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New research confirms that despite the challenge of periodic abstinence, the use of natural family planning can be beneficial for marital relationships. The study, “Natural Family Planning and Marital Chastity: The Effects of Periodic Abstinence on Marital Relationships” (Linacre Quarterly, June 12, 2020) by Richard J. Fehring, PhD, RN, and Michael D. Manhart, PhD, found that the use of periodic abstinence lowered the odds of divorce by 31-41 percent.

“The findings here are similar to those of a 2015 study by Fehring. At that time among those who ever-used NFP, divorce was at a significantly lower rate compared to those who never-used NFP,” said Manhart. “What is significant is now we have a second independent study giving similar results. In the medical research world, this is proof of consistent phenomenon.”

Past studies that showed most NFP couples said that periodic abstinence is helpful for the marital relationship had limitations. They were cross-sectional, not population-based; had a low number of participants; and the findings could not be generalized.

Richard Fehring, RN, PhD
Manhart photo
Michael Manhart, PhD

The participants in this study were taken from the 2015-2017 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) data set. This is a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of U.S. reproductive age women. The data set contains numerous variables on current and ever-use of methods of contraception, NFP, and variables like “importance of religion,” “church attendance,” and marital status. There were 5,554 women in the NSFG between the age of 15 and 50, and this study used the 2,582 women who were ever-married.

The highest divorce rate (39 percent) was found among women who were sterilized, and the lowest was among women who reported ever-use of NFP (10 percent when only non-rhythm users were included in the analysis).

“The idea behind doing this study was our belief that if NFP is right and beneficial for marriage,” Manhart said, “then we should be able to find benefits for relationships beyond spacing babies. If NFP is God’s plan, we should see better marriages among those using it. This study found that evidence. Even when taking into account other factors like poverty, level of education, etc., the choice to use NFP has the larger positive impact on marital outcome.”

Dr. Fehring said while this is good news, “We need to be clear that these findings were not cause and effect but rather an association among variables. Also, this study was among ever-users of periodic abstinence, not current or consistent users of NFP.” More study is needed, and he and Manhart plan to look at current users of periodic abstinence in the NSFG for their next study.

For tips on how to effectively navigate periodic abstinence, we suggest Abstaining from frustration.