As promised, I’d like to introduce you to a young couple that uses natural family planning. For a project I did on natural family planning over the summer, I interviewed Dustin and Bethany from Glen Carbon, IL. Dustin is creator of a great blog called Engaged Marriage. Here are some excerpts from our interview:
In lieu of contraceptives, what practicing Catholics do use is natural family planning (NFP). This is usually the part of the conversation at which a head shakes and somebody uses words like “outdated” and “rhythm method” and “Duggar family.” Then I laugh, and I tell him or her this: The Duggars do not use NFP. I repeat: The Duggars do not use NFP! (They are part of a movement called Quiverfull, the participants of which forgo family planning of any kind.) That is why they have a show called 19 Kids and Counting.
NFP is neither outdated, nor is it the rhythm method. It is used either to avoid or achieve pregnancy. It requires a couple to monitor signs of the woman’s fertility and to abstain from sex periodically — when the woman is fertile — if the couple doesn’t want to get pregnant. And when a couple wants to get pregnant, they can use their awareness of fertility to choose to do the deed when the conditions are right for pregnancy. There are several modern kinds of NFP (initially, the Billings Ovulation Method, the Creighton Model and the Marquette Model come to mind) which, when used consistently and correctly, are 98-99% effective for preventing pregnancy, which is equivalent to the efficacy of condoms or the pill. So why, when medical science allows for quick, convenient ways to prevent pregnancy as well as NFP does, do we still choose NFP?
1. It’s natural: Dr. James Linn, an OB/GYN I interviewed for a project in the human sexuality class I took over the summer, said it better than I can:
“If you look at many of the methods of contraception, they have a long list of potential risks and complications. Take the very common form used by a lot of young women: birth control pills. Because of the higher than normal estrogen doses, she increases her risk for strokes, breast cancer and blood clots and those can break loose and go up to her heart and her lungs. Those are three big deals. Look at the side effects – things that aren’t really life threatening: mood changes, decreased sex drive. Depression and weight gain are common with Depo-Provera. … The other thing a lot of people don’t realize with a lot of hormonal contraceptive methods (is that) the more current birth control pills that have been around for the last 20 years don’t suppress ovulation a hundred percent. In order to make them safer, the dose has been lowered and in lowering the dose, they are less effective in suppressing ovulation. They alter the lining of the uterus so an embryo won’t be able to implant. So what could be happening some of the time is ovulation may take place, the sperm may meet with the egg in the tube and normally, an embryo implants about a week later. Well, it won’t allow implantation, so the embryo gets shed out. That mechanism of action is really an abortion, rather than contraception.”
2. It facilitates communication, and multiple levels of intimacy: A couple can’t practice NFP without talking about their relationship and sex. Additionally, since a couple that uses NFP can’t necessarily have sex every time they’d like, they are challenged to learn to be intimate in alternative ways. And while both communication and multiple levels of intimacy are generally a good idea for couples, both are rare in the average American relationship.
3. It wholly promotes the purpose of sex. The purpose of sex is twofold: babies and bonding. By using NFP, a couple works with the human body as it is designed, to achieve or avoid pregnancy by having sex when pregnancy is or isn’t likely, respectively. By using contraceptives, a couple works against the human body as it is designed, nullifying part of the purpose of sex and reducing pregnancy from “miracle” to “consequence.”
Plus, it encourages a couple to treat sex like the sacred act it is. And NFP requires that family planning is a responsibility shared by both partners, rather than the responsibility of either the man or the woman. Also, bonus, it’s free or cheap.
NFP, unfortunately, isn’t very popular. And I don’t expect — at least in a culture enamored by instant gratification and averted to doing anything if it’s difficult — that it ever will be. But there are lots of couples who use it, and use it happily. And in part two, I will introduce you to one of them. Check back soon.
For anyone who stumbles upon this out o’ the blue, you may not know: I love grad school. I mean, I get sad at the end of every semester love it. I force my friends and family to listen to me talk about what I’m learning love it. I really love it.
And the short summer semester I just finished is no exception. One of two classes I took was in human sexuality, taught by Dr. Dae Sheridan, a sex therapist who practices in Tampa. As much as I’ve enjoyed most of my classes, this was by far one of the best. What working at Popeyes Chicken in high school did for me and the word breast, this class did for me and words like vulva. Ain’t no thang! But more than desensitizing us to words we once found awkward to say, the class got us to think, write and talk about topics that are imperative to consider, both as counselors and as humans. Here are the five I liked to discuss the most:
1. Sexually transmitted infections (a.k.a. STIs, f.k.a. STDs): One in two sexually active adults age 25 or older has or has had an STI. One in two. In case you’d like more emphasis, that’s every other. Add to that the one in four teenagers who has an STI. During class, Dr. Dae — my brilliant prof — made a really good point: Think about salmonella for a sec. According to my notes from class, every year, about 20,000 cases of it are reported to the CDC. And what happens when it’s reported? Food is recalled, we throw out all our spinach and it’s all over the news. In other words, WE FREAK OUT. Now, think about HPV — an STI also known as the human papillomavirus. How many new cases are reported to the CDC each year? A couple million. But when have we ever freaked out about that? Something to think about.
2. The origins of sexual orientation: When I was in high school, one of my teachers decided to start a class-wide conversation about the origins of homosexuality. “It’s a choice,” she said. “People choose to be gay.” For awhile, I let her have her say. When I interjected, I simply asked her a question: “So let me ask you,” I said. “When did you choose to be attracted to men?” The point — a point my prof also made in my class this summer — is that we live in a world where a lot of people are really ridiculously concerned about the origins of homosexuality (and for what?). There are brain scan studies, my prof said, to try to find out what makes gay people gay. “But where are the straight people brain scans?” she asked. Something else to think about.
3. Communication: I’ve quoted it before, but I’ll quote it again: “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” (Courtesy of Henry Winkler [yes, the Fonz!]) This, as we discussed in class, is a truth that is easily applied to every facet of every relationship — even sex! Take the fake orgasm, for example. Let’s say sex is a pain (literally) for a wife, but she fakes it for the sake of her husband’s ego. Her response — which is a lie, as Dr. Dae pointed out in class — makes him think he’s doing it right. So time after time, he’s gonna keep doing it. Something to TALK about.
4. Intersex: In class, we watched a documentary on intersexual people — that is, people who are born with ambiguous genitals or reproductive organs. The film focused on several Americans who are intersexed as well as some in the Dominican Republic. Something that stuck out from the film is the fact that the Americans — whose parents often decided to pick boy or girl upon the child’s birth, permitting a doctor to surgically turn ambiguous genitals into the genitals of the parents’ choice — often end up with long term psychological stress, whereas the ones in the Dominican Republic — where people who are intersexed are accepted as they are — grow up with little or none of that. What does that say about our cultures? To watch the documentary, click here. (And when that video ends, look for parts 2 and 3 along the side.)
5. Abstinence only education v. comprehensive sex ed: As a proponent and practice-er of abstinence before marriage, I enjoyed our discussions about abstinence only education versus comprehensive sex education. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but it’s clear that abstinence only education doesn’t accomplish what its proponents wish it would. I haven’t seen stats on comprehensive sex ed, and until I do more of my own research, I can’t come to a definitive conclusion. I can, however, say this: learning about what actually goes on in bodies when a couple is getting it on didn’t make me want to forsake my pledge to save sex for marriage. Then again, I’m a 25-year-old and my brain is really close to fully developed, if not entirely fully developed. So I’m not sure if teens — whose brains still have some growing to do — would change their minds after comprehensive sex ed if before they learned a lot about sex, they’d planned to save it.
How, my friend wondered, does a married man or woman avoid the temptation to cheat? How, when there’s no time to enjoy his or her personal life
when one basically lives in hotels
when one has very little space
when one spends a lot of time in that little space with a colleague to whom he or she is “fatally” attracted?
My answer: Let’s say it’s a married man. If the combination of who he is and what a career requires of him really renders him so disatisfied with or detached from his personal life that he becomes attracted to and/or acts on his attraction to anyone who isn’t his wife…
Why? Because vows are vows. And because love, the choice, the action, is selfless.
Beautiful. Unique. For every couple affected by infidelity? Not sure… but the single, married, faithful and unfaithful all have a little to learn about love from the Markleys.
Read the Markley couple’s story, as written by Sarah, here.