” When all the smoke has cleared, contraception was invented because of our lack of self-control” Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners1
Long before I knew about Theology of the Body or Natural Family Planning (NFP), I was enrolled in my Christian ethics class tasked with writing a final paper. As a new Catholic, I wanted to challenge myself to defend the Church’s teachings on contraception. Admittedly, I had had a hard time accepting this teaching. For the paper, we had to use two different methods of arguing our point. I chose to argue the scripturally and philosophically contraception is morally wrong. For the philosophical piece, I chose to cite Thomas Aquinas’ defense of self-control as a virtue.
Fast forward, I’m reading Theology of the Body. I read the above quote from Christopher West. Laughing on the inside, I think to myself, I could have written that sentence.
Yet Catholics make everything so dang complicated. Note, I don’t mean the Church, I mean individual Catholics. Let me explain.
NFP week occurs on July 21-27 and boy, there was conflicting information. Twitter was an especially confusing place. People accusing others of having a “Contraceptive mentality” simply because they wanted to space out their children.
As someone, who wants only two biological children (I am open to adopting much more), the moral imperative to have as many kids as possible scares me.
Luckily the keyboard warriors of twitter don’t define Catholic theology.
What is NFP?
NFP or Natural Family Planning involves using a women’s natural cycle to determine if a woman is fertile? It can be used to avoid pregnancy or to have a baby. There are many different types of NFP.
This model requires a woman to measure her cervical mucus before and after she goes to the bathroom. Depending on the color and texture, a woman is either fertile or infertile. There are classes a woman can take to help her know what to look for when measuring mucus.
In this model, a woman measures whether or not she has cervical mucus. She also measures her temperature every morning at the same time. Based on these measurements, she determines her pre-peak, peak, and post-peak. It used to be inconvenient to have to measure your temperature at the same time every day. Now though, there have been breakthroughs in wearable technology. A quick internet search showed me a band worn under the armpit and an in-ear thermometer.
This method is the newish one on the scene. It involves testing women’s hormone levels using a fertility monitor. While this method is reliable and easy to understand, it is too expensive for most women. It requires a woman to purchase both a fertility monitor and strips. Yet it is the easiest method to follow if you have the excess money to spend.
By now, dear readers, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “why to go through all that work if artificial birth control is 99% effective.” Well, the reason I chose to highlight the above NFP methods is that they are 98%-99% effective with perfect use. The keyword, of course, is the perfect use. So let’s talk imperfect use.
In imperfect use, artificial birth control pills are 92% effective. The Creighton model ranges from 95%-98% effective. The Marquette model ranges from 89%-86% effective. Lastly, Sympto-Thermal model is 98%-92% effective.2
I know that is a lot of numbers to throw at you. My point is that, except for the Marquette Model, all of them are on par with artificial birth control. The latter of which comes with negative side effects.
Okay so all things being equal, why is NFP morally better than artificial birth control?
Christians have a moral obligation to choose NFP.
But the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
As Christians, one of the signs that we are one with God is our growth in the fruits of the spirit. Check out that last one, yep, it is self-control. We should always strive with God’s grace to grow in self-control. By denying sex for a little while 6-10 days a month, you are practicing self-control.
Why NFP is not Contraception
Sex that creates life necessitates that a woman and a man have vaginal intercourse. Thus, the church requires all sexually acts entail vaginal intercourse. When a couple has vaginal intercourse and the woman is naturally infertile, this does not render the sexual act objectively sterile. Contraception, on the other hand, renders the sexual act objectively sterile. Christopher West puts it this way,
Contraception is the choice of engaging in an act of intercourse but doing something to render it sterile. Couples who engage in NFP, when they have a just reason to avoid pregnancy never render their sexual actions sterile.3
Thus NFP can never be done with “contraceptive mentality.” Sex with NFP is always open to life.
- West, Christopher. Theology of Body For Beginners (Ascension Press 2009), pg 113. ↩
- https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/1115/p924.html#afp20121115p924-b23 ↩
- West, Christopher. Theology of Body For Beginners (Ascension Press 2009), pg 111. ↩