Is NFP just Catholic birth control?

Jenny Uebbing

Natural Family Planning, or NFP, is not equivalent to contraception.

It is not “Catholic birth control,” contrary to popular belief. Contraception necessitates a step taken, a physical or chemical interference in the life-giving process of human sexuality.

Delaying conception through abstinence on days of known fertility, on the other hand, or to use Bl. Pope Paul VI’s phrase, “the intentional spacing of children,” does not tamper with or disable the life-giving potential of sex.

On the contrary, using knowledge of one’s cycle to avoid a pregnancy virtually bows down in the face of Divinely created human fertility and says “I defer to your awesome power” — there’s no funny business about shutting down or circumventing or cutting off or wrapping up and proceeding as if nothing has changed.

So in this way, fertility awareness, aka NFP, is birth control in the fullest sense of the phrase, is about the furthest possible thing from contraception. A better term for it might simply be self control.

Instead of enabling sterilized, life-denying sex, it summons temperance. Prudence. Delayed gratification. Radical notions, yes, but the underpinnings of healthy, Christ-centered marriages.

NFP says, in effect, “I recognize the gift of my sexuality, of my fertility, and of my spouse. Since we have discerned that now is not a prudent time to welcome a new life into our family, we offer the gift back to the Giver in gratitude and embrace the temporary sacrifice of abstinence…even when it’s a difficult offering to make.”

And it's sometimes a very difficult offering -- both the abstaining part and the “maybe we really are ready to welcome another baby after all” part.

The Church isn't anti contraception because She is anti science or anti technology, but rather, because contraception is fundamentally anti-woman and anti-life. And anything that opposes life itself definitely opposes the Source of all life.

It's not a matter of finding a “natural” way to avoid getting pregnant; it's about coming to terms emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually to the reality that sex and procreation are intentionally, inextricably linked. For a reason.

God invites us into this sacred space to participate in the act of bringing forth new life – He literally delegates us to become co-creators, laboring alongside Him to fulfill His plans for humanity.

It's a fearfully wonderful thing. So much more than a collaboration of hormones and body parts and endorphins. Of course it is that too, but not only that.

Sex is not primarily recreational, no matter how loudly the modern world insists otherwise. Sex is fundamentally transformational, bringing together husband and wife in a tangible representation of the Trinity itself.

And sex is inescapably pro-creational, as many a remorseful teenager or a frightened single mother can attest to. Oftentimes even despite our best efforts to frustrate its design.

But that's the bottom line: we can't control it because we didn't design it. And the moment we forget that and presume to exercise our own authority over this sacred space, we depart from it's real meaning.

When we have sex, we shouldn't forget for a moment that this is the place where God breaks into history and introduces new, unrepeatable and unspeakably dignified immortal souls into the human race. It is beautiful, fearful, wonderfully made.

That is what contraception – be it in the form of a condom, a pill, an implant, an IUD or permanent sterilization – refuses to acknowledge; and the false sense of domination it produces has led many a couple down a disastrous and unfulfilling path.

NFP isn't the Catholic solution to the problem of “too many children;” rather, it is the Church's response to the gaping void of too little love.
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Topics: Church teaching , Contraception , Natural Family Planning

Jenny Uebbing is the content director of our marriage and family life channel, where her blog Mama Needs Coffee will be permanently hosted. She lives in Denver, CO with her family, where she writes and speaks on Church teachings on marriage, contraception, NFP and bioethics.

View all articles by Jenny Uebbing

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