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What is NFP and why does it matter?

July 3, 2024

By Angelo & Suzanne Pietropaoli
Diocesan NFP Directors

“What if there is nothing wrong with my wife’s body?” asks author and speaker Jason Evert. “What if it is perfect just the way it is? What if what needs to change is my behavior?”

In a few words, Evert points to the heart of Catholic teaching on sex and love. Scripture and the constant teaching of the Church open our eyes to the truth of who we are, created male and female in the very image of God. Human persons are blessed to be able to share in God’s life-giving love in the free, total, faithful, fruitful union that is marriage.

This beautiful truth can be especially hard to understand in a world where technology focuses on having sex without babies – and babies without sex. But faith says otherwise: God is our Creator, and as creatures we are called to cooperate with nature, not attempt to re-design it according to our preferences.

So how can we live in a way that honors both the love-giving and life-giving meaning of sexual union? Is that even possible? Jason Evert’s insight gives us the key: There is nothing wrong with our bodies. Fertility is not a disease to be ”fixed” or fought against with drugs, devices, and surgeries. God did not make a mistake by making us fertile. In fact, he designed human fertility in a way that can be easily understood. That knowledge, and a century of rigorous research into the signs that identify the fertile and infertile phases of the female cycle, have led to modern methods of Natural Family Planning.

NFP focuses on female fertility because it is cyclical and occurs for a very limited time in each cycle; once an egg is released from the ovary, it is viable for only 12-24 hours. On the other hand, barring illness or injury, a man is continuously fertile from puberty until death. Therefore, NFP methods focus on identifying the fertile time in a woman’s cycle.

The fertile/infertile times are identified by the presence of certain biomarkers. These physical signs of fertility include changes in basal body temperature and cervical mucus, which are observed and recorded. Couples then use what they have learned and apply the rules to determine whether they are in the fertile or infertile phase of the cycle, and to adjust their behavior according to their shared family planning intention. To avoid pregnancy, they abstain from intercourse during the fertile time. Though the length of the fertile time can vary from cycle to cycle, the days when conception is possible make up the smallest segment of any cycle.

The ability to identify the fertile time is also helpful for couples wishing to achieve pregnancy. Because it can be used to achieve as well as to avoid pregnancy, NFP is authentic family planning. Rooted in respect for nature as designed by God, NFP stands alone as a healthy, organic, highly effective (98-99%, on par with the Pill) approach to spacing births while being entirely free of side effects. In addition, a woman who charts her cycle has a unique window on her reproductive health. She is aware of what is normal, and so able to identify and address potential health problems.

Understanding their combined fertility develops a sense of shared responsibility between husband and wife. They can accept fertility as a gift rather than treating it like an illness or a design flaw. This helps bring them into right relationship with one another and with God. The choice of NFP moves couples toward increased communication on relationship and family planning intentions and helps them grow in love for God and for one another.

Such couples discover for themselves the benefits of this way of life, which Pope Francis highlighted in a speech in Rome in May 2023.

“We need to rediscover the beauty of human sexuality by once again turning to the book of nature, learning to respect the value of the body and the generation of life, with a view to authentic experiences of conjugal love.”
Respectful of the way people connect and learn, and of advances in technology, there are a variety of NFP methods, and many modes of learning. To learn more about this wonderful way of life, or to share your questions or concerns, please visit www.rcdony.org/nfp. We welcome your questions/concerns at apietropaoli@rcdony.org or at 518-483-0459.

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