CV NEWS FEED // The Church teaches that couples aren’t morally allowed to use birth control, which critics argue leaves women feeling frustrated, restricted, or even resentful of their gift of fertility.
But what if the Church provided an alternative, one that leads women and couples to embrace their natural fertility and even strengthen their marriages in the process?
Through National NFP Awareness Week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) hopes to accomplish just that. The bishops kicked off their 22nd annual NFP Awareness Week last Sunday, highlighting the benefits of Natural Family Planning and empowering women to understand their bodies through fertility tracking.
Executive director at Couple to Couple League Dr. Michael Manhart spoke to CatholicVote about the research behind NFP awareness, saying studies show that women want to understand their cycles and fertility.
“A recent Kaiser family foundation survey among reproductive-aged women showed that 19% are using a fertility tracker at least once a month,” Manhart said. “To me, this underscores the inherent desire of women to understand their fertility and reflects an unrealized interest in NFP.”
But he also said that women often don’t have the resources or knowledge to actually implement a holistic, natural method of fertility tracking and family planning.
“According to the latest data from the National Survey of Family Growth… less than 2% of US women are currently using NFP as their primary method of family planning,” Manhart said.
“While this is certainly discouraging, the high use of fertility tracking apps suggests many more women would use NFP if they knew about it and were properly trained on its effective use to avoid or achieve pregnancy,” he continued.
NFP is a method of naturally spacing out pregnancies by abstaining from sex during the times when a woman is most fertile and conception is likely.
Along with Manhart, Dr. Richard Fehring, a nursing professor emeritus, NFP expert, and director of the Institute for NFP, recently wrote an article detailing their research into deepened trust and communication between couples using NFP.
Theresa Notare, the assistant director for the USCCB’s NFP program, told CatholicVote that despite the numerous benefits of the holistic method, NFP faces numerous cultural obstacles.
“For modern people in the USA who are so enamored of technology and quick things [instant gratification], it’s hard to communicate this method to couples,” she said. “NFP requires education and the commitment of the couple—and they have to change their sexual behavior, because if they want to limit pregnancies, they have to practice periodic sexual abstinence.”
“Then there is the challenge of the medical community, especially in the US,” she added. “As children start maturing and entering puberty, your typical American doctor will ask if the children, especially girls, should be put on birth control.”
Notare explained how the birth control movement in the early 1900s fueled the sexual revolution of the 1960s, making people view sex as merely an act between consenting people that does not need the context of marriage.
Taking birth control produces unfavorable effects on women and marriages she noted, pointing out research which has proven that hormonal birth control can cause cancer, cardiovascular problems, liver disorders, or massive blood clots in women.
Notare also noted that, in areas where the rates of birth control have gone up, the rates of sexually transmitted diseases have also skyrocketed. According to Manhart and Fehring, more contraception also correlates with higher rates of divorce and abortion.
To support couples and combat negative cultural influences, the USCCB provides both practical and spiritual resources, from devotionals about God’s plan for sexuality to a catalog of NFP classes offered by dioceses and online providers across the nation.
Notare said she is deeply grateful for the people working to promote NFP. “The people who take up the challenge of studying the science and developing methodology and programs [for NFP] are a remarkable group of people in the Church,” she said. “They have a clear sense of a call from God and they have the gift of seeing the holiness of sex as what God wanted.”