This is the seventh in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning. To read previous posts, click here. To read the post that originally inspired this project, click here. To read about the purpose of and ground rules for this project, click here.
When my husband and I graduated from college about 15 years ago, we belonged to a perhaps unusual social group (although not that unusual if you hang around Catholic colleges): we and a bunch of our friends were getting married in our early twenties and were gung-ho for NFP. We had heard lots of talks about the evils of contraception and many testamonials about the wonders NFP did for marriage. Above all we were eager to live as young Catholics who were faithful to the Church.
However, almost all of our cohort of friends, including us, abandoned the practice of NFP within a few years because of the strain to our marriages. This wasn’t the healthy strain and struggle of trying to live virtuously. It was the strain of doing something that was actively hurting our relationships.
For some it was the way it led to poor decisions about when to have children. (One marriage was struggling and close to failing and the couple chose to risk conception so that they could have greater intimacy and bonding during that difficult time in their relationship. The added strain of the child they conceived to the problems they already had was the last straw in their marriage.)
For others it had to do with the inability to work through sexual problems (e.g. painful intercourse) because NFP required long periods of abstinence when they couldn’t do the exercises their therapist was recommending.
For another couple it had to do with the wife’s irregular cycles that would frequently mean going for months without intercourse.
Even now, I know my husband and I would never go back. We have four young kids and are exhausted at the end of most days. The chances for all the stars to align for us to be sexually intimate are rare enough as it is without more days blocked out by the NFP calendar. I don’t think anyone can accuse us of not being open to life (heck, we are even thinking about going for #5), but I think NFP at this point would mean sacrificing the unitive part of our marriage. So we are contracepting for the sake of our marriage.
There are lots of people who have had good experiences with NFP. But there are also a lot of people who have whole heartedly embraced it and had very negative experiences. (And I should add: for some, this has broken their relationship with the Church because of the resentment they feel about this and/or their ongoing sense of being rejected for doing what was best for their marriage.) The Church really needs to listen to the experiences of both groups.
I have found that priests and bishops are quick to trumpet NFP success stories and quick to discount stories where NFP had a negative impact. They assume the couple just wasn’t trying hard enough. Clearly, this is not always the case.