“Birth Control is a name given to a succession of different expedients by which it is possible to filch the pleasure belonging to a natural process while violently and unnaturally thwarting the process itself.”
-GK Chesterton, “Social Reform vs. Birth Control”
I received quite a few comments and side discussions after my last column on why contraception is wrong. But one point I made in passing was surprisingly not discussed at all:
Isn’t NFP the same as the Pill?
For those not in the know, NFP stands for Natural Family Planning. It’s a means of spacing childbirths through natural means, monitoring a woman’s bodily signs of fertility to know when having relations would or would not result in the conception of a child.
But isn’t the same as the Pill? Or other forms of Artificial Birth Control (sometimes shortened as “ABC”)? No.
Why? As stated before, artificial, chemical means of preventing pregnancy are called contra-ception for a reason. These artificial chemicals and devices actively oppose the processes in a woman’s body designed to bless the world with a child. Contraception is thus analogous to the Romans’ practice of vomiting during a feast so as to make room for more tasty food.
Insisting on separating the unrestrained pleasure of eating from the purpose of eating leads to eating disorders. However, making a choice to restrain yourself from eating too much, exercising or eating smaller portions is not disordered, but considered healthy and virtuous. As such, rather than put chemicals or devices into the wife’s body, a couple who decides to work with a wife’s body typically attains the sexual, emotional and relational benefits analogous to a lifestyle centered around a good diet and exercise.
This is hard for many today. Much of our modern culture bristles at the thought of saying ‘no’ to any sexual activity at any point in time. Indeed, it is understandable if we consider that the modern world considers the sexual act as the supreme and only form of transcendent experience. Thus, many modernists are in effect addicted to a sensory experience, and thus anything impeding it is ipso-facto evil incarnate.
However, those who use NFP often find it a positive, if challenging experience. Several studies have found that regular, effective use of NFP leads to a higher stay-together rate among couples, with divorce rates ranging from 0.2% to 3%, depending upon the study quoted. Practitioners of NFP also report higher satisfaction in marriage, a greater sense of ‘doing well’ as a parent, greater emotional intimacy in marriage, and a host of other benefits.
This is not surprising. Imagine the difference in physical, spiritual and emotional health we’d witness between two people if one was losing weight by regular bouts of self-induced vomiting and the other was following the tougher route of self-control through diet, portion control and regular exercise. Plus, as I mentioned in my previous article, contraception brings about a cultural ethos in which children are seen as problems to be avoided, rather than a blessing to be celebrated.
Jokes about the Duggars aside (and we’ll look at them in a moment), working with an alongside nature tends to give one a love and respect for nature. Those who see nature or children as potential adversaries tend to curse the weather and feel sorry for women with large families rather than happy for them.
So, no. NFP and ABC aren’t the same. Aside of having different acronymic letters, they use different means to their ends, and have very different side effects as a result of those ends.
“Yeah, but aren’t you out to just have a million kids? Like the Duggars?” Nope.
I can’t speak for the Duggars. They are Protestant, and my degree and teaching experience is in Catholic belief and theology. Trying to pin down exactly what any Protestant group believes at any time is often an experience akin to pushing a hot air balloon into a director’s chair. The chair is flimsy, and the balloon keeps moving.
But to look at some of the basics: For those out of the loop, the Duggars are a protestant family with nineteen children. Quite unusual, considering how protestant views on contraception have completely changed since the first sect authorized it in 1930.
The Duggars, however, are part of particular sub-culture in American Protestantism called the Quiverfull movement. While charming on the surface, there are a number of issues Catholic should be aware of while they watch “19 Kids And Counting” on cable:
1)The Quiverfull movement openly espouses that any form of pregnancy spacing, artificial or natural, is wrong and it to be avoided. The Catholic faith instead says that non-contraceptive methods of family planning are acceptable.
2) The Catholic faith has held that ABC is wrong for millenias, based upon the nature of the human person and human sexuality. The Quiverfull movement by comparison was founded in the 1970s, and eschews all forms of family planning as a means to a political end: the foundation of both leaders and a follower population large enough to redirect the culture towards a protestant-Christian ethos, much as is practiced by orthodox Jews and followers of the Islamic religion.
So, once again: Does practicing NFP mean we will be the Duggars? No.
We’re not trying to raise an army. A Catholic family’s mission is to raise their spouses and children to Sainthood. As such, a Catholic family practicing NFP is more interested in raising a few Saints rather than a family of fifty little foot soldiers for the culture war. NFP practitioners tend to have large families, true. But that’s because they value children and all human life in general, not because they want to take over the world.
Natural Family Planning is the means by which a family can space their children in a way that is moral, healthy, and gives the greatest odds for marital happiness and constancy. NFP manages to avoid both the physical and emotional hazards of artificial contraception, as well as honoring timeless truths about the human person over short-term political and cultural goals.