Note: Writers and theologians far more qualified than I have written tomes about what NFP (Natural Family Planning) is, why it is important, and how to practice it in your marriage. So for the sake of time and space, I won’t go into those details, and will in fact assume you can find a basic education about NFP through expert articles and sources, such as here, here, here and here.
Since this week is National NFP Awareness Week, it seemed like a golden opportunity to share the best instruction about Natural Family Planning that I ever received. It came from an unlikely source, and an unlikely time in my life. But during the past 4 years that I’ve been married, that NFP instruction has served to be one of the most helpful lessons I’ve learned on my journey to understanding and practicing marital sexuality.
The Best NFP Instruction I Ever Received
It was 1998. I sat in the control room of a live radio studio behind a huge black mixing board and dozens of blinking buzzing machines that put my father’s voice and callers from around North America on the air to talk with each other. I was 17 years old, and I was producing a live show for the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network. I’ve produced literally hundreds of radio broadcasts for EWTN since then, and hosted six years worth of live talk shows of my own. But even still, I’ll never forget that particular show that aired in September 1998. The topic: “Why Natural Family Planning is Great for Your Marriage” featuring my dad (host) and a NFP teaching couple.
The radio broadcast was a cookie cutter example of all of the NFP teaching and instruction I’ve received since. The same facts provided during that broadcast have been echoed in Catholic conference talks I’ve heard all over the country. It’s the same info I’ve heard from other experts on other Catholic radio shows. It’s the low-down my Hubs (then fiance) and I received during our marriage-preparation retreat required by the Catholic Church before our wedding. It’s what our NFP instructor told us week after week during the private classes we took during the six months prior to getting married.
- NFP is great for your marriage
- NFP brings you closer together as a couple
- NFP lowers your chance of divorce until you almost have no divorce rate
- NFP strengthens your communication with each other
- NFP helps you grow in virtue
- NFP creates an environment where both spouses are clued in to the woman’s body and cycles
- NFP is simple to learn
- NFP is easy to use
- NFP is inexpensive
- NFP is more effective than artificial birth control in family planning
- NFP is healthy, safe, great for your body
- NFP will help you and your spouse love and respect each other more
- The monthly periods of abstinence make your love-making that much more exciting days later
- And you get the idea…
About half way through the radio show, my dad opened the phone lines to take calls from his international listening audience. Most calls were from Catholics who reaffirmed the NFP information I listed above. Some callers disagreed entirely with the idea of NFP, and preferred to use artificial forms of contraception despite what the Catholic Church taught regarding human sexuality and God’s design for love-making to also be open to life.
And then there was the caller I’ll never forget. It was a young married husband and father. I believe he’d been married for about seven years, had several children, and he and his wife practiced NFP in their marriage.
“I appreciate this broadcast” said the man. “and I thank you for discussing the topic of NFP on the air. But I have to be honest with you: I think NFP sucks.”
Woah. I sat up a little straighter, my hand on the “dump switch” waiting to see what the dude would say next and if I’d be allowed to keep him on the air or not. Wisely, the host let the man continue.
“Here’s the thing: my wife and I love the Catholic Church, and we practice NFP in our marriage. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s safe, healthy, and it is God-honoring in that it allows our love making to be free and open to life as God intended. But it sucks to have to abstain from sex for long periods of time. It’s hard, it takes a lot of will power, and especially from my perspective as a guy: it’s not fun.”
I always thought that EWTN caller was one of the most honest, open, and forthright of my entire radio career. But at the ripe old age of 17, I really had no idea how much his words would come back to help me in my own marriage. Because it wasn’t until I was married, over a decade later, that I got to learn for myself: NFP really does suck.
Do I think NFP is safe, healthy, moral, God-honoring, virtue-building, and spouse-bonding? YES. I do. I love the fact I can understand what’s going on with my body and make healthy, pill-free decisions to either achieve or avoid pregnancy based on the very latest scientific research into women’s health. I think total, uninhibited, completely self-giving love is beautiful, sexy, and fulfilling.
But it’s also HARD. Sometimes uber super duper hard. Sometimes hard enough to make me want to throw in the towel or raise my fist at God and ask “what the heck were You thinking when You came up with this plan for married sexuality??!”
I don’t enjoy having raging hormones and desires for my husband during fertile times that are imprudent for us to conceive another child. I don’t find “working hard to communicate in other ways” fun and enjoyable when I just want my husband and he wants me. It’s not easy to go through the crazy post-partum and breast-feeding months trying to figure out what’s going on with my body and telling my husband “nope not tonight either…and still not exactly sure when.”
NFP is hard. NFP is stressful. NFP sucks.
But here’s the real testimony:
We choose to practice NFP anyway. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. And sometimes doing the right thing means doing the hard thing. Worth it in the end, but a struggle and a sacrifice along the way.
So during this week set aside as “National NFP Awareness Week”, I hope to send out a desperate plea to those giving NFP advice and instruction to others: PLEASE don’t “sugarcoat” NFP. Don’t make is sound all warm and fuzzy and rosy and sexy and perfect. Sure, state all the positive components and amazing scientific facts. But also be honest about the work, the sacrifice, the stress, the commitment, and the hardship involved.
That way, couples will enter marriage armed and ready for the long road ahead. A hard, sometimes bumpy road. But in the end a beautiful, truly worthwhile journey.