Is NFP Effective?
Isn’t NFP just Catholic contraception?
No, NFP is much more than a Catholic form of contraception or birth control. It involves getting to know the signs of the woman’s cycle as well as addresses health and fertility concerns. Even single women are encouraged to use NFP!
The Catholic Church teaches that contraception is anything that is done before, during, or after the sexual act to render that act infertile. This would include the use of hormonal birth control, IUD’s, condoms, jellies, etc., if the reason for their use by the couple was to prevent pregnancy. Natural Family Planning is simply a matter of the couple knowing the signs and symptoms of fertility which are naturally-occurring in every woman’s monthly cycle, and using that knowledge to achieve or avoid pregnancy. This is done by either engaging in, or abstaining from, intercourse on specific days of the woman’s cycle.
- Practicing Natural Family Planning actually strengthens marriages by allowing for open communication between the spouses regarding their family, and liberates the sexual relationship between them as well by removing anything that gets in the way of the original design of the sexual act.
- NFP is not in any way permanent. Before every act of sexual intercourse, a couple has the freedom to choose to abstain or act, which could determine their conception of a child. In most forms of contraception, there is a permanent period of infertility that cannot be changed once it is administered, and lasting negative effects on health and fertility may be found after their use.
For more on this question, visit our NFP vs. Contraception page
Is NFP the rhythm method?
No, it is not the same. Natural Family Planning (NFP) is an umbrella term for modern, scientifically accurate, and reliable methods of family planning. It differs significantly from the older Rhythm (or Calendar) Method.
The rhythm method, which was first introduced in the 1930’s, as well as other calendar-based methods of family planning, involve tracking the average length of a woman’s menstrual cycle and counting a certain number of days in order to determine when she is fertile. This method has a high failure rate, because many women’s cycles do not fall within the “normal” length. It does not take into account any signs or symptoms of fertility–it is based on counting alone.
NFP, on the other hand, teaches couples what signs and symptoms to look for, and then they follow a set of rules based on these signs and symptoms to determine their fertility at any point in the cycle. The major methods of NFP are all extremely effective at avoiding pregnancy (see Effectiveness page).
Is NFP Scientific?
Yes, NFP methods are scientific, and are backed up by research and medical viability. NFP uses the science of the body to understand and evaluate its natural biomarkers of fertility. Many nurses and doctors are certified in methods of NFP and use them to work with their patients on fertility awareness, reproductive health, and general women’s health. Certain methods can even help to diagnose cancer and other diseases.
Does practicing NFP guarantee that I will have a large family?
Not at all. The Church teaches that couples should prayerfully discern whether they have just reasons to avoid pregnancy, and can decide based on those reasons if they should avoid pregnancy temporarily or even, in some cases, indefinitely (Humanae Vitae no. 10).
A Christian married couple has as many children as God gives them and as they can take responsibility for, given the health of each family member and their social and economic situation.
That being said, sometimes couples who practice NFP end up having larger-than-average families, simply because they are open to life and God’s plan for their family size. This openness materializes as a deep trust in God, that He will provide for their family no matter what, and this trust drives out many of the fears of having another child.
Consider the following quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Sacred Scripture and the Church’s teaching see in large families a sign of God’s blessing and the parents’ generosity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2373).
In January of 2015, in an interview with journalists, Pope Francis said that in order to be good parents, Catholics do not need to “breed like rabbits.” This quote has been taken out of context many times and in many different ways, but when one reads the full quote from the interview, it is clear that Pope Francis was simply encouraging prayerful discernment and responsible parenthood. Natural Family Planning is exactly that–providing couples with a way to avoid pregnancy if necessary, in a morally licit manner. For more on this comment, check out the following article.
This sounds like a lot of work! What if I have a busy lifestyle, do I have time to practice NFP?
Take the quiz to help you decide which method might work best with your lifestyle.
If I’m a married Catholic, do I have to practice NFP?
There are other couples, however, who do desire to space out or postpone their pregnancies, and think that the only way to do this is through the use of contraceptives. They may do this because they have been told that it is the only effective means of avoiding pregnancy, which is simply not true (see the question on effectiveness above).
Many people know that the Catholic Church does not approve of contraceptives, but they may not know why. If you’re interested in that question, visit our NFP vs. Contraception page to learn more.
If the timing of pregnancy and/or the spacing of children doesn’t matter at all to you and your spouse, then NFP simply might not be necessary for you to practice at this time. However, remember that you always have the option to learn it for the future, when there may be a time you could benefit from it (whether it be achieving or avoiding pregnancy, or also pinpointing various feminine health issues such as endometriosis or ovarian cysts).
Why does the Catholic Church care about my sexual relationship with my spouse? Isn’t that private?
Do hormonal contraceptives impact women's health?
Significant Risks of Oral Contraceptives: Detailed review of oral contraceptives and the increased rate of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and human papillomavirus and cervical cancer. To read the full study review click here
Comprehensive analysis of hormonal contraceptives on women’s health.
Dr. Williams and collegues conducted an extensive reviewe of the effect of hormonal contraceptives on women’s health. A number of potential side effects were noted including significant increases in risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, cystitis, bone fractures, depression, mood disorders and suicides, fatty weight gain, and female sexual dysfunction. With the long-acting injectable contraceptives there is also an increased risk of getting HIV. To read more click here
Learn more how NFP differs from contraceptives click here
Do couples who use NFP have sex less often than couples who use contraception?
Frequency of sexual intercourse is based on a couple’s intention and desire, and not on the family planning method.
Despite the challenge of avoiding intercourse during fertile times, surveys of persons using these methods often show that couples have more satisfying sex lives, improved relationships, and feel more respected by their partners and in control of their fertility. A key factor relates to a couples’ level of emotional maturity and also whether they mutually agree on common goals to achieve or avoid pregnancy. Each Method of NFP addresses this concern and provides relationship building techniques for couples to use during the fertile time if they are abstaining. Further, every successful relationship requires some self-control and sacrifice, and many couples find that this brief time of discipline helps to strengthen their relationship. (To read more click here)
NFP couples have sex as much as other married couples – sometimes even more, and more satisfied sex with better libido. NFP couples when spacing births, they would abstain from sexual intercourse during the fertile time of the woman’s menstrual cycle. Most married couples would say that it is more important for their sexual relationship to reflect the quality of their marriage, that is, healthy, loving, intimate and respectful. NFP can be a great help to couples who are interested in building a strong marriage because NFP supports the gift of one’s spouse, the gift of life and God’s design for married love! (To read more click here)
Summary of Supportive Articles
- Multi-country study was undertaken to describe the characteristics of Symto-Thermal Method users, understand their perceptions of NFP, and its perceived impact on relationships. Conclusions from the survey demonstrates Symto Thermal Method of NFP is a well-accepted approach to family planning across several Western cultures. It is consistently viewed as being beneficial to couples’ self-knowledge, their relationship, and satisfaction with frequency of sexual intercourse. Read Article here
- Divorce rate of couples NOT using NFP is twice as high as couples (14.4%) as compared to couples using NFP (9.6%). To read the study click here
- Another study showed that the ever-use of natural family planning (NFP) among ever-married women was associated with 58 percent lower odds of divorce than among women who never-used. To read more please click here
- A resent survey found that 95% percent of women and 55% of men said using NFP has helped them to know their body better. Large majorities of men (74%) and women (64%) felt NFP helped to improve their relationship. Most women (53%) and men (63%) felt using NFP improved their sex life . Seventy-five percent of women and 73% of men said they are either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their frequency of sexual intercourse. To read more of the study click here
- In a 2004 study published by the Journal of Nursing Scholarship, designed to gauge the effect of natural family planning on marital relationships, asked married couples practicing these methods a series of open-ended questions to. “Of the 2,287 coded comments, 1,765 (74%) were positive,” indicating that the majority of those practicing natural methods of family planning believed it had had a positive influence on their marriage. To read more, click here
Can NFP address infertility/recurrent miscarriages?
It absolutely can! In fact, Natural Family Planning is an incredible gift to couples are are struggling with infertility. As NFP charts the female cycle, it is perfectly suited as a diagnostic tool to help couples pinpoint the root causes of their infertility, and then to help them address these issues in a way that maintains the God-given design for their sexual relationship as well as the transmission of life.
Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro Technology) through the Creighton Model of Fertility Awareness is especially situated for couples struggling with infertility and recurrent miscarriages. It even helps single women who have cycle concerns such as imbalanced hormones, painful periods and PMDD, endometriosis, PCOS, etc.
I'm not sure which method is right for me?
You are encouraged to learn about each method option together with your spouse and discuss these options to maximize method effectiveness. The following are some considerations to have in mind as you consider which method to practice.
- Which signs do I want to track?
- What about my/our lifestyle or temperament might lead me to practice or avoid certain methods?
- Do I have special health concerns? Am I looking to manage my overall health, aspects of my health or fertility concerns? Am I simply looking for a method of family planning?
- Do certain methods have more available instructors and fellow users in my area? How important is this to me/us?
Are there other helpful NFP websites and blogs?
Are there any related Catholic Podcasts?
- USCCB’s Made for Love Podcast for more on dating, marriage, and family life.
- The Ask Christopher West Podcast – Christopher and Wendy West answer questions about faith, life, love, and sexuality, in light of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
- Ascension Presents Videos and Podcasts – Jackie and Bobby Angel, Fr. Mike Schmitz, and more!
- The Feminine Genius Podcast is a Catholic podcast that celebrates all women of God and their unique genius.
- In the Let Love podcast, we invite you to join us for casual conversations, looking at life through the lens of love.
- Momfidence looks to 10 guiding principles to help us be the best mothers – and selves – we can be.
Is there further reading material on NFP and TOB?
- Good News about Sex and Marriage by Christopher West
- Life-Giving Love: Embracing God’s Beautiful Design for Marriage by Kimberly Hahn
- Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
- The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning by Simcha Fisher
- Sex au Naturel by Patrick Coffin
- Holy Sex by Gregory Popcak
- Theology of the Body for Beginners: Rediscovering the Meaning of Life, Love, Sex, and Gender by Christopher West
Are there helpful resources to guide mamas through pregnancy and beyond?
- Made for This: The Catholic Mom’s Guide to Birth by Mary Haseltine
- A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism by Sarah A. Reinhard
- Nine Months With God and Your Baby: Spiritual Preparation for Birth by Eline Landon
- Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine-Month Novena for Mothers-to-Be by Donna Marie Coopoer O’Boyle
- A Mother’s Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot
- Baby and Beyond: Overcoming Those Post-Childbirth Woes by Allison Auth
- Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood by Lisa and Gregory Popcak