Lately, most of my conversations start out, “so I read this thing online about NFP”. My husband jokingly referred to my “obsession with the NFP subculture”. Like any subculture, there are perennial debates. One of those is the grave/just debate, on which I laid out my feelings at the end of the last post, and I’ll touch on again later, but there are a few other hot topics I’ve seen come up a lot in conversation and in my own life. I’d like to take a look at one in particular.
When is a good time to learn NFP?
The current default is an engaged couple goes to meet with the priest at a traditional parish, and he suggests that the couple learns NFP, and they take a class before the wedding. It’s not necessarily a bad way to go. I know at least two parishes in our Archdiocese that actually require couples to know NFP before they get married. Again, not a horrible idea.
But wives, do you remember being engaged? My engagement lasted all of nine months, and it was hectic as all get out. I was in my senior year of college, so I had all that going on, and to be perfectly honest, NFP class was a distant contestant to dress shopping and liturgy planning. We had a lovely couple teaching us and helping me read my symptothermal chart, but I really couldn’t tell you much about the class or even the methodology (I’ve been using Billings for a while now, with the occasional ovulation test strip for good measure).
NFP needs to be taught well before engagement. Senior year of high school would be ideal, earlier if there are any issues. Maybe the fellas don’t need to know all about cervical mucous just yet, but the girls certainly do.
Why wouldn’t you start that early?
I started charting when I was 19. I downloaded a basic period tracker but soon upgraded to “OvuView” which I still use today. I was so excited to find an app that helped me learn NFP and see what was going on with my body. My parents used NFP for their whole marriage, so I was surprised when my mom discouraged me from charting with anything but the calendar rhythm method since all I needed to know was when to put feminine products in my backpack.
The argument is that single people without gynecological issues have no reason to track their cycles, and shouldn’t be taught NFP because they might use it as birth control. Now thankfully, among NFP instructors and Church authorities, this is not a frequent statement. Nevertheless, I’ll address that argument real quick.
If someone is going to engage in promiscuous behavior, they are far more likely to spend fifty cents on a condom than use NFP to plan their amorous escapades for an infertile day. Frankly, on an infertile day, a woman is much more likely to be less easily aroused and put the breaks on any shenanigans. A key component of risky sexual behavior is that it doesn’t really involve a whole lot of planning or foresight.
I’m not saying it’s impossible for a single person to abuse the methods of NFP in order to have premarital sex without pregnancy, but I will state that it would be an extremely unlikely scenario. If a couple doesn’t have qualms about premarital sex, why would barrier method contraceptives be their line in the sand?
I really don’t think young women abusing NFP is a major concern.
Why should we start that early?
1) To help identify problems
We’re right at the end of endometriosis awareness month. Did you know that currently, 1/10 women in the U.S. are suffering from endometriosis? That’s a lot of people suffering from a very serious gynecological condition that can cause serious issues. PCOS is another condition which affects 8-20% of women that can cause serious problems with your cycle and with fertility.
Most GYN practitioners will prescribe the Pill and send a gal on her way, but with a few months of Creighton Method charts, a NaPro GYN can identify the underlying issue, present an accurate diagnosis, and actually treat the problem, not just put a hormonal band-aid on it.
2) More self-knowledge is never a bad thing
As adults, we may find adolescents’ over dramatic journeys for self-actualization silly, but when you’re going through adolescence, it’s anything but. So much about who you are is changing at an incredible rate, and you’re just trying to figure out where you fit in and who you are going to be. For adolescent girls, the hormonal shifts that go along with your cycle can throw a major wrench in the works.
The mood swings are real. Incredibly real and incredibly frustrating. Once I started charting, even just unofficially, it was incredibly helpful to me to be able to tell myself, “No, you’re not going crazy for crying over a Rhianna song, you’re just two days pre-menstruation.” Or knowing that as I geared up for ovulation, maybe late night movie parties with my boyfriend were a fairly bad idea.
An organization called TeenSTAR has been teaching teens basic charting for over 30 years, and they’ve found that teens who have a good understanding of their cycle are far less likely to be “victims” to their hormonal shifts, more mature, are encouraged to think ahead, and are less susceptible to peer pressure.
3) Avoid NFP as just another type of birth control
When an engaged couple is pitched the idea of using NFP, it’s usually presented as a healthy and moral alternative to artificial birth control. But calling NFP birth control is like calling Theology of the Body sex ed. Yeah, I suppose it could serve a similar purpose, but NFP is for so much more than just controlling when you want to have children.
NFP can be a major positive change in your lifestyle, but so few people practice it that way. If the only reason a couple is using NFP is just to not use birth control, they are going to be sorely disappointed. The two are not the same (more on that later).
If a woman has been charting her fertility for the last five-ten years, she is well aware of the sacrifice that using it to avoid pregnancy will entail. There won’t be any shocking reality checks in NFP class two months before a wedding. Someone may tell her and her fiance that “it’s only ten days of abstinence a month”, but she’ll know herself well enough to realize it may be more, or it may be less.
At the point where a couple begins to seriously discern marriage, discerning attitudes about sex and intimacy needs to happen as well. The ability to be open and transparent about your fertility should become an integral part of that (in an appropriate and prudent way, of course). There’s no good reason to not give couples the tools to have those conversations during the discernment period, instead of saving that conversation until after the hall is paid for, the dress fitted, and the honeymoon booked.
I’m so glad to see more and more single women beginning to chart. I’m even more glad to see diocesan programs that encourage charting for singles. Eventually, I hope this will be the norm; elective courses for the senior year of high school, seminars at Catholic colleges, and parents encouraging conversation and self-knowledge. Armed with this knowledge, we can better prepare the next generation for strong marriages, and for a deeper understanding of the great care and love that went into our creation.
Check out the previous posts in the “NFP in the Trenches” series, and stay tuned for much more yet to come!