So, Natural Family Planning is Based on SCIENCE!?! OMG!

Frank Weathers points us to the website RealClearScience in which a science-geek is shocked to discover that the Church’s retrograde, woman-hating, dogmatic, and theocratic attitudes on contraception are actually…(wait for it) SCIENTIFIC!    And what’s more, NFP actually….WORKS WELL!?!

(Pause to allow for recovery from fainting spell)

I’m picking on the guy a little because he still can’t manage to hide his knee-jerk anti-Catholicism, but at least he had the decency to investigate his biases.  That’s how it starts, people.  Discover the Church is right about something like this one day, and find yourself signing up for RCIA the next.  All my readers who are hip to the Church’s teaching on NFP should wander on over to Real Clear Science and show Ross some love.  Seriously.  The guy is actually trying to understand.  Give him the props and support he deserves.

Natural Family Planning and the Dignity of Women

(Here’s an advanced look at my next Family Foundations column).

The dignity of women is under assault like never before.  Thanks to the internet, pornography is more accessible than ever.  Young women, especially, are buying wholesale into the porn culture.  It’s become so pervasive that, surprisingly, many secular publications have recently been complaining about the negative effect pornography has had on relationships from a man’s perspective.  Men are beginning to report feeling put-off, intimidated, or even turned off by the behavior of women who have been “socialized” by porn.  One recent article in the London Telegraph decried the “striptease culture” we are living in and advocated measures that could encourage young women to discover their dignity.    According to a recent Reuters report, 30% of young adults have sent nude pictures of themselves to a boyfriend or girlfriend .  In fact, some studies show that among those who engage in sexting, women are almost as likely to ask for a nude picture of their boyfriend as they are to send a nude picture of themselves.


NFP:  Challenging the Culture of Use

In light of all this, is there any more prophetic way to engage the culture than to promote Natural Family Planning?   At the beginning of the sexual revolution, women were told that the key to overcoming male oppression and gaining power in relationships was to “embrace their sexuality.”    The problem is that this phrase is deceptive.  The secular vision of embracing one’s sexuality is allowing oneself to be viewed and used as an object and the more one does this, the less power one really has. The more one embraces this attitude, the more used, lonely, and powerless one is likely to feel.

But NFP promotes a vision of sexuality that is worthy of embracing; a vision where the body is a gift; a vision that believes men and women are first and foremost sons and daughters of God; a vision that understands that sex is not merely recreation, but a re-creation of the promises a couple makes on their wedding day to spend their lifetime together creating and celebrating a love that is free, total, faithful and fruitful.

As with most things worth doing, NFP isn’t easy.  It requires sacrifice and struggle.  It can be helpful, though, to remember what we are sacrificing and struggling for.  I would never want my wife to think that she was anything less than my partner, my best friend and my equal.  In my mind, those things are worth fighting for.  If NFP is a struggle, it is only because I must sometimes struggle against those fallen aspects of myself that want to make me treat her as something less than my partner, my best friend, my equal.  The challenge of NFP is a challenge worth taking up because it asks me to consider whether or not I am truly approaching my wife in love.

Likewise, for the woman, the challenge of NFP asks her to embrace her dignity.  Charting her signs helps her get in touch with how wonderfully she is made (Ps 139:14).  It helps redeem the dignity of her body in her mind.  It helps her assert her dignity to herself and to her husband by giving her the vocabulary she needs to articulate her physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual needs to her husband in a way that is virtually impossible without NFP.  It gives her a way of embracing her sexuality in a manner that doesn’t objectify her, but rather, sets her free to be loved as a person.

The most famous line from the Theology of the Body is that “the body, and it alone,  is capable of making visible what is invisible, the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial, and thus to be a sign of it.”   NFP promotes the dignity of women by empowering them to know and respect their body and see that body as a sign of who they are–persons deserving of love.


Dr. Greg Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to providing marriage, family, and individual counseling services by telephone to Catholics around the world.  He can be reached at or by calling 740-266-6461 to make an appointment.

The Pill Makes You Hate Sex and Want to Leave Your Milquetoast Man.

New research by the Royal Society says that women taking oral contraceptives, “scored lower on measures of sexual satisfaction and partner attraction, experienced increasing sexual dissatisfaction during the relationship, and were more likely to be the one to initiate an eventual separation if it occurred.”

The study did also suggest that the same contracepting women were more likely to be satisfied with the non-sexual aspects of their relationships, but the researchers note that this is because the pill causes women to be attracted to lower testosterone men who lack passion and drive leading to a lower potential for conflict.

Superficially, it might appear that, despite the dissatisfaction in the romantic relationship,  the increased satisfaction experienced in non-sexual interactions would make oral contraceptive’s effect on overall relational happiness a wash, but I can tell you from professional experience that it is easier to teach a manly man to wash a dish than it is to teach a milquetoast man to be passionate.

So, ladies, if you want passion and partnership, you might want to rethink that resistance to doing Natural Family Planning (or rethink marrying that man who resists NFP).   Here’s where you can learn more about how NFP can work for you.

To get more out of your sexual relationship with your spouse, check out Holy Sex! The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

How Big SHOULD Your Family Be?

How do you know how big your family should be?  How do you know what Godwants?  Discerning family size is one of the most common concerns expressed by both listeners to my radio program and clients in my counseling practice.

A lot of people use the phrase “responsible parenthood” but few understand the practical implications of the concept. It’s a phrase that’s found in the catechism as well as most of the Church’s documents on marriage and family life from Humanae Vitae to Familiaris Consortio.  Basically responsible parenthood boils down to a commitment to the following principles.

  1. Being generous in the service of life (i.e., open to having children)
  2. A commitment to “integral procreation” (i.e., a commitment, not just to having children, but also to meeting the needs they have to grow up healthy and holy.  More on this later).
  3. A respect for the strength and unity of the marriage and the ability of the couple to effectively meet the temporal, psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of the children they already have.
  4. A commitment to ongoing prayer and discernment and a willingness to seek God’s plan for each family.

It is tempting to want cookie-cutter solutions to complex problems.  Would that we could all turn to page xx in the Catechism to find the answers to vexing questions like, “Where do socks go when we put them in the dryer?”  “Why don’t men stop to ask for directions?”  And, “How many children are we supposed to have anyway?”

But the Church tells us that there are as many correct answers to the question of family size as there are families.  In Gaudium et Spes paragraph 50, the Faithful are told that it is the couples’ responsibility—and the couple’s alone—to make the call “in the sight of God.”

So how do you know if you are making the right call?  Here are a few tips to help you discern what God’s will is for your family.

Live a Holy Life.

I once interviewed Fr. Ronald Lawler, co-author with Archbishop Donald Wuerl of The Teachings of Christ, and put the question of family size to him.  “The first thing,” he said, “is to live a holy life.”

His point was that making any decision “in the sight of God” first requires that we know how to hear God’s voice and know his will about anything.  If a couple isn’t striving together to live a holy life by praying together and discerning God’s will about all the big and small decisions of daily life, then there is virtually no chance that they will ever be confident that they have found the “right answer”–that is, God’s answer—to the question of how big their unique family should be.  But the couple who regularly prays together and asks for God’s guidance about daily problems, job situations, parenting questions, and other lesser issues, will have spirits well-tuned to God’s will and know that their hearts are ordered toward seeking God’s plan for their family.

If you and your spouse aren’t in the habit of praying regularly together about the practical decisions of everyday life, start today.  If you don’t know how to hear God speaking to you in prayer, then little books like What Does God Want?  by Fr. Michael Scanlon and Listening At Prayer by Fr. Benedict Groeschel can be very helpful resources.

The next two points are important, but without having this first step in place, a family will always be tempted to try to turn general principles into a cookie cutter recipe, or to look to others to tell them what to do, or do what feels right regardless of what God’s will might be. So, while you consider the following, make sure that your prayer life is in order.


Consider the Family You Have.

In Gaudium et Spes, the Church asks families to prayerfully consider the following  when discerning whether it is time to have another child.   “Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life  and educating those to whom it has been transmitted…..Let them thoughtfully  take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself.”

In other words, the Church asks families to consider that they need to both be open to the possibility of conceiving and be confident that they have what they need to teach their children love God and to love each other.  The Church calls this, “integral procreation.”  That is, being responsibly open to life doesn’t just mean saying “yes” to conception, but rather being committed to saying “yes” to meeting all the needs a child has at every age and stage so that we can not only have children, but raise them to be whole and holy people.  Regarding this latter point, when the Church says that parents are responsible for “educating” children, she doesn’t just mean teaching them a trade or paying for college.  The Church is referring to parents’ obligation to teach children how to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength and love their neighbor as themselves.

Only the parents can for sure know whether or not their desire for another child (or lack thereof) is actually rooted in a genuine concern for—and honest assessment of–the emotional, relational, and temporal resources they need to raise another saint for the Kingdom.

Be Prepared.

But even when considering the issues listed under the second point, a couple should never place themselves in a position of saying, “That’s it.  We’re done.”  Rather, the couple should prayerfully ask, “Even if we don’t feel it is right to try to get pregnant this month, what do we need to do to get the additional emotional, relational, or temporal resources we believe are necessary in order to be willing to reconsider the question of having another child?”  By asking this question, the couple is able to approach objections to the possibility of another child both realistically and generously. For instance, it may be that parents decide that an older child’s behavior problems—or the couple’s marital problems–require too much of their attention to be able to properly attend to a new baby at this time.  But this should not be an excuse for never having more children.  Rather, parents should say, “What can we do to overcome this child’s behavior problems (or our marital struggles) so that we can free up the resources we need to raise another saint?”   In this way, parents respect the call to both unity/intimacy and procreativity.   When taking this approach, parents are able to always remain open to life and do so responsibly, keeping in mind their mission not only to be willing to have more children, but their responsibility to raise those children in a faithful, loving, environment that gives them the best education for living a holy life.

And with that we come full circle, because the question of family size ultimately boils down to the married couple living a holy life in order to teach as many little one as they can to live a holy life as well.  Of course, none of this is possible without vigorous prayer and actively seeking God’s will regarding the size of their family.  But with prayer and faithful discernment, each couple can find the answer God has in store for them.


Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of  over a dozen books including  Holy Sex! and the director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, a telephone counseling practice for Catholics.  He and his wife can be heard daily on More2Life Radio at  Learn more about resources for living an abundant Catholic life at or call 740-266-6461 for an appointment.

Manning Up Through NFP

Here’s a sneak peak at an article I have in the upcoming edition of Family Foundations magazine.  What?  You don’t subscribe?  Well, there’s a simple fix to that problem!

Regardless,  check it out.

Manning Up Through NFP. 

Dr. Greg Popcak


We hear a lot about the benefits of NFP and there are many.  But it’s also true that NFP requires a great deal of sacrifice and struggle that is neither fun nor easy.  Worth it? Sure.  Fun?  Not really.

That said, I think that NFP helps a man become more manly.  I’ve seen this in my own life and in the lives of the men I’ve supported through the struggle to make NFP the blessing it is supposed to be in their marriage.  When I say that NFP helps a man become more manly, I mean that, as Catholics, we believe that manliness is tied up with a man’s ability to work for the good of others and especially to work for his wife’s good.  Inevitably, that means putting her dignity above your own needs and wants.  Incidentally, that’s not the same thing as giving up on your needs and wants as some men do.  That’s not a man, that’s a martyr. The difference is this.

The Martyr says, “Honey, can we be together tonight?”

She says, “We’re still in phase two.”

He says (mostly to himself),  “Fine.  We can’t be together tonight.  Fine.  Just one more thing getting in the way.  FINE.  I’ll just let it go.”  We tell ourselves we’re making some huge sacrifice for the good of our spouse, but then we pout about it for the rest of the night as if to say, “See what a pain in the butt taking care of you is?  See how sacrificial I’m being?”

Nice, right?

In contrast to the martyr, here’s what a man does.  First, he doesn’t have to make his wife the sexual gatekeeper because he’s already taken the responsibility of either recording temps himself or has at least read the chart for himself and knows what it means.  Second, if they can’t be together, he realizes that its actually hard on her too and tries to be empathetic and sensitive about that.  Third, he makes as much of a gift of himself as he can.   He helps her with the kids.  He looks for ways to be emotionally present.       He seeks out ways to show her that she is important to him.  He initiates affection that’s not designed to “sneak” her into sex, but just about being loving together.  He is respectfully playful.  Fourth, when it does get too hard for him to bear his frustration alone, he’s honest about it in a non-blaming way. He invites his wife to share how she’s dealing with her frustration so that maybe they can support each other. They respectfully talk and pray through it together. Finally, he takes care of her and plans for when they can be intimate again.  He lets her know how desirable she is without pressuring her or trying to guilt her. He just loves her.  He desires her, but he doesn’t prey on her.

While all that seems like a tall order, channeling frustration in these directions is exactly what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was referring to when he wrote, “True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasytowards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification.”  When a man can channel the sexual longing he feels in a direction that creates connection between him and his wife, the pain of the longing decreases and is replaced by a purer desire that leads to transformation; the transformation that takes us from needy, hormonally driven adolescent to man of God.


Dr. Greg Popcak, the author of Holy Sex!, directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute which provides Catholic tele-counseling services to couples, families, and individuals.  Contact him at 740-266-6461 or

When NFP is Too Hard–Sexual Frustration and the Catholic Couple

Over at CatholicVote, Tom Hoopes posted a very funny and, frankly, brave piece about the man’s experience of Natural Family Planning.  

While its a funny read, there is truth behind it and he points out the real challenge that NFP can be for couples.  The fact is, for all its genuine benefits (and they truly are many), NFP is (as Pope Paul VI once called it) an “ascetic practice.”  It is, as BXVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, the path of “renunciation, purification, and healing” that ultimate allows eros to “rise in ecstacy toward the divine, to lead us beyond ourselves.”

I have a chapter in Holy Sex! called When NFP is Too Hard.  It takes an honest look at the challenges of NFP and offers many tried and tested interventions I have employed with clients who were struggling with these issues in their marriage.

The actual chapter is much more in-depth, but the following is an excerpt from that chapter in Holy Sex! that I wrote for the Couple to Couple League’s magazine, Family Foundations.  It was divided into two parts.  The first part of the article, which is not reprinted here, dealt with the seriousness of the problem of sexual frustration and the different ways sexual frustration can affect marriage.  That’s important information but its too much to put in a blog post.  It is in the book if you’re interested.  Part II of the article, which I’ve excerpted below, focuses on 4 things a couple can do to use the frustration they experience with NFP as a catalyst for deeper intimacy.   As I note, there are more ideas in Holy Sex!  but here are some ideas to get you started if NFP is more of a challenge than you expected it to be.

1.  The Couple That Prays Together

To do NFP well, and especially to receive the grace and develop the strength to handle periodic abstinence well, a couple must be praying together constantly.  I am constantly amazed how many couples—even NFP practicing couples who have been taught about the importance of prayer—simply do not pray together.  Almost as bad, I have met too many couples who pray in a very perfunctory manner that does not actually bring their real life, joys, and pains before the Lord.  If you are not praying with your spouse, especially about your sexual life together, then it will be too easy to forget that the main reason that you are abstaining on a given month is not because you don’t want more children right now (this is supposed to have very little to do with your will), but because God has asked you to take some time off from your sexual relationship to grow in particular virtues as a couple, or as a family, or as a person.  Only through constant prayer and seeking God’s will for both your life and your life as a couple will you be able to discern the specific reasons God is asking you to abstain for a specific period of time.  The frustration of periodic abstinence is always easier to bear when you can see the fruit God will bring out of it, and when you can cry to him—together–when it seems too hard.


2. Talk Openly, Honestly, and Without Blaming.

Couples who handle periodic abstinence better than others make the time to talk regularly (at least several times a week) with each other, not just about what things need to be accomplished and what is going on their children’s lives, but also about their emotional and spiritual health and where they think God is leading them as individuals and as a couple.  They also talk openly, without blaming the other or becoming defensive, about their personal struggles with sexual frustration and the pain that is a natural part of growing into the people God is calling them to be.  These latter conversations take the form of personal statements such as, “I know God has asked us to take this time off, but sometimes it hurts so much when I just want to be with you…”  And not statements like, “You’re always saying ‘no’ to me.  Why can’t you just loosen up!”  Or, “Why do you have to be so legalistic about this?  Can’t we just use a condom this time?”


3.  Be Affectionate

Couples who do poorly handling the frustration of periodic abstinence tend to almost completely avoid sharing any kinds of affection with each other unless it is going to lead to sex.  These couples will say things like, “I can’t hug you in Phase Two, because if I do, then I get too crazy.”   Or, as one acquaintance of mine put it, “I can work late for the next couple of weeks because we’re in phase two, so its not like we can do anything anyway.”  Such avoidance of real, non-sexual intimacy points directly to a truly immature view of sexuality that is more about self-indulgence than it is about self-giving.

By contrast, couples who handle the frustration of periodic abstinence better than others are always as affectionate as they can be throughout all the phases of their cycle.  These couples know that hugs, kisses, cuddling, and even “making out” doesn’t have to end in sex, and in fact, can be a real aphrodisiac when it doesn’t.  Here’s a fact you probably aren’t aware of.  When a couple enters sex therapy (even secular sex therapy with all its perverse baggage) one of the first things the therapist will do is tell the couple to stop having sex for a while so that they can work on increasing the non-sexual affection that creates the safe, loving, and nurturing environment necessary for a vital sexual relationship to flourish.  Couples who handle periodic abstinence better than others follow the counterintuitive rule that the more affectionate they are (despite having been led by God to abstain for a time), the easier the abstinence will be.

4.  Sex is Part of the Larger Whole.

The simple fact is, if you experience NFP as “ruining your marriage” you have bigger  problems than NFP.  In fact, I would argue that your problems with NFP are simply symbolic of your struggles to communicate effectively, pray together effectively, or share (non-sexual) intimacy.  Although it will always be a challenge to some degree or another, the couple who successfully negotiates the challenges of periodic abstinence is the couple that recognizes clearly sex as the tip of the larger iceberg representing their daily communication, spiritual, and intimate life.  Such couples do not think of their sexual  relationship as a thing that can or should stand on its own.  They genuinely see sex as an expression of the deep prayer life, solid communication, common intimacy, and uncommon partnership that they celebrate in their daily lives together, and because of this, they do not take these elements for granted.  Because they are already excellent partners in these areas, being partners in the pursuit of continence, self-control, and true love comes much more naturally.

It is always easier to kill the messenger than it is to heed the message.  If NFP is challenging you and your marriage, good.  It’s doing what it is supposed to do.  Have courage and do the work it is calling you to do, and know that as a reward for your struggle, you will become a healthier, more godly person, and have a more intimate and godly marriage.


If you need more help, pick up a copy of Holy Sex: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute at 740-266-6461 to learn more about faithful, professional marriage, family, and individual counseling by telephone.