Wednesday, July 10, 2013

NFP and teamwork

not empowering
By Mary C. Tillotson

It always surprises me when I find yet another person who is totally shocked to find out that there’s some actual science behind Natural Family Planning. Women bleed for a few days every month for most of their adult life and nobody bothered to wonder why? The article I saw most recently insisted that, while there was legitimate science to NFP, “The Catholic Church’s official stance condemning contraception is, in my view, dubious and disempowering to women.”

Taken out of context, NFP is disempowering. I’m envisioning college parties where women only attend if they’re in Phase 3 (infertile), high school girls encouraged to keep track of their physical symptoms, and, when they’re fertile, say “catch me next week!” to their teenage boyfriends. Despite being way more fertile than women (compare the number of gametes average men and women produce), men get to have sex whenever they can find a phase 3 woman; women are confined to certain days out of their cycle. Disempowering to women? Absolutely. Men obviously have the upper hand.

But NFP isn’t just another form of birth control.
NFP is an entirely different way of life, one that requires teamwork and effort – something much more common in marriages than random hookups. If the woman isn’t having sex during her fertile window, neither is her husband. They have to (gasp!) talk to each other and make decisions together. They talk about their priorities together, and if they decide to postpone kids, they abstain from sex during the woman’s fertile window together. If they decide together to roll the dice, they both know they’re doing it and they commit to working through all the difficulties and joys together. You can take a pill on your own. You can’t do NFP on your own.

I skimmed through the comments on the article mentioned above. Amid the anecdotal praise for the effectiveness of NFP (often despite irregularities like PCOS), two women expressed difficulties they’d had with NFP in their marriages. I’ve pasted unedited excerpts from their comments below.

Many women are unable to tell when they are ovulating due to irregular cycles, regardless of what you think you know about how jolly easy it is to tell with a thermomether.  These women will spend their married lives in a state of worried confusion, holding their husband's desires at bay and feeling guilty for it (perhaps justifiably;  not all of us have husbands who accept our zeal for sexual obedience to a Church in which only men get to make the rules).  This 80% accuracy rate only applies to the women with regular cycles who can actually try to employ it.  And - what about the other 20% in each and every year?  "Too bad"?!  Women with jobs, other children to support, perhaps with husbands who don't help?  These are real people here!
I am also a Catholic woman with PCOS and verylong, very irregular cycles. We used NFP for ten years, but unfortunately, Iwas not able to use it successfully. We had four pregnancies, all surprises. Myhusband was threatening to leave if we didn’t do something permanent, so he gota vasectomy. Yes, I tried multiple methods, a fertility monitor, diet,medications, and having an erosion on my cervix cauterized. I went to anNFP-only doctor for many years. Nothing worked. I desperately wanted NFP to work. I wanted to beable to plan our family without committing a sin. I wanted to prove thenaysayers wrong. And I was a total failure. I feel like my body betrayed me.

These women are not suffering from NFP as such; they are suffering from having unsupportive husbands. The suffering is real, and I don’t want to make light of it. NFP requires teamwork; without teamwork, marriages wilt. The first woman tried to “hold [her] husband’s desires at bay,” a responsibility that wives shouldn’t have to take on. Why is her husband not working to hold his own desires at bay? Why is he unwilling to support his wife in her decision to use NFP, or to talk with her about their shared sexuality and family? The second woman’s husband “was threatening to leave if we didn’t do something permanent” after they had four surprise pregnancies in 10 years.  Where is his commitment to staying by her side through the difficulties of life? Where is his commitment to help raise the kids and be a dad to them? For both these men, where is their unconditional love for their wives? Where is their commitment to love them for who they are, and not just for who they are sexually?

NFP requires teamwork, and if a couple isn’t going to work together, it will cause major stress. If three players on a basketball team don’t pull their weight, the other two will be understandably frustrated and the team won’t be very good. Marriage isn’t any different, except more important. Couples need to talk with each other, listen to each other, and come to an agreement on the most important issues. Men and women both, contrary to popular belief, are capable of sexual self-control and authentic love. If the couple puts off conversations about sexuality and children, disagreement and resentment will surface, no matter what method they use. But if couples love each other unconditionally, if they’re willing to work together through life’s difficulties, if they’re willing to accept each other totally, including their fertility – their marriage will flourish.

Men exhibiting unconditional love for their wives? Women being valued and respected for who they are? Now that’s empowering.

For more information about Natural Family Planning, check out Iusenfp.

1 comment:

  1. Hormonal imbalances can make NFP much more difficult for some couples than for others. About 5-10% of women will have serious difficulty using the method as a result.

    The symptoms of PCOS, which the second woman has and the first woman probably does as well, are pretty much everything that can make NFP extra hard: Long irregular cycles, extended periods of fertility, short periods of infertility, and ambiguous symptoms.

    The problems the women describe are consequences of PCOS, not NFP nor of Catholic teaching. Endocrine disorders are serious health problems. Unplanned pregnancies are stressful. So is extended and unpredictable abstinence. No matter how strong a couple is, these problems can seriously put a strain on a marriage and seriously put a strain on their faith.


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