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by Professor Janet E. Smith
On the 50th year anniversary of Humanae Vitae, let’s take a moment to consider the differences between NFP and contraception. Some people think they are essentially the same because both are used by couples who want to have sexual intercourse but who don’t want to have a baby. But it is not just the intention that determines the morality of an action – it is also the means used. How do these means differ?
Contraception: The various forms of hormonal contraception have a multitude of bad physical side effects, among them an increase of risk in breast cancer and strokes. Many women suffer from an increase in irritability and depression, weight gain, and a decrease in libido. Moreover some of the hormonal contraceptives prevent an embryonic human being from implanting in his or her mother’s uterus. It is not surprising that hormonal contraception has so many bad side effects; after all, it fills a woman’s body with synthetic hormones that suppress a woman’s natural hormones.
Natural Family Planning: NFP has NO bad physical side effects. None. Nada. In fact, a woman who knows how to chart her cycles has a treasure trove of information that helps her and her physician understand any problems she may have with fertility and all the health problems that come with hormonal imbalance, most of which can be treated by changes in diet and by vitamin and mineral supplements.
Contraception: The availability of contraception leads many men and women to engage in sexual relationships with persons they may not know well, they may have no intention of marrying or parenting with, and sometimes persons they don’t like. Even when they have contraceptive sex with those whom they believe they love, the use of contraception can seem to make unnecessary such conversations as “What happens if our contraception fails?” That question alone can often put a relationship in danger! Contraception facilitates cohabitation which for most is bad preparation for marriage.
Natural Family Planning: NFP does not encourage promiscuity but requires stability. NFP fosters and requires chastity. Only mature and committed individuals can manage the periodic abstinence required by NFP. Those who have not had sex before marriage find NFP easier to use than those who have been sexually active because they have shown their love before marriage by abstaining and thus associate abstinence with love rather than deprivation. And they generally have a larger “tool kit” for showing love and affection – such as going for walks, dancing, cooking with each other, and just cuddling. All this nonsexual time together has facilitated strong communication skills which is one of the important glues for a relationship.
Contraception: The bad consequences of widespread contraception use are enormous, among them a great increase in, unwed pregnancy, single parenthood, abortion and divorce. Families headed by a single parent suffer more poverty and hardship than married families, and the children have many more difficulties achieving success in life and relationships.
Natural Family Planning: Couples who use NFP almost never divorce. Imagine: almost never divorce. It is not simply using NFP that strengthens a marriage but it is what it takes to use NFP successfully that strengthens a marriage; self-discipline; commitment; communication; mutual agreement on goals; generosity; and a love for God’s gift of sexuality.
Contraception: Those using contraception are engaging in an act that has a natural consequence that they are doing a great deal to attempt to thwart. Those who use contraception treat fertility as a defect and put their desire for pleasure above God’s desire for souls. They want to engage in a potential life-giving act and prevent it from being life-giving. Moreover contraception greatly reduces the meaning of the act – an act that by its very nature is meant to express complete self-giving – and what expresses complete self-giving or commitment better than saying to another “I am willing to be a parent with you”?
Natural Family Planning: The sexual act is an act that speaks a language; it says: “I make a complete gift of myself to you. I wish to entwine my life completely with yours. I want only what is good for you. I am willing to be a parent with you.” As Humanae Vitae states, “God entrusted spouses with the extremely important mission of transmitting human life, whereby they perform a great service for him.” Spouses cannot create new human life without God; the male provides the sperm; the female the egg, and God provides the soul. It is God who decided to give women (as is in nature as a whole) a period of time to rest their bodies, when new life cannot be conceived. But he claims the fertile period for himself – for the task of bestowing the great gift of immortal life. Couples using NFP respect God’s plan for sexuality.
— Dr. Smith is well-known for her talk, “Contraception: Why Not?”, and her many books and writings on Humanae Vitae. An updated version of her book, Why Humanae Vitae Was Right is now available for order. A slightly shorter version of this article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Columbia magazine. The entire issue is outstanding and recommended.
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