The Crunchiness of NFP...
I've been inspired by a few other blogs this week to post about NFP - a controversial topic, I know. But rather than emphasising the theology or the infamous teachings of the Church, I want to focus on another aspect: NFP as a natural and feminist enterprise.
I think it would be fair to say that I am a "crunchy" Catholic. Interestingly, crunchy often seems to fit in with trying to be a faithful observer. After all, I first learned about Natural Family Planning (in my pre-Catholic days) from a Vegetarian Times
article. I was aghast when I first read it, thinking that there is no way that the "rhythm method" was a good idea - no matter how "natural" I wanted to be.
But as it turns out - 9 years or so after reading that article and after using NFP for a while - NFP (which is NOT the rhythm method but which is based on observations a woman makes about her body, which she then uses to determine when she is fertile and when she is not. There are several methods out there, with varying degrees of success - the Billings method has a 98% effectiveness; thermometer and cervical fluid has 98-99% effectiveness; the Marquette Model, which uses a fertility monitor in conjunction with some rules for use, has about 99% effectiveness) is great for the economy, the environment, women, and relationships. And I don't have to make myself sick taking a pill.
I think it was the women's thing that first drew me to NFP in my pre-Catholic days - I was taking the pill while in college in order to regulate my cycle - and man, did it make me sick. I wasn't in a relationship at the time, and I don't believe that sex before marriage is a good thing anyway - but taking the pill did make me reflect a bit on the sate of birth control and all that sort of thing. Taking the pill also made me start thinking of how freakin' annoyed I was that men never seemed to have to worry about which kind of BC or what happens to my job/education when I get pregnant and the guy, really, can't do a whole lot.
The sex and family thing (just like feminists in the 1920s and the 1960s said) is the place that most deeply concerns women. And feminists and others concerned with women's lives have thought about that for years: Margaret Sanger and the diaphragm; Roe v. Wade; ads today espousing the benefits of only having four periods a year with Seasonale. But even with all these so-called advancements, it's still the woman who has to figure it out - men just don't need to do so, and it makes sense they wouldn't think about it.
Until, that is, a woman announces that, oops, the BC didn't work after all, and she's going to need some support - financially and emotionally. Then blame gets placed on her for being "stupid enough" to use ____________ as a birth control method(fill in the blank with your favorite BC here - all BC has a failure rate, and yes, I've known some women who've had even Depo babies).
Or - another scenario - the method the woman has chosen makes her ill - has too many side effects. This is common with hormonal BC - it can be pretty nasty stuff, and I've been there myself to see the truth of that. But mention the little question, "Could we use condoms instead, dear?" and most of the guys I know would rather try ANYTHING than use one of the famed male barrier methods. So anyway
, my reflection on all of this led me to realize that maybe Veggie Times was on to something. NFP is something that requires a couple to communicate more about their relationships and their families - neither the man nor the woman can make it a private thing and therefore avoid communication until the "oops" happens. The reason is because NFP (at least the Catholic form) requires abstinence during the fertile period; non-Catholic forms (such as the Fertility Awareness Method) requires the use of a condom during the fertile period.
In many NFP-using couples, the husband takes charge of recording the woman's symptoms and interpreting her symptoms - partly because he wants to know when the fertile time of the month will be over and they can go "au naturel" :-)But more than that, both men and women become thoroughly attuned to their bodies. And sex and family have to come to the forefront of a couple's conversation, at least a couple times a month.
Now, I recognize that people have numerous problems with NFP - I don't want to over-idealize it or make light of the real issues people have - and I haven't presented a theology about NFP here at all. But I do wonder whether the scenario of not having to put chemicals into my body, combined with better communication with my partner about family/children/sex (exactly those issues that affect women greatly), makes this a good thing.