After yesterday’s post about why I don’t like birth control, I think it only makes sense to talk about the alternative. Natural family planning is widely reviled as a game of reproductive roulette, an unreasonable burden on couples, or an unnecessary restriction on sexual expression. Those of us who use NFP try to dispel those myths, but we don’t really talk about what it’s like to live this life.
In no particular order, here are some of my thoughts about the fifteen years I’ve spent charting my fertility and using that information to plan our family.
1. I know myself. I know my body, what it does, what it’s doing at any given time in the cycle. I’m aware of sensations I once was not, and the cyclic changes are a continual source of awe and wonder. I’m coming up on forty this year, and I’m starting to see changes in the way my reproductive system responds as it approaches the waning years. I’m a whole lot more comfortable in my skin these days. NFP isn’t the whole reason for that, but it’s a big factor.
2. I’m a far healthier person because of my practice of NFP. I had erratic charts early-on, and that encouraged me to address dietary and lifestyle changes. Because I have to take my temperature every morning, I’m conscious of getting to bed and planning my life around good habits. I also learned that I drop two pounds when I go into Phase III (post-ovulation infertility). Huge implications for helping me manage my weight.
3. I’m aware of the hormonal shifts and how they impact me as a woman. There are two parts of the cycle when I am susceptible to being cranky, and knowing that makes me aware, as well, of the need to guard my reactions. This is particularly meaningful to me because I remember how out of control of my bitchiness I was when I was on progestin during the early part of the infertility battle.
4. I have a lot more self-discipline because we use NFP. I’m talking about the mental discipline to make sure I do the observations consistently and don’t get lazy. Because “lazy” leads to unnecessary abstinence.
5. We are intentional about intimacy. Our window of abstinence is usually 12 or 13 days, but on either side of that window we prioritize intimacy. I would really love for someone to undertake a survey to see how often people using different forms of family planning have sex. I would guess–but it’s only a guess–that we make at least as much room for it in our lives as couples using birth control. It’s just spaced out differently. Or maybe, just maybe, because it has to be intentional, we actually make better use of time?
This post is not even remotely scientific, but it is illuminating. Let’s just say if this is the benchmark, we’re doing better than most.
6. Being intentional has another up side. Spontaneity sounds great, but busy-ness and spontaneity don’t really mix–and who’s not busy these days? Especially when you’ve got kids. Intentionality helps me to get myself in the right frame of mind.
7. There are all kinds of implications of being intentional. We have to work together to get the kids in bed on time, we have to talk through the weekly schedules so we don’t park our butts in front of the TV, we have to make sure we are interacting appropriately during the evening (because who wants to be intimate after you’ve been snipped at and criticized all night?). We have microcosmic conversations and macrocosmic conversations. What all this intentionality boils down to is: We really pay attention to each other, because our family planning choice requires it. Of course all married couples pay attention to each other, but NFP strongly encourages the conversation.
These are off-the-cuff thoughts, but enough for now. Others who use NFP: you want to share what your lives look like?
Love this, agree with everything you said. I also notice those times in my cycle when I have much less patience. While it helps knowing this, sometimes it can be frustrating having a short fuse and realizing that it is because of hormones, which I have no control over! At least it helps to know I’m not crazy and that it will pass.
I have looked over charts when we were abstaining and ones we were not. The total number of days of marital intimacy were pretty much the same, the timing was the only difference.
You both learn a lot about how her body works. Hormones do affect mood, which does affect your relationship. Being aware of what is going on can save you from a lot of conflict in your marriage. You also learn how diet and lifestyle can impact her cycle and her overall health. If she’s eating well, then the rest of the family will probably eat well too.
As for the amount of marital intimacy, I guess I’m most shocked at how many couples using other forms of family planning aren’t having sex, at least from the article. I do know that the artificial hormones in birth control pills can dampen libido, so perhaps that’s part of it?
Whether a couple will have more, less, or the same amount of intimacy using NFP depends on the couple and depends on the cycle. Some women have cycles that don’t lend themselves to many available days. Some couples like more intimacy than others. Some couples are going to have less marital intimacy than they would like and that’s going to be a struggle for them, but overall I would say that most NFP couples are still above average.
Kate … I love this buzzword of Intentionality that is adapted even into our daily faith life and discipleship. It is a virtue that affects every part of our lives and becomes more evident as we mature and grow gray. Bob and I are in total agreement with you. It has made life so much richer in all of our relationships and especially our personal intimacy.