Sex Always Has Consequences


Photo by Selbe <3, via Flickr

When I heard the story on the news this morning, I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or do a face palm. There’s a new study out saying that women taking the newer-generation mini birth control pills have 3x higher risk of blood clots compared to women who don’t take oral contraceptives. But, they hasten to add, that doesn’t mean you should stop taking them.

I’ve come to a realization lately that I think all women, and frankly all men too, need to come to terms with. For me, it was a long time in coming, considering how obvious it is.

There is no such thing as sex without consequences.

Proponents of natural family planning and proponents of artificial means of birth control both seem unable to grasp this simple truth. The NFP community likes to harp on the side effects of birth control and its potential to damage human relationships. Those who use birth control deride NFP as ineffective and contrary to human nature because it requires people to fight their instincts to come together at women’s most fertile time.

We would all like to think there’s some magic bullet that takes away the sacrifice and, dare I say it, suffering that is part and parcel of reproductive life. We want to be able to enjoy the coming together without the side effects/consequences. There are basically three courses you can take: you can impose artificial controls on nature (contraception); you can work with nature (NFP); or you can do whatever you want and let the chips fall where they may.

Photo by einalem, via Flickr

But every one of those paths has consequences.

If you use natural family planning, you have to deal with occasional (and for some people, frequent) ambiguity in the signs and the need to abstain when the woman is most interested in sex. There’s no question that requires sacrifice and, sometimes, suffering.

If you use chemical contraception, though–assuming it does what it’s supposed to do, and fools your body into thinking it’s pregnant already–you’re giving up that increased sex drive altogether. Which is why I find it puzzling when proponents of birth control criticize NFP for the abstaining when the sex drive is highest. I mean, it’s not like contraception solves that issue. And besides, there’s that whole thing about side effects, and environmental impact, and blood clots. Again: sacrifice, and sometimes, suffering.

Your third option is to let the chips fall where they may. You get the best of both worlds: sex whenever you feel like it, without side effects, without increased risk of blood clots. But there’s a natural consequence to that, too, and it involves bigger cars and bigger houses and a humongous grocery bill, to say nothing of college costs. And a lot of time pregnant and breastfeeding and exhausted. So again: sacrifice, and sometimes, suffering.

The reality is that sex does have consequences, no matter what you do. You can gnash your teeth all you like, but that’s the reality. Our job is to make the most responsible choice we can, based on as much information as we can. And the longer I’m involved with natural family planning, the more thoroughly convinced I become that NFP, while not without consequences, is the best option. It’s not the easiest, but it is the best–for women, for couples, for the world.

A Holistic, Natural Life


I’m posting today on a subject very close to my heart. I know that probably half of my readers think this topic has nothing to do with you, but I would like to invite each of you to take time to read it, even though it’s aimed at natural family planning users, because the point I’m making in the post is that the birth control-natural methods debate is not just about religion–that there are many, many reasons why reasoning, thinking people think natural methods of family planning are way better than artificial ones. And you might be surprised to see that those reasons echo concerns that are felt across our society, by religious and non-religious alike. At the least, I hope you’ll read in order to get a different perspective on this than what you may have heard of before.

An Infertility Story, Part 3

Causes of infertility, data compiled in the Un...

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If you’re just joining us, click here for  part 1 and part 2 of the series.

By June of 2003, we’re well into a familiar pattern: I get emotional, Christian gets frustrated. He feels that I won’t allow him to get excited when we see signs that might mean pregnancy, but I counter that I just want to keep our feet on the ground in anticipation of the fall. Trouble is, it doesn’t really help. Every time we discover that we’re not pregnant, it’s like a big pit opens and we fall right in, and spend two days crawling back out of it. He can’t stand seeing me weeping every time I leave the doctor’s office.

2002 is a rough year all the way around. But there are moments of incredible beauty, too. Like the day when I stand in my parents’ kitchen with my mom and her mom. Up till now we’ve shared our struggles with parents and siblings and a few close friends, but we haven’t gone public. As we stand in the kitchen that afternoon, Grandma tells me about her two miscarriages; and before I know it, we are crying together for the pain of the past and the pain of the present, and it’s a moment of connection I realize I would never have had were it not for this cross I’ve been asked to bear.

Cycles continue to be long, with ambiguous signs. The pain of every failure does not dull, but I begin to understand that God’s will for me is not yes or no, but wait. And as I wait, I find my heart changing. I think that perhaps this is one of those testing times. Not a test to see if we pass or fail, but a chance for us to learn our own strength—to decide between abandoning our principles or accepting the unknown. And all of a sudden, one day, I find myself able to let go. I call my older sister, who is on the wait list to adopt from China, and for the first time I really consider the adoption option.

Finally we decide to do something we’ve been avoiding because of distance: namely, go see the NFP doctors, two hours away. At the end of June, we have our first appointment with Dr. Mark Stegman. He speaks our language. He asks questions, looks at our charts, tells me that treatment regimens can only be determined after we know what the problems are; we have some in-depth diagnostics to do first. It’s a moment of incredible hope.

A week later, we have a huge fight. Christian’s sick to death of infertility ruling our entire existence. He wants to quit treatment altogether. I nearly hyperventilate, and eventually we work out a compromise: we’ll keep going, but I have to be more positive about life.

I learn to chart Creighton NFP, a much more detailed record of secretions than what we learned through CCL, though it lacks the temperature cross-check. Certain types of observations point to certain diagnoses, and this helps trained doctors dig down past the symptom (infertility) to the cause behind it. The advantage of NaPro technology is that once you know the problem and address it, your body can do its job properly, not just for this time, but the next and the next. It’s a more holistic way of addressing infertility.

We cross another milestone early this fall: we decide it’s time to go public. We break down in front of our church choirs (at that time, each of us had one) and tell them what’s been going on; we send an email to uncles, aunts, cousins and the large list of friends.

In one way, this is good; now we have a vast support network praying, cheering us on. But we also have many more people offering unsolicited advice and comments. “But you’re so young to be worrying about this!” they protest, even though I’m not—not for having children; I’m 28 at this point, hardly a vast age, but certainly not young to be having children.

People toss around the word “adoption,” as in: “Well, if you can’t get pregnant, you can always adopt. As soon as you adopt, you’ll get pregnant.” Perhaps they don’t realize that no agency in its right mind will let a couple adopt until they’re sure the parents have “resolved their infertility issues.”

And of course, there’s the doozie: some variation on, “You’ve got to relax! As soon as you stop stressing out, you’ll get pregnant!”

Nothing can provoke an infertile woman to near-violence more quickly than the words “relax” or “stress.” How am I supposed to respond to that helpful piece of advice? “Oh, silly me, how right you are; I think I’ll relax now, all better!” Rrrriiiight. Of course I’m stressed! Being told not to be ratchets the stress up a notch or two with every repetition. If you come away from this series of posts with nothing else, carry from it this lesson: NEVER mention the word “stress” to an infertile couple. True or not, it is absolutely the most counterproductive thing you can possibly say.

At my next visit to Dr. Stegman, he performs a physical examination. There’s another rectal exam, but he warns me first, and he’s very gentle. Nonetheless, I hiss with pain. He pauses. “Now, I need you to separate the discomfort of the invasion from actual—”

I’m already shaking my head. “No, it’s definitely pain, and it’s definitely inside.”

He nods. “There’s something there that shouldn’t be,” he says. He suspects that it’s endometriosis. The only way to know for sure is to do a laparoscopy. He also sees what he calls “cervical eversion,” which is when the cervix turns partially inside out, exposing the fluid-producing glands to the hostile environment of the vagina. This causes them to go crazy producing secretions, and that confuses the signs of fertility we’re trying to use to get pregnant.

I think: How did Doctor #1 miss this? But I know the answer: because Dr. #1 is too focused on his standard regimen and not enough on finding the problem.

I go in for surgery on the first anniversary of 9/11. Dr. Stegman comes into the pre-op room, perches beside my cot and prays with me, and I’m filled with gratitude that I’ve finally found a doctor I can trust.

Join me tomorrow for the last part of the story.

An Infertility Story, Part 1: Why NFP?


I spent the month of December writing a huge article on infertility. In the process of contacting and interviewing couples, I realized something: I have never actually addressed infertility on this blog. So I am dedicating this week to a no-holds-barred, lay-it-out-there infertility story. So if this is something you don’t feel like reading about, come back Friday.

But before I describe our journey, I need to give you a little background on our philosophy of life and sexuality, so you can understand why we made the choices we made.

Christian comes from a family that simply took the kids as they came. My mother had a big chart on the back of her bedroom door, with color-coded stickers. But although she kept track of her fertility and taught me some rudimentary fertility awareness (she told me to put a star on my calendar at the beginning of every period), my parents never set out to avoid or achieve pregnancy.

Thus, my husband and I both grew up with an instinct that birth control was not in our future—yes, partly because “The Church says so.” But since we both agreed about it, we didn’t feel a need to dig farther. We just found a class and learned natural family planning.

But over time, that began to change. I’ve come to understand that for all the focus on sex in our culture, people are appallingly ignorant of the process. Having given over understanding our bodies in favor of suppressing a normal, healthy function of the body, modern people instead view fertility as a disease. Ovulation is not some mysterious event that comes out of nowhere, lying in wait to betray a woman from within. It is a result of a complex interplay of hormones that cause daily changes in a woman’s body—far more than “bleeding,” “ovulation” and “PMS,” our cycles follow a pattern that we can read. And that knowledge gives men and women alike a whole new appreciation for each other. Truly, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and practicing NFP really shows it off—monthly, weekly, daily.

Knowing that there are surely skeptics in the house, let me go ahead and address the elephants in the e-room:

  1. NFP doesn’t work. Only it does. The reason most people carry around this humongous piece of bad information is that in most side-by-side comparisons, modern NFP is lumped together with calendar rhythm, which isn’t effective. Like all methods of controlling conception, modern NFP isn’t 100%, but its “perfect use” statistics are the same as hormonal birth control (pill, patch, shots). (Here’s a study from 2007.) Using a condom during the fertile time is what some NFP methods call “achieving-related behavior.” Cheating the rules by a day: ditto. In this day and age, having given over understanding our bodies, we tend to view anything that doesn’t involve direct physical intervention as suspicious, but the fact remains that NFP works. Its user effectiveness is directly proportional to the couple’s motivation to follow the rules. Which leads me to…
  2. NFP takes the spontaneity out sex, and why should we have to abstain anyway? OK, let’s be honest. How often do you have spontaneous sex, anyway? Especially in the post-kid era. Intimacy in family life tends to be planned. And moms who write with kids in the house can vouch that structure increases productivity. What I’m getting at is that the structure of periodic abstinence makes you think about sex in a different way. And because of this, for many couples using NFP leads to more sex, not less.

Okay, so with that out of the way, here’s what I learned in the practice and study of NFP:

Our bodies are the way that we are able to reflect God in the world. It is with our physical beings that we do good or evil, that we build up or tear down the Kingdom. This means that our bodies have an incredible dignity, and that we should use them to reflect God’s love for the world. A good place to start is by respecting the way we were made. In this quickly “green”-ing world, why do we accept that dumping chemicals into our bodies and, by extension, into the waterways, is a good way to plan our families?

And when as I started to see how so many of the world’s problems were interrelated, I realized that the choice to respect the body has far-reaching implications—far more than just the way we space our children and plan family size. But when we hit the topic of infertility, those implications go from high priority to off-the-chart. How many women and men find the infertility process demeaning, disrespectful, and demoralizing? And why do we just accept that this is the way it has to be?

I’m oversimplifying here; this series of insights unfolded over the course of our infertility journey—and there’s much more to it. But I include it here to lay the groundwork for the rest. And since I’m already far too wordy, I leave off until tomorrow, when I’ll actually start talking about what happened when we started trying to get pregnant.

For Part 2, click here.
For Part 3, click here.
For Part 4, click here.