This is the sixth in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  To read previous posts in this series, 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.

Julie’s Story

This issue has been one that I too have struggled with for years, as I desire to follow church teaching and yet have a chronic disease, Type 1 diabetes, that makes pregnancy a much more serious condition than it would otherwise be. After being blessed with the birth of my daughter (she is 4), I know I have not had the time and energy to pour into my health to make another pregnancy a healthy possibility. Therefore, I am one of those that ‘quietly don’t follow the magisterium” as Jonathan Post said.

As much as I try to have faith in our church leaders, the longer that I am married and experience what that relationship is all about, the more convicted I am that an unmarried man with no experience of a marriage relationship has any possible ability to truly understand the challenges faced in the marriage relationship and in raising children.

Because of this, I have sincerely changed my own tendency to judge priests, because I feel that I can only expect out of them what I wish they would expect out of me – a willingness to try and understand the other, without judgment, when both have the goal of growing closer to Christ and bringing others along with them.

But I grow weary from those who judge my choices without really understanding why I have had to make them.  We cannot walk in someone else shoes.  Those who are employing artificial means or birth control may be doing so for selfish reasons, but they also might not be. 

I wish everyday that my life was different, that possible pregnancy did not require meetings with multiple doctors, hyper awareness of my blood glucose levels and a very regulated schedule.  I burn with envy of those for whom pregnancy can be approached with some level of casual spontaneity.  And all of these feelings have caused me to sincerely question God with why I, someone who fully desires to embrace church teaching, must disobey it.  Though I cannot figure out an answer, I know that this struggle has enabled me to be a better minister to those who go through other struggles with the church.

Much of what the church teaches about sex is idyllic, which is lovely. But anyone who regularly practices any sort of sexual relationship knows that it is never so neat as the church makes it out to be. I often feel that church leaders, perhaps because of their own lack of experience in sexual matters, imagine the act of sex much differently than it actually occurs.

And in addition, much of church teaching gives me the impression that church leaders think that those of us who are involved in married sexual relationships are constantly refraining ourselves from our lust-filled sexual appetites. Any couple who has small children, jobs, homes, and normal American lives know that sex is often something that has to be forced because everyone is so tired from the strain of everyday life.

Fitting it in is a challenge that must be done for the sake of a relationship but often can’t be conveniently arranged around a woman’s menstrual cycle, especially when an additional burden of a disease, or financial challenges, or simply available time and energy, is added into the equation.  It is anything but simple.

Update: One Year Later

In the time since I wrote the above, life has shifted a bit and we have decided it is possible to try and have another child.  But unlike the first time around when I got pregnant with our daughter fairly easily, this time has proven more difficult.  A friend who went through infertility problems handed me a book about infertility, ‘natural birth control’, and increasing chances for conception that was written from a completely secular perspective.

I have been using this book to help us in trying to conceive another child but I have also been considering its possibility for use as birth control if we are blessed with another child, though I am sure my doctors would advise me against pursuing another pregnancy because of my health situation.

The fact that this book was written from a secular perspective surprisingly made me much more likely to follow its recommendations.  This gave me great pause.  This experience has unseated within me feelings about the role the church should play in my sexuality that previously were unknown to me.

I have also begun to wonder if I am alone in this.  I wonder how many ‘good girls’ (women like me who waited for sex until marriage but then employed artificial means of birth control) feel weary, after following all the rules, that the church also wants to be in our bedrooms and doesn’t trust women to make our own decisions in matters like this.

This ‘rethink’ has caused me to wonder if I might have approached NFP differently had it been presented to me by a woman with whom I identified – a working woman with a few children, who desired to live a healthy life, aware of her own fertility and how it could work, instead of by the priest in our parish who required an NFP class to get married.  The church does itself another disservice in those it often chooses to teach NFP classes – many times, ‘old-fashioned, traditional’ families where there isn’t really a practice of NFP so much as a complete openness to whatever children God provides (which is a perspective I wish were possible for me).

I’m a high school teacher, and one of my colleagues always says that we need to meet the kids where they are.  The same needs to be said of the church’s presentation of NFP. Young couples need to see others like themselves – perhaps people who wait a few years to have children, perhaps families that only have 2 or 3 children – and show them that this can possibly be achievable with NFP.

The church also needs to realize that what works for one won’t necessarily work for the other, not because people don’t desire it to work but because they have extenuating circumstances that make it more difficult than a ‘normal’ couple.  The church isn’t meeting people where they are at, isn’t listening to the circumstances that people are in, and isn’t proposing a solution that works.

Perhaps there is an openness to life that still exists even if people employ artificial means of birth control but it is a wider understanding of what that ‘openness’ means – an openness to providing the best parenting a couple can manage, an openness to serving the less fortunate in wholehearted ways, an openness to growing in love of Christ and others in the world. 

41 thoughts

  1. One of the tenets of my faith is my belief that the main lesson Jesus taught us was how to treat others. In all the stories of Jesus’ ministry he noticed what was happening around Him and ministered to the people who needed Him.
    If we are to notice women and treat them the way Jesus would if He were here, then we have to see them as unique. Anything else makes us (women) and our fertility invisible. Rules and regulations that seem to imply that one size fits all makes each of us invisible as women with dignity and who deserve respect for our God given gifts, talents and physiology.

  2. Just curious, as an outsider – does the Catholic church not provide for any excuses for birth control for medical reasons? I’m curious because I’m a single woman who is saving sex for marriage, but I’m on what is technically a birth control medication for medical reasons. If I was a Catholic would this be against teaching? Would it be acceptable as long as I was unmarried and celibate, but not once I got married? The Catholic position just seems to not take into consideration that not everyone who might WANT to live up to it, can not practically actually do it, because medical issues are medical issues and not choices. They wouldn’t tell someone not to take some other medication for medical reasons, so why should birth control medication be different if the goal is health, not birth control. (which is what I see this author’s usage as being as well)

    1. currently, the catholic magisterium believes that it is acceptable for women to take artificial control if they are taking it to treat certain medical conditions, such as severe PMS or endometriosis. According to the magisterium, it is never ok for a woman to take artificial birth control as a means of avoiding pregnancy, regardless of the reason she seeks to avoid pregnancy. So, a woman could take the pill to treat endometriosis but she could not take it to avoid getting pregnant even when she has conditions like type 1 diabetes.

      1. ah…ok, I was just curious… I had a close friend in grad school whom was Catholic whom I had this conversation with and she wasn’t familiar enough with the issue to answer my question, so I thought it was a good chance to finally find out the answer – thanks!

      2. I knew this distinction before this point, but I have just come to the realization that the distinction itself seems to make a female the sum of her body parts, as opposed to a whole person. Chronic illnesses, such as lupus or diabetes, do in fact influence fertility in that they make carrying a baby dangerous for both mother and child. But birth control is not permitted because the reproductive organs themselves are not “ill.” This isolates the reproductive organs and a woman’s reproductive capacity as something separate from the whole female person.

      3. K, I’ve been struggling with this as well. This is something Megan referred to in another post about abortion, but when a blanket teaching — such as contraception being an intrinsically evil — fails to address the extreme cases, let alone the more nuanced ones, it is in danger of failing to affirm the dignity of women as humans. At least with abortion there is an actual (start to) life in the balance. With birth control, in cases like Julie’s, it is only the mere potential.

        Not to get too far off topic, but I started having doubts about the Church’s teaching on sexual morality as it relates to women when I read about St. Maria Goretti at age 7 or 8. My mom worked with sex offenders, so I knew exactly what the Children’s Book of Saints was alluding to (and to think, she’s the patron saint of rape victims – what a message: “better dead than raped”/”better a murder than a rapist”). But it really came home when I learned that it was immoral of a woman to ask (or fail to protest) a rapist use a condom even to avoid disease transmission.

        I cannot mesh all of these various threads – your observation included – together with the moral acceptance of killing in self defense. The only conclusion that I come is that the woman’s “purity” and role as walking incubator are of more value than her life, bodily integrity, or anything else she might be called to do — like care for the child(ren) she already has.

        The Church doesn’t officially teach this, given the fairyland many theologians seem to inhabit when it comes to sex, but the extension of the above places the onus of sexual morality* squarely on women.

        *This is particularly problematic in the case of rape because rape is not about sexual gratification but the use of the victim’s own sexuality as means to humiliate and control her.

      4. MK,

        It’s weird you mentioned Maria Goretti because I was trying to explain this to a (male) theologian friend the other day. The self-defense argument even came up as it relates to abortion. We used the case of Gianna Molla (another saint that disturbs me) as the jumping point.

        I also made the argument that double effect, as it relates to abortion, is akin to asking a woman for a bodily payment for terminating a pregnancy. It’s alright to remove a fallopian tube or uterus that just happens to contain a baby, but it’s not okay to take a pill to terminate the pregnancy in a less invasive way. Removing a pregnant organ from a woman is not considered an abortion, because a bodily payment has been given?

        It’s very refreshing to find other women thinking about these issues.

      5. I, too, am relieved to hear I am not the only women who finds the Maria Goretti story disturbing. I remember reading it as a teenager, and while I did not judge Maria for her choice because I don’t believe any of us really knows what we will do in that kind of situation until faced with it, at the same time I found it incredibly disturbing that she was canonized in large part due to this very decision. As if his raping her could actually do anything that would make her less valuable in God’s—or anybody else’s–eyes. And the idea that he would be better off spiritually as a murderer than a rapist didn’t exactly make a lot of sense, either. Besides, if he fully intended to rape her and was simply stopped by the fact she jumped to her eventual death, does that make him morally or spiritually better in any way, shape, or form? I understand a legal differentiation, as he never did actually rape her. But since he clearly would have if he could have, how does it make him less culplable for it because she jumped? So I cannot in any way understand why the Church would canonize this girl precisely because she made a decision seemingly underpinned by some really disturbing notions about the value of women and the nature of rape.

      6. I’ve always been creeped out by Maria Goretti, as well. And what kind of a message does it send to the people I know, who were sexually assaulted and did what they needed to do in order to survive? I think if the Church wants credibility in matters of human sexuality, they have to carefully examine messages such as that one. (Because rape isn’t at all about sex, it’s about power and control, which is a point that seems to be lost in Goretti’s story.)

      7. Maria Goretti is a saint because she forgave her killer on her death bed and brought about his conversion in prison, not because she resisted a rape.

        The misuse of Maria Goretti is creepy, not her sainthood.

    2. Also Wondering, not that it matters for the purposes of the conversation, but Goretti was stabbed to death by her assailant, it was Alexandrina Maria da Costa that jumped out of a window and died of her injuries but many years later. I also do not dispute their saintliness and do not question their choices in the moment — I have a problem with their way those stories are presented.

      For example, my memory is that Goretti’s story is told that she essentially “chose to be stabbed rather than allow Serenelli to violate her.” It assigns her culpability for his choice! Even if she did say she would rather die than be raped, I have no confidence that that was not either an (ill-advised) bluff or driven by the fact that she knew she would be shun as impure. It says little about her virtue and a lot about the social mores of the time. It also is reflects a very androcentric definition of rape: though, according to the account, he didn’t accomplish vaginal penetration, the story is indicative of significant sexual violence.

      I think your questions are dead-on, somehow in the cases of Goretti and da Costa, the focus of moral questioning landed on the victims’ response to acute danger rather then the perpetrators’ intentions and actions. One hope and a skip to blaming the victim.

      I really *want* someone to explain the teachings on sexual morality to me in a way that does affirm the dignity of women as humans – equal in dignity to men as humans not as some “other” class of beings, privileged by our ability to bear children. Right now, I just feel ignored or, worse, manipulated.

      1. Oops, I guess it has been a while since I cracked open my “Lives of the Saints”! Thank you for the correction.

      2. Actually, I think that the story of Maria Goretti is more nuanced and interesting than it is typically portrayed. I struggled with it for a long time for precisely the same reasons you all articulate here, the better dead than raped argument just rings false to me and doesn’t seem worthy of sainthood. But the more I’ve read and pondered her life as a whole, I’ve come to believe that that is a poor narrative that does her story a grave disservice.

        Maria Goretti was canonized because she prayed for her persecutor as Christ told us we all should and because she begged him not to commit a sin at all– the lesson that I take from her is that she was concerned primarily for the sake of his immortal soul not for her own mortal life. She understood that for the believer death of the body is to be feared less than death of the soul through mortal sin. I don’t think she intended her death when she refused to give in to his demands so much as she intended to show him with her actions that rape was a sin that harmed him as well as herself.

        I think she is a saint because she forgave him as she died and because she prayed that she would see him in heaven. And because after her death he had a dream in which she appeared to him after which he did indeed repent and convert, he began praying to her every day and attended her canonization and ended his life as a lay brother in a Franciscan monastery.

        I think the climate of the time when she was canonized emphasized her as a role model for the virtue of chastity but I also think that is rather misguided. Instead, I think she should be seen as a role model of Christ-like love and forgiveness.

      3. Hi Melanie,
        Your comments as well as all the comments about Maria Goretti intelligently highlight the tension between critiquing the tradition (pointing out ways that it has gone against the spirit of the gospel) and reinterpreting the tradition.

        This tension–in this case, lamenting and protesting the way Maria Goretti has been used and maybe some of the reasons she was originally canonized and re-interpreting her in more liberating and life-giving ways, is something I think about all the time.

        Particularly, I wonder when an aspect of the tradition has been so misused or is simply so bad in itself that it cannot be redeemed or reinterpreted. And I think the discussion you all are having really demonstrates all of this.

      4. Melanie & Katie –

        I couldn’t agree more that Maria’s story has been told inaccurately and misused. But, Melanie, I think you are understating the case.

        I think it constitutes an abuse of power that her story has been persistently misinterpreted to reinforce antiquated sexual mores that reduce women to little more than the state of their hymen rather than accurately as reflecting the explicit and timeless message of the Gospel. As I remember it, Jesus focused very little on sexual morals but was big on forgiveness. But that reflects on those telling the story not Maria.

        We can reclaim and reinterpret the story but that doesn’t mean it and others haven’t it misused for 100+ years in a way that hurt people. In fact, I think we have a responsibility to do that — and to be clear what we’re reclaiming it from.

      5. I really appreciate this conversation.

        One of the reasons I have been less and less inclined to believe all the talk about “objectification” of women that the Church implies occurs in 100% of cases in which couples use contraception is precisely because I have become more and more aware of just how objectified we have been by the the hierarchy of the Church herself for so long. It doesn’t get much worse than reducing the value of a woman to a hymen, quite honestly. When the Church starts to get it right about objectification of women (and safety of children, but that is a whole other can of worms), perhaps I will perk up and listen to what they have to say about the subject.

        I used to buy the party line hook, line, and sinker—and preach it! Older and more experienced, I have discovered how scarcely my own sexual experience as a woman matches what the Church teaches it will be if you follow all the rules. I’m less inclined to preach and more inclined to be a whole lot more understanding of my fellow “sinners” along the journey.

      6. Melanie –

        I’ve seen this explanation of Maria’s virtue before but I don’t understand it.

        She understood that for the believer death of the body is to be feared less than death of the soul through mortal sin. I don’t think she intended her death when she refused to give in to his demands so much as she intended to show him with her actions that rape was a sin that harmed him as well as herself.

        In the telling of the story Serenelli was going to willfully commit a mortal sin, rape or murder, and supposedly Maria essentially told him it would be better that he commit the former rather than the latter. So I do not see how Maria’s physical death would have ever served to protect Serenelli’s soul as it would have to come about at his hands. In fact, I think one could argue this is a case where her desire to protect her virginity led* another into even greater sin.

        This would be a much more compelling argument in da Costa’s case because she acted to place herself in danger of death by jumping rather than give her attacker the opportunity to commit that mortal sin.

        So, I still arrive back at the original place, that rape of a woman is a graver sin than her murder ergo a woman’s sexual purity is of greater value than her life.

        Am I missing something?

        * I would never assign culpability to a rape victim for the actions of her rapist but couldn’t come up with better language. It is analogous to saying locking one’s door led the burglar to break the window in addition to robbing a person – just because providing less resistance would have made the crime less severe doesn’t mean the victim is responsible for the increased severity. One has a moral obligation to try to protect one’s self according to the double effect principle. However, that just goes to further make the point that under that rubric, Maria would have been morally justified in submitting to the rape to protect her life unless, again, her purity was of greater value.

  3. Julie, I think your journey through this process is a perfect example of why the laity have much greater credibility in questioning the Church’s teaching than the leadership seems willing to grant — both because you have an unambiguous reason to avoid pregnancy yet you are still open to both pregnancy and trying in their way. I hope that NFP works for you both in achieving and avoiding conception.

    I also decided NFP was more approachable after reading a secular version written by a non-Catholic woman (and our introduction to NFP was via a couple – way too much pressure to “do it Right”). Despite our failure, I do think that the process of NFP can improve women’s relationships with their bodies and potentially their health. I also agree entirely that the Church, in general if not in specific instances, is failing to meet people where they are on the issue as is borne out by the Guttmacher’s 98% figure.

    The thing about it was about the secular version I had is that it did not instruct abstinence during fertile periods – assuming it was being used to avoid pregnancy – so, I guess it wasn’t technically NFP. Instead, it instructed using barrier methods and/or sex without vaginal penetration* (both of which are at least unofficially worse than hormonal birth control if I remember correctly, though I cannot wrap my head around why). I think this is a very important distinction because it allows for sexual activity throughout a cycle even when signs are unclear or charting has been less than perfect because of illness, disrupted schedules, stress, etc. I thought it would be a simple matter of just omitting that part but that is precisely where it broke down for us when tracking fertility signs was not as easy for us as everyone – religious and secular alike – had led us to believe.

    *The most persuasive study on the effectiveness of NFP (actually sympto-thermal, STM) I’ve seen was conducted by researchers at the University of Heidelberg. STM had a >99% effectiveness rate with perfect implementation, but of those who perfectly implemented it, ~5/8 used a barrier method during fertile periods. Though those couples had a slightly higher rate of failure (0.6% vs. 0.4%), I would bet many of those couples wouldn’t have been among the perfect implementers if they had been prohibited from using barrier methods. In other words, barrier methods made it easier to implement perfectly.

    1. Yes! We found NFP to be a strain in our marriage when presented from the “Catholic” perspective and gave it up. After the contraception caused health problems we found the very same secular book. We LOVED it. I like to say that it took a Jewish feminist to teach us the beauty of the Church’s teaching on contraception.

      We see the wisdom in the Church’s teachings, but at the same time we see the fatal flaw. The Church’s teachings are geared toward male sexuality and assume that female sexuality is the same. It is not. We use NFP, but allow ourselves more freedom than a strictly following the Church’s rules. This has allowed us to see it as a blessing and not a curse.

      I do not see the Church EVER approving of contraception. But I do see them lightening up on other forms of intimacy. The new Youth Catechism says the church “does not demonize” masturbation and talks about selfishness, not wasting seed. Other forms of physical intimacy between married couples that are not open to life are even less problematic, so we figure that they are not demonized either. This small change makes all the difference in the world.

      1. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, FAM. In the stories I have heard, being able to share other types of sexual intimacy (which, as you pointed out, the church currently disallows) makes NFP much easier. I am not as confident as you that the church will loosen its stance on other forms of sexual expression in marriage because this opens a whole can of worms…namely, it undermines the claim that sex must always be procreative, which is a major reason why the church claims contraception and homosexuality are wrong. But we shall see, maybe you are right about the prospects for change!

  4. Thank you everyone for your comments. This thread of NFP posts has really been enlightening for how many women NFP is not a viable option, but how little the church pays any attention to that (and how much guilt & sin is attached to that). In addition, it is clear that as much as the church likes to box teachings about sex and sexuality into a nice clean package, the reality of the sexual experience is that it is multi-faceted, incredibly personal, and cannot be as condensed as the church desires it to be.

  5. The Church allows contraception int he case of rape. Both after the fact as used in Catholic hospitals to treat rape victims and before the fact as in the case of the nuns in the Congo who were officially authorized to take the pill by the Vatican because of the danger of rape.

    As the Church allows hormonal pills to treat other medical conditions (eg heavy periods), I don’t see why it wouldn’t be licit under Catholic teaching to use contraceptives as a medical corrective in cases of difficulty of reliably discerning infertile times. The intent being merely to correct a medical issue.

    God Bless

  6. I must add that I am very concerned that several of the women were very worried they would go to hell for using contraception. I think that is an important sign that something is very wrong here.

    God Bless

  7. Chris Sullivan: I, too, am deeply saddened by the concern over hell. Since I have Patty Crowley on the brain lately, I am reminded of a famous exchange between Crowley and the Spanish moral theologian Fr. Marcellino Zalba, SJ, at a birth control commission meeting.

    Zalba: What then with the millions we have sent to hell, if these norms [against the use of contraception] were not valid?

    Crowley: Father Zalba, do you really believe God has carried out all your orders?

  8. Maria Goretti refused many times the harrassment of her attacker, who had been influenced by pornography. On the day of her attack, he caught her alone. She refused his advances and he stabbed her in a fit of passion, many times. She had no chance to survive. He was 20, she was 11. She forgave him. I think she is a great saint. The Church has never said not to fight off an attacker.
    That is false information.

    1. Of course the Church wouldn’t say not to fight of the attacker – I didn’t suggest that Maria Goretti chose not to do that. In fact, by canonizing her as a martyr, the Church appears to condone fighting an attacker – to the point of death.

      What actually happened is of less importance for the purposes of this discussion than how the Church has portrayed it. Pope John Paul II said on what would have been her 100th birthday:

      “She did not flee from the voice of the Holy Spirit, from the voice of her conscience. She rather chose death. Through the gift of Fortitude the Holy Spirit helped her to “judge” — and to choose with her young spirit. She chose death when there was no other way to defend her virginal purity.

      In fact, SPQN had a list of 10 patron saints of rape victims: Agatha, Agnes of Rome, Antonia Messina, Dymphna, Joan of Arc, Maria Goretti, Pierina Morosini, Potamiaena, Solange, and Zita. Seven of them are said to have been virgin martyrs at the hands of “would-be rapists.” For Agatha it is unclear if she was raped as part of the torture during which she was martyred. And nothing was mentioned in Joan of Arc or Zita’s bios about rape.

      The point is no one is acknowledge as or for surviving rape. The obvious, if unintentional, message is female purity – as defined by not being subject to vaginal penetration – is of greater value than female life.

      1. I think forgiving her attacker, was indeed an act of heroic virtue, and THAT is what needs to be emphasized, not her “virginal purity.”

        Even in less extreme cases of female saints, there is an over-emphasis on their virginity and less emphasis on their heroic acts of charity. St. Cecelia immediately comes to mind. She was a martyr for the faith, but in liturgical prayers, she’s always mentioned as “virgin and martyr.” Virgin is always mentioned first or eliminated all together, with the emphasis being placed on her virginity.

        You simply don’t see the equivalent for male saints. Their celibacy or virginity is rarely mentioned and it is certainly not emphasized over their acts of virtue.

        The last time I checked, virginity is not listed among the virtues. Nevertheless, the Church displays an odd fascination with female virginity,.

      2. I have no judgment on Maria’s choice because God only knows what any of us would do in that situation. She likely didn’t even really have a conscious choice in such a terrifying situation, at the tender age of 11. In such situations, it’s often all you can do to react, much less make some sort of truly conscious choice.

        My problem, as MK so clearly pointed out, is that the Church has indicated that the very thing that made her a heroic Catholic woman was the choosing of death rather than losing her virginity. As a mother of 14, 13, and 10 year old girls, I would be devastated to think they would consciously choose death over being raped. Not that it is a choice any of us would want any loved one to ever be in the position of having to make! But if they chose death rather than rape, while totally understandable, would be a source of sadness and sorrow to me. I do not want my daughters to ever believe that being raped would destroy their “virginal purity”. What a horrible message to give young girls.

        Purity is much more than a hymen. It is something NOBODY can take from you, no matter what they do to you. To me, choosing life in such a situation is the far braver choice. To choose to live through something like a rape—and hopefully come out the other end strong enough to help others who have also been victimized—is the far more saintly and heroic choice. Those are the women that fill me with admiration and awe, who make me wonder if I could be that brave.

        Now for Maria to forgive her attacker definitely shows heroic virtue. I can’t emphasize enough that my problem with the Goretti story is NOT how she reacted to being attacked (which she probably had no conscious choice in, anyway, realistically) but that the Church chose to portray her canonization as being due to her making a conscious choice to die rather than to be raped. To choose death in such a situation precisely because you think your virginal purity could actually be taken by a rapist–and because your conscience tells you it is more wrong to be raped than to choose to die–is a sad indictment of social mores and beliefs about rape at the time. That JPII praised the same mentality on her 100th birthday, long after one would hope that society has a much better understanding of the nature of rape (which is domination and control much more than about sex) and the innocence of women who have been victimized in such a way, is really disturbing.

      3. I agree with K’s post below (which I can’t seem to reply to) – I have always been bothered by the Church’s preoccupation of the virginity of female saints. I agree that it does send a scarring message – better to die a virgin than to lose one’s virginity.

        I am finding this particular topic fascinating, as a young, single Catholic woman who has often wondered if NFP is all it’s purported to be. I picked up a copy of the McClory book about the Papa Birth Control Commission and was completely floored. I’d never heard that the topic of birth control was ever on the table. Certainly it is something that my devout Catholic friends failed to mention when they got all swept up in trying to sell Theology of the Body!

  9. Thanks for this article. I have a question, as a non-Catholic (male): if one of the reasons for proscribing birth control is that it does not leave a person open to new life that comes with sexual activity, then how is natural family planning really any different? If the point is to be open to new life in every sex act, then it seems to me that natural family planning does not really get around the openness issue. It just goes about circumventing it differently.

    I also have questions about whether a Catholic ethic around birth control is very realistic in our modern world of 7 billion people and counting. We’ve been pretty open as a species to new life for ourselves, and seem to be crowding out all other life forms. More birth control, not less seems in order. But that is a different matter.

    1. Hi Andy,
      Proponents of NFP would say that the difference is that when you are using NFP you are not going against the nature of procreation whereas when you are preventing sperm from entering a woman’s body (a condom, for example) or preventing ovulation (the pill) you are subverting God’s will for sex. So basically, God says it’s ok to choose how many children you want to have as long as you don’t have sex in an unnatural way (read: with a condom or while on the pill) but it is not ok to have sex in an unnatural way no matter what the circumstances or your reasons.

      But you are very right that many people find this distinction unconvincing. In fact, it took a while for the catholic magisterium to agree that there even was a distinction as it was previously taught that it was not ok to ever intend not to get pregnant. I’m not 100% sure on this but I’m pretty sure that one hundred years or so, NFP would have been considered immoral.

    2. and as to the population control aspect of it: I personally would want to say that, if you live in countries like the U.S. that use a lot of the world’s stuff and are responsible for most of its population and especially if you are among the wealthier segment of such a country’s population, I would say that the more children you have, the more simply you have to live.

      So while I wouldn’t ever want to say it is wrong to have several children, I would want to say that the more children you have in a place like the U.S. the more simply you have to live. This could mean anything from living off the grid to eating vegetarian.

    3. Oh my God you make a point I always think of. NFP is another way of not being open to life!! You simply don’t take the time and effort and anguish of tracking fertility signs, every single day, turning your husband away days at a time hoping to fail!! Some are super open to God’s will and I admire them for their I guess super faith in God. But how many Catholics actually practice NFP, abstain, track, measure when they could just go for the “whatever method” because God will provide???

  10. I can identify. I have four kids and I experienced gestational diabetes with all of them and was on insulin for the last three. I’m now an insulin dependant type 2 diabetic. I would love to have more kids but my health isn’t up to it. However my husband and I use NFP with great results. We’ve found it to be reliable and good for our relationship as well.

    We use the Billings Ovulation Method and we have really stuck to the rules because getting pregnant would be such a massive thing for us. My youngest is now 7 so it’s worked for us for years.

  11. Julie, I read this monthly and think to myself why can’t we scream this from the rooftops
    I loathe that your pain insight and wisdom must be spoken from under a rock where all the the other miles live

  12. I want thank those who set up this forum. Whether anyone reads my remarks, it’s cathartic to write them.
    I think that I am somehow outside of the “sisterhood” as I do not tout the party line on feminism. I am an almost 36 year Catholic woman SAHM of 5, (college educated but not financially well-off) who has struggled to uphold the Church teachings on sexuality. I truly believe they are for our good even if no one recognizes that. I don’t feel oppressed, or like a “walking incubator.”
    I have experienced duress from a “surprise pregnancy (the 4th), and after 5 kids, I was at my limit such that I was forced to recognize that the way we were ostensibly practicing NFP didn’t really constitute NFP- because we weren’t really following the rules consistently. A big part of the duress I felt (which was so great that I considered adoption) was in blaming myself. It was OUR fault that I was pregnant, since the method is so user dependent.
    In the past I always felt helpless, like pregnancy was inevitable and I had no control, but I have to say, after I finally figured it all out, pregnancy has ceased to be a concern. I feel confident that we can avoid pregnancy if we choose to, and don’t have to abstain for ridiculous amounts of time to do so. I have finally reached a place where I’m at peace-physically and spiritually (after alot of effort on our part, and my husband’s understanding, cooperation, and affirmation, which are key) and it pains me that others can’t seem to find that same peace.

  13. What an excellent blog posted for discussion. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your articles and all the comments. Luckily, I have one of those stable, reliable systems that has not let me down during my years of marriage. I can say that I have been guided by my conscience rather than Catholic teaching regarding the use of birth control to prevent conception. I was once offered a sample of pills provided by my OB after my first child, and after staring at those pills for days deciding on whether to injest them, I made a decision to refrain as the thought of the chemicals interfering with my bodies natural hormone balancing act caused a sense of fear and apprehension. I thought of the potential dangers of consuming the artificial tablet for the concern and health of any future babies, and lastly, I had heard stories of many of my classmates difficulty in conceiving after having been on the pill since high school and of health issues incurred by babies on certain pills. After my second child, thirteen months after the birth if my first, I learned my lesson and planned this time, once again without artificial contraception for my third, 5 years later. My husband and I have had and continue to have a healthy sex life because we dont view each other as sexual beings rather, our unions are brought on by mutual consent and planned moments. It may not be as spontaneous as some would like, but we are so busy with the realities of life that we consider ouselves not slaves to desire and lust. You see, I waited many years to marry and pro-create. I was 31 when I married for the first time, trying to ensure that the man I chose to marry would walk with me through our journey instead of the selfish men I had encountered along the way who had married, had children and left (Catholic and non-catholic alike). Marriage in itself is a difficult journey, and I do believe that the key to success is in the partnership and respect of each others needs and wants, not whether someone is ready at anytime to have intercourse. After 3 children, 11 years and careful planning, we have had ups and downs, struggles and achievements. I would not consider our marriage perfect in the eyes of the catholic church, but we are doing the best we can using the guidance given to us by the church teaching on family, faith and morality. Each of us has to do what is right according to our our freewill or else we pay the consequences. We will soon see whether we were right or wrong when we face Peter at the gates of heaven. If we are truly honest, I think it would be impossible to follow all the teachings of the church to a tee, especially in case of the woman being married to the husband who forced her to have sex during her fertile times. (I believe I would have to deny him intercourse and let the cards fall where they may. That would be the mans dime to pay at the gates, not hers). My career choice at one point was to become a nun. I wanted that perfect union with God. To have no barriers between us, but alas, I chose marriage and family and I do believe that God will have mercy on all those that do their best according to their conscience. Life should be managed with a common sense and morally intrinsic right/wrong way of thinking. This can be achieved by continually examining your conscience, the right and honest way and through deep prayer, he will speak to you and guide you. We essentially are on our own to make choices concerning our health. That is the freedom promised to us in the Bible. We will be judged according to our own deeds in due time. I would love to be the authority here on right versus wrong, but I would be taking a one sided stance on the freedom to choose for oneself based on each individuals moral conscience. It is in my best interest to view the Catholic church as a guide rather than employ the strict theologies handed down or adopted from age old teachings. I wish everyone who reads my comments the best. Know that you are all loved by God in your search for the truth, the way and the light. Peace to all.

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