Saturday, January 26, 2013

My Dog Ate My Chart

Hi! I wanted to thank everyone for the responses on the NFP post. I'm going to just put up a second post here rather than overloading the com-box, 'cause it gets hard for folks to follow.

I'll start with a frank and open declaration of what my problem with NFP is. I know that it works for some couples, and that's lovely. The problem is that it is presented as a one-size-fits all solution for all couples, and there isn't room made for individual couples to reasonably discern whether or not it's a practicable solution for their particular situation. I feel lucky because I'm a Canadian, and the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops has acknowledged this problem and allowed some wiggle-room for conscience in the Winnepeg Statement -- but of course that's severely controversial within the Catholic world.

My situation is that I've been trying to use NFP to "space" my births for my last three pregnancies. I've tried sympto-thermal, Billings, and ecological breastfeeding all with equally dismal results. I could learn Creighton, but there's really no point because I know exactly why NFP doesn't work for me, and it has nothing to do with the methods. NFP demands two different things of a woman: 1) Body awareness, and 2) Organizational skills. Different methods tend to emphasize one of these two poles: sympto-thermal demands an extremely organized life-style in which you have a consistent sleep schedule and are able to make a series of scientific observations at the same time each day. My babies generally do not sleep through the night, I'm an erratic sleeper, and I have an autistic son whose sleep schedule is extremely unorthodox. I'm one of these scatty, head-in-the-clouds creative types and in spite of countless attempts by my mother, my teachers and myself to instill basic organizational skills in me, I still haven't mastered the art of remembering to brush my teeth every morning. Even when my husband reminds me to do my charting, there's a better than 80% chance that I will either a) get distracted on the way to do it, b) have lost my thermometer and forgotten to buy a new one the last four times that I went to the drug store, c) have my temperature thrown off by random external factors, d) not be able to make head-or-tails of my cervical changes, e) have lost my chart, or f) swear in frustration and kick the wall as I realize that I haven't successfully entered any information on my chart in over two weeks. A typical NFP chart by me has five days of beautiful, perfect, by-the-book charting at the beginning of the first cycle, a couple of sporadic entries over the next week or two, and then completely random information written down at five to 40 day intervals after that. That's what it looks like if I'm really extremely motivated to avoid pregnancy, and very committed to making it work. If I've more or less given up and resigned myself to getting pregnant again, then my chart will look like one random piece of information written down on a random scrap of paper at the bottom of a drawer.

Which brings us to the less organizationally dependent Billings method. The advantage of Billings is that many women find that after they've learned to read their mucous symptoms, they are actually able to dispense with charting altogether. Lovely. Sounds like the method for me. There's only one drawback: Billings assumes that you are able to be aware of your body on an on-going basis over the course of the day. You're supposed to observe the natural changes in your mucous and track your fertility based on the most fertile symptoms as the day progresses. I am dimly aware of my body most of the time, and when I am aware of it I have trouble convincing it that it's female. Usually I reach the end of the day and I think "did I have any mucous symptoms today?" and the answer is, "I have absolutely no idea." So I check to see, do I have any mucous now? The answer is usually "I have absolutely no idea." Then I forget to write that down, for the reasons mentioned above, and I feel like I can't go and ask my NFP instructor what to do, because she's going to tell me that there is absolutely no way that the method is going to work if I don't pay attention throughout the day and don't keep records.

Now I'm sure that a lot of you out there are thinking "Just pay attention, keep records, and stop whining." I've tried. I have tried very, very sincerely. I've tried it three times, with the result that my pregnancies were spaced exactly the same distance apart as the pregnancies where I was not using any method, and was just getting pregnant. I've tried innumerable different schemes to try to get myself organized, and none of them work. Finally, I've had to deal with the fact that organizational skills are a cognitive thing -- that it is perfectly possible for a human being to have a legitimate neurological disability in this area, and that such disabilities are blatantly rampant in my family. That's not a moral failing, it's an inability to employ a particular technique. And a person's status vis a vis God and the Church should not be dependent on the performance of a technique.


  1. I hadn't heard of the Winnepeg Statement by name, but when I looked it up… yipes. That's the "follow your conscience" loophole. An episcopal conference can't trump Church teaching, and Church teaching does not allow "wiggle room" on sexual sins. Not trying to be harsh, just accurate. That type of "conscience" exception is why all sorts of Catholics went right ahead and got on the Pill after '68. With their priests' ill-informed blessings. This discussion makes me sad, because honestly, sin cannot be justified (in the sense that no one can give us permission to sin). Culpability is another issue, but in this case, it's like folks are looking for permission to sin, and the bishops in Canada in '68 gave them that permission.

    1. Honest question (read no snarky tone): At the point where mutual masturbation is considered and performed, why not just go ahead and use contraception? Why pick one over the other?

    2. I know for my husband and I, when we've fallen into this it is a passion of the moment kind of thing, whereas using contraception would be something more premeditated. I know that planning on sinning would be worse, versus longing to be together in a weak moment.


    3. Leila,

      There's no difference, objectively speaking, between barrier methods of contraception and the use of *ahem* "creative cuddling" to avoid sexual frustration during prolonged periods of abstinence. WFAS above makes a good point w/r/t culpability, but ultimately I think it's a matter of aesthetics. Some couples would find a condom more aesthetically repulsive than a blow job, and visa versa. I do think it's problematic that in Church teaching on contraception, no distinction is made between barrier methods and chemical methods, because they are, objectively, very different. Chemical methods render the body incapable of performing one of its natural functions (and are all potentially abortifacient as well) whereas barrier methods only effect individual acts. In other words, chemical methods offend against both the 5th and the 6th Commandments, whereas barrier methods only offend against the 6th.

    4. Leila--your comment makes me sad. Such legalism and no mercy is not the heart of Christ.

    5. You know, I could make the identical comment strictly out of mercy. Why is one worse than the other? Why is one to be condemned more for one than the other? Or put the other way, why is one better than the other? Yes, sin is sin, but mercy is mercy, and when we sin, which we will, and in doing so will not be without guilt, He stands ready to forgive those who seek forgiveness.

    6. If 'creative cuddling' and contraception are the same thing, why pick one over the other?

      Well, if one must choose, I think the 'creative cuddling' is preferable, at least if we're talking about more permanent forms of contraception like pills, injections, implants, and sterilization. Why?

      Because with 'creative cuddling' or using a condom, the acts are occasional. They might happen once or twice during each cycle. But taking a pill every day or being sterilized are not occasional acts, but are practically a way of life.

      Because there *is* a difference between 'natural' sex and alternative forms of sexual activity, it's much better to keep it natural as much as possible and to minimize the other stuff as much as possible.

      To contracept as a way of life, as a permanent form of sexuality, is an awful thing. It completely rejects or just doesn't see that these two forms of sexuality are very, very different. And that one form is much more wholesome than the other.

      People who contracept a few times a cycle are more often than not, just people struggling with chastity and falling down a lot. They don't approve of it, they just know they probably will be struggling with it for a long time.

      That is very different than the choice to turn one's whole sex life into a contraceptive form.

    7. Brian: let us apply this reasoning to the unitive aspect of marriage. Is it then, okay to "occasionally" , maybe even once to commit adultery? I mean, hey, we are faithful all the rest of the time? No, this cannot apply to either the pro-creative or the unitive aspects of marriage. We must confess even these occasional sins to "become perfect" as Our Heavenly Father is(ann) Otherwise we make a mockery of grace

    8. A conscience must be properly formed with Church teachings in order to know how to ACT. This is disturbing how so many excuse these sins 'n as I mentioned before: there ARE Church teachings on these matters; unless folks learn them sincerely from an NFP provider, they will muddle along, be frustrated + have guilt/ questions. One can also have a dead conscience due to repeated sins; yes, then, more serious sin is possible . This is precisely how the enemy works. Small sins lead to bigger sins. Contracepting behaviors are the same as artificial contraception. One cannot say - it is natural; it is okay ( well according to canadian bishops, you can). But we have a moral duty to correctly form our consciences. That is the error w/the Canadian Bishops letter. It did not state this matter clearly. I thank God John and Sheila Kippley correctly taught us marital love theology w/the NFP. It is sin-freeing to live NFP chastely. Onan spilled his seed and was killed. Culpability or not may excuse guilt/punishment but one cannot say ha-ha, I could not help myself, giggle giggle - that can be mockery of the Cross. We must also fraternally correct each other in charity. I am SO glad someone challenged me to be chaste. This initial January post said: Only those who take chastity seriously take NFP seriously. Folks: the Bible says flee immorality; not skip or tiptoe but flee. Confession helps one ammend and not sin. We must have a firm purpose of ammendment and seek to live chastity. Peace of conscience is a gift as Saint Paul speaks of, also. Even reading the Bible helps form us. ( ann )

    9. Ann, read the catechism on masturbation and culpability and then apply that to married couples in difficult circumstances.

      Clarity about what is positive and what is negative behavior, grave matter, etc. is great, but it doesn't help someone who doesn't have the will power to do the right thing even if they wanted to.

      You can't just appeal to doctrine and dogma, you have to apply some pastoral wisdom as well, taking into consideration the fact that being wrapped up in addiction and/or vice compromises a persons freedom and ability to act correctly. Couples in this situation can expect to be struggling and failing many times.

      So in my opinion, I don't think they should make too big a deal out of their failures, but to be content that they are trying.

      We're not helping anyone in real life situations by ignoring reality and the very real moral 'traps' people can find themselves in.

      No one should be in a situation where they feel like they have no choice but to abandon their faith because they felt they were pushed into an impossible corner.

    10. Karen, do you believe that truth and mercy are mutually exclusive? I don't.

    11. yes, Brian, some of this thinking is also in the homosexuality and divorce teachings - we must keep trying but going to confession is also listed and 'talking about it' with others who can help, is a help as well. We must have Christ in us and graces from others in the form of practical helps to assist with this cross - we cannot just say oh, they cannot help it - that is a mockery of grace - we can take that further - oh, they better just get sterilized; there is no hope/help - It took me years to work through sexual sin and still struggling at times but I have learned from spiritual reading as well ways to help - we cannot just wallow in our sins/faults - ann

  2. Hmmm. I am not saying Creighton will magically solve everything for you. It may not. However, as a very scattered creative type who has spent the past 30 years slowly improving in this realm, I have benefited from learning it. It is different from Billings in that it is more specific/precise/structured. Now that sounds like the opposite of what you want, but I have found as a scatter-brained person I actually need that crazy level of precision. Not the kind of structure of S-T which requires that daggone thermometer every morning at the same time (I can't do it either), but the kind of structure where the observation routine becomes so mindlessly ingrained in you that even when you're pregnant you're doing the observations without even realizing it. I couldn't even stop observing if I wanted to, I believe (and my organized Dh often keeps my charts, so it's just a matter of me reporting to him when he asks, which of course, being so organized he remembers to ask). A good instructor helps individuals navigate ways to make it a firm habit in a way that makes sense to them. Just a thought.

    1. I haven't been using Creighton near as long as Sarah but I have much to agree with here. I often forget to write anything in my chart, but the observation routine is already so ingrained that I do it when I have to go to the bathroom during class that I teach. What the "fertile signs" can be are much more specific than Billings (also, pre-peak after it's learned is NOT every other day, end of day; it's everyday, end of day), which is good if you're struggling with body awareness.

      I am also somewhat of a lurker on your blog, and it seems that bodily awareness and your awareness of yourself as a woman is something that you're actively cultivating and trying to discover what that means (especially as it doesn't mean liking shopping, or being the organizational super mom, or so many other "archetypes" of femininity). Maybe learning to be aware of your body on a daily basis will help with all of this?

      I've had some serious health issues in the past. For awhile after they started, I tried to dedicate my time to normal, everyday things: my job, writing, being a good friend, etc. But at a certain point I realized that my health was the most important thing, and even if all I could bring myself to do was take a walk that day, that's what I should do. Maybe that's what you should do, now, focusing on body awareness? It seems that it is now pretty dire.

    2. I found the opposite. Creighton was too specific--couldn't see the forest for the trees. Billings just made sense.

  3. I'll have to let my mind process this for a while.

  4. You know, as someone standing outside the fray (I'm an Anglican, and a widower) I find myself both put off and bemused by all the angst displayed over methods of Birth Control/Family Planning/Pregnancy Spacing and the seeming little concern as to why such outcomes are seen as desirable.

    Is there a desire not to have children at all? To be married, or to begin a marriage with this attitude, whether mutually agreed upon or one-sided, would seem to be sufficient grounds to declare that no marriage had actually come to be, and is, if I understand correctly, is in actuality a grounds for annulment.

    Is there a resistance to the inconvenience of raising children or to the cramping of ones lifestyle? Might this be a sinful selfishness?

    Either of these would seem to me to describe actions sinful in themselves, regardless of methods used, in which case, as I see it, NFP would be no less sinful than so-called "artificial methods".

    Or are there legitimate reasons such as concerns of health or of genuine poverty? In this last case I can't see avoidance of pregnancy as a problem, and have trouble seeing the objection to "artificial" means, if the only alternatives are a somewhat unreliable NFP or lifelong abstinence. Of these, the former would seem to be potentially providing incentive toward abortion, sometimes for concern for the life of the mother; and the latter seems to question St. Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition ) Let the husband render the debt to his wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband. And in like manner the husband also hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud not one another, except, perhaps, by consent, for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer; and return together again, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency.

    As I said, I speak from outside, and this may be none of my business, but I felt it necessary to bring up these questions -- without really attempting answers.

    1. In my experience, I see that the Anglican tradition permitted contraception ( 1930) when all other faiths rejected it ; they went down that slippery slope and now accept abortion as okay and ordain homosexual bishops. Maybe that is okay with you but it has been heck for family structures & faith life. That seems to speak about why not having a Magisterial teaching won't work: man's concupiscense will always slide to ease and pleasure and sin. We need guidance and the sacraments to combat the flesh. The Pill for 2 years made me so selfish, I still struggle with it even after 25 years of beloved chaste NFP-use( ann)

  5. Thanks for posting this. Anyone who dares express disillusionment with NFP risks attack from the NFP hardliners. I use fertility awareness in a non-Catholic approved context. We sometimes use condoms during the fertile period. My phase three is easy to identify because I double over with cramps when I ovulate. I prefer "natural" sex, but we have our "just" reasons for not seeking pregnancy at this time and probably for an indefinite time until menopause. I really feel for those who have severe medical issues related to pregnancy and are told that using a barrier method puts them in the same category of sin as a rapist or an abortionist.

    1. "I really feel for those who have severe medical issues related to pregnancy and are told that using a barrier method puts them in the same category of sin as a rapist or an abortionist."

      Wait… while all sexual sin is serious (objectively, any willful misuse of the sexual faculty is mortal sin), that does not at all mean that all mortal sin is the same. There are degrees of mortal sin, and there is a huge difference in degree between the sin of contraception and the sin of rape. Huge.

      For an example of the understanding that there are degrees of mortal sin, here's what Pope John Paul II said about the difference between contraception and abortion, from Evangelium Vitae:

      Indeed, the pro- abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church's teaching on contraception is rejected. Certainly, from the moral point of view contraception and abortion are specifically different evils: the former contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love, while the latter destroys the life of a human being; the former is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage, the latter is opposed to the virtue of justice and directly violates the divine commandment "You shall not kill".

      But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree. It is true that in many cases contraception and even abortion are practised under the pressure of real-life difficulties, which nonetheless can never exonerate from striving to observe God's law fully.
      (emphasis mine)

    2. I have to disagree with you on degrees of mortal sin. There are degrees to culpability for any type of sin. However, a person who meets the criteria (three prong test) for mortal sin and dies without having received absolution will have the same result regardless of which sin it is. So, a married couple meeting the criteria for mortal sin because they use contraception or engage in oral sex will be in the same place as one who has willfully committed some other grave sin, such as murder. That person will be unable to come into the presence of God (spiritual death).

      I have a really difficult time believing that barrier contraception use within a marriage is of the same grave nature as sex outside marriage, adultery, abortifacient contraceptives, use of morning after pills, abortions, rape, etc.. It just doesn't make any sense to me.

    3. Yeah, I also have a really hard time believing that God would send a person to hell when in a moment of passion and weakness he/she does not follow the ideal for sex with their spouse. I would of course go to confession, but longing for each other in marriage is good, and I think God understand our weakness.

    4. I think we are asking the wrong questions.

      Is God REALLY that concerned about mutual masturbation between a loving married couple? (Or even barrier methods?) I don't believe for a moment that God would send a person to hell for that and shame on the people who try to say that he would.

      That's a good way to make a couple neurotic about their sex life!

      The teaching is not based on revealed truth, but Natural Law. It is NOT infallible. The Church's understanding of Natural Law has changed over the years. Menstrual Sex was prohibited under Mosaic Law, condemned by Aquinas, and remains a taboo, but is currently allowed by the Church. Who is to say that the current understanding is right?

      Why is the Catholic Church putting such a heavy emphasis on a pagan understanding of Natural Law instead of scriptural teaching on love?

    5. See Bl. John Paul's Theology of the Body for a scriptural teaching on love.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. The whole point of TOB was to ground the Church's teaching on this away from natural law and to show it's relation to scripture and revelation. It doesn't depend on natural law.

      That theologians have framed these teachings as natural law for so long has, IMO, been a disaster.

      The Church's position makes *more* sense, not less, as a part of the theology of the sacrament of marriage.

    8. Two points.

      As with any philosophical reasoning, natural law is valid if the premises and reasoning are valid. Unlike those who insist on scripture alone, the Church has always been willing to learn from the light of reason and to make use of the ethical insights of philosophers.

      In a sense, those who say, "This teaching just doesn't work. It's impracticable," are doing the same sort of thing the pagan philosophers did. They are reasoning from their view of human nature, its possibilities, and its needs.

    9. I have never seen Aquinas as a defense of NFP; "natural law" presented to me was biology: the male part made for the female part + nfp sincerely allows "behavior to match intention" ; sex can = babies, so to not have a baby: abstain some; there is a beauty to this versus when we had sex all the time and no baby came..the "Natural" is looking at WHEN the COUPLE DOES COME TOGETHER: it is untouched by anything perverse or artificial. How pleasing.. TOB is awfully broad and JPII Love&R are not an official defense for nfp - did
      @WAYwardson or @ED read Casti Canubii or Humanae Vitae? those were the defense against the Christian break in 1930 and the response to the Pill. My Protestant husband thought they were beautiful. You seem very well-read; I personally love the simplicity of the Catholic Catechism; what do you think of those?

  6. The Winnipeg statement is considered a document dissenting from Humanae Vitae and doesn't override the teaching of the Magisterium...there was a great to do lately because Gregory Baum was invited on the show Witness on Salt & Light and despite his lack of fidelity to Church teaching (he was a prominent advocate of the WS), he was called a faithful son of the Church.
    I do think it's important that people be honest about NFP in that it clearly is not as simple as it's sometimes touted to be...and it should be remembered that it is a tool we have, not the be all and end all or the point of marriage.

    1. The WS is "considered a document dissenting from Humanae Vitae" by whom? I'd heard that too, and used to assume that it had been formally condemned, but so far as I have been able to find out it hasn't been. Yes, I've encountered a lot of Catholics who believe that it is in dissent, but if the Vatican has not ordered the Canadian Bishops to withdraw it, then it's not.

    2. It would be considered dissenting by virtue of the fact that it contradicts Church teaching and Humanae Vitae, an official church document, would it not? A papal encyclical which carries the authority of Peter, takes precedence over any statement by bishops. As Catholics we don't have regional differences when it comes to matters of faith and morals.
      This website outlines the problematic sections, paragraph 26 being the most notable, about which Cardinal Carter later said "I am not prepared to defend paragraph 26 totally. I think we might have found a more lucid way of expressing our ideas. In a sense, the phraseology was misleading and could give the impression that the bishops were saying that one was free to dissent at will from the Pope’s teaching. This was certainly not our intention."
      As for why it was never recalled, that is something I wonder myself, though there are some who say it was condemned, albeit indirectly, through JP2's The Splendor of Truth by criticizing the general maxim which the dissenters propose. JP2 says that there is a false opposition established between the general precept, recognized as the objective moral order, and binding on everyone, in every place, and at all times on the one hand, and the subjective order (via the conscience) which is not necessarily bound to the objective moral order, on the other hand. For the dissenter, the objective moral order, then, becomes merely a reference point with no binding authority on one’s actions. These proposals are offered in so-called “pastoral solutions” which the Pope says are “contrary to the teaching of the magisterium”. This is seen as a veiled reference to the various “pastoral documents” issued by the various episcopal conferences in response to Humanae Vitae.

    3. I think it's pretty clear that Cardinal Carter's comment refers to the way that the Winnepeg Statement was taken. It needs to be understood that the backlash against the CCCB came largely in the context of the media reporting: the media predictably misrepresented the document, and few people actually read it. Proper scrutiny of the text makes it clear that interpreting paragraph 26 as an invitation to "dissent at will" is contrary to the intent of the document.
      w/r/t "veiled references" in Veritatis Splendor, if the Vatican considers a document to be problematic they order it retracted, or ask that changes be made (this is, for example, what happened with the original version of "Always Our Children.")

    4. So, what does it mean then? Why would there be a need to say anything other than to follow the Church's teaching? Am I missing a subtlety somewhere? As far as I understood, a couple may either abstain for a period of time or have recourse to infertile periods.

  7. A pregnancy, that led to the birth of our second son, came via incorrect use of the Billings method. However, for reasons that can't be explained here, I truly believe that Divine Providence put him in our family. It just makes sense. However, my wife nearly died in childbirth due to medical incompetence. She was managed through her third (planned) pregnancy and now we have to take her fertility very seriously.

    Here are a few of my thoughs on our situation:
    1. Sex without contraception is by far the most exhilarating for me. The complete, intimite and risky sharing of bodies and souls makes condom use feel like the conterfeit act that it is.
    2. My wife really only enjoys sex fully when she is fertile. So this really limits the times she desires sex to a short window each month.
    3. My wife and I refuse to use the pill. The chance of the pill acting as an abortifacient is morally repugnant to both of us and there is more and more medical evidence emerging of the harm it does to the woman (my wife works with stroke victims and they are seeing a lot of women in their 30's coming through).
    4. I cannot morally have a visectomy and would not want my wife to end her fertility either.
    5. I take the health of my wife very seriously. Her safety is my first concern. Rationally, it overrides any selfish desire for pleasure that I might have. Emotionally, that resolve is sometimes hard to follow through with but I have grown as a man by taking her health seriously and the challenges it presents to my chastity. I don't have a respect for men who force their will on their wives in order to get regular sex, or who develop a habitual use of pornography to compensate. My libido is as strong as the next mans and I'm not perfect in this area but I strive to be. I destest pornography as a real scourge to men.
    6. I have suggested complete abstinence to my wife and have tried it. I am very intimate with my wife but don't often turn that into a non-verbal request for sex. However, I have found over time that I should not refuse my wife's desire for sex when she wants it. I think that a man has a duty to not reject his wife. It does more damage than good in a relationship.

    So how do I reconcile these conflicting points? Well, I haven't. I can't. But I don't think the six options you presented in the previous blog are the only options. In my mind, Humanae Vitae is correct. It is the perfect model that I'd love to follow in a perfectly fertile world and I would love to a heap of kids that we will never have. I say to my wife, my method is NFP, yours is condoms (the result being that we have only used NFP once in the last 5 years and have used condoms many more times). The frequency of our sexual acts have decreased but they are sufficient for us. However, our intimacy and emotional relationship has continued to develop and we are closer than ever, which is the most important thing. A decision to use condoms can easily lead to a desire to just abandon any though of moral consequences and use them to have a liberal sex life. To me, this would be a worse sin, it would change our sex from being just a moment of mutually giving into temptation to a complete rejection of the value of sex.

    There are no loopholes (believe me I've looked for them) and I don't think I would want one. Sex is so important that it would seem a cop out. So I frequent confession and beg for the Lord's forgiveness. In making an act of contrition, I deeply feel that, if God could provide a way that we could avoid condom use (say by some new technological marvel, some gadget that could combine ultrasound monitoring with all the other fertility tests) or we run out of supplies and we forget to buy new ones, or if neither or us had any future sexual desire, or if I got the chicken pox and was made sterile, then the problem would be over and we would not sin. But I fall back on the mercy of Christ and always direct my eyes toward Him. At the end of the day, it will be Jesus, not my own conscience, who will save me.

    1. Just further to my previous post. Sex seems to be one of the only areas where people publicly doubt your resolution not to sin again when making an act of contrition. You can be a bit of a sloth, liar, glutton and your resolution will be taken seriously, though you may repeat your sins in weakness or habit. I have seen on Catholic Answers a few times where an apologist was asked to respond to a very similar situation to mine, where the wife had health issues and had little objection to condoms. The response given was that it was better to separate from your wife than put your soul in jeopardy. That doesn't seem to be the way Jesus views marriage, especially when both are believers and every other aspect of their marriage is normal.

      But sin is ultimately not about things of this world but eternal consequence. I try to remember this when my desires want me to take a more liberal view of sex. No I don't want to sin. While I can't imagine that infrequent condom use between a married couple will be much of an issue in Heaven, lust might be. But I sometimes wonder God will show me the children that should have been born through the uniting of specific sperm and ovum in those contraceptive acts and how I would wish they were born, as much as I adore the children that I have. For their creation is the reason why sex at times when the wife is fertile is so joyous.

      I'm not looking for a way to ease my guilt or find a way to get around Humanae Vitae. But I do find that life has placed me and my wife in a kind of trap. It seems to me that I'm not wise or saintly enough to spring the trap but there were many attempts to trap Jesus and he was able to escape. Death was the greatest trap he overcame. So in this situation, isn't he the one to set the prisoners free? When people start going through the criteria of mortal sin versus venial and quote the catechism that anything sexual is by its nature a grave matter, it doesn't seem to give Jesus much wiggle room. Its another kind of trap that people who do not struggle with sexual sins like to set (though they may suffer other sins themselves).

      Thanks for providing a place for my musings. I've thought about the machine that the Marquette method uses a few times. It may be worth the purchase. Anything that provides more confidence could be useful.

    2. Yours was the situation I was referring to in my previous post. The idea that a husband and wife abstain until menopause in an otherwise normal marriage is absurd. The Catholic Answers commentators always then throw out the "what if your wife were incapacitated, incapable to have sex etc., wouldn't you have to abstain?" That is a completely different issue than a healthy couple who cannot have another baby b/c of an underlying medical problem. Take me for example- I don't have a serious medical issue, but I've had a few c-sections and a d&c from a missed miscarriage, so having another delivery would put me at an increased risk for complications. I'm not sure if I want to do that willingly. The Catholic Answers types might call my reasons selfish for thinking about my health, but I consider that responsible parenthood. I have nobody to care for my children if something happened to me. They would end up in daycare. I don't want to invite risk. So, am I a horrible sinner because we sometimes use condoms? I'd say no. I'm a sinner for other things I do.

    3. Hey Anon, I think your analysis of your situation (being trapped) is very balanced and reasonable. Many in your situation would rationalize or try to justify their contraceptive actions, but I think you've taken a more virtuous route. You clearly recognize that your action are sometimes not ideal and also seemingly unavoidable. The trap is really caused by a lack of the virtue of chastity, which has to be very common for Catholic couples in similar circumstances.

      So what to do? First I think it's important not to make too big a deal out of our moral failures. These kinds of failures are usually pretty trivial guilt wise, which isn't the same thing as saying they are good or positive actions in themselves. The suggestion to split with your spouse over such things is nuts. Remember that many of the Catholic Answers folks are protestant converts and I find they sometimes carry some of their protestant baggage with them, like this sort of legalism.

      But instead of saying "Does God really care about this?" as if we weren't talking about vice, I would say "Surely God can handle our sins and failures". Does God permit us to remain in these traps? Well he certainly must be able to handle it if he does. We can only assume that there is a good purpose for it. Perhaps it leads us to recognize the reality of our dependence? Perhaps the knowledge keeps us humble?

      Isn't the more important thing that we fight? The struggle is what matters, not giving in, not giving up.

      Don't despair and don't give up. Don't rationalize, don't stop calling a spade a spade.

      As you mentioned, Jesus victory came in the very midst of his apparent total ruin and failure.

    4. Medical problems are a heavy cross w/NFP; however does anyone see that God can "equip the unequipped" in many experiences? // seems an important 'trap' is also 'moral relativism' which Pope Benedict speaks of. These defenses for contraception can be like saying, "Well, I can see now the guy is a jerk and I don't want anything to do with him anymore, plus, I will lose my job, so I am getting an abortion" or "My hubbie just doesn't meet my needs like this one, so I am going to have an affair". YIKES, but for the grace of God, I GO THERE, too; it is so easy

    5. Noone in these string of posts has defended contraception or denied Church teaching on the issue. I can't see how you can, or even liken the above posts to abortion and adultery. Maybe you need to explain your position further.

    6. I am showing the similarity in the 'slippery slope' of rationalizing sin between these topics - I am not comparing gravity of sin types - ann

    7. Brian, I should have thanked you earlier for your comments.

      I agree that in this situation it is of the upmost importance to call a spade a spade.

  8. I just want to comment on the idea of NFP as a one-size fits all approach. I think it's one size fits all, only in the same way as artificial contraception might be seen as a one-size fits all approach. NFP is one-size-fits all from the stance of thinking of it as family planning = abstinence; while artificial contraception (ABC) is a one-size-fits all from the stance of thinking of it as ABC = guaranteed sex anytime we want with little to no chance of having a baby.

    Neither of those is very accurate in relation to the reality of sex, family planning and every day realities of life.

    There are lots of nuances - and one of things I think Catholics have really been not good at is discussing that there are a range of NFP methods - some of which might be better for women who travel a lot and can't do the temp thing (me - I use the Marquette method, pee on a stick hormone method) and some of which might be better for women who need more concrete care in relation to endo or infertility and so on (Creighton) and so on.

    Same thing with ABC - we ought to be taking seriously not only that ABC doesn't always work - but that there might be very good health related reasons to be using some forms of ABC; that in the debate about ABC there are some groups of Christians who find certain forms unacceptable for some reasons, but who have a hard time understanding Catholic teaching regarding other forms of ABC. And so on.

    I think that you, with your experience of trying three different forms of NFP - have something unique and nuanced to say - and I guess I just want to say that I don't think it's fair to you or those methods both to suggest it's a one size fits all without some more discussion of what you are thinking that means. (Because I'm willing to admit that my own thought on what that means might be very different from your thought on what it means to say one size fits all)

  9. Not to be a complete engineer and respond to posts about people's struggles with *fix it suggestions*, but, have you tried Marquette? If your cycles are within range, all it requires is peeing on a stick for like 10-20 days a cycle and sticking it in a machine. You even have a 6 hour window to do it. That is it. But, of course, it costs money and requires *some* cycle regularity (21-42 days, I think).

    I do think it is not so much as NFP is a one-size-fits-all solution as periodic abstinence is sold as the one size fits all solution. Which, if that is the part that doesn't work, nothing else will. But hopefully as technology improves, there will be a greater variety of methods that will give a woman more and more options.

  10. My life was crazy, too; nursing, fatigue, Hmschool, 'N such...Husband (DH) was a huge help handing me the thermometer, then writing it down, checking in with calls to me to see if I had checked dryness. I left the chart where I could best write on it / DH reminded me when he got home 'n such. Sometimes I would take the temp the night before 'n add a day to the rules or take it after a good nap ( more helps NFP:The Complete Approach book) it is a resting temp: a miss here 'n there may not matter? Maybe if NFP charting is "no big deal" to either, then it won't get done? it was a necessity to us both to be humble 'n live this nfp life so we both worked on it together. Best wishes - we do live in an imperfect world but we have to keep trying is my 2cents,too. I lost a breast to cancer and then lost cycles to chemo early 50s, so now we struggle w/new intimacy issues. Adam and Eve 'left us' the lot to struggle with childbearing issues; yet these struggles are salvific; we must never take them for granted but use them ( ann)

  11. Melinda, have you seen Jennifer Fulwiler's new article in the National Catholic Register? It covers alot of the ground you cover here. The comments, too, echo much of the discourse thus far here on your blog.

    Beyond showcasing that article, I have on additional question relating to your previous post on this subject. In it, you say that:

    "NFP is used by approximately 1-2% of the Catholic population in North America. So far as I can tell young, fertile couples who are able to successfully use it to prevent pregnancy in situations of grave necessity are about as common as successfully “repaired” ex-gays."

    Maybe this was answered in a roundabout way on previous threads, but I'd like a straightforward answer. Do you consider NFP to be a sort of faux therapy based on psuedoscience (just like reparative therapy for gays)? I ask not to be confrontational, but for clarification. I think you've done exceptional work in exposing the problems with relying on NARTH, reparative therapy, et al as the pastoral response to homosexuality, and if you think that NFP is similarly a bad solution to a pastoral problem, I think you should be upfront about it.

    1. Hi Andy,

      I took a look at Jennifer's article. She seems to be looking at the other side of the problem -- the high incidence of Catholic women who don't know anything about the Church's teaching on contraception. I agree that there's a big problem there, but I'm not sure that NFP is the solution. I'm also not entirely sure where I stand on NFP as "science" or "therapy" which is probably why I come across as not being "upfront." I'm skeptical, but I'm still working this through myself, and in the upcoming series I intend to explore the issues along with my readers.

    2. this IS a very interesting column! thanks for effort - ann

  12. I don't know if this is helpful or not, but my wife and I use Billings, and what has worked for her is to establish the habit of always checking her mucus each and every time she goes to the bathroom. It just becomes part of her routine. Establishing that habit might be difficult, but once it is established, it seems to me that it shouldn't be too hard to continue with it.

    As for charting, perhaps your husband can ask you about your mucus each day, and then he can write down the reading on the chart. Just a suggestion based on what has worked for us -- and knowing that my wife is not particularly well organized either.

  13. Hi-I'm chiming in late here but here are some thoughts:
    1. Nfp works when practiced correctly. We have to make the decision to use it. I tend to be disordered as well but when I am forced to be organized (volunteering, others counting on me, deadlines) somehow the task becomes priority and gets done. I have five children and we decided that we don't have a reason to avoid so we haven't bee serious about nfp since conceiving our first. We used it to conceive her after using nfp to avoid for our first six months of marriage. It worked then so I assume if I had to buckle down and do it again it would be possible.
    2. Diocese need to have some sort of class where they expose couples to every form of nfp. It's difficult when they just pick one like ccl and force it on everyone when it may not be a good fit for some.
    3. Husbands need to be way more involved. All of the couples I have met that use nfp effectively have very involved husbands. When we practiced for the first six months my husband was the one keeping us on track. He'd hand me the thermometer in the morning, he learned the rules and I was accountable to him for checking my signs. The men need to get their game together and not just ask when it's ok, which usually just makes the wife feel guilty, resentful, overwhelmed, not to mention tempted to immorality.
    4. God always provides us with a moral choice in every situation, we have to be open to what that choice is and what that choice will demand of us. Contraception is intrinsically eviland there are no exceptions or conscience loopholes.
    5. I second the recommendation for the Marquette monitor. Save up and buy one.

  14. I know I'm late to this post, but I just stumbled across your blog the other day, and oh my word, every post is golden! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences here.

    It's such a relief to me to find that my husband and I aren't the only ones struggling with NFP. Your post above sounds *just* like me! I think that so far there are two things that have kept me from going completely crazy or throwing in the towel. One is that before I was married someone told me, "The thing about NFP is that it doesn't work unless it has to." Meaning, basically, that people will just give up on it unless there are really serious health or financial reasons to keep using it. So at least I had that one time that someone gave me a *realistic* picture of how difficult it could be. And the second, which I know people have mentioned above, was a fertility monitor. Especially postpartum, when I had *no* clue what my body was doing, and temperatures were a completely lost cause, and I was frightened-to-death-about-to-have-a-nervous-breakdown at the thought of ever having another kid ever again, it was really good to have a dependable hormonal sign.

    That said, we're really not at a point where we could handle another baby right now, and there are times when NFP seems to cause more problems than it solves, to the point where I really, really struggle with believing that the Church has it right on this one. And of course, it doesn't help that the two points of view on this seem to be "you're crazy/irresponsible to use nfp at a time like this" or else "i don't know what you're talking about nfp is wonderful and we have a great sex life!!!!!!" (and number of kids = number of years married - 1)

    So, I'm really looking forward to future discussion on this...


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