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Using NFP With a Contraceptive Mentality: Reality Check | Catholic Life

Using NFP With a Contraceptive Mentality: Reality Check

For a while now I have thought that it does not make sense to talk of using NFP with a “contraceptive mentality.” After all, a contraceptive mentality must be based on the separation of procreation and pleasure in the conjugal act, and abstaining from both in order to avoid either obviously does not separate the two.

But it is only recently that I realized how far such a thing is from any reality that I have ever known. The only way that it makes sense for one to be concerned about others “using NFP with a contraceptive mentality” is if one sees children as burdens “oh, everyone must want to avoid children if possible and only good Catholics accept the difficulty of raising these troublesome beings!” and also does not enjoy sex “and it is so easy to abuse NFP since all you have to do is abstain from sex for a few weeks, and that is so easy to do!”

So I decided to do a thought experiment, or whatever it is they call these things, and consider what it would look like for couples to “use NFP with a contraceptive mentality.” I tried to call certain couples to mind with this experience. Unfortunately no one who actually uses NFP thinks that they do so with a contraceptive mentality (although there are certainly those more scrupulous individuals–typically women–who do ponder the issue frequently and seek to insure that they are perfectly discerning the just place of abstinence in their family planning). So I had to turn to those who had previously used NFP “with a contraceptive mentality” and repented from their evil ways.

Here are their stories. Do let me know how well they match with your world.

Katherine and John (Because NFP is abused by newlyweds)
As told by Katherine

For years I had dreamed of a candlelit winter wedding. Inspired by our parish’s 8pm Christmas Eve mass I pictured the church full of candles and twinkling lights and green trees. Only there would be red roses rather than poinsettias.

But then when I actually got engaged and started planning with my friend Melissa, she pointed out how tired I would be after a 7pm wedding and hours of the reception. It was a no-brainer, and I immediately started planning our lovely morning wedding. It was not as glorious as my dreams, but it was quite nice, and I knew that being married ::blush:: was more important than the wedding!

Unfortunately though, John was still Southern Baptist at that point. He prayed daily for the Lord to wait until after our honeymoon to come back. After we took NFP classes he also started praying for me to be infertile on our wedding night. He has always been a good man and accepted that we would not use contraception, but he still had the contraceptive mentality.

After the wedding we got to the inn around 4pm. I must have been tired, but barely noticed. But John, the new leader of our home, acted as if he would never consider making love since the chart showed ambiguous signs of fertility. I pointed out that a baby really would be nice, but he shook his head resolutely and reminded me that if I got pregnant then we could never afford to go on a cruise for our first anniversary.

Well, that solved it for me! I mean, goodness, who cares about a few more days of abstinence as long as it means one can avoid the burden of a baby who would cause one to miss out on a Caribbean cruise next year?

Regrettably, I sunk so quickly into my new husband’s contraceptive mentality that I did not even think of praying about the issue as we flopped down on the bed with the laptop to spend the evening researching cruise lines.

Since then, John has become Catholic and is now on the parish council. Whenever the diocese talks about adding an NFP requirement to the pre-Cana curriculum John is the first to write to the bishop to remind him that NFP will only be used contraceptively by newlyweds.

Beth and Gabriel (Because NFP is abused by young couples who think too much)
As told by Gabriel

Well, the problem is that Beth was a grad student. No, not that she had just started grad school, after all, her program wasn’t really that demanding, she totally could have completed it with babies and we were guaranteed health insurance. But she is a statistician, and was constantly immersed in numbers, without a break. So when she would come home at the end of the day it was all still numbers.

Things would start to heat up, and then she would stop and say “Gab, it’s 7.1268.” And I’d be like “blast it” and she’d be like “you know we decided together to not risk anything higher than a 2.6.” And I’d be like “well, it’s not like those numbers are really real. After all, you’ve just crunched the studies and your cycles for the past 5 years and your maternal history of fertility rates and gynecological records. But there could be something missing.” And she’s be like “I’m sure there is something missing, but this is the best info we have.” And I’d be like “you’re so right, why are we even having this conversation?”

And that was that. Honestly, I don’t think that we ever could have gotten over our sinful desire to control our fertility at that stage. It was just too hard. Things only got easier as we got older and had been married longer and started to see sex as something that couldn’t quite be planned on. Thank God for grace!

Ignatius and Felicity (Because NFP is abused by couples with many young children)
As told by Felicity

The contraceptive mentality has always been a problem in our marriage. We did not notice it at first because we really wanted babies. I had spent my whole life planning on being a mother of a large family. I could not wait to get started.

But after four babies in five years, Nate started to suffer from the sin of worry. He was overly concerned for me. He thought that we should just abstain in order to avoid another pregnancy while the baby was still in diapers. So we did. For months at a time. I still feel so guilty writing this. I have confessed it many times!

Eventually we were overcome by the call to be open to life. Our fifth child was conceived a year later. But we had already fallen into a pattern of sin. So it was so easy to continue. I am eternally thankful for the grace that came in Easter, 2008.

We had, of course, abstained through all of Lent. And it was obvious that I was fertile on Easter. We would have to keep abstaining through the Octave in order to continue as slaves to the contraceptive mentality. But Nate had been to confession a lot during Lent. His spiritual director urged him to mature spiritually and cast aside his sin of doubt. Filled with the grace of the Easter Vigil, we were blessed with the conception of our sixth baby who was born right before our eighth anniversary.

Thanks be to God

So, maybe my imagination just is not good enough, but in the world that I live in, most people like sex. A lot. And most of them are not so great at calculating a 10% chance of pregnancy (that is, having to deal with a baby in nine months) and then determining that they are going to abstain from sex at the moment in order to maximize their selfish pleasure years in the future.

And when it comes to “being open to life” it typically looks like engaging in sexual intercourse because the couple felt like it. It seems entirely odd to me to view those who choose to forgo sexual pleasure for the good of their family with suspicion and constant concern that they are “abusing” their right to abstain from sex.

For real.

And just a reminder in case anyone was only half-reading, these were not real stories. I made them up in response to the typical accusations of groups of people who “routinely abuse” NFP. You know, newlyweds never have just cause to avoid pregnancy and all that.

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29 Responses to “Using NFP With a Contraceptive Mentality: Reality Check”

  1. Michelle 02. Aug, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    I’m so glad I have learned how to read your blog. :) And I love your made-up stories!

    Something I have embraced lately is looking at NFP as an alternative to complete abstinence. I hadn’t really thought of it that way until a few months ago and it really does position NFP more on the side of a blessing than a cross.

    • Rae 03. Aug, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

      That is a great view!

  2. Rebecca 02. Aug, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    Ok, so I’m tired and I totally see the funny in this, but I’m also a little confused (not unusual) and think I’ve totally missed the point (also not unusual). Do you think you could email me with the remedial version?

    Oh, and what’s that about ‘We had, of course, abstained through all of lent.’ HUH? You’re supposed to abstain through all of lent? If we had followed that rule it would’ve been upwards of…wait, never-mind TMI.

    Remedial version, please? :)

    • Rae 03. Aug, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

      My point was simply that I think that people who are worried about NFP being used “contraceptively” must live in a very different world than I do. The stories were my attempt at imagining what such a world would look like. I can’t imagine #1 happening, or see #2 as a likely problem, or see how #3 would be “contraceptive” at all.

      My conclusion is that people who forgo sex in order to avoid pregnancy tend to have a good reason for doing so!

      • Rebecca 03. Aug, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

        Ahhh, thanks! I completely agree then :).

      • Lane 26. Feb, 2015 at 5:41 pm #

        I know you made up the stories above, but they actually do align with my experience in real life. Every day, hundreds of devote Catholics live lives like this.

        You DON’T see anything contraceptive about the above illustrations? OMG.

        People love sex, but they fear babies too. Their fear will make them either use artificial contraception or else do nfp. If they try and adhere to Catholic teaching, they will torment themselves with nfp. If they are not strict Catholics, they will just use the Pill.

  3. Allison 03. Aug, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

    Rebecca don’t feel bad, I’m a tad lost as well.. I looked forward to reading this as I hear so much about this on CAF, but then I don’t get what the outcome of the post was?

    Sorry..

    • Rae 03. Aug, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

      I limit my reading of CAF for a reason. I guess we (meaning me and most posters there) live in very different worlds. :-) So I did not see a need to address this with a solid point-by-point post. The first two paragraphs outline my actual view, and then the stories are satire.

      I hope that helps. :-)

      • Rebecca 03. Aug, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

        What is CAF?

        • Rae 04. Aug, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

          I assumed that Allison meant the “Catholic Answers Forums” though I guess I could be wrong. It is possible that they have changed, but based on what I’ve seen in the past I can’t recommend them.

          • Allison 04. Aug, 2010 at 3:07 pm #

            Yes, I meant Catholic Answers Forum. Well, I kind of enjoy my reading and contributing there, but I stay in the Family and Parenting section, there are some nasty threads in other areas with a lot of bickering and arguing. A lot of the people there tend to be very conservative, and I’m in the middle. But I enjoy reading other people’s point of view as a rather new Catholic.

            Thanks for clarifying, I get what you’re saying now.

            And I think I do agree with you, I think that for Christians and Catholics who choose to use NFP that they are generally not using it as contraception, because if they were, why not just use contraception? However, how do you feel about those who say they never want children but use NFP because it’s the only thing approved by the Church? Not sure how often that happens, but would you still think that their view is okay? Or do you view children as a part of marriage for those who are able?

            • Rebecca 04. Aug, 2010 at 8:32 pm #

              I’m going to answer the question “How do you feel about those who say they never want children but use NFP because it’s the only thing approved by the church?” (Hope that’s okay Rae :) )

              While we don’t qualify our stance of not wanting children and using NFP ‘because it’s the only thing approved by the church’. We do answer the question of when are you going to have children with ‘never’. While we are open to life (hence being open to NFP) and open to the fact that God may change our circumstances, right now we feel strongly that we have just cause to avoid pregnancy and frankly it is hard to see that changing any time soon. And you see why that answer is just a little long and why ‘never’ is just easier. As I said, I live by ‘never say never’ so I know it’s not a finite/definite answer. I think it’s hard for women (families) who want children more than anything to understand how someone could not want that (just as it’s equally as hard to understand it in the other direction). While my heart breaks for my subfertile friends, I cannot truly understand their plight.

              I’m sure your question referred to people who more specifically may not have just cause and just don’t want children for selfish reasons, but perhaps they don’t see it that way. (I know that many who know us feel we are selfish…)

              Just my 2 cents :).

              • Allison 05. Aug, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

                Thanks for sharing your experience. In real life I don’t know many Catholics, so to me it’s interesting to hear things from different sides.

                So, do you still feel as though marriage and sex have both a procreative and unitive meaning?

                I mean, I understand that some people can’t have children due to infertility or for health reasons. But for the healthy individuals, for sex to be procreative and unitive, they’d have to be open to having children, correct? But if you’re only having sex during your known infertile times (like Phase 3) and are living with never trying to have children, then that sounds like it’s going against what the Church teaches. (the you here is not you in particular, it means you as in general) Because from what I’ve read, it sounds like in general the Church teaches that all marriages must be open to children?

                I understand that God could still send you a child even if you were only having sex during phase 3, but it’s the mentality of deliberately never trying to have a baby that I think it starts sounding almost like contraception. I think that’s what many people are referring to. At least that’s what it sounds like to me.

                Anyways, new Catholic over here, only 4 years in, so I only really know what I’ve read online, so there’s a lot I’m not familiar with. This is why I ask these things so that I see what other people think.

                • Rebecca 06. Aug, 2010 at 7:03 pm #

                  Since I can only answer this question for me (and not me in general 😉 ). My answer is yes we do believe in the procreative and unitive aspects of marriage and sex.

                  I think I am hyper-sensitive to the discernment process because of my background working with children (children in general and children with special needs). I know the miracle of a ‘healthy baby’ because I spent so much time learning about all of the things that can go wrong (sorry, not try to scare any of you) AND I also see on a daily basis the commitment and expense a child takes. Not that I think there is ever a ‘perfect’ time to have a child or enough money in the bank to have a child- there’s not – I just know that it isn’t a decision I take at all lightly and there are days that I truly do not feel called to be a mom and other days that I do. However, those days that I do are not often and my personal feeling on the subject is that when the day(s) come that I feel called to motherhood more than I don’t it may be time. Life certainly won’t be perfect (it never is and I don’t expect it to be), but in my heart I will know that God is telling me it might be time.

                  I will end this ramble with this: Please don’t think I’m being nonchalant or cavalier about this – that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve prayed and given this more thought than perhaps any other issue in my life. At first due to extreme pressure from potential grandparents to have children (and that is when I came to the conclusion that if it is my vocation to be a mother, it will happen in God’s time) and again when I started researching NFP.

              • Rae 06. Aug, 2010 at 4:11 pm #

                Thanks for “jumping in” Rebecca. I love it when you share.

                • Rebecca 06. Aug, 2010 at 6:41 pm #

                  Thanks :) I often wonder if I ‘talk’ online too much like I do IRL.

                • moe 10. Nov, 2010 at 5:11 pm #

                  Dear Rebecca, How good you are to follow the church’s teachings and refrain from artificial means of contraception! Good job!
                  If you work with special needs children then how great it is that you are prepared to take care of a special needs child if God sends you one. Many of us dont have that experience and just have to trust that God gives us what He knows in His infinite wisdom we can handle.
                  I’m a little confused though, about your comment on the expense of a child. Do you think they are expensive? Seriously, they arent really very expensive, not in this country anyway and certainly not to the extent that one can’t have enough money in the bank. We live in the land of plenty!! I know many a happy family with 4+ children who live quite happily with an under 100k/yr salary….i guess it boils down to priorities that you and your hubby have set…which is ultimately between you and The Big Guy. God has given you the free will and obviously a well functioning reproductive system
                  (if nfp is working for you-unless of course you are infertile and dont know it yet) to choose to be a mom so it really isn’t up to Him to decide for you, right? so, when you say it is up to Him then are you implying that you will then be giving up the NFP and trusting in Him? I’m just a little confused by that last statement regarding it being His decision. Our society, sadly, is scaring peolpe to death about having children…”too expensive”, “possible birth defects”, “not enough me time”, ……what has happened to the spirit of HOPE….how many times are we told in “The Book” “Be Not Afraid” , “Fear Not”, “Trust in Me”…?Rebecca, please find some good women who love motherhood so that they may show you how beautiful it is!!! And then pray very hard that you dont make the same mistake that many women do and think they are fertile forever because then it may be too late and you may not have the choice any longer.

            • Rae 06. Aug, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

              I’ll pull this into another post with my view and invite others to share. :-)

  4. Sarah 04. Aug, 2010 at 2:08 pm #

    I laughed so hard when I read this post! I love it. I had one of the types you mention (who accuse those who use NFP of doing so for contraceptive reasons) leave a comment on my NFP post. I wasn’t sure how to respond to her. I wanted to be like — are you for real? Do you not realize that 95% of CATHOLICS use contraception! Before we go judging that 5% for sinning, lets work on the others! Gosh!

    • Rae 06. Aug, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

      I am glad that I amused someone!

    • Christy 28. Jul, 2011 at 6:58 am #

      AMEN, Sarah! Seriously! And Rae, your examples had me in stitches. Especially that first scenario with the newlyweds. LOL

  5. Claire 04. Sep, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    This post is hilarious.

    • Rae 05. Sep, 2010 at 6:51 am #

      Thank you for your comment! It made me happy to know that I had managed to amuse two people.

  6. moe 10. Nov, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    it is interesting that you coulnt imagine #1 happening as i know of it happening atleast 3 times…contraceptive mentality? i would say so…i am guilty of using nfp with a cotraceptive mentality without knowing it..i had no idea that you had to have a grave reason to practice nfp…my husband just wanted to “enjoy” our first yr of marriage without worring about the expense of a baby…he is a convert and now also regretful of the contraceptive mentality that we both had…not to mention the fact that abstaining during the most desirable time of the month for both man and woman can be detrimental to the marriage and the total giving of oneself…how sad that our nfp instructor didnt mention the hormone surge that occurs during ovulation that draws the man to the woman and makes a woman desire her husband more…i guess because i had “saved myself” for my husband and didnt participate in conversations about sex with my secular freinds I was a litlle clueless, to say the least…praise God we know now and we can enjoy one another fully…and we would welcome 10 more children if that is what God chooses for us.

    • Rae 10. Nov, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

      The thing is, I don’t think that you’ll find that the *Church* teaches that the “contraceptive mentality” applies to NFP. The whole point with NFP is that you abstaining from sexual intercourse in order to avoid procreation. Thus you are respecting the connection between the two, whereas the contraceptive part of the contraceptive mentality means that one is separating the two.

      If you know of sources from the Church that indicate otherwise I would be happy to read them.

      I know of many couples who abstained on their wedding nights. But all had just reasons, and I can’t imagine how anyone could know that someone else did not have a just reason for doing so. I guess I am innocent and would like to stay that way. :-)

  7. Kathleen 04. Aug, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    Small steps. The first thing that every Bishop in the US should do is make NFP class completion MANDATORY FOR ALL COUPLES who wish to get married by a Catholic Priest.

    We have had decades of devastation of the unborn through unintended spontaneous abortion caused by decades of Catholic women ingesting the pill. The information that the pill’s ineffectiveness in stopping ovulation was not well known for the first twenty years: that the pill caused a hostile environment for a fertilized egg and that the incidence of spontaneous abortion (once every twelve to eighteen months) was not known at all for many years is the sad reality. Now that this information has surfaced it is important to inform every Catholic female and offer a viable CATHOLIC alternative.
    It is admirable to speak of being open to children. The real world dictates a more pragmatic approach.

    There are times when getting pregnant is a serious medical issue for the new mother. A good example would be after a caesarean birth when the physician orders no pregnancy for two years after the surgery so that the uterine wall and abdominal wall can heal.

    NFP can be a good alternative to total abstinence and minimize the risk to the mother. It is the Catholic answer to the pill and from the research seems to be just as effective. Natural Family Planning means JUST THAT: family planning. Without giving a viable alternative to Catholic women they will continue to use oral contraceptives. The goal is to defeat the devil they call the pill.

    Catholic couples who are committed to NFP will gain a respect and reverence for the sanctity of marriage (it is, after all- a Sacrament) and their partner. It will become a purer relationship and no one will be “used” as a sex object. It will be a Catholic Marriage in every sense and in my humble opinion I think that is the ultimate objective.

  8. Ann Morgan 20. Mar, 2017 at 11:06 pm #

    Thought experiment here: Suppose that human babies had a digestive metabolism that was similiar to ovulation, in that they could only digest food 3 hours a day, out of 24.

    A woman, who did not want to be burdened with a baby, then carefully tracked and used laboratory tests, every day, to find out the 3 hours during which her baby could digest food – and specifically did NOT feed it during those three hours. But she fed it at other times.

    Would you be good with the resultant dead baby? Would you praise the woman as to oh-so how very holy she was, in comparison with women who had stabbed or poisoned their babies?

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