Empowering Women // Strengthening Families


Is there anything of value in life that does not take work and self discipline? Lately, this sentiment has been echoed all over pinterest with pictures of an exercise regimen, captioned with an inspirational thought, like “Work Hard, See Results.”

Getting in shape takes perseverance, sacrifice and hard work. But, everyone agrees that the end result is worth the effort. Look at marriage, a career, owning a home, staying out of debt, buying a car, and living life as responsible human being… every aspect of life requires some amount of sacrifice, self discipline and work to achieve a positive, desired end result.

So why is it, when it comes to our fertility, that we all of a sudden throw the need for effort out the window? For some, it is enough effort to try and remember to take a pill every day. The result for this effort? A false sense of security that pregnancy is no longer a concern for the duration of her prescription. However, Guttmacher Institute admits that 54% of unintended pregnancies in the USA happen to those who were using contraception the month that they conceived.[1]

If this is the case, it is no wonder people will not look twice at Natural Family Planning. Why put in more effort for a less effective method? The secular media has done a fine job of branding NFP as ineffective, as too much work, and as downright ignorant. This image is not helped by Catholic bloggers who, trying to be funny, end up echoing the secular media’s perspective. One blogger encouraged proliferating this new slogan for NFP: “NFP doesn’t work.” He proposes this as a positive and true statement that will ultimately open people up to the gift of children and make them open to life.

In reality, his proposed statement is anything but true. It propagates the misconception that the term NFP refers to only one method. Perhaps, the method the blogger used was frustrating and ineffective, but we should be wary of dismissing all methods based on the failings of one. The Billings Ovulation Method has a scientifically validated efficacy rate of 99.5% in postponing pregnancy. This figure is an actual use number taken from a study in 1997 conducted by the Chinese government comparing Billings to the IUD. The .5% of unexpected pregnancies is a result of the couple breaking one of the four rules.[2] (Wait, did you say CHINA? Yes, in a one-child law society, the Communist Chinese government approves 3 methods of pregnancy prevention: Sterilization, Hormonal Contraception or the Billings Ovulation Method.[3]

This blogger, unfortunately, is not alone in his “humorous” NFP bashing. While many of us can laugh about some of the quirky things we NFP people do, communicating the idea that NFP methods are ineffective is detrimental to drawing young couples toward a morally acceptable way of life.

Picture this scenario for a moment… A young Catholic couple decides to marry. They are bombarded by our culture, but they want to do the right thing. They are wary of the effectiveness of NFP, but decide to do a little research and it starts to look promising. Then they stumble upon these blogs of seemingly seasoned NFP users telling them it doesn’t work so “haha, you will have a large family whether you want to or not!” Is this going to open them up to life? Will this endear them to the counter-cultural large family? For anyone who is remotely on the fence, it will send them straight to their OB to get a prescription for the pill.

I cringe when I read these “funny” blogs, because it undermines everything we NFP teachers are trying to do. It confirms the negative brand propagated by the culture, and it chases people away. If I was being told of a hilariously unattainable requirement to have to abstain for the entire first half of the month to use the method most conservatively (with the least amount of risk), I would run for the hills too!

In fact, upon my first introduction to NFP I did want to run for the hills!

My fiance and I were driving cross-country when he first brought up the idea of NFP. My response? I cried … for 20 miles. Between my sniffles, my thoughts went something like this, “NFP doesn’t work. We’re not even Catholic! I am getting married at 21 and if I do this, I will get pregnant right away. Granted, all I ever wanted to do in life was to be a stay-at-home mom, but I want some time with my spouse before the pitter patter of little feet grace our hallways. I am NOT ready for children, and NFP is not going to help me in this regard.” Finally I said, “Fine, I will pray about it.” This was a religious sounding cop-out that really meant “I am going to put this off for a while”.

Finally, I agreed to attend an informational session. The week before the meeting, I went to my OB for a check up. Without even asking me, she pulled out her pad to write me a prescription for the pill. I told her I was going to a meeting to learn more about NFP. She rolled her eyes, smiled knowingly, nodded and said, “You’ll be back.”

As it turned out, I never did go back. The presentation simply outlined the scientific data behind NFP. My mind was blown, “You mean, NFP is actually scientifically researched and published in medical journals? It’s not a guessing game? It’s not based on calendars or averages? I don’t have to take my temperature every day? Just paying attention during the day and writing it down? Four rules? Limited times of abstinence… eh… might be a challenge… but only 6-8 days a month (besides my period)? Oh, this could actually work! And I am crap at taking pills anyway … Ok! Let’s do this!”

I was thoroughly convinced. The nursing majors that lived on my floor senior year of college were not as enthusiastic. They all thought I was crazy. But time and experience have only increased my enthusiasm. We have used NFP for six years now, and have 3 (planned and on purpose) children. I now teach the Billings Ovulation Method™ and have presented to several panels of doctors, many of which are now referring clients to me or have become clients themselves. I remain unwaveringly convinced.

Now, yes, I did say there are times of abstinence with the use of NFP. And, since periodic abstinence is the cause of the most disdain and demoralizing humor, let’s talk about it for a minute. Yes, it takes some work and sacrifice. No, with the Billings Method you do not have to abstain for weeks at a time to use the method most effectively. But it is counter cultural to have any bit of self control when it comes to your sex life. Let’s be honest, though, we are all used to practicing periodic abstinence. By virtue of the law (at the very least), we do not see people getting it on everywhere we go. Thankfully! But does periodic abstinence in the comfort of your own home damage your sex life?

Let me ask you a question. Why do we all spend so much money on girl scout cookies when they are available? Why do we overpay for a small box of cookies when we could walk inside a store and get three times as many Oreos for the same price? Because girl scout cookies are only available for a limited time. They are special.

Those of us who practice temporary abstinence have a tendency to take advantage of all the days that are available, rendering our sex lives more active, more frequent and [dare I say]…more fulfilled… all while still postponing pregnancy.
To illustrate, a client gave me permission to use her chart.[4] These clients are not newlyweds. In fact, they have been married for over seven years and have small children. Does this look like a suffering sex life to you? (Note: I=Intercourse. )

Compare that to the stereotypical, non-newlywed, couple from the Flight of the Conchord’s classic, “Business Time.”[5]

Why is this funny? Because the majority of America can relate! How many times are contracepting couples really getting it on every month? More than 16 times? For the average contraception induced 28 day cycle, with the average 5 day bleed, that is only 7 days a month that you DO NOT have sex…doubtful.

Now NFP will not all of a sudden give you powers and supernatural energy. But the point is that NFP most certainly does not harm your sex life, it enhances it.

Why? Because the sacrifice and work that are required for NFP to be effective, result in benefits that are worth the effort. Because, if you can learn to love one another through mutual sacrifice for 6-8 days a month, it will spill over into the rest of your marriage. Because NFP is a sanctifying action, making us more like Christ and making our marriages the vehicle of grace the Lord designed the sacrament to be.

This is the side of NFP that no one seems to be talking about.

I understand that the goal is for people to be open to life. But, degrading NFP is not the way to encourage this. We have to understand the culture in which we live and we must start somewhere. We can’t water down the teachings of the Church, but we can give people measurable, clear steps to get from where they are to where the Church is. NFP is the bridge to bring people out of the mindset of our culture, and into the mindset of being open to life. Not because NFP doesn’t work, but because it effectively gives people a way to plan their family while following Church teaching. People do not scale this great divide in one leap. And many people, in time, find themselves opening their lives to more children than they originally planned… again NOT accidentally because NFP is ineffective. Rather, they consciously make the choice to have more children because they have learned the beauty of self-sacrifice.

Bottom line: The Billings Ovulation Method of NFP will help you effectively attain any goal you mutually agree on and have the self control to manage. After all, is there anything valuable in life that doesn’t take work and self discipline?

[1] http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html#8
[2] Zuo, H. Z., Dou, F. B., and Qian, S. Z. (1997), “Introduction to natural fertility regulation”, Reprod. Contracep. (China) 17, 188–90. http://www.woomb.org/omrrca/bulletin/vol27/no4/chinaEvaluation.html
[3] http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Chinese-thank-John-Billings,-father-of-natural-family-planning-8913.html
[4] Not all women’s chart’s look the same. While this is a real chart, timing and length of the fertile phase changes from month to month and woman to woman. The Billings Method accommodates for these differences.
[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGOohBytKTU

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5 Responses to Whatever Happened to Self Control?

  1. Great post! I wasn’t yet Catholic when I married my husband and my mom literally didn’t believe me when I told her about NFP and its scientific reliability. I think it’s important to be open to new life, but that’s really a seperate issue. I think it’s pretty clear that when you want it/need it to, NFP is just as reliable as any artificial contraceptive at helping you stay not pregnant, and I think advertising that would really influence a lot more young married people to actually take NFP seriously.
    Pretty funny about China-I definitely didn’t know that until today 🙂

  2. Awesome article!

    NFP is science and it should to be treated as science.

    Proper understanding of the science is critical. When we were struggling with the science, NFP WAS a burden. Our marriage struggled, our spirituality struggled, and all the jokes rang true. With a better understanding of the science, we are seeing the benefits of NFP in our marriage and in our lives.

    The only other thing I have to say is that you talk about “mutual sacrifice for 5-7 days a month”, but for some couples, the sacrifice is a lot longer than that due to various cycle issues. When you are charting white baby day after white baby day, you need more than just “a bit of self-control”.

    Any advice for couples who are struggling with cycle issues that make the abstinence longer?

  3. Thank you for all the comments here, at facebook.com/NFPAware, and in our email. Many of you told us stories of your own difficult NFP experiences, and we sympathize with you. The good news is that there is hope! To answer your questions, we’ve written a follow-up article addressing the most common question we received concerning this article, the elusive 6-8 day window of fertility.


    Enjoy, and don’t hesitate to call us if you need help.

  4. Mea Culpa Mea Maxima Culpa.

    Thanks to Waywardson23 for pointing out in the followup article that the 5-7 day window was a tad short. We reread our sources, and crunched the numbers. In a perfect world, for a woman with a perfectly healthy cycle, that number is 6-8 days.

    We apologize for the confusion. We strive to be as scientifically accurate as possible, and are grateful for your readership. We have made corrections to the articles to reflect that change.

    Many couples still do not experience such a brief window of abstinence in their cycles, and so in our next article we’ll address a few habits and behavior changes that can help you get closer to that standard.

    Keep your eyes peeled!


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