Friday, February 17, 2012

On Recent Calls to Make NFP "Cool..."

Lately I’ve been stumbling across articles in the mainstream media about NFP, written by Catholic laywomen, who are taking a stab at the mysterious reason that so many women ignore this Church teaching choose instead to contracept.   One popular idea seems to be that it’s because NFP just isn’t “hip” enough.  They seem to think that if the Church just did a better job “marketing” NFP and upgrading the books and methods to make them more attractive, women would be falling all over themselves to sign up for NFP classes, while tossing their birth control pills out by the handfuls. 

They go on to say that maybe if the NFP teachers looked a little cooler, with a few less children, women would be more attracted to the idea too… and can’t we make the methods less scientific?  That shouldn’t be hard, right?  It should be easy!

Each time I read an article like this I was left with a feeling that something was a bit off in the understanding…

Maybe it is time for a little upgrading on the book graphics (I really can’t say on that one, because my NFP book is a plain green color with a few stripes, so it’s apparently not as offensive to a fashionistas sensibilities as some of the other books out there), but I somehow don’t think that the upgrade will cause the stampede that these articles seem to expect. 

And why aren’t there droves of fashion obsessed women beating down the doors to become NFP teachers?  Well, I suspect it’s because NFP does help shift ones perspective quite a bit… and puts priorities in a more naturally ordered alignment.  When God and family come first, you don’t have as much time to peruse the pages of the latest fashion magazine and even less time to race down to the mall to try on clothes.  In fact, even if a mom to a small tot makes it down to the local mall, and finds the hippest clothes and decides that she can afford them, there’s always a big chance some bodily fluid or food product is going to be splattered across it by midday… making it instantly less… cool. 

That doesn’t mean that women who follow this teaching don’t care about how they look… but saying that other women aren’t using NFP because the women that do use it aren’t fashionable enough, falls flat.  It sounds like an excuse worthy of a pre-teen… not worthy of a woman called to married vocation.   

As for NFP being easy… I don’t think that it’s one of those things that’s necessarily supposed to be as simple as remembering to pop a pill once a day.  The things in life that are good, often aren’t as easy as the alternative.  Even in following through when we decide to abstain we’re making a sacrifice, because at that moment we discern that something else is more important, and let’s face it, sacrifices are supposed to feel like sacrifices.  They’re not really supposed to be “fun,” although personally I’ve found following the Church teaching on this one infinitely more pleasant than pumping my body full of hormones that make me a banshee like psycho-path (extra estrogen does not make me a nice person… that’s for sure). 

I have a feeling that even if these “problems” that I’ve heard evaluated are fixed, plenty of women would still opt for the pill. 

In part I think this is the result of poor catechesis in past decades, running right up to the present.  I know I’ve said it before, but I made it through marriage prep and RCIA without hearing once that contraception was wrong.  I was confirmed without knowing that the Church “still” said that it was wrong.

But I think the problem goes deeper than that.  As long as the things of the world come before a person’s relationship with God, and their faith in the teachings of the Church he established with Peter, they’re going to have a hard time giving up the “easier” method of popping a pill or getting a shot.  Someone who’s begun to seek God, and attempt to follow his will in their lives, isn’t going to be thinking about how “cool” they look.  They’re going to be discovering the feeling of completeness that comes when we live our lives in accordance with Church teaching, the joy of uniting our will with God’s even when it isn’t easy or fashionable or “hip.” 

People are going to contracept because they think it’s easy.  They’ll do it because sin is attractive to our fallen nature.  They’ll do it because they don’t know what the Church teaches, or they don’t understand the teaching, or even because they just don’t care. 

But let’s not say they’re doing it because the other women who do it aren’t cool enough… or because it’s too hard (because if this switch is too hard, the path to holiness in general is going to be way, way too hard).  Let’s stop making excuses for why people sin, spread the good news and the joy of living rightly, and stop accepting excuses from ourselves for doing what’s easy rather than what’s right. 

The world isn’t going to love this teaching, because the world loves its own and this way of thinking most certainly isn’t of the world.  We aren’t going to draw people into the Church by being more worldly.  Until we stop trying to impress others, and start living out our calling to be a light upon a hilltop, I don’t see any of this changing… but if each of us embraced our calling to serve in this world, and loved God’s with all our hearts, the truth would be much harder to ignore… 

Let’s stop the call to focus more on the superficial and focus on God.  That’s the only solution to this problem.  Pray and fast.  Love God and your neighbor.  Light the world on fire with his love.  It will do far more good in spreading Church teaching, than a trip to the mall and a makeover.  


  1. I can't help but wonder if, in our modern-day America, the key to selling NFP isn't how green it is. Nothing artificial, no estrogen in the water, no risk of heart attack or stroke, no chemicals to produce.... SO good for the environment, and then, in the fine print, include the fact that it is better for your marriage and your soul too! ;)

  2. Great post!

    I wish someone had told me how important it was to have a NFP OBGYN, I had a horrible experience where I saw an Ob at a Catholic hospital who forced the pill on me. She told me that if I didn't take it I was risking uterine cancer and she got me a glass of water and made me take one in her office. I was having severe bleeding issues, was scared and felt like I didn't have a choice but to listen to my doctor. I was naive in thinking that by seeing an OB at a Catholic hospital I wouldn't be asked to take the pill unless it was truly medically necessary.The pill itself, almost killed me (I have genetic clotting issues, but that's a whole other story). I'm not excusing myself for taking the pill but I really wish I was better educated on how to pick an OB that follows the teachings of the Church. I've always been told to go to a Catholic doctor but not all Catholic doctors are created equal.

    Now I see a great NFP OBGYN, who is so kind and compassionate. He spends at least 1/2 hr with every patient and makes sure your understand everything about your care. I had to wait 4 months to get in to see him the first time but he was so worth the wait!


  3. I hadn't previously come across any discussions of the "hipness" factor of NFP.

    I do, however, think that there should be more emphasis on the health factors involved... not putting hormones in your body, being more attuned to the signals your body is giving, etc. The "green" factor is one that shouldn't be ignored these days, as well. I think we will discover more and more damage done by the vast quantities of hormones in the water.

    A professional PR campaign (similar to the very well done ads for the Catholic Church that have been running recently) would not be a bad idea. There is vast ignorance on the subject, and many folks haven't any idea that NFP has progressed far past the old "rhythm method".


  4. Our priest gave an excellent homily on NFP just last Sunday. Wow, it was a whopper! I didn't write the following summary of the homily, but I couldn't do a better job recapping it myself so I thought I'd copy/paste it here:

    "Our sermon condemned the sins of divorce, contraception, sterilization and “perversions” (by way of introduction and review) and then spent the next thirty minutes or so defining the circumstances under which “periodic continence” (NFP) is morally permitted, essentially concluding that “serious reasons” are, almost by definition, rather “exceptional” and not “typical.” Pius XII was quoted in support of this insight. Gregory Popcak’s understanding and recommendations of NFP were rather easily dismissed and excoriated. The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children, the secondary end is mutual spousal support. Reference was made to the sexual act as a “remedy for concupiscence.”

    Those for whom NFP is a “way of life” would be left sputtering at this sermon. The transparent “flipping” of the ends of marriage — secondary becoming primary — that NFP can encourage was rather obvious.

    I know. Hard to believe that ANY of these topics were actually addressed from a Catholic pulpit and no one tried to shout down the priest or walk out in protest. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Reference was made to the “cowardly silence” in pulpits and chancery offices for the past 40 years on these subjects, along with encouragement to pray that current issues will lead to more courage and an embrace of “fatherhood” (if biological fathers know to correct their children, spiritual fathers should as well).

    Amazing sermon."

    You know, I'm glad I didn't run across the articles you did Cam! If I read that the Church just needs to do a better "marketing job" on NFP, well I might just go through the roof hahaa.

    It seems to me that NFP is really over-used and abused - probably because it's role and function and purpose in marriage is misunderstood - and that is probably because of bad catechesis.

    There are a lot of priests out there doing a good job - we need to pray for them, and continue to pray for the priests who aren't doing such a great job. May God send us vocations and holy priests!

  5. I think the environmental side of the argument (and the health side!) are really great ways to promote it.

    The "promote NFP as cool" thing just started this week. I didn't link to the articles because I really didn't like them and found them rather insulting, but they were being passed around some of the Catholic circles I'm in on facebook this past week and I got one emailed to me. I think one was in the Washington Post or something like that.. and while I think the intentions were good, it was pretty troubling to me too...

  6. I WISH it were easier to become an NFP teacher! It can't be "cool" if it's not easily accessible. Unfortunately I had that door slammed in my face by one Sympto-Thermal method teaching site. I practically begged to be considered as a teacher. Nope... because I wasn't able to do Ecological Breastfeeding... which had no bearing on my ability to teach/use the Sympto-Thermal method whatsoever.
    Frustrating, to say the least.

  7. I think it's more important that young Catholics (and other young people) meet real women who use NFP, rather than worrying about how "cool" they look. The Catholic fellowship group at my university hosted a talk about NFP last year, but the woman who gave the presentation was an unmarried nurse from a Catholic women's health clinic. She was very knowledgeable and did a great job explaining how NFP works, but a more first-hand testimonial might have made the presentation more effective.

  8. I have never heard the topic of birth control or NFP addressed at Mass, in over 30 years of attendance. Most families in our parish have between 1-3 children. There are very, very few with 5+ Most Catholic women roll their eyes if someone brings up the immorality of medical birth control. They think the rule is terribly outdated, impractical, and created by celibate old grumps who want women to do nothing other than be perpetually pregnant so that they stay subordinate to men and to The Church. I think what really needs to happen is for priests to start openly talking about how using artificial birth control is a mortal sin and can be a one-way ticket to an eternity in Hell. They need to be upfront about it - not afraid of making people angry. They also need to call men out! I have heard so many women say, "Oh, my husband would never let me go two or more weeks a month without sex! He'd be so grumpy angry with me!" You know what? Men can go two or more weeks a month without sex if it's not a good time for their wives to become pregnant. They won't die. And they don't "have" to choose to be grumpy about it and make their wive's lives miserable, either! They won't "have" to masturbate or look at porn. We've accepted for far too long that men are just animals that need sex all the time in order to be okay. If it's a bad time for a pregnancy, then husbands need to be on board with NFP - not complaining about how they can't have sex whenever the mood strikes them. Men need to be genuinely worried about putting their wives souls in peril by insisting that they use a birth control method that makes sex at any moment "safe." I do get that it's hard to have a large family these days. The good news is that The Church doesn't say you must have a large family to be a godly family!

  9. In college, I used to be a part of the campus' pro-choice group, and we kept pamphlets on our table on various forms of birth control, including abstinence and NFP. The pamphlets on NFP were surprisingly popular, many young women expressed an interest in being more in touch with their own bodies. I knew at least one granola-hippie type woman who used it exclusively, in part because she didn't want to put chemicals in her body that didn't need to be there, and also because she didn't want to "sell out to Big Pharma".

    Luckily that didn't stop her from getting necessary medical care for her kids (she had two, about 7-8 years apart) when they needed it, or making sure they had all their vaccines. She definitely wasn't Catholic and neither was her husband, they just wanted to be as chemical-free as was reasonably possible.

    I think using the "green" argument is a good one, particularly for those who don't feel a religious leaning against contraception.

  10. The Church isn't against birth control because it is artificial/chemical. It goes to the deeper point of the heart willing to accept the gifts of married love.

    I struggle with this question a lot, because if NFP is used with a contraceptive intent then morally it is the SAME as artificial contraception(similar to withdrawal- something "all natural" but clearly sinful). The way I see it, promoting it from a purely crunchy, all-natural angle does a disservice to NFP, basically lumping it in with all other forms of BC, but "better for you." Is that really the message the Church is giving?

    On the other hand, I do see how NFP can be a "gateway" in the sense that a contracepting couple might be initially attracted because of the non-chemical side, and gradually learn more and open their hearts to God's plan and eventually only use it if absolutely necessary (not trying to start a discussion of just v. grave v. serious reasons, lol.

  11. I think that's where the suggestion to promote it both on the morality and because it's really actually better for you (and the environment) comes from. People have a lot of preconceived notions about NFP, but when you actually start using it, it can be really transformative, and can really get you to begin thinking differently.

    I was terrified when I began using it. Then I was certain that my silly selfish reasons were "serious". Then gradually, over a couple of years, a true openness to life began to unfold.

    I think it is important to show people the theological side... but it can also be a starting place to show them the practical side and just get them to stop sinning. It's not the ideal, but sometimes people do begin doing something for a reason that is less than perfect, and then recognize the truth for what it is.

  12. I like what V.R.A. had to say. If the "natural/green" aspect of NFP draws people in, that can be a good thing - but the Church should not and does not need to "promote" NFP by labeling it "natural/green". If that's a way to get non-Catholics to stop contracepting great - but Catholics should be better catechized and know better.

    There are very straightforward guidelines that the Church lays out as to how and when and for what reasons a couple may use NFP. Obviously NFP can be used to become pregnant, but the Church is very clear on when couples can use it to avoid pregnancy. These are the things that need to be better taught to the laity - even from the pulpit.



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