Is NFP Just Another Form of Contraception?

In the post “French Bishop Urges Vatican to Reopen Debate on Whether 1+1=2”, Funky mentions that:

“Pope Paul VI banned contraception in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, arguing that sexual intercourse was meant for procreation and any artificial method to block a pregnancy went against the nature of the act.” 

I was inclined by this to comment on that post, but its my hope that others might have input on my thoughts about Humanae Vitae and NFP.

The Church advocates NFP (Natural Family Planning) as a form of contraception (though they don’t call it that). Using this method, couples track the fertility of the female through various methods of empirical measurement (timing, body temperature, the consistency of saliva and other bodily fluids). When the female is in her non-fertile period, only then do they engage in sexual intercourse.

It seems to me that this is a rather unnatural (or artificial) act. I don’t see anything natural about having sex by a stopwatch. One might argue that the unnatural act of the measurements and timing happens before sex, so it is not really related. I find that, however, to be a slippery slope. Just as slippery as “when does human life begin?” is for pro -or anti-abortion arguments.

Others will offer caveats that there is still a possibility of pregnancy with NFP. On the other hand, catholic NFP advocates will also tell you that NFP is more effective than condoms or The Pill. If they make this argument, then they must condone both condoms and The Pill as okay, since they offer a higher possibility of conception.

A few might argue that The Pill is bad just because it’s a bunch of unhealthy chemicals that do mean things to the person taking it. I typically disregard this argument. If the Church is disallowing it on these grounds, then most weight loss drugs should be disallowed, but all this should occur under some other grounds than contraception.

Still others might argue the barrier argument against condoms. This argument states that a physical barrier (a condom, empty space, etc.) is the problem. By this argument, The Pill must be okay, since it posses no barrier, but simply controls ovulation.

Finally, some would argue what I call “The Every Sperm is Sacred Rule” (kudos to Monty Python). By this argument, it’s the frustration and waste of sperm that becomes the issue. However, is this not the case with NFP, where there is little or no possibility of anything but death for the little swimmers? Indeed, the little guys suffer the same fate in any infertile scenario, whether with NFP, The Pill, or natural sex that doesn’t result in pregnancy.

Here the “Every Sperm is Scared Rule” proponents may also site the Old Testament in regard to an individual being struck down for “spilling his seed”. This, however, is generally taken out of context. Onan was ordered by God to have a child with his brother’s widow. Onan started “doing his thing” and then withdrew. The offence was not that he spilled his seed, the offence was disobeying a direct order! If God told Bob to shake hands with Larry, and Bob only bowed, I’d expect Bob to get struck down too!

From my humble perspective, I can’t see how NFP is any better than any contraception method. I use NFP. I support NFP, because I’m following that 2000 years of accumulated wisdom. But I still think NFP IS contraception and is no different than methods such as a condom, diaphragm, or The Pill.

Comments 7

  1. BV wrote:

    I’d need to know that there was something moraly wrong with “preventing the act from functioning as designed”.

    This is one of those “basics” I referred to back in comment 128. It’s what makes us cringe when we think about someone’s arm being twisted in its socket for multiple rotations, and what leads us to gawk when someone pours sand into their engine oil spout. There’s this concept that when we contradict something’s purpose, we’ve inflicted damage which is bad. If this principle is in question, I don’t think we can really move any further. As I mentioned back in comment 128, I don’t think I’m your guy to reconstruct the basic tenets of the moral law.

    I would also need an accepted definiton of “functioning as designed”.

    Here again, one of those “basics” I referred to back in comment 128. Sexual morality is built on the understanding that sex has two inseparable significances: procreative and unitive. Similar to the above, if this principle is in question, I think we really can’t move any further.

    I’m not asking you to ‘grant the premise’, or to ‘agree for the sake of argument’, or ‘if we accept premises at face value, then yes condoms are bad’. Don’t let me force you into a position you don’t want to take. I’m just asking for your honest-to-goodness opinion as a person of goodwill with your own life experiences: Does the use of a condom seem to contradict the sexual act?

    About your other comments, I agree with much of what you’ve said, but don’t think it makes sense to perform comparisons until we’ve finished examining each “object”. (This following the approach we started at comment 136.)

    P.S.

    I bet you’re hoping for a short, to-the-point response from me. Alas, I find things a bit more complex.

    Whatever length seems appropriate; I don’t have any expected lengths in mind.

    Posted 16 Mar 2006 at 11:53 pm
  2. Lightwave wrote:

    BV:

    I’m just asking for your honest-to-goodness opinion as a person of goodwill with your own life experiences: Does the use of a condom seem to contradict the sexual act?

    I guess my answer is, no, it does not seem to objectively contradict the sexual act. Why? Because NFP does not objectively contradict the sexual act, and I cannot find a substansive diference. (I know, I just can’t give a reply without comparing the two, can I?).

    I don’t think we can really move any further. As I mentioned back in comment 128, I don’t think I’m your guy to reconstruct the basic tenets of the moral law.

    Indeed, I suspected this might end in a difference of personal philosophy, not in Church teaching. To some folks the answer is obviously implicit. To me, I just don’t see how all the dots are connected.

    I appreciate your tenacity in this exploration of the subject. After 150 comments, I feel a bit more enlightened on the subject, even if I haven’t yet found the cause I’m seeking to change my position in good concience. If you have any further thoughts for me, by all means continue. 🙂

    Posted 20 Mar 2006 at 8:37 am
  3. BV wrote:

    Dear Lightwave,

    I guess my answer is, no, it [the use of a condom] does not seem to objectively contradict the sexual act.

    Are you saying then that condoms can be used in a morally just manner?

    Would you say that condoms and abstinence are different in any way? If so, how?

    I suspected this might end in a difference of personal philosophy, not in Church teaching.

    I dunno, I think Church teaching is in question here.

    Posted 20 Mar 2006 at 11:15 pm
  4. BV wrote:

    Lightwave,

    You still there?

    Posted 28 Mar 2006 at 8:47 pm
  5. MammasBoy wrote:

    Onan had a brother Shelah who also did not fulfill his levirate duty to raise up kids for his brother. Why was Onan the only one killed? In addition, the levirate marriage command comes much later chronologically than this story. The idea that Onan was killed for simply violating the levirate marriage law doesn’t hold water.

    In addition there are several misrepresentations of Catholic teaching on contraception and NFP in this post. Please, before condemning something, study up on it.

    MB

    Posted 13 Apr 2007 at 2:45 pm
  6. Funky Dung wrote:

    In addition there are several misrepresentations of Catholic teaching on contraception and NFP in this post. Please, before condemning something, study up on it.

    Such as?

    Posted 13 Apr 2007 at 2:58 pm
  7. stuke wrote:

    Chemical contraception (like the pill) works in three way. It works against conception, against ovulation, and is abortive. (not to mention the side effects, from blood clots to cancer)NFP teaches both husband and wife how her body works.

    Posted 15 Mar 2011 at 6:13 pm

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