Secular Media Finally Admits: “The Pill” Causes Depression & Relationship Problems

shutterstock--The Pill

Despite a new Pew survey reporting that only 4% of Americans and 13% of weekly Mass attending Catholics in the US think that contraception is morally wrong,  “the Pill” is getting belated, but well-deserved, bad press from surprising sources.

Harvard psychology professor and Playboy Magazine columnist, Dr. Justin Lehmiller, is reporting on research I mentioned the other day indicating that hormonal contraceptives (HC’s)  influence the type of man that a woman is attracted to and can undermine satisfaction in longterm relationships–especially if a woman who chose a mate while on the Pill subsequently discontinues the use of HC’s.  Of course, one response to this might be, “well, then, don’t go off the Pill!” but such a flippant response denies the reality that, in most longterm relationships, couples eventually want to have children, necessitating that they stop using HC”s.  The real danger here is that just when couples need to draw closer to each other and work better together, the effects of discontinuing contraception can kick in, making partnership that much more difficult.

On top of this, a brand new article by the Guardian is accusing the medical establishment of “pillsplaining” (condescendingly minimizing the risks of HC’s) in light of a new study from the University of Copenhagen that demonstrates that the Pill can both increase the risk of depression and cause a worsening of already-existing depression symptoms in women who use HC’s.

Researchers found that women taking the combined oral contraceptive were 23% more likely to be diagnosed with depression and those using progestin-only pills (also known as “the mini-pill”) were 34% more likely. Teens were at the greatest risk of depression, with an 80% increase when taking the combined pill, and that risk is two-fold with the progestin-only pill. In addition, other hormone-based methods commonly offered to women seeking an alternative to the pill – such as the hormonal IUS/coil, the patch and the ring – were shown to increase depression at a rate much higher than either kind of oral contraceptives.

All of this is to say that despite the challenges that couples using Natural Family Planning can sometimes face, it remains the most safe, effective, and moral approach to family planning.  Once again, we see an example of scientists arriving at the peak of the mountain only to find that the Vatican’s flag has already been planted.  If you would like to learn more about how the Church’s vision of love can help you and your spouse experience a more passionate, joyful, spiritual sexual life together, I invite you to check out Holy Sex!  The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

The bottom line?  Don’t believe the lie that opposing HC’s is somehow waging war against women.  In fact, the opposite is true.


Promoting NFP Just Means Catholics Don’t Believe in Being Stupid–Period.

Image Credit: Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image Credit: Shutterstock. Used with permission.


The author of this piece  (arguing against universal NFP training in marriage prep) is responding to a piece I wrote last year for NFP Awareness Week.   And, although I know he is completely well-meaning,  he completely missed the point.

To say that couples should NOT be required to learn NFP–as the author of this article does– is, in my mind, the equivalent of saying, “As Catholics, we think it is good and noble for people to be completely ignorant of how the female body actually works unless there is some kind of crisis and then we should learn about it really fast.” This strikes me as incredibly stupid–however well-intentioned it might be. Since when is basic ignorance virtuous or commendable?

Likewise, I’m genuinely mystified that many people really don’t seem to understand what “doing NFP” means. After all this time, why is it that people automatically think that “Requiring couples to learn NFP” automatically means, “couples should be taught from day one that they shouldn’t be having babies.”

What complete and utter rubbish! “Doing NFP” does not mean that AT ALL.

What I try to point out in this article 
is that NFP is NOT a thing and it certainly isn’t a thing that is intended to be used with one specific purpose in mind. Whether or not many couples use NFP in a single-minded way (i.e. to avoid pregnancy) isn’t relevant at all. NFP, qua NFP, doesn’t presume an intention to prevent or avoid pregnancy. It isn’t a tool, like a hammer, that is really only good for one job. Instead of being some “thing” that should be used in one, proper way, NFP is just information that can be used however you prayerfully choose to use it.

So yes, I do believe that couples should be required to learn NFP inasmuch as I believe that couples should required to learn how the woman’s body works as part of marriage prep so that they can take that information and do with it whatever they discern God wills. I do not believe that there is any virtue in ignorance and unless I am misreading the catechism or scripture, I can’t see a single place where Catholics think ignorance is a good thing. I certainly don’t believe there is any virtue in remaining willfully ignorant until there is some kind of crisis and then suddenly running around like a chicken with your head cut-off trying to learn everything overnight and then getting frustrated because “it didn’t work.” If the former is stupid, then the latter is just stupid times 10. The Catholicism I believe in doesn’t promote stupidity and ignorance.

In sum, my position is that NFP should be taught to every couple NOT so that every couple can avoid having kids. THAT IS NOT WHAT NFP IS REALLY ABOUT BECAUSE NFP, per se, IS NOT “ABOUT” ANYTHING. It is just information that couples have a right to have and, in fact, need, in order to be able to properly discern God’s will.

The article builds on this theme.  I hope it helps clarify what I think versus the calumnies that people regularly spread about me.

To learn more about the TRUTH of the Catholic vision of love and sex, check out Holy Sex! The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

UPDATE: Check out Simcha Fisher’s excellent reflection on how to honestly approach the struggles inherent in NFP.

Dr. Strangelove (OR) How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Natural Family Planning. (Part III in a Series)


This is the third post in my series titled, The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Burden of Natural Family Planning which attempts to propose some practical and sensitive avenues for addressing the struggles many couples have with NFP.  Click the links for Part One and Part Two.

It isn’t unusual in NFP circles to run into faithful, devout, well-intentioned people who use NFP but live in a constant state of fear about it.  Sometimes they are concerned about the method for health reasons (e.g., hormonal issues, complicated cycles, PCOS), sometimes for mental health reasons (depression, anxiety or OCD), and sometimes it’s just because they don’t really trust the method or don’t trust their ability to read their fertility signs.

Fear and Loathing in NFP-Land

This anxiety can exact a huge cost both for the person’s sense of well-being and the marital relationship.  Because some couples are nervous about the method not working or “getting it wrong” (especially when they are dealing with serious health issues that make conception inadvisable) these couples often feel an incredible burden that causes them to not only use the most conservative rules for determining infertility, but add a few days on either side “just to be safe.”  This can lead to extra long periods of abstinence, increased marital tension, and a great deal of self-doubt and resentment toward the Church for burdening them with the cross of NFP.  In fact, it isn’t unusual to hear women who feel this way wishing for a medical issue that would require them to have a hysterectomy just so that they could stop having to worry about all of this all the time.

Fear:  Not Part of the Method.

NFP isn’t a cake-walk for anyone.  Sure, there are lots of blessings that can come from practicing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  Likewise, for couples who are new to the method, it is natural to feel a little nervous while you’re learning to trust yourself to really know and understand your signs.  That said,  long term anxiety and resentment over the method is always sign that something is not right and the good news is that it is usually the kind of issue that can be corrected with the right kind of information and help.

Let’s Not Blame the Victim

Now, before I go on, let me make one thing abundantly clear.  I’m not blaming the victim.  I’m not saying that if, in your practice of NFP, you don’t experience the kind of joy that makes you want to break out in song at the site of a thermometer and a ream of graph paper then there is something wrong with you.  What I am saying is that if fear and resentment were an unavoidable part of NFP, especially for couples with health or mental health issues, relationship struggles or other concerns, then all couples who wrestled with these issues would be equally miserable.  The good news is that they are not.  There are, in fact, couples who struggle with health problems, mental health concerns, relationship challenges, and other problems who find NFP to be, at worst, a little inconvenient, and at best, a genuine help to them.  “So what?”  You might say.  “That’s not me.”    I get that.  But again, here’s the good news.

Research on the psychology of happiness shows us that the best way to find a way out of a problem is to look at people who are going through similar things as myself but who, somehow, are managing to be happy–or at least effective–despite their circumstances and ask, “What are they doing differently and how can I learn to do that too?”   One of Satan’s greatest lies is that our suffering is so unique that there is no one who can understand or help us through our own struggles.  Being humble enough to recognize that we can learn something useful from people who are going through similar things as us, but somehow bearing up better than we are can be a real source of hope, strength, growth.  The following represent some of the ways couples who struggle with NFP but do not become oppressed by it deal with their challenges.  Try to read the following with an open heart and ask yourself how you might begin to take advantage of some of the supports that follow.

1.  Get Ongoing NFP Training and Support.

Even if you think you know everything there is to know about NFP, having well-trained people you can turn to for ongoing support, additional training, or who could even just serve as a sounding board can be tremendously helpful even when you feel like there is nothing else that can be done.  The more you can say you feel oppressed by the practice of NFP, or nervous about it, or feel that your circumstances are uniquely difficult, the more you need to be getting regular consultation and support in practicing NFP effectively and gracefully in your life.  Likewise, don’t feel that you have to be wedded to one person or even one method for support.  One client I worked with became such good friends with her NFP coach that she didn’t want to “disappoint” her friend by seeking help elsewhere even though she didn’t feel that her present level of support was really helping.  The only thing that matters is getting the support, training, and counsel you need, wherever and however you need it.

The truth is, different methods evaluate slightly different signs and slightly different constellations of signs, and they evaluate them using different techniques and tools.  If one style of NFP doesn’t fit your lifestyle, investigate other options.  The more methods you know, the more ways of gathering information you have, the more competent you can be at interpreting your unique fertility signs.

2.  Seek Faithful Medical Support

If you have a health concern that is making the practice of NFP more difficult for you, it can be helpful to seek counsel from a Catholic physician whose practice is consistent with the teachings of the Church.  I am not suggesting that you need to make a radical change in your treatment or even change the primary physicians consulting on your case.  Rather, it might be good to get support from a Catholic physician who can offer you advice on medical approaches that are both consistent with your faith journey and how you might be able to manage your health problems in ways that make practicing NFP easier.  Two good sources for these referrals would be the Catholic Medical Association and the Pope Paul VI Institute.

3.  Seek Faithful Counseling Support

Perhaps you feel that your mental health and your marriage are just fine and you don’t have a particular problem that you need to address in counseling.  That may be true, but counseling isn’t just about solving problems.  It is also about developing strengths.  When a person, or couple, is going through a particularly trying time, it can be helpful to work with a professional therapist who can help you discover how to approach the challenges you are facing in a manner that brings out the best in you.  There is a wide body of research showing that even in the absence of mental health or relationship problems, when a person who is struggling with an unusual stressor seeks professional help, they function better through the difficulty and experience more rapid relief from the difficulty they are encountering.  Of course, if you are dealing with a mental health or relationship issue then all the more reason to seek competent, faithful help early and stick with it until you feel like you have gotten to a better place with both  your practice of NFP and the co-occurring issues.  You can find good resources for faithful counseling at  (a national referrals source) or through our Catholic Tele-Counseling Practice at the Pastoral Solutions Institute.

4.  Seek Prayer Support

Getting good spiritual direction, or at least ongoing prayer support, is essential for remaining faithful under pressure and beating back the dark thoughts that make our attempts to remain faithful more difficult than they ought to be.  Satan does not want God’s people to be faithful.  If we must be faithful, then Satan would prefer we become those “querulous sourpusses” that Pope Francis decried in the Joy of the Gospel.  Getting good spiritual support–whether from a spiritual director, a prayer group, or even your spouse, or a spiritually-mature friend or relation– is essential for preventing this bitter root from growing in you (Heb 12:15).

5.  Avoid All-or-Nothing Thinking

When you are in the grip of fear, resentment, or other strong, emotional reactions, it is easy to fall prey to all-or-nothing thinking that says, “Unless I can see how doing this (whatever ‘this’ may be) can resolve my problems, there is no point doing anything.”

When we are in the middle of a struggle it can be difficult to know what is going to work.  That’s why it’s important to take our cue, not from our feelings, but from what people who are handling things better than we happen to be are doing.  Again, we need to stop thinking our pain is so terrifically unique that the things that help others couldn’t possibly help us.  If you are going through difficulties with NFP and you are not seeking one or more of the forms of support I have outlined in this article, then you simply aren’t getting the help you need.

Again, the truth is, despite the many blessings it affords,  NFP can be a challenge under the best of circumstances. If you are feeling oppressed by the practice of NFP, then that is a sign you need more support, training and guidance, not because you are necessarily doing anything wrong, but so that you can learn to rise to the unique challenges in your life that are making NFP more difficult than it needs to be.  To get more support working through the ways Natural Family Planning might be negatively impacting YOUR marriage, check out my books, When Divorce is NOT An Option:  How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love  and Holy Sex!  The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute  to learn about our Catholic Tele-counseling practice.


Don’t Think NFP is Effective? Advertisers KNOW It Is–“Bio-Marketing” Can Remotely Monitor Fertility Data to Increase Sales

This blew my mind–and not in a good way.

“In the creepy brave new world of marketing, a woman who logs onto Facebook during her fertile phase can expect to be barraged by ads for new consumer products that are absent on non-fertile days. It is not happening yet, but it is technically possible and it is hard to see who has the power to stop it.”

Aldous Huxley?  Meet Don Draper.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Dr. Nigel Barber, an evolutionary psychologist who writes at Psychology Today describes new research that shows how and why advertisers could access and use a woman’s fertility signs (via health monitoring apps) to developed fertility cycle-based targeted marketing campaigns.  Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Barber’s piece…

…University of Texas marketing researchers Kristina Durante and Ashley Rae Arsena found that women are also flightier in respect to choices of a variety of consumer products from candy bars or lipstick colors to high-heeled shoes. They opt to try 15 to 20 percent more products when fertile(link is external) compared to the low-fertility phase of the cycle.

This is not a huge difference, but it might help a new consumer brand for women to get an edge against established brands. From a marketing perspective, the fertile phase of the cycle is a time not just to introduce new products but to offer women premium brands at a time when they are most likely to trade up. Hence, the buzz amongst marketers.

We are accustomed to being tracked on the Internet by scores of companies who collect our data. Now these big-data operations are trying to link our online keystrokes with what is happening inside our bodies.

How is this even possible? One source of vulnerability is the growing popularity of wearables, such as physical activity monitors and smart watches that connect to the Internet. Some of these devices automatically record health data, such as pulse rate and temperature. As users of the “rhythm” method of birth control know, temperature rises during ovulation, giving the marketers one good clue to a woman’s reproductive condition. Some women volunteer information about their reproductive condition by using cell phone apps that track their menstrual cycle.

In the creepy brave new world of marketing, a woman who logs onto Facebook during her fertile phase can expect to be barraged by ads for new consumer products that are absent on non-fertile days. It is not happening yet, but it is technically possible and it is hard to see who has the power to stop it.   READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE.

UPDATE:  POPCAK NOTE:  People are writing to take me to task for referring to NFP as the “rhythm method”  I DID NOT WRITE THIS ARTICLE.  It says so in the bolded section above. This is an excerpt from a larger article by Dr. Nigel Barber at Psychology Today.  I didn’t call it the rhythm method.  He did.   I too look forward to the day that secular writers don’t confuse the two.


CNN (!?!) Loves NFP

This article isn’t perfect, but the fact that its as good as it is and in CNN is a minor miracle.  Nice to see the world is catching up with those of us who’ve been in the know since Humanae Vitae.  Now if we holysexcould just get the Church to capitalize on this to start promoting our resources….

FAM is frequently referred to as the rhythm method — a system in which women predict their likely fertile days based on the lengths of their cycles. However, FAM advocates say there is a clear distinction. This method is much more careful.

Where’s my orgasm?

Ilene Richman, director of the Fertility Awareness Center, describes it this way, “It’s a process of becoming aware of the signals your body is giving you and keeping track of them.”

Richman explained that after a women ovulates, her basal body temperature, the body’s lowest temperature throughout the day, would rise. In addition, “A woman who cycles naturally, is going to experience a wetness around the time of ovulation,” Richman says.

When women become more fertile, their bodies produce fluids that help give sperm their best chance at fertilizing the egg. Once a woman ovulates, the consistency of that fluid changes. A woman’s cervix will also change positions, based on whether or not she has ovulated.

Charting temperatures, noting fluid consistency, and checking cervix position can seem overwhelming at first. “I think it can be a little difficult to remember it all in the beginning, but it really isn’t that difficult,” explained Kacey. “Once you get it, you fall into a rhythm.”

The CDC and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are quick to point out that FAM is one of the least-effective methods of birth control.

“You hear about 25%,1 in 4, who use it correctly can expect to get to get pregnant.” says Dr. Nathaniel DeNicola, an OBGYN with the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Doctors: Think twice about the pill for teen birth control

But FAM supporters, such as Sarah Bly, a fertility awareness instructor, says that number needs to be parsed out further.

“The perfect use rate is 99.6%-99.4% which is really good,” Bly says. Meaning women who are very particular about keeping their health statistics and not missing even a single day. “A lot of statistics that (the doubters quote) are typical use, which include women taking risks,” Bly says.

A German study from 2007 that tracked 900 women over 20 years consistently using FAM methods found that only 2% of those women had an unintended pregnancy.

DeNicola agrees that it can work for some.

“For the right patient, who is really willing to track the days, and are willing to track the temperature,” he says.  READ MORE

If you’d like more information on NFP and how you can celebrate a more grace-filled, passionate, joyful marital sexuality, check out Holy Sex!  The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.   And don’t forget to visit the USCCB Office on Natural Family Planning.


The Real Problem with NFP–A Continuing Conversation..

If you enjoyed my post from yesterday, “There’s No Such Thing as NFP”  you’ll appreciate today’s post from Dr. Pia De Solenni’s post that builds on some of the themes I raised.  Here’s a taste…

For quite some time, I’ve been making the case that NFP is pedagogical….NFP, when a couple learns it together, provides a much needed basis for learning how to communicate about vulnerable and deeply private/sensitive topics. What happens in some cases, unfortunately, is that the wife learns and implements it by herself and then her husband sees her as the gatekeeper. She’s keeping him from having sex. If it weren’t for that d****d NFP, they’d be having sex, right? (I remain convinced that many couples who use fertility monitoring devices are in fact looking for a referee in the bedroom. It’s no longer the wife who’s saying that she’s fertile and that it’s not a good time to conceive a child – she’s worn out with that pressure and responsibility which properly belongs to both of them together; it’s now this device that becomes the arbitrator in the bedroom. I’m not opposed to such devices, but I do think it’s important to look at how and why they are used.) This suggests that the couple has deeper issues than NFP.   READ MORE

There is No Such Thing as Natural Family Planning

The USCCB has proclaimed July 20-26 National NFP Awareness Week.  This is one of a series of posts I’ll be doing to increase awareness of the Catholic vision of love.

At the Theology of the Body Congress last week, I participated in a panel discussion on Natural Family Planning.  I began my comments by asserting, to the surprise of the audience, that the most important thing to remember in discussions about NFP is that there is really no such thing as “NFP.”

<insert sound of record scratch here>

Let me explain.

Don’t Thing-i-fy NFP

NFP isn’t a thing.  I can’t hold it in my hand, or put it in a drawer, or carry it around in a shopping bag.  It isn’t a drug that we take.  It isn’t even a tool (although it often involves “tools” like charts and thermometers or fertility monitors and the like).  NFP isn’t a tangible thing at all. Rather NFP is simply information that allows couples to communicate and pray about how marital intimacy can help them grow in holiness and receptivity to God’s will. 

I think this is a profoundly important thing to realize.  For instance…

~When dioceses, or pastors don’t require couples to complete training in NFP what they are really doing is failing to require a couple to learn how to gather the information they need to communicate and pray about how their marital intimacy can help them grow in holiness and receptivity to God’s will.   I can imagine a lot of clergy saying with a straight face, “We don’t insist on NFP training.”  I think it would be a little more difficult for a bishop or pastor to confidently and comfortably say, “We don’t require our couples to learn to communicate and pray together about how their marital intimacy can help them grow in holiness.”

~Similarly, when people say, “NFP is hard” they’re absolutely right–but not for the reasons they think.  They are not right because NFP is hard.  They are right because communication is hard.  Couple prayer is hard.  Getting marital intimacy right is hard, and growing in holiness and receptivity to God’s will is very hard.  NFP simply insists that couples cannot get by with ignoring these things.  Sadly, many couples really do think they can make it without doing these things–and the high divorce rate attests to their error in logic.  NFP makes couples do work that would otherwise just be easier to pretend we didn’t have to do.  I completely agree that doing this work isn’t always fun.  But every day in my counseling practice, I see the bad fruit that comes from not attending to this challenging, yet still rewarding work.

~When couples say, “We don’t have serious reasons for using NFP” they are communicating a deep and profound misunderstanding of what NFP is because, again, they are thinking of it as a thing.  It isn’t a thing.  It is only information that allows a couple to communicate and pray about how their marital intimacy can help them grow in holiness and receptivity to God’s will.  Couples who say that they don’t have reasons to use it are really saying–probably without meaning to–that they believe they are exempt from communicating and praying about how their marital intimacy can help them grow in holiness or receptivity to God’s will.  Who can really say that?

Incidentally,  I don’t mean to suggest that couples who don’t use NFP have no process in place for communicating and praying about how their marital intimacy can help them grow in holiness and receptivity to God’s will, but I think any couple who isn’t using NFP needs to ask themselves some hard questions about what that process actually is.  And, just to be clear, singing, Que sera, sera” is not an acceptable process.  It’s not an OK way to be a godly steward of your money.  It’s not an OK way to be a godly steward of your home.  And it is surely not an OK way to be a godly steward of your marriage and sexuality.

NFP: Facilitating the Universal Call to Holiness:

Again, none of this is to take away from the fact that living the Catholic vision of love is hard work.  I know from both professional and personal experience that it truly takes a lot of effort and struggle.  But that isn’t NFP’s fault.  That’s simply the struggle that every couple faces to learn to communicate, pray together, get marital intimacy right, and grow in holiness and openness to God’s will together.  All of that is hard work.  NFP actually makes that work more do-able.

Becoming A Prophetic Witness to Love

The sooner we, as a Church, can stop arguing about whether we should require couples to learn NFP, or whether couples should use NFP, the sooner we can dedicate our time, energy and resources to helping couples actually do the work of NFP; that is,  communicating and praying about how their marital intimacy can help them grow in holiness and receptivity to God’s will.  When we can do this, the Church will finally be able to show the world that we have what everyone is looking for; the plan for creating a free, total, faithful, and fruitful love that can stand the test of time, warm our hearts, and transform the world by its example.   And that, would be a very good thing.

If you’d like to learn more about how the Catholic vision of love can transform your marriage, check out Holy Sex!  The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.  

Ad Contra Providentialists–Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

It’s NFP Awareness Week according to the USCCB and several Patheos bloggers are taking a look at the topic.  Simcha is doing a massive give-away contest over at her place.  Tom McDonald has a solid post on the havoc the Pill is wreaking on the environment.

Others are taking notice as well.   It is strange to me that with so few people actually practicing it (about 2% of Catholics) NFP Catholics still come under fire from far right providentialists who believe that it is morally suspect to attempt to consciously do anything to plan one’s family.   The Personalist Project’s Katie van Schaijik responds to the providentialists and gets it exactly right.    As a very orthodox theologian friend of mine put it, “in truth, providentialism is very hard to defend from a Catholic perspective.”  Here’s a sample of Katherine’s argument.  By all means, though, you should go and read the rest.

…the real problem with providentialism is something very different; something deep and far-reaching—going, in fact, to the innermost heart of our Faith. In brief, providentialism represents and perpetuates a false view of human sexuality, of marriage and of the Christian moral life—a view that malforms consciences, grievously burdens families, and misrepresents the Church to the world.

Serious charges, I am aware. Please bear with me while I explain.

First, let me repeat a key distinction, helpfully enunciated by Dr. Smith in the course of her talk. There are two critically different kinds of providentialists, which in shorthand we may call personal providentialists and theoretical providentialists. The problem I am speaking of is only with the latter. It has nothing at all to do with those spouses who, taking into prayerful account the unique inward and outward circumstances of their married life, freely and generously open themselves to as many children as come to them.3 In fact, I’ll even grant gladly that the Church has a “preferential love” for such families, just as she has for the poor. (What Catholic heart can resist them?) The problem is not with these, but with those who “add to God’s law” by seeking to impose an obligation on all married couples that is not to be found in the teachings of the Church, viz., that unless prevented by nature or emergencies, all married couples ought to have large families; and, correlatively, no couple should make use of NFP, except in very rare cases, and then only with sincere regret and extreme caution.4 (NB: This kind of providentialist can be found among priests, teachers and single lay Catholics, as well as married couples. It is not unknown among college students.)

What does the Church really say?

The teaching of the Church with respect to family planning is straightforward, clear and easily summarized.

1)   Spouses must be willing to accept children lovingly.

2)   Spouses may not practice contraception.

3)   Taking into consideration a whole range and variety of factors, including physical, economic, psychological and sociological factors, spouses may do well to practice Natural Family Planning to space children and/or limit family size, provided that they do so with due moral seriousness—with a generous, responsible and prayerful sense of what they owe to God, to one another, to their children and to society.

That’s all.  (go read the rest)

Admittedly, this can be a difficult topic to sort out for oneself, especially when so few pastors are prepared to speak to this issue in any kind of an informed way.  If you would like to learn more about the Catholic vision of love, what the Church actually teaches and how to respond to the obstacles couples often face in living the truth of that teaching in their lives, check out Holy Sex!  A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.    As one reader put it, “This book courageously and unashamedly explores the true source, meaning, and purpose of our sexuality. It explodes the myth that the Church and sex are nearly mutually exclusive, and reveals the dignity and reverence that the Church places upon sex and sexuality not only for procreation but just as importantly for its absolute integral importance for creating and nurturing a deep, true, spiritual marital relationship. This book shows us that physical pleasure is indeed very good and highly encouraged by the Church in the marital relationship. Not in the same way that physical pleasure is presented to us in the thin veneer of eroticism that society inundates us with, but as a beautiful part of something much deeper and more meaningful.”

Speaking of NFP, The Atlantic Discovers Something Faithful Catholics Have Known All Along

There was a terrific article in The Atlantic last week on the growing awareness and promotion of Natural Family Planning by secular medical professionals (who prefer to refer to it as Fertility Awareness Based Methods–FABM).  Really good piece.

 …surveys  conducted by physicians at the University of Utah show that when natural fertility-awareness methods are described to women, 25 percent say they would strongly consider using one as their means of birth control. But thanks to its glaring image problem and a set of just-as-formidable infrastructural hindrances, ignorance of fertility awareness-based methods is widespread. If more women looking for a non-hormonal, non-barrier, non-surgical form of birth control knew about FABM, then more of them could be practicing it to its utmost effectiveness—rather than doing it in the dark.

These fertility awareness models actually can work, and work well. A recent 20-year German study asked 900 women to track their fertility every day by monitoring their body temperature and cervical mucus, and use that information to avoid pregnancy. The study’s researchers found this to be 98.2 percent effective—comparable with the pill, and a far cry from the 82 percent effectiveness rate of the withdrawal method.

In January, a group of physicians organized through the Family Medicine Education Consortium published a review looking into the efficacy of various FABMs. They combed through all the relevant research published since 1980, and concluded that “when correctly used to avoid pregnancy, modern fertility awareness-based methods have unintended pregnancy rates of less than five (per 100 women years).” (A woman year is one year in the reproductive life of a woman.)  Their effectiveness levels, in other words, are “comparable to those of commonly used contraceptives,” the study’s authors add.   READ THE REST OF THIS EXCELLENT PIECE HERE.

If you’d like more information on how the Catholic vision of love and sex can make your marriage more passionate, joyful, and intimate, check out Holy Sex!  A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind Blowing, Infallible Loving.

Real Catholic Love and Sex Takes on the Ultra-Traditionalists on NFP So I Don’t Have To

Really good piece over at Real Catholic Love and Sex on the struggle of ultra-traditionalists to accept Natural Family Planning.   Here’s a taste.

Ultra-traditionalist Catholics don’t get a pass on this any more than “Catholics for Choice”. “More Catholic than the Pope” is simply another form of protest and yet another way of being “Protestant”.

Taking a closer look at the critiques, those who think promotion of NFP is a deviation from “traditional” Catholic teaching have often misunderstood the actual traditional teaching by reading older documents anachronistically and out of context.

Likewise, just because someone has misunderstood Catholic teaching, past or present, doesn’t make it controversial either. That is why we have pastors, bishops, and the entire magisterium of the Church to help us on our journey of faith. Unlike other traditions, we do not have the burden of every person having to define his or her own doctrines and his or her own understanding of the faith.

Finally, if you are looking for genuine controversy in this area—as in where priests, bishops, and theologians have actual disagreements—it was never over whether NFP is licit, it was over whether contraception is licit. The question of the licitness of NFP was settled by a brief statement from the Holy Office. The question of whether contraception remained illicit given social changes and advancements in scientific knowledge required a Papal Commission that lasted several years. Furthermore, promotion of NFP has always been associated with the more conservative and faithful elements of Catholicism, not the more liberal and dissident ones.   GO READ THE REST HERE.

And if you’d like more information on how the Catholic vision of love and sex can make your marriage more passionate, joyful, and intimate, check out Holy Sex!  A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind Blowing, Infallible Loving.