When NFP is Used to Abuse: Part I of II

natural family planning sexual abuse, natural family planning porn addiction, NFP porn addiction, NFP spousal abuse, NFP sexual abuse, NFP domestic violence

Trigger warning: Spousal abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, pornography addiction

At Natural Womanhood, we write frequently about the relationship benefits of natural family planning (NFP), and rightly so. Especially when compared to more “conventional” methods of contraception, and all the issues they can bring to relationships, NFP and fertility awareness methods (FAMs) can be an excellent way for couples to take ownership of their reproductive health, while growing in improved communication and intimacy with one another. But we would be remiss if we failed to point out that NFP and FAM–like any other family planning method–also has the potential for misuse, and can even be used to abet sexual abuse. 

Some time ago, a woman named Rita* reached out to us, asking that we highlight the issue of NFP and abuse. She rightly pointed out that this is an issue that often goes undiscussed, leaving the women who experience it feeling alone, at fault, and in danger. Rita herself is the victim of such abuse, and after we reached out to her for an interview, she bravely shared her story with us. With her permission, we are sharing it here today. We thank Rita for her courage and willingness to bring awareness to this issue, so that other women who may be experiencing similar dangers can get the help they need. 

With April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it is time we highlight Rita’s story. We believe this is an important opportunity to bring awareness to these issues, and to provide resources and encouragement to the women facing them.

The following interview between Rita (*a pseudonym) and writer Jeanette Flood has been lightly edited for clarity and to provide context where needed. 

Part I: Rita’s story

“I’ve been married for over a decade, and my husband is a pornography user and sex addict,” begins Rita. 

“He disclosed a sexually promiscuous past when we were dating, and kind of portrayed that he had gone through a conversion, and so he was working through his issues and working on not using porn, that sort of thing. And so, we got married.”

“I had told him before we got married that I wanted to use Natural Family Planning as our family planning method, and I did a distance learning through Couple to Couple League. But because of our work, my husband and I were not together, we had mostly a long-distance relationship for most of our dating and engagement. So, I took the class by myself and just kind of filled him in, so to speak.” 

Pressured into sex, and gaslighted for being fertile and desiring children

“Once we were married,” Rita continues, “we were still not able to live together for about a year, and in that first year we did visit each other. And there were times when I was fertile, and my husband would convince me to not worry about it, like, ‘Oh, you’re not really gonna get pregnant,’ that sort of thing, and that became kind of a pattern.” 

“Of course, I did get pregnant when we had sex during my fertile period. And that was one of the lines that he used; he cast doubt on my ability to discern my fertile signs. He would say: ‘What are the odds that we’re gonna get pregnant? We’re just going to have sex once.’ He didn’t like to have sex during non-fertile times, I noticed, or he was less eager then, and more eager during the fertile window.” 

“Also, he knew that I wanted a large family, and he had agreed that he was okay with that. But if I said that I needed a break and a longer time between children, he would say, ‘Well, maybe we should just stop here,’ and act like he was no longer going to accept having more children. He would kind of chip away at what I thought was valuable sometimes, and use that to manipulate me into having sex when I was fertile.”

Pornography, sex addiction, manipulation, and abuse

“And then also, because of his pornography, which he never stopped using, I was afraid that if I wasn’t constantly available when he wanted to have sex, that he would increase and continue his pornography usage, and I think in the back of my mind I was also afraid of him cheating on me. And so, within the context of the marriage, the real problem, both from a relationship perspective as well as from an NFP perspective, is I really didn’t have the freedom to say whether I wanted to have sex or not.” 

“So, the idea of being able to say ‘no,’ and that ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘I reject you’ or ‘I don’t love you,’ it just means ‘I’m not having sex with you right now’–I didn’t know that I could do that, that it was okay for me to do that, and I definitely didn’t get the message from him that he was okay with me doing that. So that’s the pattern that I really saw.”

“And so, I thought that I just was a horrible NFP user, and was a failure at NFP, where in fact, there was an unhealthy relationship, and in the past couple years, my husband had used more manipulation and eventually, even force, to force me [to have sex],” recounts Rita. 

“You should get on birth control”

Unfortunately, when Rita reached out to a trusted medical provider for help, she was met with that catchall solution to seemingly every feminine issue: Just get on birth control. 

“During my last pregnancy,” says Rita, “I told my midwife that my husband was pressuring me to have sex with him. Her response was to recommend that I switch from NFP to using hormonal birth control, so that if the sexual coercion continued, at least I wouldn’t have to deal with an unplanned pregnancy.” 

“Obviously this was not helpful advice,” says Rita, “as it shifted the focus from the main problem: my husband was sexually abusing me. There is a vacuum of information in the NFP world on how to deal with abuse when a spouse pressures the other into sex, and abused women may cave when doctors or midwives offer contraception as a tool to mitigate consequences of sexual abuse.” 

When given this option by her medical provider, Rita realized: “It wouldn’t be a solution because even if the contraception would prevent pregnancy, it wouldn’t get me out of the abusive dynamic.”

Responding to abstinence with violence

Thankfully, Rita is now safe. She is separated from her husband, and says she has measures in place to continue keeping her safe. But unfortunately for Rita, she was not able to find safety before things with her husband took an even more violent turn. Upon learning that her husband’s sex addiction had led to him having an extramarital affair, Rita instituted a set period of abstinence with her husband. 

“And he responded with violence when manipulation no longer worked,” says Rita, “you know, saying things like: ‘Well, you’re my wife, and this is going to damage our relationship further,’ and all these things. When I wouldn’t listen to that manipulation, he used force and violence and deception to get me to have sex. And it was ultimately that level of manipulation and violence that led to our separation.” 

“The NFP was kind of the tip of the iceberg–the problems with the NFP,” says Rita. “And when his sex addiction really exploded, that’s when I was able to see that the entire dynamic was abusive, because of his response to abstaining for so long.”

NFP requires mutual respect and shared decision-making

Rita’s story emphasizes that NFP or FAM must always involve the mutual respect of partners, and shared decision-making and agreement about family planning desires; anything less raises significant cause for concern of abuse. 

Her story also highlights that offering contraceptives to women in abusive relationships places a Band-aid over the real issue–the abuse. In fact, birth control itself (along with abortion) has been shown to aid and abet the abuse of girls and women, as evidenced by its role in sex trafficking. 

In other words, spousal abuse is sadly not a problem unique to NFP. However, as Rita points out, there are unique hurdles to unveiling and addressing the abuse that occurs in a marriage where a couple is using NFP instead of contraception–difficulties that can make it even harder, in some respects, for the abused partner to get the help she needs. 

In Part II of our interview with Rita, she’ll be sharing some of the changes to NFP instruction she believes would help more women recognize and leave abusive marriages–and perhaps help them avoid entering abusive relationships in the first place.  

Read Part II here.

  1. Comment by CC on May 2, 2022 at 10:56 pm

    Very sad. I tend to focus almost exclusively on the biology and practice of NFP when I teach, but I can emphasize mutual respect instead of assuming it.
    This story reminds me of one I heard about a husband saying in the midst of a group of NFP using couples: “it is easier for my wife to be pregnant than for me not to have sex.” This abusive comment shocked the group and the story got around. It always struck me as the antithesis of chastity, self mastery, and mutual respect.

  2. Comment by David Ulmer on May 11, 2022 at 3:25 pm

    The title of this article is not accurate. This is a sad story, painful to read, and hard to imagine Rita’s suffering. May she find healing and the ability to forgive in our Lord’s gentle, Sacred Heart. The emotions and pain and her difficulty with using NFP don’t make NFP the cause or the instrument of her abuse. Rita was abused and very sadly in the midst of trying or attempting to use NFP. In this article it seems as though simply NOT using contraception is considered using NFP. That simply isn’t true. The problems in this relationship are too many to list. But they were clearly not using NFP even if she was charting and knew her fertile and infertile periods.

    NFP can be misused, even to such a degree in the marriage to destroying unity rather than cherishing and increasing it. It is misused when the knowledge of one’s fertility is used to manipulate or even lie. This can be done in many ways. For Rita, even if she was on the pill or sterilized, she would have been abused. The title would be just as false if it said “When the pill is used to abuse” or “When Sterilization is used to Abuse”. She was actually married and not actually using NFP, so it would be more accurate to say, “When Marriage is used to Abuse” than to somehow point the finger at NFP. I understand your point and agree with your desire to see NFP instructors be more attuned to these type of situations. I think that the article makes a false connection. It would be more accurate to say that NFP saved a woman from abuse. Understanding her dignity to the degree she did helped her to get out of that relationship. A better understanding of NFP, of love, and sex the way God intended it would have likely helped her never get in that type of relationship.

  3. Comment by JanetG on July 31, 2022 at 10:19 am

    Thank you so much Rita for sharing! I would have never thought of something like this happening with NFP but it makes sense because sexual abusers will use anything to continue abusing thier victims. And shedding light on this is important because then it brings awareness to yet another tactic used by abusers and helps both women and men be able to see the signs for what they are. My prayers are with you for your children and your healing.

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