Instead of the general chastity talk in junior high and high school that creates negativity and shame toward sex, we can encourage teen women to learn how to chart the signs their body is giving them throughout their cycle. We can help young women to notice if there is something medically wrong that needs to be monitored or fixed. We can help them feel empowered about their cycle and understand how fertility works. Research has already shown that teens who learn how to chart their cycles have decreased promiscuity rates.

Research has already shown that teens who learn how to chart their cycles have decreased promiscuity rates.

We can also explain that N.F.P. exists and is the option for married couples who may have a need to postpone pregnancy. We can create a culture of confidence in fertility awareness and N.F.P. before our young women are coerced into taking the pill, even by their own doctors.

And in marriage preparation, we can drop the ridiculous notion that N.F.P. is easy and perfect and will fix all marriage problems. We can be honest about what to expect in terms of work and of abstinence, and we can explain the efficacy rates. We can stop thinking that just teaching N.F.P. will convince all couples to use it, and we can impart the actual church teaching on chastity in marriage and family planning.

We can give our engaged couples resources like the Catechism’s teachings on chastity, “Humanae Vitae” and the Theology of the Body, and break them down. We can teach them how to talk about difficult subjects like sex, abstinence and family size. We can teach couples how to pray and discern together, and what the promptings of the Holy Spirit might sound like in a marriage. We can stop trying to sell N.F.P. like a used car salesman would and start selling N.F.P. as the beautiful, one-of-a-kind, personalized gift it is.

And then we can do something truly radical. We can admit that N.F.P. is difficult and talk about that with our married couples.

We can create small groups and mentor couples. Our priests and deacons can talk about it from the altar. We can have parish missions dedicated to diving into the church teachings on family planning and ones dedicated to discussing the use of N.F.P. within our marriages. We can invite our parents to learn about how to introduce fertility awareness to their pre-teens or teenagers through mother-daughter programs, father-son programs or daylong parish retreats for parents.

We have all been wounded by our sex-obsessed culture, and we all need healing. Our church has an incredibly beautiful view of sexuality, chastity, marital love and the design of the human body, and it is our duty to share those teachings with our young people and fellow Catholics. Natural Family Planning fits perfectly into a marriage when true chastity and the dignity of the spouse is understood. It is not something we have to sell by promising short abstinence periods and ease of learning, but it is something we need to teach and talk about.

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