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NFP: Just another form of contraception? By Jeanette Alexander

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nfpContrary to popular belief, Natural Family Planning (NFP) is not “Catholic Contraception” like it is commonly misconstrued. It isn’t the outdated “calendar rhythm method” either, where a woman estimates when her fertile period is, based on information gleaned from her previous six cycles. This method is quite unreliable indeed. So what exactly is NFP and what’s all the fuss about?
Natural Family Planning or NFP is an umbrella term for scientific, natural and moral methods of family planning that can help couples either achieve or postpone pregnancies by observing the fertility signals of a woman’s body to determine the most likely days of conception in the month. Some methods of NFP include the Sympto-Thermal Method, the Creighton Model System of FertilityCare (CrMS), and the Billings Ovulation Method (BOM).
The BOM is the method taught locally at NFP Singapore. Essentially, NFP is an approach to fertility awareness and management; a way of life and responsible parenting.
Natural Family Planning vs Contraception
Contraception (“Contra” means against and “ception” refers to conception) is the deliberate use of artificial substances, methods and techniques to interrupt or sterilize an act of sexual intercourse with the use of a host of drugs and/or devices, to prevent pregnancy. The more common forms include the condom or sheath; the contraceptive pill, which contains synthetic sex hormones to prevent ovulation in the female; intrauterine devices (IUD) which prevent the fertilized ovum from implanting in the uterus; and male or female sterilization (vasectomy and tubal ligation).
In a very informative and enlightening interview on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), famed author and chastity speaker Jason Evert draws some clear distinctions between contraception and natural family planning and defines NFP as “the method of avoiding or achieving pregnancy based on observing the changes in a woman’s body that indicate her fertility. This method of planning a family, he explains, is scientifically endorsed by the British Medical Journal as 99% effective (with proper use), without the harmful effects of chemicals and devices. It is a “totally natural way to plan out one’s family if you have a good reason to space out your family,” says Evert.
He weaves in a great analogy about NFP vs Contraception being two women who want to maintain slim figures – one who’s dieting and the other who is bulimic. Both have the same goal of losing weight and keeping it off, he says, but their approaches and methods are entirely different. The woman who is dieting practises temperance by sacrificing and avoiding fatty foods while maintaining the discipline to exercise regularly. The bulimic woman, on the other hand, “binges on all kinds of fatty foods and then throws up to purge the weight-gaining effects of bingeing”. Contraception is like the woman who binges and throws up. NFP is the woman who practises temperance and sacrifice. Contraception is like bingeing on sex and then purging its life-giving effects, says the father of five, who is expecting his sixth with wife Crystalina Evert early next year.
NFP is Couple Orientated
NFP is also couple orientated and promotes sharing and joint responsibility in family planning. It helps cultivate intimacy in a marriage and enriches it, since the same qualities that make marriage work such as respect, patience, fidelity, regard, self-mastery, understanding and consultation are required and developed when a couple faithfully practises NFP. Since the methods of NFP respect the love-giving (unitive) and life-giving (procreative) nature of the conjugal act, they support God’s design for married love. It is an entire approach to life.
Love and Responsibility
In his book Men, Women and the Mystery of Love (Practical Insights from John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility), Dr Edward Sri highlights that according to the canonised Pope, contraception is not just immoral, it “destroys the love between a husband and wife in marriage”. He brings to light four important points St John Paul the Great made:
Accepting the Possibility of Parenthood: for sexual relations to become a true union of persons, it must be accompanied in the mind and will by the acceptance of the possibility of parenthood. Sexual union itself does not automatically bring about a true union of love. One of the key ingredients needed to make the bodily union between a man and woman an expression of an even deeper personal union of love is a willingness to accept the possibility that through the sexual act, “I may become a father” or “I may become a mother” (227-228). This openness to parenthood is crucial if love is to mature in a marriage. He adds: “When a husband and wife are truly open to life in their marital relations, it is as if they are looking each other in the eye and saying, ‘I love you so much I am even willing to embark on the adventure of parenthood with you’”.
Rejecting Parenthood, Rejecting one’s spouse: Contraceptive sex is not just a rejection of the possibility of parenthood, but a certain rejection of the other person, in that it prevents the physical union of marital intercourse from blossoming into a full personal union of love, says JPII (228). When spouses reject the possibility of becoming parents together in the marital act, the focus of their experience in sexual intercourse becomes merely “centered on sexual pleasure”. It is as if they are saying
“I want the sensual pleasure from this act, but I reject the possibility of you becoming a parent with me” (234).
Periodic Continence: While couples should never reject the possibility of parenthood in sexual intercourse, John Paul II teaches that they do not need to “positively desire to procreate on every occasion when they have intercourse” (233). Couples may face certain situations in which they desire to postpone the conception of a child. In those cases, they may choose to abstain from having sexual relations during the times the woman is most likely to be fertile.
Still open to life: According to St John Paul, the most important point to consider involves the couple’s attitude towards procreation. Periodic continence may be used to help regulate conception, but it should not be used to postpone having a family. The Pope explains, “We cannot therefore speak of continence as a virtue where the spouses take advantage of the periods of biological infertility exclusively for the purpose of avoiding parenthood altogether” (242), pointing out that the good of the family should be weighed seriously before practising periodic continence, as he notes that “giving children siblings can contribute in an important way to a child’s education and upbringing, since brothers and sisters form a natural community that helps shape the child”.
Fertility is a gift
Jason Evert puts it beautifully: “There is no reason to interrupt the sexual act at the moment we are supposed to be renewing our wedding vows. If we are going to come together as one flesh, it should be as God designed: in the love of husband and wife”.
After all, fertility is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love tends to be fruitful (CCC 2366).

Article 39:- Hormonal Contraceptive-The Viable Alternatives…

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In my previous article, Hormonal Contraceptives-The female poison, I have highlighted the various side effects of the hormonal contraceptives. It is evident that its harm outweighs its value. So what next for women of child bearing age – Married women?

The contemporary world has reduced the term family planning to mean the spacing of births. It has also convinced most if not all of us that the only way to space births is to objectify oneself by using the several modes of contraceptives namely, the barrier methods, Intra-uterine devices and hormonal pills. However, there are scientifically proven methods that respect the dignity of the human person, are free of charge and have no side effects. For the purpose of this article we shall call it Natural Methods of spacing or achieving births or Natural Family Planning (NFP).

Disclaimer:-

  • NFP is not counting your menstrual calendar days;
  • NFP is not withdrawal before ejaculation during the conjugal act;
  • NFP is not the use of barrier methods during fertile days of a woman’s fertility cycle.

So what is NFP?

According to usccb.org, Natural Family Planning is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life, and recognizes the value of the child. By respecting the love-giving (unitive) and life-giving (procreative) natures of the conjugal act in marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife. This aspect of NFP also then supports God’s design for married love.

NFP is based on scientific facts about fertility. The methods are developed from research about women’s menstrual cycles and the signs of female fertility. Over a century ago, scientists discovered cyclic changes in cervical mucus and their relation to ovulation. In the 1920s, scientists identified the temperature rise that signals ovulation. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that scientists developed programs to teach others how to observe and interpret these fertility signs. Today, ongoing research continues to refine the methods of NFP. Any married couple can use NFP.  A woman need not have “regular” cycles. NFP education helps couples to fully understand and interpret their combined fertility, so that they can discern when to postpone or try to attempt pregnancy. Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman’s cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy. The key to the successful use of NFP is cooperation and communication between husband and wife, a shared commitment. It is unique among methods of family planning because it enables its users to work with the body rather than against it. Fertility is viewed as a gift and a reality to live, not a problem to be solved.

Fertility cycle NFP practice is pegged on four facts about the fertility of man and woman:

  • A woman ovulates at only one time during her cycle, and an ovum can survive for only 12–24 hours;
  • Spermatozoa live only one to three days in the presence of fertile mucus, with survival up to five days being rare;
  • Cervical mucus enabling healthy sperm cells to navigate the genital tract is necessary for fertility (fertile Mucus);
  • A man is fertile from puberty till his death;
  • Fertility cycle is a function of a woman’s menstrual cycle.

What are the methods of NFP?

A woman’s fertility cycle (not menstrual) has four phases; Menstruation phase; First phase of infertility(Basic Infertile Pttern-BIP); fertile phase; and the second phase of infertility. While in her fertile years, a woman’s body provides several basic ways to identify the fertile and infertile times of her menstrual cycle. The rise and fall of reproductive hormones is responsible for these signs. Recognizing the pattern of those physical signs forms the basis for all methods of NFP. Each NFP method is focused on one or more signs of female fertility. They can be grouped into three categories;

  1. Billings Ovulation Method (BOM):-

BOM was developed by Drs John (1918–2007) and Evelyn Billings, validated by eminent international scientists and successfully tried by the World Health Organization. It uses cervical mucus/vaginal discharge consistency in identifying the fertile and infertile phases of the fertility cycle already highlighted above. Mucus CharacteristicsThis method can be used to achieve or postpone pregnancy during regular or irregular cycles throughout all stages of reproductive life, including breastfeeding, and peri-menopause.

What to obseveThe cervical mucus changes in viscosity and consistency with each phase of the fertility cycle. These changes are consistent with the phases of fertility. In NFP education, a woman learns how to identify the normal, healthy, cervical mucus which indicates the days that sexual intercourse is most likely to result in pregnancy (the fertile phase).  Keen observation of the cervical mucus can tell when a woman is ovulating. Once the couple can identify when the woman is very fertile, they can choose to abstain from sexual intercourse and genital contact if they are postponing pregnancy or engage in the conjugal act when they want to achieve a pregnancy.

More sophisticated trainers teach on how to observe the character of the cervix. It is based on the fact that the cervix opens only three times in a woman’s life; during menstruation; during ovulation; and at childbirth.

                     2. Basal Body Temperature Method (BBTM)

Basal Body Temparature chartBasal body temperature is the lowest body temperature attained during rest (usually during sleep). It is generally measured immediately after awakening and before any physical activity has been undertaken.  Ovulation causes an increase of one-half to one degree Fahrenheit (one-quarter to one-half degree Celsius) in basal body temperature. The tendency of a woman to have lower temperatures before ovulation, and higher temperatures afterwards, is known as a biphasic pattern. This method is used to pinpoint the ovulation time thus enabling a couple identify when to avoid or engage in the conjugal act depending on whether they are postponing or achieving a pregnancy. Its only weakness is that it identifies post ovulation infertility phase.

 3. Symptom-Thermal Methods (STM)

STM typically combines charting of the Basal Body Temperature (BBT) and (Billings Ovulation Method (BOM) of cervical mucus observation with other optional indicators, such as changes in the cervix and secondary fertility signs to identify when a woman is fertile. With this method, a couple can chart the pre ovulation infertility phase and the post ovulation fertility phase, and of course ovulation.

With the development of ovulation prediction kits (or OPKs), the rise of certain reproductive hormones such as estrogen and luteinizing hormone (LH) can be observed. Other optional signs, such as breast tenderness or minor abdominal pain at the time of ovulation, can also be observed by the woman.

How it Differs from contraception

There is an inherent inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative aspects of the conjugal act. The connection between the two aspects of the conjugal act is in fact such, that the destruction of its procreative reference necessarily destroys it’s unitive and personal significance. Why? Because the conjugal act has a significance that goes beyond the expression of affection and pleasure it offers. The conjugal act does not in any way lose its full meaning and value if one knows that a conception is out of the question, as when age, an inevitable operation for the sake of health, or pregnancy exclude it. The knowledge that a conception is not in question does not in any way taint the conjugal act with irreverence. This act in such a marriage, if it is the expression of a deep love anchored in Christ, will rank even higher in its quality and its purity than that in a marriage in which the love is less deep and not formed by Christ even though it leads to a conception. Yet even when, for good and valid reasons (such as the endangering of life or grave economic misery), conception should as far as possible be avoided, the marital act, whose meaning and value is the actualization of an ultimate union, in no way loses its raison d’etre. The intention to avoid conception does not imply irreverence as long as one does not actively interfere in order to frustrate the link existing between the conjugal act and a possible conception. Nor is the use of natural family planning in order to avoid conception in any way irreverent, because the very fact of the possibility of natural family planning, that is to say, the fact that conception is limited to a short period, includes also a God‐given institution. This also has a meaning, and it is definitely reverent to accept the opportunity which God offers to those spouses for whom the avoidance of conception is imperative! That conception is restricted to a short time also implies a word of God. It not only confirms that the bodily union of the spouses has a meaning and value in itself apart from procreation but it also leaves open the possibility of avoiding conception if this is imperative for serious reasons. To make use of natural family planning is not to imply the slightest irreverence or rebellion against God’s institution and the wonderful link between the love union and procreation; it is in no way a subterfuge, as some people tend to believe. On the contrary, it is a grateful acceptance of the possibility granted by God to avoid conception, if this is imperative, without frustrating the expression and fulfilment of spousal love in the bodily union. As soon as we see the abyss which separates the use of natural family planning from artificial contraception, we have answered the rhetorical question: “Why should artificial contraception be a sin if the use of natural family planning is allowed?” And as soon as we see clearly the sinfulness of artificial contraception, we can and must clearly repudiate the suggestion that this is the proper means to avert the threat of overpopulation. No evil in the world, great as it may be, entitles us to use a means for avoiding it which is sinful. To commit a sin in order to avoid an evil would involve adhering to the ignominious principle, “the end justifies the means” (Dr. Vincent Njuguna- St. Matia Mulumba Mission Hospital)

NFP represents a unique approach to responsible parenthood because it  calls for shared responsibility by husband and wife; is based on scientific research about the signs of fertility; treats each menstrual cycle as unique (from experience, it is unique); teaches husband and wife to daily observe the signs of fertility; has no harmful side effects; maximizes the possibility of achieving pregnancy when intercourse takes place during the fertile phase of the wife’s menstrual cycle; is effective for postponing pregnancy when intercourse takes place during the infertile phase of the wife’s menstrual cycle and; respects the unitive and procreative nature of conjugal love. In NFP both husband and wife are taught to understand and live God’s design for married love—this will give them countless blessings.

The various benefits of NFP cannot be exhausted but some include that NFP methods promote a holistic approach to family planning which both respects procreation and has the potential to deepen the intimacy of husband and wife in that it is open to the life giving nature of the marriage act; NFP methods support reproductive health. They are good for the body. The natural methods have none of the harmful side effects caused by contraception, especially chemical contraceptives (e.g., pill, injection, etc.). For the woman, NFP charting can even assist in the diagnosis of underlying medical problems. And, if a couple find they are having trouble conceiving, NFP information can help them pinpoint the most fertile time of the wife’s cycle. NFP methods can be marriage strengthening. NFP relies on couple communication and behaviour change. NFP methods require husband and wife to cooperate with each other in the most intimate area of their lives. During times of periodic sexual abstinence, husband and wife live a renewed courtship as they discover non-sexual ways to express their love for each other. On a practical level, husbands are encouraged to “tune into” their wives’ cycles, and both spouses are encouraged to speak openly and frankly about their sexual desires, hopes for number of children, and prayerful discernment of God’s will for their marriage. When living the NFP lifestyle, husband and wife learn that they have a shared responsibility for safeguarding God’s gifts of human sexuality, marriage and family. They also grow in their understanding of God’s will for their family size. NFP has the potential to make good marriages great. NFP is also free. In Kenya, training of couples is free, and exercising it accrues no costs whatsoever.

A number of NFP providers teach a variety of approaches to NFP. In Kenya, in addition to the Catholic Church, we have Human Life International Kenya among other organizations. It is endowed with doctors-physicians and gynecologists- and volunteer couples who are users of the methods. On-line courses are offered by Couple to Couple League, WOOMB International and most catholic dioceses all over the world.

The big question that comes when this is raised is, does it even work? What are the success rates? Well, from a users point of view, (we-my spouse and I- are users of the BOM) it depends on what you are trying to do. Are you trying to achieve pregnancy? Then yes it is successful, but remember, children come from God and are blessed unto us when God sees it fit to bless us with children. It is always for his glory. Are you trying to postpone pregnancy? Then yes it is. Currently rated at 99%. You just have to remember the fact that sex during fertile days can result to a pregnancy.

What makes it not work? Most of us have grown up in a world that glorifies sex and believes that sex is any time anywhere as long as there is a woman and man. Premarital sex is celebrated and those who choose to abstain till marriage as viewed as abnormal. Transfer the same attitude to a marriage situation and parties in a couple, believe that since they are married they are free to engage in the conjugal act any time but are not willing to embrace the fact that sex is both unitive and procreative, functions that are not mutually exclusive. Couples thus will seek to frustrate/treat the procreative aspect of the woman by letting her be responsible for her fertility and willingly frustrate it by taking the hormonal pills, implants and having intra-uterine devices inserted in her womb. The other major reason is fertility is viewed as a woman problem and should be fixed. Most men, not all, tend to abstain from responsibility of the procreative aspect of sex. Sex thus attains a selfish end as opposed to the unitive end that it was ordained to have. NFP introduces to the couples the value of joint responsibility in this key part of their married life; their sexual life; where each party appreciates and accepts the whole person and does not try whether medically or otherwise try to suppress any body functioning.

The biggest challenge I find is the attitude. How are we going to change this attitude that NFP does not work, bearing in mind even the medical practitioners who interact with families daily do not even want to think of this as an option because it is a concept out of this world. How do we even try to change a concept that is far-fetched because the other options are a multi-billion business enterprises that any other information that contradicts that which they advocate for will kill their business? Are we going to be brave enough to go against the norm? Or will we be complacent and keep failing to teach what is the best option? Are we going to watch as the cases of cervical and breast cancers rise and cower because we are too afraid to face this multi billionaires? Well the choice is mine, especially as a woman to abstain from the chemicals or to keep the poison in our systems. Either way, someday we shall all live the consequences of our decisions. I have always said, sexual matters are very key to the woman, and whatever is contrary to that which we believe in can be avoided by ensuring that the people we choose respect us and value that which we value.

Can we please stand up!

Acknowledgement:-

I acknowledge the contribution of Dr. Vincent Njuguna of St Matia Mulumba Mission Hospital and Augustine Richard Kakeeto, Lecturer at Catholic University of Eastern Africa- Kenya. 

The 7 day #BibleChallenge…. Day 2

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1 Corinthians 6:18-19

…Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body…

Sexual immorality means surrendering of sexual purity. It can also be defined as “selling off” or trading of sexual purity and involves any type of sexual expression outside the boundaries of a biblically defined marriage relationship. In the New Testament, the word most often translated “sexual immorality” is the greek word porneia. This word is also translated to or mainly implies “whoredom,” “fornication,” and “idolatry.” In the contemporary world where sex has evolved to more crazier definitions, also mentioned in the bible from as early as Sodom and Gomorrah era, it involves gay-ism, lesbianism, beastiality and paedophilia.

On the other hand, Chastity is the state of being sexually pure. In my layman definition, it implies respecting the conjugal act and letting it be within the constraints within which it was ordained for. It means abstaining till marriage, and when married, remaining faithful to this one person one has chosen to give himself or herself to, totally and completely.

In my article, Is Chastity Overrated,  I elaborate on the importance of Chastity, the benefits and all details as appertains to this topic.Why was Paul insistent on people fleeing from sexual immorality. It is because our sexuality is a part of who we are. They are a part of our substance. Anything that offends our substance makes as less of who we are. This is why one can be beaten, cut, bruised or clobbered and the wounds inflicted heal and in as much as they leave scars, they are forgotten. That which offends our sexuality is carried through our life. That is why rape degrades, it makes one feel dirty, and totally broken. Any sexual abuse leaves scars that last forever. Many people learn to live with those scars, but if you ask them they will still tell you how unworthy they feel inside especially as a man or woman. Why flee? Because in as much as our purity may be our strength, because it is a part of who we are, and because of the vulnerability that the first man’s sin introduced in our person, our sexuality is our biggest weakness. May we flee from that which makes us very vulnerable to spiritual abuse, may we hold our selves pure, because as St Augustine put it, better absolute abstinence than perfect moderation.

To learn more on chastity and answer those frequently asked questions, visit, Chastity.com

Article 38:- Condoms for kids…

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On February 18th, this year, the President of the Republic of Kenya launched the “Global All In”, a campaign aimed at reducing new HIV/AIDS infections among adolescents. This has been branded condoms for kids campaign locally.  The reactions of parents, depending on the values, upbringing, religion and personal beliefs ranged from utter disbelief to cheerful glee. Personally I am appalled and the first thing that came to my head was anger at the fact that we, parents have failed to raise our children in the right values that we have let the state should dictate their sexual lives. The other thing that came to my head was a poem I heard a long time ago while in primary school and it went like this…

AIDS HAVE YOU NO MERCY?

AIDS, oh AIDS
The mention of your name
Scares me out of my skin,
Out of the darkness,
You crept in and swept our continent.
From North to South
And from East to West,
Thousand and thousand you have killed
Spoiled the beauty of our continent 
Causing no meaning to life,
Yet you are not satisfied.
AIDS, do you have mercy?

OH! Aids you are deadly monster,

You have taken our fathers and mothers,
Brothers and sisters,
Homes are but full of graves
Children are orphans,
Women are widows,
Men are widowers;
Why!
Just because of you mister slim?
Others call you kill me quick; ….

But after the initial immediate emotion, I can now rationalize things, question things. Basics; According to CDC, HIV virus is transmitted through sexual contact, injectibles for drug users, childbirth and breastfeeding transmission, occupational exposure e.g. for doctors during emergencies, accidents first aids etc, and blood transfusions. The highest infection rates are through sexual encounters and injectibles for drug users. The mother to child transfers has been reduced to almost zero because of the special care during pregnancy, childbirth and parents post natal care. Transmission through blood transfusions is almost nonexistent. Medics will tell you that there is a thorough screening of blood before any blood is transfused to a patient. That leaves us to believe that our children are getting infected with HIV through either drugs or they are sexually active. Majority of births are HIV negative. So before the children were infected, an adult had sex with a minor and infected this child with HIV. So if we are giving the children condoms are we really solving the problem? Or are we opening doors for the same adults to keep abusing our children? After that initial transmission, children became sexually active. What propelled that? Is it because our media is full of advertisements on how sex is good as long as condoms are used? Or is it because we have not taught our children the value of chastity and abstinence? Or is it because they are using drugs and are sharing syringes? If we give them condoms are we solving the problem or we are growing the vice of drug and substance abuse? Are we going to have a syringe for kids campaign too for drug abusers? Guns for hire for underage thieves? Alcohol for kids campaign for drinking? Petrol for keeps for kids who burn each other in their sleep? Why is it so easy to condone one vice and condemn another? Why is premarital sex so easy to accept yet in the commandments they bear equal weight with any other commandments like thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal?

A fact that we should always bear in mind is, condoms do not prevent transmission of HIV/AIDs, it only reduces the risk of transmission; to what extent; ranges from 66% to 98% depending on the source of your data. If it’s the condoms distributor, well, be the judge. The risk of transmission is also cumulative, as statisticians would say, the more the use, the higher the risk. While AIDS remain one of the highest causes of deaths in the world, I have not seen in any obituary that any teen died of abstaining from sex. Another fact is, women are more prone to infection than men, due to our anatomy. The responsibility of reducing the rates of infection and eventually the rates of deaths lies squarely on our shoulders. I have always said that without a woman’s consent, sex can never be otherwise it would be rape. We are the custodians of morality, can we all stand up and be counted as those who literally reduces this pandemic?

The conclusion of the poem above went like this…

Scientist have gone to the moon
And made nuclear weapon and yet
You have defeated all.
Brothers and sisters,
Friends and relatives and my loving parents
Lend me your ears and get this message right.
With a broken heart I am asking you,
Please take care of your youth,
Stop bad habits, be faithful to each other.
This monster never sleeps
There is no cure for AIDS.
AIDS, do you have mercy

I rest my case…

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