Does natural family planning work?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Dear Father, I know women who have been using natural family planning but have still conceived a child. Does the method really work?

The method really does work and, what is more, it brings many benefits to the couple. First, though, some studies on its effectiveness.

In 1993 the British Medical Journal published a study of natural family planning (NFP) involving 19,843 women in India.

The study found that when the method was practised correctly in order to avoid pregnancy there was a 99.8 per cent success rate; that is, 0.2 pregnancies per 100 women using the method for a year.

That is even better than the approximately one pregnancy for every 100 women using the oral contraceptive pill.

Another study, by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in 2007 involved 900 women and showed that the Sympto-Thermal Method had a 98.1 per cent success rate in avoiding pregnancy.

The Sympto-Thermal Method involves observing both the basal body temperature and the cervical mucous.

Still another study of the Sympto-Thermal Method, a Hermann Study in 2007, showed the method to be 99.6 per cent effective.

So natural family planning, when used properly, is very effective.

Usually when someone using NFP falls pregnant it is because they did not use the method properly.

As for the numerous benefits deriving from NFP the first and most obvious is that the method is completely natural. That is, it does not involve the woman taking in any chemicals or using devices that can have unpleasant or even harmful side effects.

Many women who use the oral contraceptive pill, for example, experience such harmful side effects as reduced libido, more pronounced mood swings, higher incidence of depression, headaches, nausea, etc., not to mention the increased likelihood of blood clots, which can actually be fatal.

It should not be forgotten either that the oral contraceptive pill, in most of its formulations, involves the use of a hormone that prevents implantation of the fertilised egg, should fertilisation occur, thus bringing about an abortion.

Normally we take medicine only when we are sick or when there is some bodily dysfunction.

Fertility is not an illness or a dysfunction.

It is rather a great blessing.

So why take pills or use devices for it, especially when they can cause harmful side effects?

The fact that NFP is completely natural is one reason why increasing numbers of women, including many non-Catholics, are turning to it.

Indeed, many teachers of NFP report that the great majority of those coming to them are not Catholic, reflecting the percentage of Catholics and non-Catholics in society at large.

Moreover, many couples use NFP as a way of falling pregnant since it enables them to pinpoint the fertile period accurately.

In addition to these benefits, NFP has been shown to improve the relations between husband and wife, thus strengthening the marriage. Since both spouses must agree to use the method and to abstain from acts of marital intimacy during some days each month, they need to communicate effectively to know which those days are.

In so doing they improve their communication and often grow closer to each other than before.

Likewise, the very fact of needing to abstain during some days improves their self-control and helps them grow in the virtue of temperance.

During those days they learn to express their love for each other in non-sexual ways, which helps them realise that there are many ways to express love.

Having to abstain from sexual acts when otherwise they would engage in them also helps the spouses to respect each other more, to be more sensitive to their desires, and to show their love precisely by not engaging in physical acts of intimacy.

When they do come together again in a sexual way their acts are more special and often more loving, as on their honeymoon.

As the fruit of all this, as might be expected, the divorce rate for couples practising NFP is much lower than for the general population.

And yes, NFP involves sacrifice, but isn’t that what love is all about?

Related: We don’t want another child – is abstaining the only way?

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