Whatever the contributing factors—whether it be the Sexual Revolution’s lingering effects or simple unfamiliarity—many Protestant women are suspicious of Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods. Should a church lady openly share her concerns over hormonal birth control, a.k.a the Pill, her peers either grow uneasy or view her as some sort of traitor who must not care about women’s health. But the major attitude I encounter when talking about NFP with my Protestant peers is total dismissal because “that’s a Catholic thing.”
NFP is supported by the Catholic Church’s teaching for married couples trying to achieve or, in certain cases, prayerfully postpone pregnancy. In fact, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has designated July 24-30 as National Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, in conjunction with the 48th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae. Even so, all women—Protestant, Catholic, Atheists, and nones—can appreciate this hormone free (and conscience free) alternative to chemical contraception.
Regardless of religious affiliation, most women are pursuing healthier lifestyles and strong marriages. That’s exactly what NFP offers.
So that we’re all on the same page, NFP is simply defined as fertility awareness and is achieved by charting a woman’s cycle through temperature and cervical fluid monitoring to know if she is fertile or not. This makes it completely organic, hormone-free and completely free the side effects, unlike the Pill, patches, and IUDs.
“It is hard to communicate to young women—but we should try— how wonderful it feels as a woman at age forty or fifty or beyond, to have a body free of the health worries associated with decades of hormonal drug use,” wrote Helen Alvaré, associate professor at George Mason University School of Law and senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute, in a three-part series titled “Contraception and Women’s Wellbeing: NFP, Disillusionment, and the Poor the benefits of NFP.”
In terms of “regular” side effects, the Pill can cause women depression, nausea, fatigue, skin rashes, inflammation of the gums, irregular menstruation complications, and migraine headaches. That’s probably why a 2015 University of Iowa study found that if more women knew about fertility monitoring, then more than 1 in 5 women would seriously consider the method as an alternative to the Pill.
Hormonal oral contraception can also affect women’s brain and ability to process emotions. LifeSiteNews reports a new study in the June 2016 edition of European Eeuropsychopharmacolog indicates an “impaired emotion recognition in OC [pill] users compared to naturally cycling females.”
Something else I’ve learned from my friends over at LifeSiteNews is that in 2005, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IRAC) working under the World Health Organization classified “oral combined estrogen–progestogen contraceptives” as a cancer-causing Group 1 carcinogen. Other Group 1 carcinogens are tobacco smoke, asbestos, arsenic, and formaldehyde.
NFP can be 99.6 percent effective when done correctly. But this means fertility monitoring takes dedication and discipline. For example, I sleep with a thermometer next to my bed and set a daily alarm to remember to take my temperature at the same time every morning. Taking temperatures and noting cervical fluid on a phone’s charting app might seem tedious. But is it that more complicated than remembering to take the Pill at the same time very day?
(Note: A popular NFP method among secular women is called Fertility Awareness-Based Monitoring (FAM), which also monitors temperature, cervical fluid and cervical positioning. Some argue NFP is an umbrella-term which FAM fits beneath, while others argue religious affiliation completely seperates the two methods.)
In addition to noting NFP’s benefits for women’s health, Alvaré also discussed how NFP can lend to “a marriage permeated with inescapably mutual responsibility respecting sex, not to mention regular conversations about the meanings and consequences of sex, and about why or why not to seek another child.”
The married couple practicing NFP is more apt to communicate about cycles and charting, which facilitates a shared responsibility for family planning. While still engaged, my husband and I completed a CCL NFP training course. Not only was this a special bonding experience (we were the only evangelical Protestants and found ourselves laughing at our overly-eager attempts to answer the facilitators’ questions before the other couples), but it opened my husband’s eyes to the complexities of fertility awareness and fostered greater mutual respect for one another.
My husband’s partnership in practicing an NFP method helps take some of the pressure off my shoulders when it comes to achieving or prayerfully postponing pregnancy. I’m not sure that’s something the Pill can offer women and their husbands.
By no means is this blog post a complete guide to NFP. But as a Protestant woman concerned about the largely unquestioned use of the Pill among my peers, I do hope it starts a discussion and points to the greater awareness of the benefits of NFP put forth by my Catholic colleagues. This is a bridge worth building, ladies.
(If you’d like more information on where NFP training courses are held, you can visit the Couple to Couple League.)