However, there are another set of myths that don’t get talked about quite as much. These are the myths often perpetuated by those who love NFP. They usually develop when NFP advocates who are trying to spread the word about the great things NFP is doing in their lives and marriages let their passion and optimism misrepresent the very real challenges presented by NFP or overstate the benefits.
These myths can be dangerous to couples who are willing to give NFP a shot, but don’t have a realistic understanding of what is involved and what challenges they may face. These myths set up couples to fail before they’ve even begun. Take this one woman’s testimony as an example:
I have a serious medical condition that meant that after my first two children, we were going to have to prevent future pregnancies. I had a friend who raved about how easy and effective NFP was. I told her I wasn’t sure about my own personal discipline – I didn’t know if I could commit to this complicated charting process every day. She just kept telling me over and over again how easy it was. “If it’s that easy”, I thought, “I don’t have to take classes, I can teach myself.” 6 months later my husband I found ourselves unexpectedly pregnant with our 3rd child. I was hospitalized multiple times during the pregnancy and had to be induced early for labor because of my medical condition. God took care of me and our family throughout this process, and now I have a beautiful boy I never would have had – but I felt for a long time that I couldn’t trust NFP after that.
Here are a few of those misrepresentations and the reality behind them. We hope that having good, solid, and accurate information sets you up to have the most success using NFP:
Myth 1: It’s Easy!
There are numerous folks, who like the above woman’s friend, tout NFP as easy and simple. One website says:
NFP is really not that hard to learn — hundreds of thousands of couples just like you have learned to use NFP very effectively.
Of course, the website goes on to outline all the classes (in person, online, home correspondence) that are available with certified instructors. Let’s be honest: taking a pill one time each day is a heck of a lot easier than determining mucous, taking temperatures, putting it all on a chart, reading the chart, and abstaining from sex during the fertile times.
There is a lot of understanding, information, and interpretation that goes into using NFP correctly, but there are a lot of quality instructors who can help and a lot of ways technology has made charting easier. Many forms of contraception are easier than NFP, but most couples find that once they know how to use it correctly and commit to it, their relationships are better because of the time they put into it. That should not surprise those of us who know that the sacrificing comfort or easiness often leads to a better marriage.
Myth 2: NFP is more effective than any contraception
Multiple studies have been done on NFP’s effectiveness. However, what those who go around shouting this statistic often forget to mention that these effectiveness rates are with perfect use, and fail to acknowledge that a variety of studies have come up with a variety of effectiveness rates (usually from 95 – 98% for properly instructed NFP users).
As Libbey Anne from Love, Joy, and Feminism points out:
Even this chart does not say that NFP is the most effective method of birth control, but rather one of the most effective methods of birth control. What you have to understand though, that this chart shows perfect use failure, not typical use failure. In other words, if you use the method perfectly, this is the failure rate you will experience. The problem with that is that NFP is the hardest birth control method to use perfectly. To use the pill perfectly, you just have to remember to take it at the same time every day. To use an IUD or an implant perfectly, you don’t have to do anything at all. To use NFP perfectly, you have to know your body backward and forward and perfectly chart each menstrual cycle.
She makes a valid point – NFP, like all forms of birth control, is only effective when it only used right. Unfortunately, Libbey Anne ends her rant about failure rates by saying that she got an IUD because now she
- doesn’t have to “even think about [sex] at all,”
- she doesn’t need her husband’s help with the IUD, and
- now she and her husband can just have sex whenever they want without thinking about pregnancy.
Ultimately, the Church recommends NFP to those who have a grave reason to avoid pregnancy not because it is highly effective but because it remains open to life (part of the two-fold divine purpose for sexuality). That means that couples who use NFP should always anticipate the possibility that sex within their marriage will fulfill it’s God-intended purpose.
- spend time thinking about and understanding sex and the role it has (and should have) in your marriage,
- communicating with each other more effectively,
- learning to show love in ways other than marital intimacy,
- appreciating the beauty of the interconnectedness between a woman’s body and her emotions, and
- remembering that God designed sex to be both unitive and procreative.
Doesn’t that sound better than not having to “even think about it at all”?
Myth 3: NFP is God’s Plan for Marriage
God’s original plan was for sex to be unitive and procreative – the phrase ‘family planning’ wasn’t even in Adam and Eve’s vocabulary in the Garden of Eden. God’s plan is that man and woman in the marital embrace bring about new life.
Unfortunately, original sin, evil, and concupiscence have led to a world where we have to wait for eternity to experience God’s Plan for us. In this world we have medical conditions, financial considerations, and other grave reasons for which a couple might need to postpone a pregnancy as well as struggles with infertility that leave some couples unable or struggling to conceive.
The Church doesn’t say that NFP is God’s plan for our marriages, she says that NFP is a better plan than artificial birth control because it remains open to life and uses the gift of the bodies God created us with rather than trying to thwart them with artificial hormones.
We can’t say it better than this blogger:
Prudent use of NFP can be a font of grace in a marriage. I (and the pope) think it is fully in conformity with the teachings of the Church. I even think that, after ten years, I’m starting to get the hang of it.
But is NFP, as its cheerleaders insist, God’s plan? Well, only in the same way that confession is God’s plan: It won’t kill you, and it gets the job done; but in God’s original plan, it wouldn’t have been necessary.
Confession is inconvenient and embarrassing, and most of the time, you do it just because you have to. Sometimes the only thing that makes it tolerable is considering the alternative.
NFP is the same: It’s the worst possible method, except for all the others. That’s because NFP is both an aid and a penance. It gives you the opportunity to grow spiritually, but it also gives you some first-class suffering to offer up.
When proponents of NFP say that it’s easy, effective, and God’s Plan for us, we set our brothers and sisters up for failure. Ignoring the very real challenges of NFP makes couples feel as if they are stupid because they can’t get it right like everyone else and it encourages them to just give up.
It doesn’t help that some proponents of NFP pretend that it’s all togetherness and respect, profundity and cuddles.
If you are facing some of those challenges or are struggling to make NFP work, remember that you’re not alone. Everyone who uses NFP struggles at some point; it’s not just you. Many of us have just realized that the blessings far outweigh the challenges.
If you are an NFP cheerleader, please remember to talk honestly about both the trials and blessings of NFP. Consider starting an NFP support group to provide women with a place they can honestly share their challenges with one another and seek out support and encouragement.