Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the name for a collection of methods which use the natural, biological signs of a woman’s menstrual cycle to predict fertility.
Natural Family Planning
NFP is taught on a one-on-one basis throughout the Diocese of Harrisburg. Instructors are located throughout the diocese. Please contact the Family Ministries Office for a list of instructors.
Using natural, biological signs to predict fertility
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the name for a collection of methods which use the natural, biological signs of a woman’s menstrual cycle to predict fertility. With that knowledge, husbands and wives can adjust their intimacy to increase their chances of conceiving a child or – for grave reasons – to postpone or avoid pregnancy.
Unlike artificial contraceptives, Natural Family Planning does not actively change the sexual act to render it unfruitful; instead, it identifies times when intimacy should be avoided if there is a serious reason to avoid pregnancy. Thus NFP respects the two inseparable aspects of sexuality – the closer union of husband and wife, and openness to children, the fruit of sexuality. Moreover, NFP does this without introducing artificial hormones or devices into a woman’s body, while also promoting communication, intimacy, and trust within a marriage.
You may have already heard about NFP through a marriage preparation program or through resources at your parish. If you have any questions or concerns, or would simply like some more help finding support for your situation, please contact our office.
Natural Family Planning Methods
There are three methods of NFP taught within the Diocese of Harrisburg – sympto-thermal, Creighton, and Family of the Americas. In addition, the Marquette method is taught online from an instructor located just outside of our diocesan boundaries in Coudersport, PA.
Living the Sacrament, an online NFP community, provides these helpful explanations of each method of NFP:
- NFP is entirely moral and in line with Church teaching, and respects God’s design for married love and human sexuality.
- NFP values children as a natural end of both sexuality and of marriage, even when couples have a serious reason for avoiding pregnancy.
- NFP fosters respect for and acceptance of the total person.
- NFP requires mutual responsibility by both husband and wife, and promotes couple communication.
- NFP inspires other forms of intimacy and bonding during times of abstinence.
- NFP is economical (typically a couple pays for the class but the rest of planning is cost free).
- NFP teaches a couple to understand their bodies and their combined fertility.
- NFP works with fertility, rather than masking it or overriding it.
- NFP can be used by doctors to evaluate a woman’s health, sometimes identifying health problems early (e.g. infertility, PCOS, cancer).
- NFP is completely organic, adding no artificial hormones or devices to your body, and has no harmful side effects.
- NFP is effective for both achieving and avoiding pregnancy, and has helped many couples struggling with infertility to conceive.
- NFP can be used throughout a woman’s reproductive life (e.g., post-partum, breastfeeding, perimenopause, etc.).
NFP is just another name for Rhythm
REALITY: Natural Family Planning (NFP) is an umbrella term for modern, scientifically accurate, and reliable methods of family planning. It differs significantly from the older Rhythm (or Calendar) Method. The Rhythm Method tried to estimate the time of next ovulation by calculating previous menstrual cycles. Although this approach had scientific underpinnings, in practice it often proved inaccurate because of the unique nature of each woman’s menstrual cycle. NFP, by contrast, has been proven scientifically sound in both theory and practice.
NFP is based on scientific research about women’s cycles of fertility. Since the 19th century, doctors have known about the changes in cervical mucus and its relation to fertility. In the 1920s, temperature rules were developed. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that an educational process was developed to teach the observation and interpretation of these fertility signs.
The NFP methods are: the Basal Body Temperature (BBT) method, which monitors changes in a woman’s temperature when she wakes up each morning; the Ovulation Method (OM), which monitors changes in a woman’s cervical mucus; and the Sympto-Thermal Method (STM), which combines observations of temperature and cervical mucus with other indicators such as changes in the cervix and secondary fertility signs.
NFP can only be used by women with regular cycles
REALITY: The natural methods do not depend on having regular menstrual cycles; they treat each woman and each cycle as unique. NFP works with menstrual cycles of any length and any degree of irregularity. It can be used during breastfeeding, just before menopause, and in other special circumstances. NFP allows a woman to understand the physical signals her body gives her to tell her when she is most likely to become pregnant. Once she understands this information, she and her spouse can use it according to their family planning intentions.
The natural methods can be used throughout a woman’s reproductive life. These methods are progressive. That is, they monitor the current, day-to-day signs of the woman’s cycle. Instruction in NFP provides couples with information about their bodies that is specific and observable. When special circumstances do occur, a woman can contact an NFP instructor for additional guidance in interpreting her signs of fertility.
NFP is too complicated to be useful for most people.
REALITY: Anyone who is taught by a certified teacher and motivated to use NFP can do so. The methods are so simple that they have been successfully adapted to suit the needs of countries all over the world – first world countries and third world countries; those with many years of education, and those who are illiterate.
In a World Health Organization (WHO) study, 725 couples from five countries – El Salvador, India, New Zealand, Ireland, and the Philippines – were taught the ovulation method of NFP over the course of three months. After a year the couples were evaluated, and the method effectiveness rate was 97.2%. Note: half of the Salvadorean couples were illiterate, proving that an advanced education is unnecessary for learning NFP effectively.
NFP is not a reliable method of family planning.
REALITY: The effectiveness of NFP depends upon spouses’ following the rules of the method according to their family planning intention (i.e. achieving or limiting pregnancy). When couples understand the methods and are motivated to follow them, NFP is up to 99% successful in spacing or limiting births.
When comparing family planning methods, researches distinguish between “perfect use” – when a method is used consistently and correctly every single time – and “typical use” – or the success rate for all people using the method, no matter how precisely or consistently they use it. As the chart below demonstrates, NFP is just as effective at preventing pregnancy as other common family planning methods, particularly when it is used consistently and correctly.
NFP / sympto-thermal (perfect use): 99.6%
NFP / sympto-thermal (typical use): 89%
The Pill (perfect use): 99.7%
The Pill (typical use): 92%
Condoms (perfect use): 98%
Condoms (typical use): 85%
Withdrawal (perfect use): 96%
Withdrawal (typical use): 73%
Couples who use NFP have less sex than the average American.
REALITY: Most people most of the time are not engaged in sexual activity (see table). If couples who practice NFP were to engage in intercourse on all the days when abstinence is not required for spacing births, they would be doing so at a rate almost twice the national average!
Average monthly coital frequency among both married and unmarried couples in the United States:
If wishing to avoid pregnancy, a couple practicing NFP is usually advised to abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the wife’s fertile time. NFP couples can make love no less frequently in each cycle than other couples.
There is no difference between NFP and artificial methods of contraception.
REALITY: NFP methods are different from and better than artificial contraception because they:
- Follow God’s design for sexuality as both love-giving (unitive) and life-giving (pro-creative).
- Are moral and in line with Catholic teaching (contraception is considered a serious sin).
- Foster respect for and acceptance of the total person.
- Cooperate with, rather than suppress, a couple’s fertility.
- Can be used both to achieve and avoid pregnancy.
- Call for shared responsibility and cooperation by husband and wife.
- Inspire spousal communication.
- Have no harmful side effects.
- Are virtually cost free.
The Catholic Church wants people to have as many babies as possible.
REALITY: In fact the Church encourages people to be responsible stewards over their fertility. In this view of “responsible parenthood” married couples carefully weigh their responsibilities to God, each other, and the children they already have when making decisions about the number and spacing of their children. Couples who prayerfully discern that they have a serious reason to avoid pregnancy can make use of NFP to do so. In fact, that is why Natural Family Planning was developed in the first place! (For more on “serious reasons” see CCC 2368, USCCB, and EWTN.)
The nature of both marriage and sexual intercourse are life-giving (pro-creative) and love-giving (unitive). This reflects the Divine plan. That is why the Church teaches that couples must not actively separate their fertility from their sexual union (e.g. by using contraceptives). To do so is to show disrespect for an important gift of the Creator, a gift that is intrinsically bound with the unitive nature of marital love.
The Church does not want couples to have sex for pleasure’s sake.
REALITY: The Church wants married couples to have the best sex possible! Remember, there is a difference between simply “having sex,” which includes actions directed towards the self, and “making love,” which requires the giving of self to the other. Only in a lifelong, committed, loving relationship, centered in Christ, can couples hope to fully experience the sacrament of life and love, i.e., marriage.
Current studies confirm what the Church has always taught: married sex is more fulfilling and enjoyable than uncommitted sex. People who “use” sex only for their own pleasure end up using other people–and they lose the real joy of sexuality. Unconditional love is what marriage is all about. That love is a real source of joy in the lives of married couples!
 From Dr. Richard Fehring, Marquette University, who adapted it from—Trussell, J. “Contraceptive failure in the United States.” Contraception. 2004; 70:89-96.
NFP is taught on a one-on-one basis throughout the Diocese of Harrisburg. Many couples prefer to learn NFP from someone located close to where they live, work, or go to school. Instructors are located throughout the diocese. Other couples prefer to learn a specific method of NFP. There are three methods of NFP taught within the Diocese of Harrisburg – sympto-thermal, Creighton, and Family of the Americas. In addition, the Marquette method is taught online from two instructors located just outside of our diocesan boundaries. Please contact the Family Ministries Office for a list of instructors.
- Fruitfulness/fecundity is a gift from God.
- The two ends of the marriage act (marital intercourse) are the unitive end, i.e. bonding, and the procreative end (openness to life). The marriage act is never to dissociate these two ends.
- This obviously does not mean that the marriage act will always result in the conception of a child.
- It does mean that when a couple engages in the marriage act they are to be open through the language of the body to the possibility of a child being conceived.
- When a married man and woman who are in sanctifying grace (the grace that makes us holy and pleasing in God’s eyes) engages in the marriage act, and when that act is open to life and love, God pours into the souls of the couple an increase of sanctifying grace!
- Procreation is an end, an essential purpose of marriage and of the marital embrace.
- Conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful.
- Children are not “add-ons” to the love of spouses, but are a result of the self-giving love the married couples are to show for one another.
- Because it is God’s law, not merely man’s law, the Church, which is “on the side of life, teaches that it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered, per se to the procreation of human life.” (CCC 2366).
- When a couple contracept or is sterilized, they hold back a part of themselves from their spouse. It is impossible in this situation for a spouse to fully give him/herself one to the other. It is like saying, “I give myself to you, but not really, not totally.” Then the marriage act becomes a lie through the language of the body.
- Human beings are not pure spirits like angels, but rather a body/soul unity. Both body and soul are good and important. What one does with his/her body has a profound effect on the state of his/her soul.
- All this, then, rules out the legitimacy of contraception of any kind and direct sterilization, e.g. vasectomies and tubal ligations, both of which are gravely and intrinsically (by its very nature) evil, cf. CCC 2370.
- If a person has contracepted or been sterilized, it is important that he/she repent of these sincerely and, if Catholic, confess these sins in the Sacrament of Penance (because they are sins of great gravity).
- If we are sorry for our sins, confess them forthrightly to the Priest (who has authority given him by Christ to forgive sins in His name, cf. Jn. 20:19-23), and have a firm purpose of amendment, God will lavish His Divine Mercy upon us. “This is good and pleasing to God our Savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
- When married couples conceive a child, they “share in the creative power and fatherhood of God.” (CCC 2367)
- For just reasons, spouses may wish, by natural methods, to space the births of children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood.
- “Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.” (CCC 2370) These methods are referred to as Natural Family Planning. Natural Family Planning differs essentially from contraception.
Many people are surprised to learn that all denominations of Christianity condemned the use of contraceptives until very recently.
Indeed, until the 1930 Lambeth Conference, all Protestants, Orthodox, and Catholics taught that using contraceptives to prevent children was a serious sin. Moreover these teachings go back to the earliest days of the Church, to the time of the Apostles, and represent a continuous teaching until 1930.
- AD 70 – The Didache (or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) condemns the use of contraception along with abortion, infanticide, adultery, and other sins. Contraception had been in use in the Mediterranean world for more than 1,000 years by that point. Other religious leaders like Clement of Alexandria (~175 AD), Origen (~200 AD), and others would do the same.
- c. AD 400 – St. Augustine states that intercourse takes place ‘in an unlawful and shameful manner whenever the conception of offspring is avoided.’
- c. 1215 – St. Thomas Aquinas condemns any deliberate action to exclude offspring during intercourse. This was confirmed again and again by theologians of all faiths and popes through the beginning of the 20th century.
- 1924-1927 – “Calendar Method” of family planning is developed in Japan and Austria. This method was based on a 28 day cycle for all women and was not very effective.
- 1930 – The Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church permits some forms of birth control in limited circumstances. This limitation is later dropped. Most Protestant denominations follow suit, and contraception becomes a matter of personal discretion.
- 1930 – In Casti Connubii (On Chaste Marriage), Pope Pius XI teaches that all forms of artificial birth control are “intrinsically evil” because they disregard natural law and human biology. He cites abstinence as the only approved way to space births.
- 1936 – The U.S. courts toss out most of the Comstock Laws, which had prohibited (since 1873) distribution of contraceptives via U.S. Mail.
- 1951 – Pope Pius XII approves periodic abstinence and the Calendar Method. He asks physicians to move forward on research in Natural Family Planning (NFP).
- 1951 – The highly effective Sympto-Thermal method of Natural Family Planning is formulated. Other methods of NFP are developed in coming years. All methods are highly effective when used correctly.
- 1960 – The Birth Control Pill is approved by the FDA and comes into general use. Almost immediately there are reports of negative side effects.
- 1963 – The Pontifical Commission on Population, Family, and Birth-rate is formed by Pope John XXIII to discuss and formulate recommendations regarding birth control. The commission is expanded by Pope Paul VI.
- 1964 – The U.S. government passes legislation providing birth control for the poor.
- 1964 – Birth control is still illegal in 8 states.
- 1965 – Griswold v Connecticut results in the legalization of birth control in all states.
- 1966 – The Pontifical Commission issues its report to the Holy Father.
- 1968 – Pope Paul VI issues Humanae Vitae, which reaffirms that each act of marital intimacy must keep together the “unitive” and “procreative” aspects of human sexuality. Artificial methods are unacceptable, as they disconnect the two.
- 1973 – Roe v. Wade is decided, a landmark case in the US Supreme Court legalizing abortion. The decision in Roe is based at least in part on the previous decision, Griswold v. Connecticut, that declared a right to privacy in the US Constitution, specifically in the case of procuring contraceptives.
- 1979 – Pope John Paul II reaffirms the Church’s position on birth control. He continues to preach about openness to life throughout his papacy.
- 1979-1984 – Pope John Paul II preaches a series of talks on Theology of the Body, greatly expanding the Church’s teaching . These talks continue to be shared and studied today.
- 2005 – Benedict XVI ascends to the Papacy and continues to affirm and support the Church’s teachings on the unitive and procreative aspects of marital love.
Still wondering which method of NFP might be right for you? The answer often comes down to balancing several different personal questions: Are my cycles pretty regular, or do they change quite a bit? Would I prefer a low-key method with fewer things to keep track of, or more signs to track for greater peace of mind? Is cost an issue?
To help couples answer these questions, both the Diocese of Phoenix and an NFP website called iusenfp.com have developed quizzes to help couples balance these different considerations. Please note that these websites only offer advice and a tool for making a decision; you may decide that another method is better for you.