I love when I’m out in a social setting and the topic of birth control comes up. I jump at the opportunity to mention the lesser known, natural options of Natural Family Planning (NFP) and Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABM) because I know it may be the only time someone ever hears about them.
Reactions vary, but when someone engages with me or asks questions, a very interesting conversation occurs. The discussion moves from a light conversation about the random details of birth control, to a philosophical discussion about sex itself. (I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I am the life of the party).
In one such discussion, a male friend said to me, “but if you both want to be together (sexually) and you have to abstain, that’s so unnatural.”
As it happens, I had recently been struggling with this very same thought. To my surprise, a response flowed without hesitation, and as I spoke, it finally clicked for me.
“Well, if you are concerned with doing what’s natural, then why do you take unnatural measures to change and prevent the natural outcome of sex?” I went on, “You want to do what feels natural to you, but you not want what actually is natural.”
The conversation got me thinking how far we’ve strayed from actual nature. Our cultural worldview has managed to separate the act of sex from pregnancy, at least in terms of how we think. Somehow, the statement that “conception is a natural outcome of sex” has become a radical thought.
Perhaps this is because modern culture places happiness as our highest end. How many times have you heard someone say, “just do what makes you happy”? I believe this sentiment is appropriate is some circumstances, but it’s easy to see how this way of thinking has contributed to a society that embraces feelings over facts, desire over reason, and instant gratification over patience.
Our society has so readily accepted the idea that we have an animalistic drive toward sex and that to abstain from this desire goes against nature. And, yet, we have completely swept under the rug the idea that sex in-and-of-itself is a procreative act and just as natural as sexual desire. In doing so, we have agreed to embrace one element of sex in the name of nature, but suppress the other. Why? Because that is what is convenient, that is what “makes us happy.”
Those of us who practice NFP know, abstaining during the fertile periods isn’t easy. But does the fact that it’s hard make it bad or unnatural for us? It may seem cliché to say that doing the thing that is hard for us is the very thing that makes us grow; makes us better, but it’s true. And apparently, our culture needs a reminder of this when it comes to sex.
While trying to come up with a way to better articulate this, I thought about parenting. Parenting is hard, and doing it well requires patience, love, and putting the needs of someone else above your own. It necessitates overcoming selfishness and creates goals that are much more imperative than one’s personal happiness, and yet, the rewards of parenting are many. In regard to abstinence in relationships, professor Dr. Janet Smith has said, “It’s as difficult as dieting, budgeting, and exercising regularly, but everybody knows that those bring great benefits to those who do them.”
I believe this idea is supported by the fact that couples using FABMs are 50% less likely to divorce than couples using conventional contraception. As Jeanette Flood recently wrote at Natural Womanhood, this could be because fertility awareness improves marital communication: “Just as sharing a joy can be bonding, so also can sharing a difficulty.” Better communication combined with periods of abstinence can actually make sex less about lust, and more about love.
I won’t deny the biological drive toward sex that extends from our primitive need to ensure the future of the species, but I will point out that we are more than animals. We are separated by the fact that we possess free will and reason, and it’s fair to say these traits are geared toward employing self-control, not abandoning it.
Which is why I think NFP is most definitely natural for relationships. That is, Natural Family Planning requires the whole person. It demands more than submission to hormones; compelling the other components of our humanity to be involved. Sex is natural and good, and using our free will and intellect to determine when to have sex is also natural and good.
As a woman who charts my cycle, I feel NFP gives me the tools to simultaneously work with nature, while also granting me the freedom to intelligently make my own choices. It may not offer the freedom of actions without consequences, but I feel it grants a greater freedom—a freedom of self-knowledge and self-mastery. A freedom from unnatural, harmful, artificial hormones. A freedom to enjoy the entirety of the sexual act without disturbing its very nature, healthy fertility included.