In previous articles, we have given a brief history of Natural Family Planning, outlined the biological basis of one method of NFP, the Ovulation Method, and discussed how this is learned and used. But there is more using a method of family planning than technique. The choice often, without the user being aware of it, can have an impact on the user’s self-image and upon a couple’s relationship.
Much has been written about the physical risks of contraception for women and some attention has been given to the psychological side-effects, mostly in connection with depression. However, little thought has been given to the implications, for a woman, of needing to take drugs, submit to operations, or use invasive technological devices in order to suppress or confound her fertility. How can a woman arrive at an integrated healthy view of herself, when an essential component of her nature is regarded as a threat to her happiness, or a pathology to be treated as a threat to her happiness, or a pathology to be treated medically?
One of the benefits of a natural method of family planning is that a woman comes to understand her fertility. Fear and resentment are dispelled when a woman no longer feels victimized by something she doesn’t understand. Moreover, there is a sense of wonder generated by the marvellous complexity of her biology. How much healthier it is psychologically to be able to accept one’s fertility, and live confidently and comfortably within its natural rhythms.
There are also benefits for a couple’s relationship in using a natural method of family planning. First, communication is enhanced since the couple must talk about their concept of responsibility towards planning their family, must talk about how many children and when, and must agree on these issues in order to make a natural method work. No one party in a marriage can manage these issues without the agreement and co-operation of their partner. This is a powerful incentive to consensus.
A second benefit to a couple’s relationship is that their mutuality is reinforced. Not only do the couple make mutual decisions but they also assume mutual responsibility for these decisions and for their mutual fertility as well as provide mutual support. There is a very strong element of fairness here. Contraception isolates the person who elects (or is required) to assume the responsibility, and this, when combined with the possibility of side-effects, often leads to anxiety and resentment.
A third benefit is that a couple’s relationship is diversified since abstinence impels a couple to creatively express their relationship in non-sexual terms. This recurring opportunity stimulates attention to the broader basis of the relationship – the intellectual, spiritual, cultural, recreational aspects, which so often in the hurly burly of family life can get neglected.
A fourth benefit for the N.F.P. couple is that the sexual aspect of the relationship is renewed through sexual rest. (The frequent, unselective access to sexual intercourse provided by the birth control pill has been responsible for much of the sexual boredom which many couples complain of today.) However, the very longing and sense of anticipation generated by abstinence helps to protect the couple’s love-making from becoming a merely routine activity which is expressive neither of heightened feeling nor special closeness.
Our experience of technology in our society has taught us that the liberation promised us has been often a mixed blessing and sometimes destructive. The natural order of things is delicately balanced. When interfered with, the result can be a chain reaction that cannot be fully controlled, or even anticipated. Natural family planning allows us to live with nature through nature, the ecologists’ ideal.