What does the Catholic Church teach about Natural Family Planning (NFP)?
They should simply intend to have sex in the fullness of love.
They can engage in sexual love to make each other happy, heal an argument, relax, have some fun, etc. They can engage in sexual activity for its own sake. Sex is a good thing, and husband and wife don’t necessarily need any added reason to do it. They can have sex because sex is good.
Does the Church specify how many children husband and wife should have? Once again the answer is no. Couples are free to decide this. If there are just reasons for spacing children (i.e., delaying the conception of a child), then husband and wife are asked to use those methods referred to as Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods.
Actually, NFP methods would be better called symbolic or nuptial methods because they respect the symbolic and nuptial meaning of the human body. In contrast to artificial methods, NFP preserves and enhances the experiences of Original Unity and Original Nakedness.
When husband and wife practice NFP, they give of themselves without any significant reservation, and they accept each other without any significant reservation. Original Unity is respected and lived. Recourse to artificial methods of contraception, as we have seen above, destroys this experience of unity since the husband and wife are no longer respecting the nuptial meaning of the body. Contraception leads to disunity, while NFP facilitates intimacy, unity, and love.
In addition, husband and wife experience Original Nakedness. This is the original experience that allows human persons to realize and discover their freedom. Recalling what was said in chapter one, we recognize that Original Nakedness is a symbol for freedom in communication. This is precisely what happens in NFP.
NFP encourages husband and wife to communicate about their sexuality and fertility. The man is fertile twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. But his wife is fertile only for a few days during her monthly cycle. A married couple using NFP will communicate with each other. The wife will tell her husband when she is fertile and when she is not. Her husband will listen. This communication obviously strengthens their intimacy and marriage bond.
This claim is supported by recent statistics. Couples who use NFP have a divorce rate of one percent, while the average divorce rate in most Western countries is between 40 percent and 50 percent. It will be worth your while, therefore, to find out more about NFP. Simply type in “natural methods of family planning” or “natural fertility regulation” on the World Wide Web, and you will find many sources.
The Church gives four reasons as to when these natural methods can be used to delay conception.
- There may be physical difficulties, such as the health of one of the spouses, etc.
- There may be psychological reasons, such as when one or both of the spouses experiences anxiety or depression, etc.
- There may be economic reasons, such as various types of financial difficulties, etc.
- There may be social reasons – a war, a drought, undue family tension, etc.
The reasons must be just, and this will often depend upon circumstances. Delaying children for an overseas trip, new car, or entertainment system, for instance, could be selfish rather than just.
So what do we mean when we say just reasons? Being just means thinking and praying about one’s responsibility before God and to each other. Married couples must consider what they owe to each other. A husband must attend to the needs of his wife, and she to his. In addition, the couple must consider what they owe to any children they may have. They should also consider their obligations to society.
Husband and wife have to decide in their own consciences whether their reasons for delaying children are just. They may ask advice from a priest, friend, or wise person, but they themselves must make the decision.
To be clear: couples may use NFP in order to space the conception of their children if there are just reasons for doing so, but they should never have recourse to artificial methods of contraception.