I can’t remember if, as an engaged couple, my husband and I had decided what method of birth control we’d be using when it came to spacing our kids. We were getting married in the Catholic Church, and I was definitely aware of the Church’s disapproval of any method of birth control aside from Natural Family Planning. But at the time, I saw Church teaching as more burdensome than enriching and uplifting, and was more concerned with the color of our groomsmen’s pocket squares than I was with how we would responsibly conduct our married sex life.
When we walked into the mandatory pre-marriage seminar on Natural Family Planning, my only goal was to get out of there as fast as possible. Funny how life works because four years later, even if I was an atheist, I wouldn’t opt for any method of birth control besides Natural Family Planning.
I cannot say this enough: It’s not a Catholic/Christian/crunchy-people-with-15-kids thing. It’s an if-it’s-not-broken-don’t-fix-it, if-I’m-not-sick-don’t-medicate-me, sex-is-a-language-so-let’s-speak-it-truthfully thing.
I’ve been on the pill. I’ve used condoms. I’ve taken the “let’s go with what’s convenient and easy, doesn’t require us to know my body and allows us to romp whenever we want” approach, thinking that it would equal freedom and better sex.
Experience is the best teacher, though, at least according to Ben Franklin. And in my experience, my relationship was infused with more dysfunction, confusion, and division with the methods that undermined our self-control and encouraged us to submit to our urges any time we wanted.
But why did this approach injure the relationship? I’m not an expert. Not even close. I’m just someone with a sometimes-normal sometimes-psychotic fertility cycle and a husband who’s freakishly good at reading charts. But I’ll attempt an answer.
Consider this: Sex is a language. No, not one of The Five Love Languages, but a language of the human body all its own. This is not some novel concept. A lot of experts have spoken of it in these terms. Dr. Corey Allan of the entertaining Sexy Marriage Radio podcast is one of them. Another is the much beloved pope and now St. John Paul II, the man responsible for a phenomenally enlightening and refreshing perspective on sex.
It’s a language. When two people have sex, they are saying something with their bodies. Not just, “I love you,” but something much deeper, much richer, much more intense and provocative and unifying. At its most fundamental level, sex is two people telling one another, “All of me wants all of you.” Whether it’s taking place through a one-night stand or between a couple who’s been married for decades, the human body engaging in sexual intercourse is always saying, “I want all of you. Here, take all of me.” The act is so, so inexplicably beautiful. Why else would it bring people to tears?
So why does artificial birth control or intentional sterilization have any impact on this? Because like it or not, a person’s fertility is a part of who they are. We did not design ourselves. Someone else did: Someone who does not make mistakes.
Someone who wanted every woman to birth an overwhelming brood of babies and never enjoy sex without the possibility of conception? No. Someone who holds the act of sex in such remarkably high esteem that He wants us to enjoy it fully, in all its glory, even if it happens to culminate in a new life all its own.
So when we engage in sexual intercourse but use artificial means to render ourselves infertile, “All of me wants all of you,” becomes “I want you, but not your fertility. Not that part of you.”
And since we are body, mind and spirit and all three of those were created to exist harmoniously intertwined, a painful and confusing dichotomy begins to take hold of our hearts and our relationships when we tell this lie with our bodies over, and over, and over again.
So if Natural Family Planning is so effective (between 98 and 99 percent, about the same as contraception) when practiced correctly, why is it okay to avoid pregnancy that way but not with birth control? That’s a very good question, and one that I’ve wrestled with a ton. My best attempt at an explanation is that when it comes to life and nature, there are some things we should work with, but not outright interfere with. Kind of like how Osho, the much-loved Indian spiritual guru, said, “Let life flow; don’t interfere.”
Christopher West, the author and speaker responsible for communicating St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body to the world, presented this comparison: there is absolutely nothing wrong with having sex and avoiding pregnancy. “But the end … does not justify the means.” Maybe a person desires death for their grandmother because in her old age, her struggles have increased and she’s enduring severe suffering. There is nothing wrong with hoping that death’s sweet release will come for her. But “no scenario justifies killing Grandma … [because]in killing Grandma or rendering sex sterile, we take the power of life into our own hands.” And that is a tremendous responsibility that belongs to the Creator of existence, not me.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m not saying that every couple practicing natural family planning automatically enjoys sex more than a couple using contraception. Although research points to natural family planners having better sex, just because something is healthier and more natural, doesn’t necessarily mean it feels better.
I’m also not saying that couples who practice natural family planning are automatically happier and more in love. Marriage is full of hurdles, both inside and outside the bedroom. Just because two people are experiencing sex in its purest form, does not mean that they are operating seamlessly in every other area.
This is an extremely loaded topic, and it deserves far more coverage than one article can provide. I will admit that learning NFP is not easy, and my husband dealt with me in tears on more than one occasion as we attempted to master it. But nothing worth having is ever easy to achieve, and sometimes things that are initially intimidating end up enriching our lives in extraordinary ways. Super simple example: I was terrified of my breast pump after my first child was born, and it sat unopened, collecting dust for weeks. But now, using that pump is like second nature.
This article is not at all meant as a condemnation of people who use birth control or have undergone permanent sterilization. Some of the people closest to me in this world do and have done both, and still I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for them and think no less of them, not for a single second. We are all at different places in this journey, and I am equally as broken as the next condom consumer, probably more so.
Like everything I write, this is simply an attempt to offer an alternative perspective, and help people to understand themselves and the God who is relentlessly loving and pursuing them, longing for nothing other than to help them thrive.
Copyright 2018 Elizabeth Pardi