How did I make it 25 years as a cradle Catholic without learning about Natural Family Planning (NFP)? I’m not sure. I remember some Eye of the Tiber-style jokes about the Rhythm Method, but otherwise the message was “abstinence-only until you’re married” and then… complete silence.
An attractive answer for a teenager, right?
And particularly instructive for a young married person, right?
Not so much. In fact, I have a hunch that not talking about sex is a serious problem that leads to more unmarried sex than we might think. It certainly did in my case, and I am only now (at 30) unfolding the consequences it has had on my marriage and my future family.
Thankfully, JPII’s Theology of the Body is out there, including the Theology of the Body Institute, where I hope to spend my husband’s summer vacation next year. But until then, I wanted to share five really surprising and informative truths about Catholic sexuality that we have learned going through the NFP Creighton Method.
Couple Love Water Summer (2014) via Pexel, CC.
My goal? To surprise the heck out of you, and encourage you (single or married) to look into this healthful and fertility-focused Catholic practice as a source of peace, empowerment, and embarrassing-yet-crazy-interesting revelations about our blessed bodies.
1. We’re made for each other in more ways than one.
I’ve never heard anyone else talk about it before, but switching gears from “premarital sex is evil” to “go ahead and have sex, semen and all” was a really difficult transition for me. Before my conversion, I drank the secular koolaid about a number of things. I believe that semen was gross, that it was insignificant and meaningless, and that it was made for the trashcan.
So, consider my mind blown when I listened to our NFP practitioner talk about both pieces of sex as important and made for each other! Because get this, not only are we physically designed to be together (I mean, you know) but sperm is a natural (biological) anti-depressant. It’s home is not the trashcan, the shower, or whatever other off-color joke I could make here, but in the womb of your spouse.
I would link to the studies, but secular websites don’t choose very tasteful images or allusions to what people should do with this information, so for now we’ll just quote the 2015 details: “Semen contains mood-elevating estrone and oxytocin, as well as cortisol, melatonin, anti-depressant prolactin, thyrotropin releasing hormones, and serotonin.”
Clearly this is not an invitation to get off your depression medication. However, as someone with issues surrounding the full sexual act and a history of depression and anxiety, this was a particularly powerful fact to learn.
2. Stress is not just in your head.
We all know stress is bad for us. We just accept it as a necessary evil that we’re destined to have in our lives forever. But have you ever considered that we weren’t made to stress? As C.S. Lewis writes in one of his spiritual direction letters, “Anxiety is not only a pain which we must ask God to assuage, but also a weakness we must ask him to pardon — for He’s told us take no care for the morrow.”
This is exactly what came to mind when I learned that experiencing acute stress can cause short-term infertility. That is, acute stress can directly cause a woman to skip ovulation, removing the possibility of conception for that month.
Because of the way we’ve built our lives, it may not be possible to completely avoid stress. But learning this connection between God, anxiety, and our ability to procreate makes me wonder just how much I could change when it comes to overcommitting myself in an effort to truly reduce stress from my life.
3. A woman’s sexuality (and a man’s) is not one person’s business.
The secular view of sex is practically competitive nowadays. One party or the other schmoozes and cajoles someone to “get what they want” (hello, bar scene) and “the winner” gets out of there without a commitment to be dragged down by another human being.
Honestly, I had this attitude, too, for the first years I dated my future husband and the first years of our marriage. I couldn’t even comprehend the fact that we were one, sexually, and that our marital embrace was anything more than two separate people with separate desires “getting what they want.”
NFP kicked off my change of heart. We learned together, we went through the process together, our bodies had to work together. When you get married, your sexuality is one sexuality. A woman married to a man with sexual dysfunction now has sexual dysfunction herself. The same goes for a man married to a woman with sexual dysfunction. Talking through these issues — and truly learning to extend grace and understanding to each other — is the true purpose of our sexuality. The NFP process respects this natural law by involving both spouses in understanding, supporting, and respecting a woman’s fertility.
4. NFP has the same success rate as condoms.
Yes, it’s true, and capital-S Science agrees: applied correctly, NFP has an equivalent success rate of condoms and hormonal birth control (and, I would add, without the psychological, emotional, and physical downsides).
The only “problem” with NFP is that it requires effort and awareness. But think about the natural laws we live with. It takes more effort to get out of debt than to wander into it. It takes more effort to fix a broken relationship or marriage than to work hard to correct it. And yet the emotional and psychological damage that comes with not putting in the effort (for family planning, for debt, and for relationships) is harder than all of this combined.
5. It’s not about avoiding or planning a pregnancy; it’s about empowerment in God’s will.
What draws most individuals and couples to NFP is a practical yet faith-filled approach to delaying pregnancy. That is, you gain the knowledge that you need to make choices based on your beliefs. When you use a condom, you’re attempting to take control over your life in a way that denies God’s power over your life. When you use NFP, you’re taking control over your life in a way that expressly acknowledges that God is the one with all of the power. It’s the decision to be open to God’s plan that makes you pleasing to God.
My mantra for infertility is “If God wanted me to be pregnant right now, nothing could stop that from happening.” Yet the human part of me feels empowered by NFP because it alerts me to the ways in which I am infertile and the promising signs of fertility I sometimes see.
It all comes back to a relationship with sex that makes you more full in your faith, rather than a relationship with sex that draws you away from God and your spouse and into yourself.
Whether you’re trying to conceive or not, NFP can change your life and your relationship with your body. Find an NFP practitioner in your area and schedule a free information session today!
This post was originally published on The Catholic Hipster blog.
Copyright 2016 Hannah Jean Kahn